Greenhill Grammar school, Oldham


by Fred Brook



At one of  the early Greenhill reunions a few people of the class of 1947 pointed out that, although they were founding pupils of what became Greenhill Grammar School, they never attended it.  They attended West Oldham High School and left it at the age of 15, and WOHS became Greenhill GS after they left.


So, where did WOHS come from? We need a little bit of Education History.  The following bit draws heavily on a paper written by Mr Ronnie Wells after our early reunions.


Most of us who started at WOHS attended Elementary Schools, run by Oldham  Council.  I attended Westwood School, as did my mother.  When I started there during the War the leaving age was 14. Elementary Schools provided free education  from the age of 5 to 14.  Something called Secondary Education existed for pupils having high scholastic records.  In Oldham this was provided by the High School situated on Greengate Street.  It was run by the Council, and success in an exam taken at age 11 secured entry to it.  It was free to boys and girls.  Oldham also had the fee-paying  girls and boys Hulme Grammar Schools.


In 1944 the Wartime Government, led by Winston Churchill, passed an Education Act.  It had great implications for all of us. Elementary Schools were ended.  State education was to be in two stages, Primary, serving age 5 to 11, and Secondary, serving age 11 to 15 (the new leaving age).  Most pupils leaving primary  schools would go to Secondary Modern Schools.  Those successful in the 11-plus examination could proceed to Grammar or High Schools. The Act urged Education Committees to increase the proportion of pupils attending such schools.


Oldham Education voted to increase the proportion of places in ‘selective’ education from 15% of a year group to 30%.  This meant that a new High School had to be created, and in September we became the first intake of West Oldham High School, a new school.  The existing school in Greengate became East Oldham High School.


We were housed in Ward Street School, sharing the building with the remaining pupils of the Central School (Eric Sykes is its best known ex-pupil) and some older pupils belonging to Robin Secondary  Modern School.  Three schools in one building was all rather confusing, but we wore the traditional green blazers of  Oldham High School, which really made us stand out.

We were drawn from schools all over Oldham, not exclusively from the West side.  Some schools sent one or two pupils, like me and Colin Bentley who were from Westwood School.   Others like Derker and All Saints Northmoor sent large groups.  Most of us,however, were complete strangers to each other when we started.  I recall pupils from Coldhurst, Werneth, Hollins, Freehold, Roundthorn, Greenacres, Higginshaw, Moorside and Northmoor.   All Saints and Northmoor were the nearest to Ward Street.


Ward Street School was opened in 1926, built in good strong red brick.  To me it seemed a tall building, very modern compared to smoky Westwood.  The schoolyard was on the west side , with rough ground sloping down below it (my father said there had been a coal mine there).  On  a clear day classrooms on the West side had views over Chadderton towards Middleton, and trains running on the Rochdale to Manchester line were a wonderful distraction. We had no playing fields of our own.  The girls played netball and rounders in the yard and boys and girls used the hall for gym.  In winter the boys played rugby on the old bowling green next to Northmoor Library.  We also used the “mucky brows” on West End Street.  The brows were the levelled off ground once covered by West End Colliery.  We had no kitchens and so no dining room.  School dinners were provided in a former wartime canteen across Featherstall Road North , at the foot of Ward Street.  I went home for my dinner. I lived on Featherstall Road.


Our Headmaster was Mr John Parker BSc (we called him Jack, after a speedway rider at Belle Vue), with Mr Archer Tate as his deputy. Mrs Wild acted as Senior Mistress for the girls.  Mr Tate was a well-known singer, a fine bass voice. He took the boys for singing, always good fun.  We shared some of our teachers with the others schools in Ward Street.  The ones I remember from the start in First Form were Mr Farrar,(Science), Mr Wells (Geography and History), Mr Sedgeley (French), Mrs Morris (English and Music) , Miss Turberfield (girls PE) and Mr Kiff (Woodwork).  As WOHS took in more pupils in 1948, 49 and 50 so we took on more teachers and widened the subjects we could take.  These included Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Latin, German, Technical Drawing, Needlework and Art.  New teachers included Mr Nichols, Mr George Wright, Mr Kenneth Wright, Mr Harry Martin, Mrs Lake, Mr Sam Shepherd and Mr Livesey.


In time we got the use of proper playing fields on the west side of Westwood Park.  They belonged to Oldham Council and had been built on reclaimed ground.  Our cricket matches were played on a bumpy grassy ground beside Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park.  Our swimming took place in Robin Hill Baths, a short walk across from Ward Street.  We had good swimming teams, especially the girls, led by Jean Wrigley, who eventually became an Olympic Swimmer.


The boys played Rugby League against the new Secondary Modern Schools in Oldham.  My cousin played for Richmond Street SM and said that the WOHS boys were a big and strong team.  His pals did not want to tackle Peter Marner, John Mellor or Ray Robinson.  The reason for playing Rugby League was that it was difficult for WOHS to break into the fixture lists of older established High Schools and Grammar Schools, who played Rugby Union.


We had a House system from early days, named Red, Blue, Green and Yellow.  Later they got proper names, Caxton, Milton, Newton and Dalton (printer, poet, mathematician and scientist).
As time passed we enjoyed a wider range of activities out of school. There were camps organised by Mr Nichols, and in our second year Mr Sedgeley took a group to France.  At the end of our third year in 1950 there was a trip to Switzerland; I went on that one.  We stayed overnight in Folkestone before taking the ferry to Boulogne next morning and then a long train journey to Basel where we connected to another train to Weissenburg Bad, our base.  Rationing was still in place in Britain.  Switzerland had none.  We ate a lot of chocolate.


Mr Tate started a Girls Choir, perhaps copying the Luton Girls Choir then so often featured on the wireless.  Pat Parry reminded me that they sang at Mr Ron Wells’ wedding to Edna.


In 1949 WOHS took part in Oldham’s Centenary Celebrations as a County Borough.  We performed a shortened version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the School and outdoors in Alexandra Park as part of a Civic event attended by the Mayor.  Our performance focussed on the play within a play presented by the workmen (the Rude Mechanicals), the “Tradgedy of Pyramus and Thisbe”.  In this John Mellor was Bottom the Weaver (and Pyramus) and his scenes across the Wall with Tony Gilby(I think) as Thisbe were pure classic comedy.  I played the Wall.  Mary Lees was a glamourous Fairy Queen, Titania, and Joan Marland elegant as the Duchess.  One of the first formers who was a fairy eventually became Mayor of Oldham (any guesses?).


So we come to 1950/51, our fourth year at Ward Street.  By this time it was obvious that Ward Street could take no more pupils.  The Council had by then resumed the building of a new school at Counthill, which had been halted because of the War.  It was ready to take pupils  by 1951.  East Oldham High School moved there in September 1951 and took the new name of Counthill Grammar School.  We vacated Ward Street, moved to Greengate Street in September 1951 and took the name of Greenhill Grammar School .  It was goodbye to Ward Street and to green blazers.  West Oldham High School had ceased to exist.


The splendid book “Oldham Brave Oldham” by Brian.R.Law, published to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Borough’s Incorporation, makes no mention of Greenhill Grammar School nor of West Oldham High School.  Are we Oldham’s forgotten school?


This essay is for my old school friends who attended WOHS and left it in the summer of 1951.  In particular those who nagged me to write something – Patricia Parry, Vera Minton, Colin Fletcher, Roy Smith and Harry Stuttard.


Ward Street building houses a primary school. Robin Hill Baths have gone. Oldham College stands on the old “mucky brows”. Chadderton Road, down which buses brought pupils from “t’other side of town” is now Chadderton Way and sweeps traffic to and from the M62. My parent’s house on Featherstall Road North is still there.

Fred Brook. Bardon Mill, Northumberland, April 2014.