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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Book published celebrating 300 years of Cumbrian school

Retired teacher John Herbert spent his entire career working at one of Cumbria’s oldest schools but now it is his latest venture which will enshrine him in its future after penning his debut book about its 300-year history.

John Herbert photo
John Herbert

John, of Port Carlisle, taught history and PE at The Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton for 37 years until he retired in July 2012.

No stranger to the school at Floshfield and a keen local historian, it has been the 61-year-old’s long-term pet project to research in-depth its history.

It has resulted in the publication of his first book, entitled The Nelson Thomlinson School – 300 years Of History, which has been published to coincide with the school’s tercentenary celebrations taking place this term.

Mr Herbert, a former deputy head of the secondary school, said: “I love the library in this building and I love seeing all the names on the honours board that hang above our heads.

“Over the years I got immersed in the history and the traditions of this place and I read the book by Dr Loveday that he’d written about the school’s history. Dr Loveday was an old teacher appointed to work at the Thomlinson Girls Grammar School in 1949 before it went on to become the Nelson Thomlinson Grammar School.

“So when I retired I said to the governors that I would update Dr Loveday’s book. I know how important photographs and names are and that is what I’ve tried so hard to fill it with and do as part of my overall research. I also wanted to modernise the use of the language.”

Mr Herbert, who was raised in north Cumbria and went to Keswick School, said: “I knew we already had a lot of stuff in the school’s own archives. I’ve gone through all the school magazines, governors reports and old photographs – everything I could get my hands on. In my living room my wife and I sorted it out into piles, each one a different decade, as I sifted through it all.

“I never thought I’d ever do a book – this is my one and only.”

Some of the most poignant research of which Mr Herbert is particularly proud of is his work unearthing the human stories about former pupils who fought for their country in World War One but never came home.

He said: “I would always look at those names on the roll of honour and wanted to know more. They were someone’s son, brother, family.

“Two of the names on there are the same – Holliday. They were two brothers from Aspatria who died on the same day in the war and whose mum got the telegrams back home informing her that her sons had died. Stories like that have really brought things home to me during this work and I’ve been honoured that families have allowed me to talk to them.

“The other thing which was a surprise was how many people went off to travel the world, who didn’t stay here in Wigton or the area. We tend to think that people 100 years ago would leave school and stay at home and not travel to far-flung places – but nothing could be further from the truth. There are all sorts of stories of former pupils that went on to relocate to far-off places like Canada. It must’ve been a huge step back in those days.”

Today the school and its traditions live on, going from strength to strength.

Its library is the oldest part of the current building and dates back to the 1890s.

Honours boards hanging from its walls include one entitled ‘Former Headmasters and Headmistresses’, which has names dating back to 1724 when The Rev Thomas Stockdale was the first headmaster of the Wigton Free Grammar School.

Every October the school’s new starters and sixth formers go to St Mary’s Church for a ‘Founders Day’ service which commemorates the local agreement back in 1714 to formalise education in Wigton.

Its educational standards are also among the best in the country, as recognised by the formal Ofsted inspection process of schools across England. It remains ‘outstanding’, the best judgement Ofsted can give. It has also been a leader when it comes to pioneering schemes such as the training of new teachers in schools.

Mr Herbert said: “This place means so much to so many people.

“I remember when I’d found out I was going to teach here. I went to see my grandfather Joseph Bowman. He started crying when I told him because he’d been a pupil at the Nelson Boys School in 1912 which later merged with the girls grammar school to become Nelson Thomlinson. He was still so proud of the school and the fact his grandson was now going to be working there.”

Mike Beechey, Nelson Thomlinson’s assistant headteacher, said: “We’ve got some key events planned to welcome visitors in and celebrate with us. Today’s school has 1,400 pupils but the first school back in the 1700s only had 20.

“People are so passionate here about the school and I think that it is because it depicts the history of the community.”

Pupils staged a tercentenary concert on Wednesday night in the school.

On July 3 The Nelson Thomlinson School will welcome visitors in for tours to see how the site and education has changed over the years.

Guests invited to join the celebrations include 100-year-old Joe Rawlings, of Lowry Hill in Carlisle, who is believed to be currently its oldest surviving former pupil.

Mr Rawlings, originally from Aspatria, went on to be the headteacher of Eden School in Rickerby, Carlisle, for more than 24 years after serving in the Arctic convoys during World War Two.

He was awarded the OBE in 1974 for his work for the Scout movement in Cumbria.

Memorabilia going on show includes the original bottle green blazer worn by the school’s current head of sixth form Elaine Lynch, who is preparing to retire at the end of the academic year, from when she attended as a pupil.

The school also has an old cane which was used to strike misbehaving pupils. Old punishment books also record that pupils were still being caned in the school in 1985 before the practice was stopped.

Another financial log book dates back to 1860.

A headteacher’s log book from 1939 also records, clearly in red ink, the start of war against Germany.

There are also scores of class, sporting and other photographs from years gone by.

Those interested in touring the school on July 3 must call 016973 42160 for further details.

Copies of Mr Herbert’s book are on sale, priced £5, from the school office.

School governors have provided funding to reduce the cover price of the anniversary publication.

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