Memories of Retford Grammar School
I lived about a mile from Beckingham up the Gringley road and caught a
Lincolnshire Road Car bus at 8.00 a.m at the end of our lane. It arrived
in Cannon Square at 8.40 from where we walked to the school. When I first
attended the school, assembly was at 9.00, then we went to the first
lesson in the allocated room and walked between each lesson to the next
in its allocated room and so on until finishing time at 4.00 p.m with an
hour for lunch. While in Junior Dept we didn't have to walk between each
lesson as "Tash" Illingworth took all subjects in the one class room.
Our homeward bus left Cannon Square at 4.30 arriving home at ten past
five. When the Yarmouth school was evacuated to Retford during the war
our school times were from 10.00 until 3.00. Yarmouth lads went from
8.00 to 10.00 and again from 3.00 to 5.00. They were all billeted in
Retford as far as I know. Unfortunately for us the buses only ran every
two hours from Gainsborough to Retford so those of us who travelled on
that route still used the 8 o'clock and 4.30 buses. As the school was
occupied we weren't able to stay and do our homework so we just wandered
around the town, perhaps went to the library or into the local billiards
hall and most afternoons went to a local baker's shop and bought a cob
loaf to eat. Oddly, if we got detention we were able to stay for that!!
On wet days it was worth doing detention. I had always thought it was
Leeds Grammar School that was with us, but at my nephew's wedding in
1987 near Yarmouth his father-in-law told me that he was evacuated to
our school during the war, so I realised my memory must have been faulty!
There were three levels of punishment for misdeeds, "lines", detention
and the cane. The cane was always wielded in the headmaster's room, but
by Mr McFerran, not the Head. It was across the palm of the hand. There
was a set of about a dozen or so School Rules. Prefects could set us
lines to write for the next day, but only members of staff were able to
give detention - an hour after school finished. If any lines weren't
handed in next day then we would get detention during which we wrote out
the lines and a few more on top!!
I started in 1940 in Junior Department A, which was to the left of the
main building and next to the "New Block". Tash Illingworth was our
only teacher and my main memory of him was the unerring accuracy with
which he could throw the board rubber at any of us who displeased him!!
I was put into Bescoby House.
In Sept '41 I went into Form 3a, taking 8 subjects, then to 4a, then
Remove A, (when I was transferred to Foljambe House), then to Science V,
then Science Cert. When we took the Cambridge School Certificate, I
managed to get three credits (English Language, English Literature and
French) and four "Very Good"s (Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Art).
I then went into Science VI. My ambition up to then had been to become
an architect but was persuaded by my father to leave before taking
What he had in mind for me didn't work out and eventually I was called
up into the RAF for National Service at aged 18. On being demobbed I
was unable to get a job for three months, but then I managed to get a
job with British Celanese at Spondon, near Derby as a shift analyst,
going part time to the Derby Tech. from where I got a scholarship to go
full time to University to study chemistry. After a total of six years
I ended up with a B.Sc and a Ph.D., after which I worked for I.C.I for
One's life doesn’t always go as planned!!
However, back to my memories of Retford.
The two oldest members of staff were Percy Hammond (Boss) and Andrews,
the gardener-cum-caretaker. Both were there when my father was a boarder
at the school, about the time of WW1. I have a copy of the post card
depicting the school which my father sent to his mother and the post
mark is April 1916. I think it is the same vintage as the one on your
web page, but I have already sent you a copy of mine for you to compare.
At the time my father attended the school the Head was Mr Gough for whom
my father held the greatest regard.
My Great Uncle, Sam Dickinson, who eventually became a professional
cricketer and was in the Boer War, was also at RGS ( I am sending you
a copy of a certificate of merit awarded to him). The head at that time
(1883) was Oliver C. Cockrem. I thought my grandfather, John Henry
Dickinson also attended, but I am not sure because I know he attended
a school at Nottingham at one time. John and Sam came from Misson near
Bawtry. My father, John Everatt Dickinson was born in Beckingham.
Boss Hammond was the art and woodwork teacher, but we only did art,
I presume because they couldn't get wood during the war.
If one faced the school from the main gate on London Road, the Chemistry
Lab was on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance and clock
tower. The physics room was somewhere behind and above that. To the left
of the school grounds, i.e. nearer Retford town centre was a road,
Dominie Cross which led to a side gate, on the left of which entrance
was the "Tin Tab", Andrews' domain and changing rooms for sporting
On the right of this entrance was the building in which Junior Dept was
located as well as the room from milk was collected by milk monitors.
To one end of this building, towards London Road, was the "New Block"
at right angles to the main school building. At the back of the main
building, on the left hand end was the workshop where Boss Hammond ruled,
knocking us on the back of the head with his heavy gold ring on his
left hand if we got something wrong, saying "That's no use boy". I even
saw one boy knocked off his stool!!
On the right of the main entrance were two class rooms, H1 & H2, but I
can't remember what subjects were taught in them. The main assembly hall
projected out from the back of the main building and beyond that was the
playing field. In the far corner of the playing field was a fives court
and round the edge to it's left was a series of air-raid shelters.
Cricket and athletics events were held on the field.
The Headmaster's house was on the right side of the main building when
facing it from London Road. On part of the top floor of that part was a
class room called the Dormitory, presumably because that was what it was
in the days of boarders! Beyond that the Staff Common Room, accessed
through the Dormitory. When we were at a class in the Dormitory staff
were always walking through. On one occasion when Mr Wallace was taking
us for biology and describing some intimate part of anatomy, he suddenly
changed what he was saying in mid sentence. Mrs Harvey walked through and
then he reverted to what he had been telling us!
Those of us who stayed for lunch and didn't bring sandwiches had lunch
in a dining room in the Head master's house. It was cooked by the Head's
wife. The favourite sweet by far was very stodgy suet pudding(spotted dick)
with sugar on it rather than custard!! Those boys who brought sandwiches
had them in the "Tin Tab".
The only sports I was involved in were various athletics events. My father
didn't allow me to play any ball games as I wore glasses and he believed
if I got hit my eyes would be cut!! In any case most matches were played
on Saturday mornings and I had work to do at home!