What a delightful afternoon Linda Swann (nee Morris) and I (Barbara Storrie) had when we visited Mrs Gretton this afternoon! She is 101 years old, takes a keep fit class every Monday, and is absolutely charming.
Linda was encouraged to go with me as she was one of the first intakes into the school in 1959.
Mrs Gretton was Head Teacher at Tollerton School from the opening in 1959 to when she retired in July 1976. She believes she was appointed to the post because no men applied! Linda was one of her first pupils, joining the school on the day it opened.
At that time there were 26 pupils divided between two teachers, Mrs Gretton and Mrs Evans.
Mrs Gretton remembers Ann Bentley was the only junior at this time and was probably in her class with the older infants. That’s 59 years ago and she still remembers this girl’s name!).
There were only two classrooms in the school, an entrance hall and office, staff room and toilets.
Mrs Gretton had the first classroom and would look out over Hoe Hill in the distance and because of her love of nature was interested in what sort of trees were in the wood. So one day, she appointed her son – not sure how old he was at the time, either a teenager or university student – to take her class over the fields to explore Hoe Hill. They had a wonderful time and came back with a report on all the trees and shrubs they had found. (Appointing her son obviously would not have been allowed today.)
Mrs Bitterling (pictured far left in the picture on page 74 of the History Book) donated trees for the opening ceremony. There were three Houses in the school, Beech, Oak and Elm. Mrs Bitterling provided the wood for making a cross of the three types with a base of oak, stem of beach and crossbar of elm. This cross was used in scripture lessons. Taken apart, it was not of much use but put together it became a beautiful object standing for unity and the importance of working together.
Mr Morris, Linda Morris’s father, when hearing about the Houses, brought in cuts of each type of wood to show the children how the trees grew.
Mrs Gretton’s other love was to have animals at the school and to let the children look after them. There were a few Bantam hens, there must have been a cockerel put in with them as a few chicks were hatched and raised but amongst the hatchlings were two more cockerels. One or two of the children must have thought it would be amusing to put the two cockerels together one night and in the morning they were barely alive after having fought each other aggressively. They were washed in the kitchen sink under the tap to wash away the blood but sadly only one survived. This was a brutal but valuable lesson for the children. The children also had stick insects in a vivarium and a rabbit.
Mrs Gretton allowed one girl to observe a blackbird nesting in a bush just outside the head’s office. She told the girl she could let her friend know about this and they could come and watch occasionally so as not to disturb the bird and babies. But she soon discovered that nearly the whole school was queuing up outside her door to see the bird.
Another memory she had was of a family who arrived – she thinks from London – in Tollerton and the children joined the school and the mother became a dinner lady. One day some children were found smoking with one of these children from London. The mother was informed of this and Mrs Gretton didn’t have to say any more about it. (Oh dear, says Mrs Gretton, I hope I don’t get that family into trouble by telling that tale).
The school organised Maypole dancing and a kind Governor actually made the maypole for them, possibly the same one used today by the Brownies? The children danced around the maypole at the village fetes held then on the Rectory lawn.
There was an active PTA started in the school and they helped to raise fund through various stalls at the village fete and other activities during the year.
Mrs Gretton started the school uniform which included green and white striped summer dresses for the girls with green cardigans and grey blazers; green sweaters and grey blazers and trousers for the boys and green striped ties.
At the official opening of the school in 1963
When there were more children in the school, three classrooms were required, so Mrs Gretton taught the older children in the entrance hall and the infants were in the other two classrooms.
The sun would shine in through the top windows of the entrance hall and dazzle the children. So Mrs Gretton asked the children to write a letter each to a company who could supply them with a blind and she would send the best one with her order. Whether this helped with the price of the blinds, I’m not sure.
Lunch was brought in from outside caterers in the beginning and was served in the entrance hall.
After the extension of the hall and kitchens the children were singing in the hall during a music lesson. During this practice the old toilets were being dismantled to make way for the new ones and the plumbers were walking past with toilets and washbasins much to the amusement of the children singing:
“Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy,
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?”
On the day of the official Opening in 1963, some four years after the school had opened its doors, Mrs Gretton had to give a speech. She was a little nervous about this and consequently didn’t enjoy the lunch they had at the Chateau Restaurant on Wilford Lane before the ceremony. She would have preferred it to have taken place afterwards. During her speech in front of all the dignitaries she mentioned the above singing and toilets which she hoped amused the audience.
When the new block, at the side of the kitchens was built there was an exhibition beehive installed with the entrance to the hive outside and the hive visible through a glass panel in the classroom so that the children could observe the bees habits. Mrs Gretton had to feed the bees with syrup when required through an entrance at the top, which was plugged with a cork. One day the cork hadn’t been replaced properly and bees swarmed out into the classroom and stung Mrs Gretton, particularly painful was one sting in her ear. The local surgery was called but nothing was to be done unless Mrs Gretton swelled up and became ill. The children were evacuated from the room until a bee keeper came to replace all the bees safely.
Mrs Gretton lived in Mapperley with her husband and he drove her to the school each morning before he went off to his school in West Bridgford. Later she had a car of her own and to the amusement of the children she once had a Reliant Robin.
Mrs Gretton was passionate about the children having a rounded education. She believed it was very important that they should learn about the countryside they lived in; learn respect for their teachers and for each other. She would not stand for any disrespect or unkindness.
Competition Days were held and prizes were given. These were sometimes awarded by Mr Bartlam, the Education Officer. Examples of the competitions would be for handwriting, singing or guessing the sound when she would record lots of noises like jangling keys or coins. She recalls one boy writing a Calypso; Linda remembers receiving a prize for a handwriting competition where she won a prize of a book token to be spent at Sisson & Parker Book Shop.
The book she chose was Live to Remember: Marie Curie and the book was signed by teachers and possibly Governors.
Whilst we were talking to Mrs Gretton the phone rang and it was a colleague of hers who she had spoken to earlier in the week and coincidently he had called back whilst we were there. I spoke to him. His name was Bernard Jarvis and he was Deputy Head at the school from 1970 until 1972. Therefore Mrs Gretton didn’t have a deputy for her first 11 years at the school!
He was appointed along with two other teachers, Dave Smith and Len Sparrow. They had all applied for the posts and all been appointed but all came from the same school in Bingham; The Robert Miles School. Rushcliffe Council thought this was very strange and actually looked into it only to find it was a coincidence.
Dave Smith was a dynamic person according to Mr Jarvis. He got a great football team together and had startling success. Mrs Gretton recalls Mr Smith being asked to put together sketches about parables and he always put on a splendid play.
In 1972 Bernard Jarvis was seconded to Nottingham University and Dave Smith stepped in for a year as Deputy Head.
Mrs Gretton was enthusiastic about teaching French to the children as Rushcliffe was experimenting teaching French to pre-secondary school children but Tollerton was not included and she didn’t want her children to be disadvantaged when moving onto higher education.
Mrs Thomas who lived on the Melton Road in Tollerton would come in and teach French.
The children were also taken on week long trips to Paris, Belgium and Holland. Mr Jarvis remembers one evening in Paris when he thought it would be good to get the children to produce a play to be watched by the other members of staff. The next evening Mrs Gretton gave him the time off and suggested he went out into Paris to enjoy the evening. Obviously she didn’t want to watch another play!
After this phone call and over a cup of tea, Mrs Gretton recalled a family at the school being on the television programme Ask the Family. She believes there were three girls and mother and father who went on to win – a very clever family.
Mrs Gretton says she enjoyed the happiest 17 years of her career at Tollerton School and enjoyed every minute of the country air.