Education, Childhood and Schools


In Victorian England, a person’s social class determined many things during his or her lifetime, including education, medical treatment and jobs. In terms of education, the poorer children would have barely received any education at all. Those in families with moderate means usually received a basic education with a focus on literacy and numeracy but this was not always of a very high quality. Children in more affluent families had a good education and far greater educational opportunities, particularly those who lived in urban areas.

It was only with the Education Act of 1870, also known as the ‘Forster Act’, that there was a national system of state education which did not replace or duplicate what already existed but supplemented those already run by the churches, private individuals and guilds. This system also created both voluntary denominational schools and non-denominational state schools. The country as a whole was divided into school districts and, in those areas where there was inadequate provision, school boards were developed which were responsible for raising sufficient funds to maintain the schools. These schools were often called ‘board schools’ and could charge a weekly fee not exceeding 9 pennies. For a limited period the school boards could pay the fees if the parents were unable to do so. The Voluntary Schools could also receive such fees from the school boards.

Early Education in Tollerton

Prior to this development in education, schooling would only have been provided by the Church and would have been fairly rudimentary. Records suggest that in the 18th century education in Tollerton was in the hands of the parish clerk, a man called John Hooley. When Hooley died in 1777, his burial was recorded as ‘John Hooley, Schoolmaster’. It appears that local children continued to be taught in the Church until Pendock Neale’s son, Pendock Barry Barry Esq, made provision for schooling. He built the cottages near the northern exit of the village on Tollerton Lane and sometime between 1833-1847 added a room over the archway for schooling and a cottage south of this archway as the teacher’s dwelling. These cottages are known as North End Cottages. In Wright’s Directory of 1883 Miss Martha Middleton is listed as ‘infant school’ but members of the Middleton family, now living in Australia, have no knowledge of this. Ten years later in the same publication the name given is Miss Sarah Murden.

Plumtree School

The school at Town End Cottages would have been very small and children of different ages would have been taught together to master the ‘Three R’s’. It closed at the end of the 19th century and then many children would have attended Plumtree School that had been erected by W. E. Elliott Esq in 1840 and supposedly had the capacity for 100 pupils. William Elliott Elliott was Lord of the Manor in Plumtree at this time, though he died four years later in 1844. After the 1870 Education Act was passed it was agreed that the Plumtree School should be maintained and money was given by J E Burnside and Reverend William Burnside (relatives of the Burnsides who later lived at Tollerton Hall) as well as other villagers and contributions were made by the parents of a penny a week for each child. Occupiers of land were asked to pay 3 pennies an acre towards an education fund.

Plumtree School – Courtesy of Alan Murray-Rust

Pupils at Plumtree School would have come from many neighbouring villages including Normanton, Clipstone and Keyworth as well as Tollerton. The original school building was opened with a schoolroom, a smaller classroom and two porches, one at each end of the schoolroom, which were used as cloakrooms. Each porch led to a playground area at the edge of what were the outside lavatories – the one on the east side was for the boys and the other for the girls. The building was enlarged in 1905 but by 1910 was clearly still too small for the number of children attending. An inspection report in 1910 suggested that the main room should accommodate 45 children but found there to be 58 in it with poor ventilation. Indoor toilets were added in 1975 when the school opened as an independent primary school.

In those earlier days some Tollerton children would have had a long walk to Plumtree School and no doubt many had to help with chores in the home or on the farm before and/or after school. The school was criticised on numerous occasions by school inspectors for poor attendance. Poor weather, the state of the roads and need for the children to help at home were some of the reasons given for this poor attendance. At key times of year attendance was particularly poor – harvest time, Plough Monday, Nottingham Goose Fair. The headteacher commented in April 1879 in the school’s logbook: “Many children have been absent this week working on the farms and tending cows in the lanes. The farmers gladly employ the children and the parents are anxious for their children to earn something.”

Some pupils cycled to Plumtree School in the 1930s. Olive Townsend, nee Smith, recalls doing so with Lorna Caunt who lived on Cotgrave Lane – little traffic then! Many also walked to Plumtree and in the 1950s those who lived near the centre of the village could catch a bus from Tollerton Lane to the Post Office in Plumtree, opposite the school.

One former pupil in the early 50s, Jill Maher, nee Morgan, who lived on Medina Drive recalls “the nature study lessons at Plumtree School that took place on beautiful summer days, when we would be taken down Bradmore Lane and sit in the meadows and draw flowers with buzzing insects all around – my idea of heaven. Sometimes we were allowed to bring back samples and press them into our nature study books“. She also remembers the outside, non-flush loos! “These became particularly obnoxious towards the end of the week as the lorry only came to empty them once a week!”

Barbara Storrie, nee Blackburn, joined Plumtree School in 1954, a few years after Jill, and remembers the school had two classrooms and that the larger of the two was divided by a green curtain for some subjects. A coke stove heated the room. She also recalls:

Each one of us learnt to write letters and numbers on a small blackboard with chalk, that makes me sound really old! The boards had special lines on them to write the letters, all the same size and roundness, we later advanced to books with the special lines and used pencils. I remember getting the ruler across my palm for purposely spilling salt at lunch time. The boys had the cane if they misbehaved. We went to Burnside Hall for PE lessons, dancing and sewing. My mother used to be the sewing teacher and I had to call her Mrs Blackburn. A field on the left down Bradmore Lane was used for sports such as rounders and I remember the steam trains going by on the line up the steep embankment, I used to love the smell of the train.”

By the early 1950s the number of pupils attending this school was dwindling and when the state primary school at Tollerton was opened in 1959 there were discussions about the possibility of Plumtree School closing. In fact it did not close as a C. of E. Controllled School until 1974 and subsequently opened as an independent school.

Pupils at Plumtree School c1956 – Courtesy of Barbara Storrie

Other Local Schools

Of course, not all Tollerton families sent their children to Plumtree School. One former resident, Iris Stirland, wrote in the Tollerton Village Newsletter (1986) about her sons John (born c1937) and Leonard (born 1940) attending school in West Bridgford during World War 2.

The year of the bad floods in West Bridgford (1945) Leonard had just started school. A kind neighbour took the boys in by car, left Len at Musters Road infants, before taking John and her girls to South County on Exchange Road. Their school was dry, but Len’s had water in the boiler house so they were sent home, unsupervised. Len, very small, went his usual route to the bus, and his wellingtons filled with water on Rectory Road; he couldn’t move. A laundry van came by and the driver held Len on the step of the van to Musters Road.”

In another extract in that same newsletter, Iris Stirland adds:

John was one of the first to start. The first year there were no school dinners and he went to a Civic Centre in the Friary Hall where dinner cost 5 old pence a day. They had to cross main roads unsupervised and keep their money safe too. One day John was lost. I went by bus into Bridgford but couldn’t find him. When l rang a neighbour he had just arrived home having spent his bus-fare on a haircut. He walked home over Edwalton fields and was very tired (he was only 6 years old then!).”

Can you imagine young children of a similar age today making their own way to and from school, particularly if their schools were in West Bridgford?

Tollerton Preparatory School

There will have been Tollerton children who attended the Tollerton Preparatory School at 35 Tollerton Lane during the 1940s and beyond, which was a small private school run by Winifred Wayman. Materials held at the Nottinghamshire Archive suggest the school opened around 1937.

Bryan Ford who lived in Plumtree started at this school in 1936 / 37 and believes he was one of the first ‘real’ pupils though he thinks there was some private individual tuition given prior to this date. Other pupils around that time were Dorothy Holbrook, Janet Muir, whose father ran the garage, and Mavis Andersen. They were all very envious of Mavis when she brought sweets to school from her family’s shop during the war when they were severely rationed. Bryan goes on to say:

In the early days at Tollerton Preparatory there were only a few pupils and the early lessons were held in a room in the Wayman’s bungalow. Later on a separate school classroom building was erected and I guess when I left in 1942 there were probably 20-30 pupils. Many years later when l was working Mrs Wayman gave me piano lessons“.

Roger Harrison, who currently lives in Tollerton, started school here about 1943 and was in Mrs Ball’s class in the room at the back, behind Mrs Wayman’s room. He went on to say: “The detailed memories are a bit hazy after 70 years but I recall that at the end of my first day I had to be helped to tie my shoe- laces by a girl. This obviously got to me because by the end of the next day I had learnt to tie my own! Playtimes in the ‘yard’ at the front of the school were enlivened by playing ‘What time is it Mr Wolf’ and other educational games”.

Roger attended at the same time as David Mowl, Ken Bloor, Pat Boot (now Pat Ashmore) and sat next to Angela Riley (now Sweet). Angela has maintained contact over the years with Gillian Collins, nee Ball, who now lives in Canada and is the daughter of one of the teachers at the school.

David Mowl, who lived on Tollerton Lane, went to Tollerton Preparatory School between 1943 and 1946 and recalls when the American Paratroopers were stationed at Tollerton “running to the school gates to wave to the troops as they passed in open lorries. Our chant was “got any gum chum”, often we were thrown chocolate (a big treat) or chewing gum – but not if Mrs Wayman was around!

Bryan Ford also recounts cycling down to the American camp in the grounds of the Hall with a friend during those war years and them scrounging food and chewing gum from the troops.

Mike Connelly began his school education here in 1941 / 42 and recalls that the main classroom was heated in winter with an open coal fire. Pat Ashmore (nee Boot) remembers Mr Wayman coming in and stoking the fire. Mike recalls that Mrs Wayman “was a strict lady” and thought her husband “was quite jolly”.

Pat Mathers (nee Ellis) has provided a wonderful photograph of the school group that was taken around 1952 with Mrs Wayman and Miss Blanchard on the back row.

Pupils and Staff at Tollerton Preparatory School c1952 – Courtesy of Pat Mathers (nee Ellis)

By 1960 another teacher called Miss Webb had joined Mrs Wayman. Pat Revitt, nee Heathcote, attended between 1957 and 1963 and describes Mrs Wayman as “a lovely headmistress“.

Pat Revitt also remembers “When it came to taking the 11+ exam, myself and Martin Husk (the only other child of the same age at that time) had to be taken to a big school in West Bridgford (Jessie Gray I think) to take the exam – a frightening experience for 2 kids from such a tiny school who had never seen a school like that before!

Pat Boot’s memories go beyond just the school and she recalls during holidays and at weekends “my friends and I would regularly go over the fields at the bottom of Lothian Road & spend all day fishing for sticklebacks in the little stream – our parents never needed to worry about us, and we’d wander back at the end of the day when we were hungry!” She went on to say: “I remember when we walked to school we used to dare each other to touch the electric fence around the cow field at Brooker’s Farm! Then we’d play on the ‘old log’ – a fallen tree on the waste ground where the Methodist Church now stands. It’s a wonder we ever actually got to school! Health & Safety wouldn’t allow any of that nowadays I’m sure! After school we would spend the evenings just riding round on our bikes, or, another dangerous activity, sitting on a roller skate & hurtling down Stanstead Avenue hill – many a scraped hand or leg! I was the only one with a pair of roller skates so we would have one each.”

Pat also remembers getting a lift to school in a tank when the Americans were stationed at Tollerton Hall.

Roger Harrison’s first daughter, Tessa, also went to this school for a short time prior to 1974 and was a pupil at Tollerton Preparatory School when very traumatically Mrs Wayman collapsed and later died. Presumably this was when the school closed.

Childhood and Play

It is interesting to note that in many of the shared memories of school days and childhood in the 1940s and early 50s the contributors have strong recollections of their outdoor play activities and the people who they played with or those who taught them. In most cases, what they were taught or how they were taught does not figure strongly in their memories! Of course there would be no computers and technological toys then and few families would have had television; space to roam and explore and the chance to play freely without adult intervention were of far greater importance. Children were happy to create their own play (and mischief!) and would often emulate through their play what they saw in everyday life.

‘Dad’s Army’ in the 1940s                                                The Connelly’s slightly later in the 1940s
Both courtesy of Mike Connelly

There were few commercial toys available during WW2 and many families made playthings for their children. Iris Stirland, former resident, recalls how she made Red Indian outfits for her children during the war out of sugar sacks with dyed feathers from her neighbour’s hens. Others were equally creative particularly at Christmas time and when their children had birthdays.

Tollerton Primary School

It was 1959 before Tollerton had its own state primary school. Phase one of building took place that year providing two classrooms, a reception hall, an office and toilets. There was no telephone and the public telephone in the village had to be used for any calls. The school opened its doors on 7 September 1959 with Mrs Gretton as headteacher and 26 pupils, some of whom were just starting school and others transferring in from other schools. The only other member of the teaching staff was Mrs Evans who had 12 of those entrants and Mrs Greeton had a class of 14 children.

40 years later when the school was celebrating its anniversary, Dick Shepherd interviewed Mrs Gretton about those early years and published some of her memories in the village newsletter, which said:

When Mrs Gretton was interviewed for the headteacher post she was told to expect an intake of 50 pupils and that the authority was uncertain whether it would take infants only, or become an infant/junior school. She then came to Tollerton to view the school and was somewhat surprised to find just a rough field with the footings laid out!

Burnside Grove was still an unmade road when the school first opened and pupils had to trample along a muddy lane on wet days. One Tollerton resident recalls that her daughter had alternative footware to change into but Mrs Gretton refused to allow this pupil to leave those change-over shoes at the school so the girl had to carry them each day. The resident recalls that this was a contentious issue at the time!

By 1960 pupil numbers had increased to 50 and the third class was accommodated in the entrance hall. A year later Mrs Bitterling of Tollerton, the visiting manager for the school, helped to plant trees around the exterior of the school – one for each child and member of staff. Alas not many of these still exist.

By the start of its third year in 1962, the number on roll had increased greatly to 108 pupils with 38 in one class, 40 in another and 30 in the third class. The school did not have its own kitchen until 1963 when this facility, two further classrooms and a hall were added. School dinners were brought in from a central kitchen in West Bridgford until 1963.

The official opening of the school took place on 4 October, 1963, quite a lot later than when it actually opened. With further house building in Tollerton pupil numbers continued to grow and by 1966 there were 176 pupils and this prompted another extension that meant that the entrance hall no longer had to be used as a classroom. Eventually in 1972, with the additional space, pupils were organised into six classes. Mrs Gretton retired as headteacher in 1976.

When Mrs Gretton initially visited the school site back in 1959 she was in awe of the lovely Tollerton countryside, it was such a contrast to West Bridgford where she had previously taught, and vowed she would ensure all children were made aware of their surroundings and the things that grew around them. Over the years she kept to her promise and the children had lots of opportunities to engage with wildlife and to experience the community for learning purposes. In 1967 Mrs Gretton and some pupils observed the alterations being made to the canal bridge towards the end of Tollerton Lane and made sketches of the work being done there. Baby bantam chicks were hatched at the school in 1969 but when the aviary door was left open all the chicks disappeared!

Over the years the school held a variety of events including sports days, summer fetes and jubilee parties. To commemorate the Silver Jubilee in 1977, there was a tree planting ceremony, dancing and an outdoor picnic; all the children dressed in red, white and blue. When Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married in 1981, a commemorative crown was given to each child by the school’s Parent Teacher Association and a party was held to mark the occasion.

Official opening of Tollerton Primary School in 1963
Miss F M Milford, Headmistress of Nottingham Girls’ High School planted the tree.
Others in attendance were Vice Chair of County Council, Vice Chair of Bingham Rural District Council, Chair of the Managing Body, Chair of the Education Committee and Mrs Gretton, Head Teacher
Courtesy of the Nottingham Post

Tollerton Primary School received its first computer in 1983 – a BBC Acorn Micro and eventually in 2000 got a computer suite. It is interesting to see how I.T. has developed over the years!

The tradition of marking key national events has continued at the school. In 2012, a bench featuring an ornate crown at each end was created to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and stands outside the school. Pupils helped to design this bench and also a bin that is situated nearby that features the faces of each pupil all cast in bronze.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Bench and Bin at Tollerton Primary School

The pupils took further inspiration from the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 whilst working with the artist, Hilary Cartmel, and came up with designs for another bench depicting their favourite sports. Their designs were cast in stainless steel and a special Olympic bench created which is sited outside the shops and Parish Rooms on Burnside Grove.