Paper delivered to the History of Education Society’s Postgraduate Conference
held at Cambridge on 18th June, 2010.
From re-union website to history of education archive: one schools’ experience
by Mike Russell
This paper traces the development of a website that was originally created to facilitate and support a school re-union but which then metamorphised into an archive that will be of interest to researchers into the history of education. It is particularly useful as an archive to researchers who have an interest in one of the pillars of the tripartite system of education created by the Butler 1944 Education Act, namely the secondary technical school. There were only ever 324 such schools in Britain at the height of their brief popularity and these soon declined down to 184 in the mid 1960s and the advent of comprehensivisation of the education system sounded their death-knell. This paper shows how a vehicle created for one purpose can become a repository for an educational archive, with just a little thought and imagination.
I have to start on the 7th September 1959, when 65 keen 11 year-olds trooped through the gates of Hathershaw Technical High School, Oldham, dressed in cherry red blazers, cherry red caps or berets and wearing maroon ties, to begin our secondary education. Hathershaw Tech, as it was popularly called, was one of only 200 or so such technical schools across the country in 1959 and competed with the town’s two state grammar schools for pupils who had passed the 11+. We had a mixture of a grammar-school curriculum and dashes of technical education. For the boys this consisted of five years of woodwork or metalwork, five years of technical drawing and five years of physics and chemistry: the girls did cookery and needlework when we were woodworking or technically drawing and joined us for physics and chemistry! Discipline was strict but no stricter than that we had experienced at junior school. Most of us were together until O levels in 1964 and then the majority of our year left to start work. 2009 was therefore fifty years since we started at ‘the Tech’. It has been a recent fashion in our town (and other towns for all I know) to organise reunions at key dates - 10, 20, and 50 years in our case - and so two of our classmates set about trying to get us all together again.
They had the old Admissions Register but the addresses given there were the addresses we had when we started at Hathershaw. In those fifty years, Oldham had undergone radical changes. It had been a cotton town, with vast numbers of mills and mill chimneys but cotton collapsed in the 1960s. The town’s second main industries, engineering and manufacturing collapsed in the late 1970s and early 1980s and those of our classmates who had taken employment in technical industries were forced to move elsewhere in the country or abroad. Areas of the town where half of the Class of 59 had lived, had now become Asian ghettos after the influx of people from the Subcontinent from the mid-1970s. Former neighbours who might have known where our classmates had gone, has themselves moved areas in the panic of ‘white flight’. So where could the organisers start looking for old classmates?
One of them, Keith Royales, started with the website, Friends Reunited but not all the e-mail addresses that had been registered with Friends were current. The other organiser, Nigel Marland, made appeals through the local newspapers and slowly names began to come in. Keith had some experience of websites and decided to create one (www.keithroyales.net) to support our reunion and included an invitation to join us in October. He thought it would be a more personal way of contacting former classmates than using Friends Reunited. As an afterthought he decided to add the names of all students in our year as a rolling list and when that worked well, he added the names of the staff who were at the school at the same time we were. The second organiser wrote a potted history of the school and that went on the website. He mentioned that the school plan was built on the profile of an aircraft but further research revealed a connection with A. V. Roe’s aircraft engineering company, a local company who had supported the foundation of a Technical school in Oldham and who built the Lancaster bomber, famed for the Dambusters’ Raid on the water supply of the Ruhr. This bomber was the template for our school’s buildings. Such were the humble beginnings of the website, dedicated to be a vehicle for recruiting old classmates to the reunion.
Slowly people began responding and were asked to provide a potted biography of their life since leaving Hathershaw. Soon, those who had been reluctant writers at school all those years ago, demonstrated their new-found confidence and witty as well as informative biographies began to appear on the site from as far afield as South Africa, Australia and the States. One of the girls, Norma Hilton (nee Taylor) sent in a couple of photographs of the netball and hockey teams for our year and that unleashed a floodgate! Classmates brought photographs to the Reunion and photographs from people in other years began to arrive and were added to the site. They form one of the jewels of the site. A special section had also to be set up to allow pupils from other years to contribute to the site but not necessarily intrude on the Class of 59’s Reunion. By the time our reunion took place, we had fifty former pupils and ten former members of staff. A contemporary year in another of the town’s grammar schools had organised a reunion before ours and only managed 15 former classmates. So the website had achieved its purpose of recruiting for the reunion.
I had a discussion with our Webmaster, Keith, after the reunion and it was decided to continue the site so that it could become an archive for Hathershaw Technical High School, which had been opened in 1954 but which became one of Oldham’s comprehensive schools in 1966. The site would serve as a repository of memories and memorabilia for the school which had had a life of only 12 years, as well as a more personal version of Friends Reunited, to keep us all in touch.
Other people from our year joined in the development of the archive: it became a discussion forum for the teaching and learning styles we were subjected to and even more exciting we were able to prevail on those surviving members of staff to add their memories of teaching there. Most members of staff, living or dead, had always acknowledged that their time at Hathershaw was amongst the best of their teaching career. Interestingly two contributions - one an early pupil, the other a teacher who spanned both schools - traced the change from a Junior Technical School to a Senior Technical School and then a Technical Grammar School.
Our Webmaster found how to place our site on the Google search-engine so that anyone looking for Hathershaw School would see the first entry as ‘Hathershaw Technical High School’s Reunion website’ and so we had classmates and other fellow Technonians finding the site through this. They then proceeded to contact the Webmaster and add to the site in a sort of steady drip-feed. The site is not static, there are items always being added.
Interestingly the site has motivated the Class of 58 to organise a general reunion for later in 2010, where the school’s rock-band, the Techniques, will play together for the first time in 40 years. It has also spawned other reunions by pupils who came to the school when it was a well-established comprehensive school and that will be taking place later this year.
But for the dedication of two former students, determined to create an archive for future researchers, this new direction would not have taken place: one had an interest in creating a website, which soon developed into expertise; the other was an educational researcher in training at the University of Manchester. The combination of both these former class-mates ensures the website is a veritable treasure trove for future researchers.
How and why will it be a useful archive? Well, how many of us in our research have come across a useful photograph in a periodical and thought “That would look well in my work” only to find that the photocopier does not produce a crisp copy? By arrangement with the Webmaster, researchers will have access to any photograph on the site and they are of really good quality. The personal memories by a teacher and a pupil of the transition from a Secondary Technical School’s curriculum is interesting when considering the effectiveness of such schools - schools, incidentally, recently proposed as part of the Conservative Party’s manifesto! Details of how the school moved from its STS site at Robin Hill down to Hathershaw in 1954 can be found in the school magazines and paint a picture of a co-operative local education authority who lent school-meals vans to assist in the moving and did not charge for this service! The school calendar provides an insight into the life of a technical grammar school, with its visits to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the demonstrations staged there for their enjoyment. The cultural life of pupils is listed in this calendar and researches can see the range of foreign trips offered to pupils, as well as the chances they had to visit London or Stratford, or to go on outdoor holidays, either hiking in Wales or to a local outdoor education centre and stay for five days.
All offer an insight through this archival website into a life in one successful school in one town in the 1960s, when Harold McMillan proclaimed we’d never had it so good! And how true that was for us!
Through the development of technology such websites have much to offer educational historians for many years to come and this one might readily serve as a model for others in years to come. So I urge you all to return to the various institutions to which you have belonged - school, college, university - find a webmaster (and if you can’t, become one yourself) and begin to contribute your memories, your photographs, your reminiscence and get them recorded on line for the benefit of, if not the next regeneration of researchers then the ones after them, because I am convinced all archives will then be on the internet and history of education research will change beyond our dreams.
Hathershaw Tech is pleased to be leading the way!
See my comment