Greenhill Grammar school, Oldham

THEY'RE CLOSING THE OLD SCHOOL DOWN

 

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This is quite a lengthy and comprehensive essay by Rod Ashworth, which he wrote at the time of the school closure in 1978.  Rod was the Deputy Head at the time.

 

One copy of this document is owned by Jeremy Sutcliffe, who found it amongst his mother's possessions (Ida Sutcliffe, neĆ©  Tweedale), and another copy is owned by David and Val Webster, who were present at the closure Open Day and received their copy there.

 
We are indebted to these people  for safeguarding these copies for us, and hence enabling us to publish the essay here now.

 


 

I N T R O D U C T I O N

 

Compile a History of Greenhill!  In my ignorance I assumed 'Greenhill' and the Greengate Street building to have been synonymous for the past 75 years. How soon I learned my mistake and yet this school may smell as sweet by any other name, seven names in all. Apart from which I haven't seen, let alone smelt, the local tom-cat for a while now.

Generations of children and staff, thousands of lives shaped, memories given birth, of rewards and punishments, of humour and sadness, enjoyment, romance and, even here, boredom.

 
"Failure to wear school cap on two successive days - six strokes" - and they were the good old days?

Secretly-made rendezvous with members of the opposite sex, whispered on corridors, scrawled notes while avoiding waspish mistresses or hawk-eyed masters - where has all the excitement gone ?

Girls in sight yet untouchable.  Boys so close yet unattainable - well, maybe!  Boys and girls under one roof and one Headmaster, yet as far apart as Mars and Venus, warriors and maidens kept apart by the warders, or protectors, depending upon your opinion of the role of the staff.

Boys' yard and girls' yard and ne'er the twain shall meet. Even the door was locked. (There isn't even a door now!)
Girls rushing to be first out of the form rooms in order to stand next to the boys in assembly, or casting hopeful glances over their shoulder as they crossed the yard - the boys in the science lab. may be watching, with any luck.

What was in that "obscene letter' circulated amongst her 'school fellows', by a girl in IIIB in 1911? Whatever it was, her father was given the option to remove his daughter from the school or have her expelled.  He chose the former option. The 'girl' must be around 80 now.  I wonder if she remembers? I know her name, but I'm not telling!

How many remember an occasion in 1919/20, when the whole school was assembled before Mr. Handley, in order that he might castigate one J.M.K. Faulkner, who, apart from his skills as a footballer and his claims to being the worst lad in the school, considered himself to be something of an explosives expert.

Apparently he had a stock of gunpowder, the use of which he demonstrated to some of his friends, one lunch time.  One attempt to light the gunpowder failed, so his pals decided to have another go.  It worked, but he failed to retire, which cost him his eyebrows and some hair.

Undeterred, the expedition, minus one, continued on its explosive way, by attempting to blow up the Waterloo School on Hardy Street.  As with Guy Fawkes and his plotters, the attempt failed and they were captured.  Fortunately, hanging, drawing and quartering had ceased to be a punishment in Oldham schools, but maybe the plotters regretted this after Mr. Handley had dealt with them.

Few people took liberties with Mr. Handley, who was described, many years after as 'fair but firm'.  Mattie Ellison, however, had the temerity to stick her tongue out at him, presumably not to his face, but why she did it is 'another story'.  Somebody noticed and admired her courage and immediately fell in love with her.  He was Albert Royds, later Chief Education Officer in Rochdale, and who shares the distinction, with Hartley Bateson, of having a road named after him - Albert Royds Street in Rochdale.  Bateson Way, in Oldham, took its name from the former member of the Secondary School staff.

So far one must have gained the impression that the school revolved around sex, violence and obscenity, which are the only topics mentioned so far.  This would hardly be a fair conclusion, especially since Biology failed to appear on the timetable until September 1933.  A month later a Boy Scout troop was formed by Mr. Nixon and (a week later) a Girl Guide troop was formed by Miss Jones and Miss Wilson.  I am sure that this succession of events was purely coincidental.

Recollections of school days are divided between one-off incidents like the 'Great Muffin Fight' and traditions such as initiation ceremonies, de-tufting girls' berets, 'Running the Gauntlet' in one corner of the Boys' yard or even worse in another corner.  Favourite haunts, often out of bounds, have continued down to this present day.  I wonder how many boys, and girls for that matter, have 'fallen' into the Boating Lake  in Alexandra Park during lunch time.

The corner shops are still out of bounds at break times, but children still go - some are caught, some escape.  Pious pronouncements of dire consequences are still uttered in assemblies and they still work - for a day, or oven two. How many of you have foregone the delights of school dinners, pocketed the money and bought fish and chips, or chips and cigarettes?

The maze of back alleys or the spaces behind the Science Labs and Woodwork shed are still the favourites for quick drags with look-outs providing ample warning if danger approaches.  Hands up if you've been caught unawares and kept talking by a member of staff, while you held a lighted cigarette in your pocket, trying to look innocent with smoke drifting out of your wrist.  Mr. Hollos was never caught like that, but then he was a member of staff.

These and many other incidents could have happened at any other school, maybe, but they didn't, they happened at the Municipal or High School or Grammar School or Greenhill - the Greengate Street building, which has housed 75 years of children, staff and memories.  It has enjoyed an atmosphere remarkably consistent through the years.  Any attempt to recapture this atmosphere can only be partially successful, especially since the best years of the School were when you were there.

What is to follow is a largely a chronological account of the school's development and changes, but during my investigations I have been amazed by the interest generated by the project and the wealth of material supplied by people.  I have always met with tremendous help and co-operation.  To everyone who has assisted in any way, my sincere thanks.  My only hope is that I have done a modicum of justice to the material provided.