Recollections of the Skool wot disappeared

This is the first of two articles by “Jack” (that appeared in the Summer/Autumn 2003 issues of the Rollestonian), a former teacher at the local Secondary School in Tutbury that eventually grew to become the Forest of Needwood High School in Rolleston. Senior native Rollestonians should remember “Jack” and even those in their middle years should know “Mrs. Jack” (there’s a clue!) – what was her nickname? A free Rolleston Millennium Mug for the best story about Mr. or Mrs. Jack to publish in the next issue (marks for composition and spelling!) – Tom Martin.

The walls are down, the bricks crushed into hardcore, and the site in Rolleston cleared. Nevertheless, memories of “The Forest” linger, fondly for many, whilst evidence of the origins of that school still remain in Tutbury. The premises now occupied by the Richard Wakefield Primary School were used as a Girls’-cum-Infants’ School until extended in the late 1930s by the addition of a Woodwork Room, a Science Lab. and an Art Room to become a Senior School for Boys and Girls. Mr. Stephens, formerly Head at Hanbury [then an All-Age School] was appointed Head, somewhat reluctantly he would later say, and eleven year-olds from surrounding villages were brought together every day.

One unusual feature of “the top school” [‘top’ referring to its position at the top of Burton Street] in those early days concerned the packed lunches that some children brought with them. Anxious to improve their diet, Mrs. Brettle, Domestic Science teacher, and Mr. Stephens jointly, put up a sum of their own money and formed a registered non-profit-making, Limited Company to provide daily hot meals for the children. They employed a cook, equipped the kitchen, arranged to grow the vegetables in the school garden, bought essential cooking ingredients and then purchased best quality meat from the local butcher, “because country children will only eat best meat”. They had to charge for the meal but the response was positive and they re-couped their investment within two years. They had pioneered the idea of the School Meals Service, which came in nationally during WW2, but their independent system of purchasing went on until the early 1950s. Up to that time the school enjoyed what were probably the best school meals in the County, perhaps even the whole country, but once “found-out” they had to conform with County purchasing rules and the quality dropped noticeably.

Mr. Stephens was of the old school. A quiet and gentle man, he was also a strong disciplinarian and, of course, corporal punishment was acceptable and administered. He could be very pedantic. Witness the story of a boy having to report to him about a spade broken during a gardening lesson and twice being sent out of the office for not describing the incident accurately. A passing teacher seeing the lad outside the office in some distress asked him what he had said and the boy replied, “I said ‘My spade broke Sir’ and I was told to, ‘Think again lad. Go outside and try again!’” With advice, the boy tried again and got it right. “Please Sir, I’ve broken my spade”.......... Mr. Stephens was very precise. Children were not expected to shout or scream or make any undue noise at playtimes or to play roughly, whilst inside every teacher’s desk there was a list of “Twenty Do Nots for Teachers”. Life at school was very prescriptive for everyone.

Mr. Knight brought many changes after his appointment around 1950. The school title had changed after the 1944 Education Act to “Tutbury Secondary Modern School”, and specialist subjects were increased from the original Domestic Science, Woodwork, Needlework and Gardening, the latter becoming Rural Science, and English, Mathematics, History, Geography and Art and Crafts became separated. However it was the change in philosophy that mattered most. By 1952 there were 240 children registered with a staff of 12 teachers. Buses brought children from the edge of Marchington, Draycott-in-the-Clay, Needwood, Rangemore, Tatenhill, Hanbury and Anslow as well as from Stretton and Rolleston. Barton only had one All-Age School at that time: Tutbury served the whole of the “Burton Fringe” and Burton County Borough was a separate Authority.

The employment of the school-leavers was different at that time with almost half the number going into agriculture, a considerable group taking jobs at glass-works [lead crystal cut-glass in Tutbury and medicine/milk/perfumery bottles in Hatton] a mixed selection of local apprenticeships and only a small proportion into jobs in Burton.

Meanwhile at school sporting ambitions and achievements were rising along with standards in other subjects and on summer mornings from about 7.00a.m., there could be heard, all over the awakening village, the sound of willow bat striking cricket ball as Chris Jardine, the P.E. teacher, supervised cricket practice on the yard. One of the most popular teachers ever, tragically he drowned when helping at a Summer Camp at Staithes, in full view of the whole party. Equally tragically, a local fisherman also drowned when trying to save him.

School Holiday parties and YHA groups travelled to all parts of Britain and Ireland during those years and several went abroad. Plays, musical operettas, concerts and pantomimes as well as gymnastic displays were produced regularly and “The School” became the axis of village life in Tutbury. The support and openly-expressed appreciation of parents was so effusive as to be almost embarrassing but it created bonds of trust and friendship that were to form foundations for further ambitious developments. 

At this time the school was considered by the LEA to have “a rural bias” and this was re-enforced by Freddie Ballington, the rural science teacher, who developed the greenhouse and garden. No longer keen to provide the canteen with vegetables he made use of the old air-raid shelters for growing mushrooms, and increased the egg-production of the hens. The greenhouse had to receive attention at week-ends and holidays, .... the small boiler was coal-fired at that time, .... and boys were not all eager to volunteer as week-end stokers so the problem was ‘how to increase their interest and maintain enthusiasm?’ Again a registered Limited Company was formed but this time the children became the share-holders. It was the high-light of the Education Marquee at the County Show that year, an article with pictures also appeared in The Small-Holder Magazine and it was even mentioned in the national press. Company accounts were published and a dividend paid to the young shareholders ...... but the real dividend was the experience it provided ....... as well as keeping the boiler going during the winter!

Lots of anecdotes probably still circulate among old scholars and their the teachers who provide the link because they were there continuously. Mrs. Brettle, a very small but kind and happy lady, ruled the D.S. Room strictly and men and boys had to tread carefully on her territory. One senior boy, of about six feet in height and shoulders almost the width of the door-posts, had somehow trangressed so she curtly ordered him to, “Come here!” He came. “Sit down!” He sat. Then, having brought him down to her level, she surprised everyone by slapping him and then ordered him out of the room. That would be a crime today ..... it was not approved practice then ..... but the lad never showed the slightest resentment and ever afterwards he would smile shyly if the incident was ever mentioned. 

Times were different and relationships healthy. Mrs. Brettle was often known as “Nellie” whilst ”Basher” Birkett, the woodwork teacher, never really liked his nick-name, he’d always been “Chippy” in previous schools, but “Fungii” Freddy acknowledged the connection and as for “Jack”, well, that’s another story!


Part 2
This is the second of two articles by “Jack”, a former teacher at the local Secondary School in Tutbury that eventually grew to become the Forest of Needwood High School in Rolleston. No one has had the nerve to send me an anecdote concerning “Jack”, or his wife, yet – Tom Martin.

Quite apart from the goodwill of parents, other supporters included village notables such as the Vicars, Rev. Norman Edwards and his successor Rev. Tunnidine and most leading lights of local organisations. A particular friend was Miss Newton who lived across the road at the Cliffe where the lovely garden was made available for Speech Day each summer. It never rained on Speech Day! A small platform acted as the focal point, with chairs piercing the beautifully manicured lawns, and sitting there in the warm sunshine surrounded by well-stocked flower-beds and beneath such superb Cedars of Lebanon trees made an unforgettable impression, particularly for those leaving school or receiving awards. The event closed with children receiving an ice-cream and adults being offered refreshments, indoors if they chose, as a gift from Miss Newton. However her most precious gift was the field opposite her house. Sport and games had suffered difficulties because no land was conveniently available and the field she gave was perfect for the school’s needs. She did take one precaution and that was that it was a gift in perpetuum so long as it was used as a childrens’ sports field but, if no longer required for that purpose, the ownership would revert back to her family!! A quiet, kind and unassuming lady but very wise.

Everyone appointed during Bob Knight’s time was given to understand that new buildings were imminent. When? Next year or the year after! But next year never seemed to come.

The Church Hall was the gymnasium as well as the School Hall, the Congregational Schoolrooms [known irreverently as The Congo], the Oddfellows Hall, occasionally the Institute and even, at times, the laundry over at Miss Newton’s were all used as classrooms and with numbers approaching 450 the situation was becoming desperate. 

Throughout this period the secondary school selection exam, known as the 11+, had dominated the lives of primary school-children ...... and especially their parents. The local grammar schools were “owned” by the Burton Borough and Staffs.C.C. paid for a limited number of places in those schools, which meant that to live within the borough gave a child an enormous advantage. Tutbury Secondary Modern School was admitting some children who would have attended grammar schools had they lived over the boundary! Bob Knight recognised the injustice and, together with the teaching staff, devised a scheme to provide an opportunity for children with ability to sit for an external exam. As trials, the College of Preceptors papers were taken and responses from children and parents, as well as results, immediately confirmed that this was a worthy cause. Only five or six subjects at GCE “O” level could be offered at first and even this meant extra work for staff because their normal teaching load had to be carried at the same time. Grammar Schools gained extra staff which was not available to Modern Schools so “marking time” was used, lunchtime tutorials organised, after-hours lessons, and occasionally week-end time or holiday sessions were arranged; anything to get through the syllabus. Teachers worked very hard and pupils seemed to recognise the effort for they followed suit; those young pioneers set the scene for the next several years and the school’s reputation grew.

But apparently Her Majesty’s Inspectors were less impressed. They descended on the school in very critical fashion and checked every aspect of the school’s activities with great and obvious suspicion. At the end of a very harassing week, when asked why the inspection had taken place so soon after a previous one [which had been more than satisfactory] the reply was that this was not a school expected to take external exams and to be doing so, with such limited staff numbers, teachers must be neglecting the average secondary-modern school-child to the benefit of the more able pupils. The staff were quite shattered. All that extra effort to ensure that that would not happen and this was the result? Surprisingly it was not! The County chose to back the school’s initiative and challenge the HMIs with the result that the title of the school changed to Tutbury Secondary School, dropping the word Modern, and the staffing levels were improved to facilitate the widening curriculum. It was not all that could have been done but it was more that might have been expected. Very shortly after that another name-change occurred when the Forest of Needwood Secondary School was adopted .... and the new school building? Ah! That will come next year! 

The possible site for a new building was for others to decide but during Mr. Oxspring’s time as Director of Education he would ‘pop-in’ unexpectedly and provide the latest update, otherwise Tutbury was something of an outpost to the LEA. It was said that a site above Tutbury near Chapel House was being considered but unfortunately that was dropped around the time that John Taylor Secondary at Barton was formed and the Tatenhill and Rangemore in-take transferred; ‘unfortunately’ because, had that been the chosen site, it may not have been thought of as “a Burton School” when the political decision was made to close one of the Burton Schools.

The next site was here in Rolleston, not then Rolleston-on-Dove because that was the end of the village nearest the old, railway station. It was the Hall parklands, “The Lawn”, where now stands The Lawns estate. Not easy to access without other land being acquired, the fields themselves water-logged because the land-drains were no longer effective and perhaps most importantly, objections from neighbouring property-owners to having school fields at the end of their gardens, so, why try to solve such problems when, down the road, there is an accessible site, with, at that time, no neighbours at all? The decision was easy!

Then came questions of architects and design. The word at the time was that the County architects were all fully occupied with bridge and other work related to the construction of the M6 Motorway, hence the work went to an outside firm of repute that had received a Bronze Award for designs in the previous year. They produced the Rolleston building seen from the roadside, without the later extensions added behind. Designed to accommodate 450 the school was nearer 600 when the transfer took place but at last the school was under one roof and the regular “trans-village safaris “, with all that time-wastage, were over. The new landing-windows leaked and there was water-seepage through the brick-work in the main corridor but after all the years of waiting the promise had been kept. Tutbury felt the loss for a long time but the childrens’ needs were paramount and further progress was now possible.

Others may tell the story differently and many know as much and more about the Rolleston part of the story but the tradition of close relationships between staff, pupils and parents and the ethos that grew in Tutbury always remained within the collective body and continued under Philip Wraight. Most of those who worked there, whether as pupil, ancillary or teacher think of “The Forest” with some affection and, often, with gratitude. It was a good school. It earned its reputation honestly. It deserves to be remembered.


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Last updated: 30 August 2003