Those were the words of the Chairman of the School Governors when nearly forty years ago I first entered the building in Orchard Lane. At that time the upper corridor and the science and art block were occupied by the Central Secondary School for Boys and the lower corridor, by the girls of the sister school. Seven years later the two schools were removed to their present home at High Storrs and into the old building came the Sheffield Pupil Teacher Centre, leaving the premises in Orchard Street which had been opened in 1896 with much ceremony.
In those days every large town had its Centre where all the pupil teachers of the area assembled, generally five times a week for a period of four years, for instruction and study in preparation for the Queen's Scholarship examination which qualified them for entry into a Training College at the age of eighteen. The remainder of the week was spent in various schools for teaching practice. Amongst the Centre's outstanding achievements of those early days was the pioneering of school visits to the Continent. On several occasions around the turn of the century, Mr L C Dudley conducted parties of students to holiday courses held in various universities in France and Belgium, including Grenoble.
Mr Dudley, an original member, remained on the staff until 1938 but, by that time, great changes had occurred. In 1922 the Centre began to admit every year four forms of boys and girls who qualified for admission to the 11+ examination, and it became in effect a Secondary School. The Centre continued to receive all Sheffield's pupil teachers but now only for two sessions each week and generally only for one year. Applications to Training Colleges could now qualify for admission by obtaining a specified standard in the School Certificate or Higher School Certificate examinations and it was becoming increasingly common for students to proceed straight to training college without becoming pupil teachers.
By 1935, the numbers of pupil teachers had fallen to about forty. On the other hand, the Centre had built up a relatively strong Sixth Form and was, in all respects but one, a Secondary School and the Governing Body agreed that the time had come to apply for the addition of our name to the Board's list of recognised Secondary Schools. After the usual full inspection the school; was formally recognised and in 1936 became the City Secondary School. We still had a week of eleven compulsory sessions, one of which was spent on the playing field, weather permitting. Some of us thought that battling to school on a dark icy and foggy morning in company with the crowds of people coming to business was enough, particularly for the First Year, if done five times a week. Accordingly, the Saturday morning session was abolished.
Then came 1939. At the outbreak of the war, it was feared that the steel centre of Britain would be a prime object of attack for the German bombers and that, with our central situation, we were particularly vulnerable. The powers decided that we must disperse until the situation was clearer and until air-raid shelters had been provided. So began the exciting adventure which was soon to be known as Home Service. Through the kindness of many people we acquired a number of meeting places around the City - principally church halls and rooms in the homes of the pupils - and for three months the staff plodded from place to place to meet assorted groups of boys and girls whose homes were in the neighbourhood.
Every teacher met two, three or four such groups every day and endeavoured by every means to keep them usefully occupied. The plan brought parents and teachers into closer contact than usual and the loyal and cheerful way in which all faced the difficulties made it surprisingly successful. When we reassembled just before Christmas, the windows of the dining rooms had been bricked up, the walls sandbagged outside and every window in the school supplied with black-out curtains. In short, a dreary building had been made even drearier. However, a large purchase of curtains coloured lamp-shades and coloured tumblers, combined with the later addition of four panels painted by my old friend, the late Mr Harry E Allen, R.B.A., lightened the gloom in the dining rooms. The classrooms, too, were brightened when large framed colour-prints of the work of well-known artists had been hung. In all this work the most indefatigable worker was Miss Silk, the Senior Mistress, who could only, with the greatest difficulty be restrained from adding one more burden to her already heavy load.
We returned to the old building just in time for the first war-time Christmas parties. After Christmas we settled down to a routine as nearly normal as conditions would allow. Very few of our pupils had been evacuated and those few soon returned but, for the next five years we had to face the difficulties occasioned by the absence of a number of masters on war-service. The school societies were handicapped by their inability to hold after-school meetings; the risk of bombing after dark had still to be considered. School plays and prize distributions on a very simplified scale were held in the school hall and without the presence of parents
Meanwhile great events were taking place in the outside world and, in case we should forget the fact, we were reminded of it by the visit from time to time of Old Boys and Girls home on leave. A very forcible reminder occurred on the night of December 12th, 1940, when Sheffield was subjected to a very disastrous air-raid which was followed three nights later by a heavy but shorter attack. The first raid lasted for some ten hours and did much damage. Several hundred of people were killed, many more injured and a very great number rendered homeless. On the morning of December 13th it was relief to find our solid old building standing, relatively undamaged. About a thousand of its window panes had been shattered, many doors blown out and the roof considerably damaged, but there was no damage that the Buildings Department could not put right in a few weeks. The Christmas holidays started early that year - for the pupils, not for the staff. The task of caring for the homeless was too much for the existing welfare service and the City's teachers were called in to help. The Education Office became the headquarters of the organisation and the School became the assembly point for the relays of teachers and other workers required for the 24-hour service. For the next fortnight our teaching and kitchen staff were occupied in shifts day and night providing meals.
The School resumed its normal function in January, 1941. Although our nights were disturbed from time to time by air-raid warnings, apparently occasioned by the passage of bombers on their way to Liverpool and other targets or by the dropping of stray bombs, Sheffield thereafter escaped serious interference. It was always heartening to observe how, even after a sleepless night, the great majority of our boys and girls, with stolid determination, assembled at the usual time.
As all who lived through it will remember, the end of the war brought a great surge of spirits as though we had emerged into the daylight after a journey through a long, dark tunnel. Nationally, there was much talk of extending and improving our system of education, by raising the leaving age to fifteen and establishing a tri-partite system of secondary schools.
As a preliminary, all existing secondary schools became Grammar Schools - more correctly Secondary Grammar Schools - and our initials henceforth were C.G.S. The uplift of spirits showed itself very strongly in the City Grammar School. One omnipresent reminder, a kind of symbol, of the war had been the hideous, bedraggled black-out curtains. Within a few minutes of the signal being given, the Sixth Form removed every trace if them. Then, the returned ex-service teachers helping, we gradually revived the pre-war activities. The Dramatic and Choral Societies had done their best with the limited opportunities allowed by the war but now they got to work in earnest and there began what was for me the liveliest and, I think, the happiest year of my teaching career. It was a great pleasure to watch the zest with which the many members set about the task of preparing a "double bill". We had a strong Sixth Form many of whom had been with us throughout the long, gloomy years of the war. Now they, with other younger pupils and a member of the staff planned, prepared and eventually staged - during the first week of April 1946 - the play, "Arms and the Man" and, two months later, an extremely successful production of "Iolanthe".
The following years too were full of interest. I recall with particular pleasure the school concerts. Before the war, Speech Days had been held in the City Hall and sometimes included displays of dancing and physical training. After the war we began to hold them in the Victoria Hall where such displays were impossible but the singing was as enjoyable as ever.
"The devil was sick, the devil a saint would be
The devil was well and the devil a saint was he."
Towards the end of the First World War Britain was imbued with a determination to improve our system of education. Again, after the recent conflagration, we had qualms of conscience but once more our zeal began to evaporate. Recently, however, events have conspired to shake us out of our lethargy and it seems that the present and future generations of pupils will go out into the world in which the importance of education is more widely recognised than ever before. Albeit, there is a danger that our heightened interest in science and technology may blind us to the value of the "humanities". We may learn to exist but not to live.
"You will have a new building soon". One result of the renewed interest in education is the building on Stradbroke Road. For some of us, the thought of the removal is tinged with regret, for the old building is linked with many memories, sad and gay, but we are glad that at last a new home has arisen which is better fitted to the needs of a good School. We shall follow with great interest the fortunes of those whose lot it will be to carry on the traditions established seventy years ago, among which the idea of service and a recognition of duties and responsibilities were prominent. May the School go from strength to strength.
Mr. Northeast - Headmaster 1935 - 1950 ARTICLE