The Flintham Museum

Robert Thoroton Secondary School

School Life

The Robert Thoroton School is opened

The school opened, 30 August 1950, with 121 children on the register. Between opening and the last admission in July 1964, 803 pupils were admitted (although some of these readmissions). The first intake came from Flintham and the surrounding villages of Car Colston, East Bridgford, Elston, Gunthorpe, Hawksworth and Scarrington. The local children walked or cycled to school, while those from further away arrived on Gash's buses.

Many of the children had no idea that their new school was housed in a collection of Nissen huts; these were tunnel-shaped huts made of corrugated iron, mounted on cement floors. Even now, many ex-pupils can still remember their surprise as the bus turned off the Fosse.

First sight

Loaned by S. Heath

"We didn't know it was Nissen huts until we got there. We were just told it was left over from the camp."

"We [got on] a big double-decker Gash's bus and we were carted off for half an hour up through East Bridgford. I was a bit amazed when I first turned up - at these tin huts. I thought it was a bit poor. But when you got in them, they were quite light and airy."

"It seemed enormous when you looked at it from the outside. It wasn't a particularly attractive school because [of the] Nissen huts, but it was brick built internally."

"It was a big change after being educated at a village school and seemed large with a lot of pupils, and very different from being at a small school where you had known the rest of the children all your life."

The first staff

Waiting for the first intake of children were the five teaching staff. Heading the team was Mr John Beard, Head Teacher, who came from Dunham on Trent; however, he was lodging with his two daughters at the Vicarage next to Flintham church. Responsible for the youngest children was Mr Barrie Ellis who specialised in craftwork. He lived in West Bridgford with his parents and turned up for work on a Matchless 350 motor bike. Mr Reginald Whitehouse was responsible for Maths, English and Physical Education which included the weekly cross-country run for the boys (of which more later!). Mr Duncan McLean was in charge of science and religious education. Whitehouse and McLean were living in digs at Radcliffe on Trent and travelled to work by bus. Mrs Audrey Metcalfe, as the only female on the teaching staff, concentrated on the girls' subjects such as needlework and cookery. For Ellis, Whitehouse and McLain, this was not only a new school, but their first teaching post. The salary for the novice teachers during their first year was £332 10s (£332.50).

There does not appear to have been a great deal of practical or academic input from the local authority before the school opened. John Beard seems to have been left to think through the school's ethos and plan accordingly. He called his new staff together a few days before the school opened to explain who would be doing what.

"[John Beard] told us what the school was about, a rural secondary school with children living on farms and so on, and working in the country. The bias of the work of the school would be on the countryside."

John Beard proved to be a very popular head teacher, well liked and respected by both staff and pupils.

"Mr Beard. He was a good chap. To us he seemed a learned, slightly elderly gentleman. He was a scientist by profession and actually took some of the science lessons himself. I always enjoyed the stuff I did with him because it involved tipping things in test tubes and recording your results and weighing things accurately. All that was fascinating to me."

The official opening

Judge Hildyard received a tray

Loaned by B. Ellis

The Robert Thoroton County Secondary School was officially opened at 3pm on Saturday 9 September 1950. A marquee had been erected in the grounds of Flintham Hall and some 300 people were seated on chairs sent from RAF Syerston for the occasion. As might be expected, all the great and good from the County Council and the Education Committee were present to hear Judge Hildyard declare the school open. After three votes of thanks, a dedication prayer and the National Anthem, tea was served.

Invitation

Loaned by B. Ellis

During the opening ceremony Judge Hildyard was presented with a tray made by the pupils. A number of ideas for a gift which the children could make had been discussed by the staff, but ruled out because Mr Ellis' woodworking room was not yet equipped. In the week before the official opening, Mr Ellis had obtained permission for children to walk through the woods to the Hall where they made sketches of the building's exterior. Back in the classroom the sketches were turned into paintings using powder paint; one of them was chosen for the base of the tray. In 2005 the tray was found in one of the Hall's outbuildings, covered in dust and eaten by woodworm.

"[The Hildyards] were always there, in the background. They were the sort of aristocracy, who were president of this and president of that and turned up on high days and holidays to give prizes out and make speeches."

Settling in

With the first working week and the official opening ceremony out of the way, both staff and pupils settled down to work and to establishing a school of which they could all feel proud. By now, the children knew their way around the site.

"I was in Form 1 [where] a lot of lessons were [held]. Some of the lessons would be in specialist rooms which was a bit different because I'd been in a little school where everything was done in one room."

"There was a library tucked away opposite the headmaster's office and you got to it from the dining room area. I was in the library when the news [was given] that Joseph Stalin had died. There was a corridor coming through from the dining room ... there was a little bit of a dark alleyway in the back somewhere."

The staff and pupils set to and, as part of the curriculum, began to make the site an attractive place to learn. In the first two weeks, Form 4 planted Canterbury bells and polyanthus. By the end of November 1950 there were herb beds, wallflowers and rose trees, and pergolas were made for climbing plants which came from Matlock. Despite the problems with rabbits, who enjoyed the new plants as much as the humans, the first group of pupils did an excellent job in the gardens. When later generations of teachers and pupils shared their memories, they commented first on the gardens and pleasant surrounds before they talked about the Nissen huts.

"It was more like a little garden centre. Like a little entity on its own. It was really nice, cut off from the road [although] sometimes you'd get an interesting growth growing through the wall, a flower or such like."

Assembly

Once the buses had left and bikes had been stored, the school day began with an Assembly held in the hall.

"They blew the whistle and we'd line up outside and then we'd march in, with the youngest at the front and the tallest at the back."

After the children had sung a hymn, heard a reading from the Bible and said prayers, the Head would take the opportunity to give out messages or, occasionally, reprimand any youngster who had misbehaved.

" I remember being in the assembly hall and the headmaster made an announcement when the king had died. That was in February 1952."

Not everyone attended Assembly. Children who were Catholics went to a separate room where one of the prefects or older children lead their own religious assembly. Whether the Catholic pupils went back into the main Assembly to hear any announcements is not known, but they certainly missed out on occasional 'happenings'.

For example, one day Mr Ellis arrived at Assembly with a swollen face. The night before he had collected a swarm of bees from the grounds of Flintham's vicarage.

"I went up this tree and I shook the bees into a box and some of them missed and went on my veil. One of the bees stung me on the end of my nose. On the way home I felt that my nose was swelling and that my face was getting puffy. My parents thought I had been in a car accident and it completely distorted my appearance. But I went to school the next day and the children went in [to Assembly] as usual and I stood near to the front on the right hand side. A lot of the children were looking at me and [there was] a lot of smirking going on. Right at the beginning of the service Mr Beard said, "Boys and girls, that is not a new member of staff over there, that is Mr Ellis". Of course that brought the house down".

Lessons

After Assembly the children went to their Form rooms or to specialist rooms for their first lesson of the day. Most of the children came from village schools and were used to spending the day in one room, so there was some initial novelty in moving around the site. Once in their classroom, the children also enjoyed working in groups of four instead of sitting in rows as they had done at their primary school.

Seated at desks

Loaned by B. Ellis

"We had what we called tables which weren't tables at all, but made up of four individual desks facing in to each other. I don't think anybody had their back to the front, but you could be at quite an angle."

Ex-pupils' memories about core subjects such as Maths and English are relatively scarce, but such lessons were, of course, held. For example, in the week ending 22 September 1950, Form 1 spent four periods studying 'vulgar fractions of varying difficulty'.

During the same week they were asked to write their autobiographies. Barrie Ellis wrote in his teaching notes that this exercise was to 'ascertain the children's standard' before adding that the children's writing would also enable him to learn a little more about each child and their life outside school. To assist with the biographies the children were given a punctuation exercise. They also spent time reading and listening to poetry from Far and Near in the hopes that they would enjoy the poems and begin to increase their confidence in 'reading and speaking well before others'.

Form 1 also spent one Geography period that week preparing for a BBC radio broadcast which they listened to on the Friday. Form 2 had two periods of Geography; at one they considered the movement of the earth and moon, and in the other they began to understand the differences between longitude and latitude.

For religious instruction, Form 1 were given a short talk about a passage from the Bible that had been read out in Assembly, before answering questions about it. The boys joined forces with the lads from Form 2 for the Games lesson when they all played football. The girls had their own Games lesson with Mrs Metcalfe.

Perhaps the highlight of that September week was the double Art session when every pupil spent time designing a Robert Thoroton School badge and a coat of arms for each of the four Houses: Hildyard, Fosse, Trent and Sherwood. How the House names were chosen, or who chose them, is not known. Similarly, who drew the design which was woven into the school badge is not known. With over 100 designs to choose from, making the final decision can not have been an easy task.

Discipline

All the children had been used to being disciplined at their village schools and were not surprised that they or their classmates received the cane, a sharp slap or had to stand outside the Head's room during the dinner break when they were naughty. The most common reasons for being disciplined were for excessive talking in class or running around the school premises instead of walking. Not all of the children were used to being taught by a male teacher and some of their methods of discipline were, perhaps, a little unexpected. Mr Whitehead, considered to be "very strict", was fond of throwing the wooden blackboard rubber across the room to catch a chatty youngster unawares. One day he decided to make the 'punishment fit the crime' and picked up a lad by his ankles and turned him upside down to help him 'turn over a new page'. Everything dropped out of his pockets to the great amusement of the whole class.

"We got the cane for talking mainly. It didn't do us any harm."

"I got the cane for chewing."

"I got caned for having a cigarette. We sat in a chicken shed and we got caught."

"I refused to wear the school clogs which were most uncomfortable [for gardening] and was sent to the headmaster to receive the cane."

" I never remember Mr Beard [Head Teacher] caning anyone."

"Mr Beard was the one who dished out the punishment, with a handkerchief tied round the cane."

In January 1954, Melville H. Turner took over as Head Teacher. Later that year he recorded in the school Log Book that he authorised assistant teachers to administer corporal punishment providing that no child was punished within 30 minutes of the end of the morning or afternoon session, and that only was stroke on each hand was allowed.

Over the last six decades attitudes to discipline have changed dramatically. And yet, none of those who shared their thoughts felt that the methods of punishment employed in the 1950s were 'wrong' or 'harmful'. All those who were at school, certainly in John Beard's time stated, often more than once, that their days at the Robert Thoroton School were among the happiest they ever spent.

School dinner

Mrs Doyle and her staff

Loaned by B. Ellis

Plump, motherly Mrs Doyle from Syerston presided over the kitchens and, with her staff, produced the mid-day meals. Memories about the amount, the quality and how food was served varied. Many of the Flintham children went home for their mid-day meal but some certainly stayed, along with those from the other villages for whom going home was not an option.

"We didn't queue up, we had portions put on the table. We had a server."

"They had kitchens behind the dining room and served it out through a hatch. You queued up and collected it, so it was like a cafeteria type of thing. When you had eaten your first course you went back and got your pudding."

"It was good, solid food. I enjoyed the dinners and knew how to get second helpings - by knowing Mrs Doyle who was serving them out."

"[School dinners] were basic."

Homework

Homework was given but not always well received.

"I did a piece of homework. Well, I went to the pictures that night and my brother did it for me. Mr Jeffcoat praised my essay on 'how would you tell the time if you didn't have a watch?' My brother did a lovely essay on telling the time with the sun. I blushed to my roots; it wasn't my work. I bought my brother a bar of chocolate!"

Come back and read about working with animals, cross country runs and excursions.

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