The old school tie

Out of the blue, Karen (BloggerWife) received a phone call from an old school friend of hers. They had been to a reunion in the late 90s and agreed to keep in touch…!

The reason for her call was that their old High School was celebrating it’s 80th birthday and they were inviting as many former pupils as possible.

Now Karen’s old school is surprisingly famous. No, it isn’t Eton, or Harrow, or even Rodean. It is Levenshume High School, otherwise known as Weatherfield Comp as it is regularly used by Granada TV for filming as part of Britain’s longest running Soap opera, Coronation Street. (Karen comments that the Wikipedia entry is spherically, plurally, incorrect, although the other school mentioned may have been the case some time back).

Karen keenly follows Corry and as I generally surf with a laptop on my lap in the lounge (or more accurately with a laptop on my belly) I am peripherally exposed to the Soap. Being a Mancunian by upbringing, she would regularly point out any OB scene that she recognised. The shots of the school intregued me as it looked somewhat like a grand old 19th century Arts and Crafts Country House.

Anyway, David and I came along to keep her company. She had told us a bit about the school- how it was an E shaped building with classrooms in the wings and the hall in the central strut along with Gyms beyond. She told us it had a posh entrance down the end of a long driveway that the pupils weren’t allowed to use. She recounted her three years there in the 3rd, 4th and 5th forms, pranks that had gone on and punishments, including her class being banished to a corridor for form registration for the entire 5th year. There had been a lower school in another building further down the road, now long gone.

On arrival at the school, marshalls directed us down the elegant tree lined drive and along the front of the building, past the dining hall onto the tennis courts. (“Hah! These were the netball courts”, interjected Karen.) The school is indeed still “E” shaped, but with much tweaking and extending so that there are various lumps and bumps on the structure, including some low grade 50s buildings and a brand new energy efficient community use sports facility called the Energy Box. (I christened it the sweat box).

When we arrived, we went into the main hall, where there were various displays about the school history and the future. There were extensive archive photographs as well as some old documents through the ages. (Apparently most of this was pulled together for the 75th anniversary celebrations five years ago so it was comparatively easy to restage).

Now a school that has no direct memories for me is relatively academic for interest so I was more attentive to the spatial arrangements and how it had evolved over the years. It turned out that this school had been built in 1928, officially opening in 1929. It had always been a Girls school and indeed had been a selective Grammar school until such time as the Trotskyists in the LEA abolished such elitism in the pursuit of mediocracy.

The building was light and spacious (apart from the basement), but not overly disabled friendly, being on three main levels (with a lift) and a few rooms on landings due to some of the quirky extensions built over the years. The original Gym block looked as though it had been built in the 60s with exposed concrete columns and window walls whilst the main building style was not too far removed from Victorian. The dining hall also looked like it dated from the 60s with exposed ceiling zig zag steel trusses and weetabix ceilings, all now painted shocking shades of green and yellow.

The main entrance area near the hall was smartly painted with extensive wall and floor tiling, although most other areas were rather utilitarian, with the original staircase blocks looking like their brickwork had been simply glossed over. I didn’t even see any of that local authority surface mainstay, speckled texture paint.

One striking thing in the main hall was the light fittings- very large and deep circular shades with translucent infills and sides in school green. Smaller matching shades were also found in the entrance hall and vestibule, whilst everywhere else florry lights (or CFL fittings) were the norm. The hall also had some additional decorative lighting- aircraft-like PAR fittings lit the bases of the ceiling beams as well with some wall up/downlighters on the stage proscenium. A neat little lighting controller at the back of the hall integrated the tungsten and discharge lighting for assembly and performance use.

Looking at the older photographs, they had quite a few whole-school panorama shots, some outside, some inside. The indoor ones were in the hall and I noticed that the original lighting fittings were large open bottomed circular frosted glass shades, one of which was missing, exposing the 500 Watt GES (Goliath Edison Screw)  GLS (General Lighting Service) clear lamp to view. A later photo showed that the original open bottom shades had been replaced with large spherical shades and yet again there was one missing. (My own school had flying saucer shades and two were missing in the main hall, an occupational hazard of either allowing sports in the hall, or possibly the precarious practice of relamping on large wobbly wooden ladders by the caretakers).

Whilst Karen enjoyed looking around, she felt that the event had not been as successful as my recent school trip, mainly because we were left to ourselves and there wasn’t any obvious programme. However, we were excellently fed with a huge buffet in the dining hall and many of the pupils acting as ambassadors kept bringing  trays into the main building.   There may have been speeches towards the end but we only stayed for the first couple of hours. The children were putting on various forms of entertainment on the stage but nobody was introduced or anything like that.

As for the uniform, we assumed it was still bottle green but most of the kids had a white T shirt on with some form of stylised picture, possibly of the school. We did see an old lady with a school scarf though, impressive that she saved it for forty years or so since she attended. (I still have my school prefect tie but I retained it more for fancy dress purposes, it has to be said).

One other comment Karen had (and her sister also made on seeing the pictures)- the buildings looked rather run down and tired. A new build is on the horizon though and a large set of complex plans were also on display, although I struggled to get a chance to study them, as ambassadors kept offering me sandwiches, vol-au-vents and samosas.

It was also reassuring to see that Karen’s memory is just as fallible as mine. She showed us three successive classroom doors that she recalls had been booby-trapped with a bucket to trick the teacher, each successive door she changed her mind and assured us it was this one. The last was a cupboard!

The blazer badge, predating Karen.The classroom where Karen's class were busted for sneaking alcohol into the school dance.A typical corridorThe large crest on the back wall of the stageThe tree lined drive to the main entranceThe main frontage, brick with Burmantofts embellishmentsA later addition to the building, the gym can be seen outside the window.The main hall with the displayThe hall looking towards the stage.Traffic lights outside the former Head's office (now a seminar room)An old photo of the lobbyThe lobby today. The school is a specialist languages college and the time zone clocks reflect the importance of commerce.Pupils dancing round a maypoleVintage panorama shots. If you look closely you can see there is a missing lampshade in the hall.One of the original stairwells with a slightly incongruous steel railguard.The newest building- multi purpose sports facilityThe vestibule- out of bounds in Karen's time. There is a large plastic file box with fire brigade plans in the corner.Karen's Fifth form classroom- the corridor now somewhat narrower due to the lockers and a porch for what is now the staff room to the left. They used to rest their bums on a row of tables. This is the top floor corridor alongside the school hall (reception below).