ROBIN HILL SCHOOL / HATHERSHAW TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL 1951 - 1957
By: Ray Oliver
September 1951 marked the beginning of my Robin Hill/HTHS education resplendent in my red blazer, cap and striped tie. My maternal grandfather, who had been a much loved inspiration to me, died within a few days of my starting at Robin Hill and this led to my first direct contact with Charles Bell the Headmaster to request time off for the funeral.
Only six years after the end of WW2 there was still much of the austerity which those wartime conditions had brought with rationing and dashes to the air raid shelters a recent memory. For the boys short trousers were worn into early teenage, it took less cloth to make them than long pants and they were cheaper. I was 14 and approaching 6ft tall before my knees disappeared from view. The penalty was chapped knees during the winters which were colder than today. Domestic central heating, insulation and double glazing were unheard of but the bliss of hot radiators after a freezing journey to school on the number 8 bus from Shaw remains fixed in my mind. Steam trains were the main source of power on the newly nationalised railways with stations, streets and many homes still lit by coal gas piped from Hollinwood or Higginshaw gasworks.
Two significant changes which influenced everyone’s lives following the war were the Education Act in 1946 and the setting up of the NHS. The first ensured secondary education for all and the second was designed to keep you alive to enjoy it. It was against this background that schools like the Junior Technical School expanded to become Robin Hill School and then in 1954 moved to Hathershaw having undergone major changes to the entry requirements and curriculum along the way.
In 1951 I was assigned to the ‘Builders” class which, as well as the more conventional subjects, exposed us to painting and decorating, plumbing, plastering and bricklaying. Charles Bell, ever keen to move the school onwards and upwards, established ‘GCE’ classes with the first such class scheduled to take the exams in 1954. The ‘Builder’ and ‘Engineer’ classes were scrutinised for suitably performing pupils to be transferred to the ‘GCE’ stream and I and some of my fellow ‘Brickies’ found ourselves being groomed for ‘O’ level stardom.
It is a measure of the Robin Hill staff’s tremendous dedication and abilities that the results achieved in 1954 and 1955 included many of us who had failed the 11+ and taken the ‘O’ level exams in one year less than our contemporaries who had passed for the local grammar schools. Mr Bell was heard to modestly boast later that the average number of passes achieved in those years exceeded that for both Counthill and Greenhill.
In the midst of preparation for ‘O’ levels the phased move to the new school at Hathershaw took place and there was little time to settle in before our time there seemed to be coming to a close.
There had been something of a tradition that local firms had approached Mr Bell when vacancies for school leavers arose and he frequently directed chosen ones to job interviews. In my case he must have decided that I had the makings of an architect and was therefore interviewed in 1955 by a firm in Clegg Street who had taken on several earlier pupils from the school. I got the job and began what I thought was going to be my long period of training to become a competent designer of brick outhouses and pub interiors, a product of Charlie’s employment agency.
It was not to be. After only six weeks or so I was called into the boss’s office and told CB had decided to set up a VIth form to take Maths, Physics and Chemistry ‘A’levels and if I wished to take up the offer to return to HTHS I was free to do so.
By this time, being a late developer, I had reached the ripe old age of 17yrs and even had a provisional driving licence. My parents indicated their willingness to provide support for a least another two years and so I returned to HTHS in September 1955.
Just two other members of our class returned, Philip Ingham and Donald Ainsworth and we embarked on a new venture for the school. Our relationships with ‘Nat’ Mills, ‘Bricky’ Fielding and ‘Killer’ Kerrigan became much more intense, not only did we have the three ‘A’ levels to cope with but Peter Halliwell had the unenviable task of trying to rush us through a German ‘O’ level in quick time.
I passed my driving test just before Christmas 1955 and I am fairly certain that I was the first pupil to travel to HTHS driving a car, coolly parking my father’s (he couldn’t drive at that time) Austin A30 alongside those of the teachers and Mr Mills’ motorcycle combination. Happy days!
Elsewhere on the website I have described how the three of us went about our lives after HTHS and our meeting up again some 40 odd years later.
It sounds a little pompous I know but I would like to think that our efforts as pupils in the early 50's together with the splendid and dedicated staff lead by CB helped to lay the foundation for an education which has brought benefits for the hundreds of young people who have followed in the past six decades.
Best wishes to all ex HTHS alumni, I hope you find an old codger’s reminiscences a little interesting.
Ray Oliver Robin Hill/HTHS 1951 - 1957
P.S. There is nothing so frightful as ignorance in action: Goethe