The Nicholls Secondary Boys School

Ellen Wilkinson School

Under the 1952 Ardwick re-organisation scheme, the non-selective boys of secondary school age were catered for in a newly established school - Nicholls Secondary School for Boys - which began life on 1st September 1952. It was housed in Nicholls Hospital building.

The building was founded by the bequest of Alderman Benjamin Nicholls, millowner, as a "memorial of his son John Ashton Nicholls, who had the improvement of the humbler classes deeply at heart and laboured earnestly to promote it, and whose mother testified her interest in the object of this institution by a supplementary bequest". John Aston Nicholls had died in 1859 and Benjamin Nicholls (at one tie Mayor of the City) in 1887.

The building (above), erected by his trustees, was completed in 1882, and was the work of architect Thomas Worthington. This distinguished gentleman had failed in 1868 to gain the commission to build Manchester Town Hall, preference being given to Alfred Waterhouse's design. Nicholls Hospital building was Worthington's last, and "incorporated the cluster of soaring finials and gables from his abortive Town Hall Scheme.

It is not the purpose here to outline the history of the Hospital School, since it was not under the control of the Local Authority. In 1952, however, under the Charitable Trusts Act, the Minister of Education made schemes for the Nicholls Hospital Foundation and for the Chetham's Hosptal School Foundation, by which the Nicholls Hospital School was no longer to be carried on as such, and the boys were to be transferred to Chetham's Hospital School. The Nicholls Building was rented by the Education Committee and later purchased in 1953 to be used as a County Secondary School for Boys.

Ellen Wilkinson School

Thus the new school occupied a building 70 years old, which had a good proportion of boarding accommodation, and for the greater part of its life was faced with many frustrating building problems. The first Headmaster was Mr. Ernest McDonnell, and for the first few days, many urgent surveys were made by the Chief Education Officer, Mr. N.G. Fisher and his colleagues, together with local Councillors, to assess the most immediate needs. By November, the Headmaster submitted a full report, giving his appraisals of the situation. Later that month, Dr. K. Laybourn, M.E.C. Science Inspector, put forward plans for the establishment of a Science Laboratory in one of the larger rooms. Fire escape facilities were modernised and a new alarm system completed by December 1953. A large hall was used as a gymnasium and also for assembly, but the ventilation was so bad that in January 1953, P.E. had to be discontinued there, and even though some improvements were made and P.E. resumed, the conditions continued to be far from satisfactory. The cloakrooms were improved by September 1955, and better staff facilities provided. School dinners were available, brought in from an outside centre and served in a basement dining room. A Library was established on the first floor; by 1957 this had been extended and modernised, and there was a fine and spacious one by the early 1960's.

By November 1957, work began on remodelling the Gymnasium, which meant that for 3 months there was no indoor P.E. The work was completed by February 1958, when a modernised Gymnasium and Assembly Hall, with a stage, was opened with a special concert to mark the occasion. New washplaces and cloakroom accommodation were ready by January 1957, and in March of that year work began on the provision of a new canteen kitchen. In January 1958, the first school meal to be cooked on the premises was available through a "family service" system, with Mrs. Amberry as temporary Cook Supervisor until Mrs. Blakeway took over on January 16th. Mrs. Neal replaced here in February 1959, and Mrs. N. Woolley became Supervisor in October 1959, a position she held with distinction for 20 years until she retired in August 1979.

Beneficial as these changes were, the school was hardly ever free of workmen, and it was clear that major extensions to provide classrooms and practical rooms were necessary. The Local Authority's Development Plan was to bring the school up to the required standard of accommodation for 600 pupils. Plans were therefore prepared from 1958. These plans involved building over what playground space there was. Work began in Spring 1960 and for two years the school had to work and indeed exist under most stringent conditions. It was greatly to the credit of Mr. Harold Roberts (who had succeeded Mr. McDonnell as Headmaster in September 1956) and his staff that the school managed not only to "keep afloat" but also to maintain a sound and effective organisation. The building work fell behind schedule, but eventually on Friday, 16th November 1962, the extensions were officially opened by Mr. K. Zilliacus, M.P. for Gorton, with Councillor Frank Hatton, Chairman of the Education Committee, in the chair and Mr. Roberts proposing a vote of thanks.

The extensions were built on the north side of the old main building. The additional accommodation consisted of an assembly hall, two geography rooms, two woodwork rooms, two metalwork rooms, one general practical room, one technical drawing office, 13 classrooms and ancillary accommodation. In addition the existing accommodation was adapted to improve gymnasium facilities, science and library facilities and cloakrooms. The total cost amounted to £145,000. The school now made the most of its new facilities, although there were still problems. In 1963 the Headmaster reported faults in the new building, which the Chief Education Officer and his colleagues came to see. Ardwick Youth Club used the building on certain evenings and there was concern about damage, both actual and possible, particularly by ball games in the Hall. At times the heating of the school caused concern, and on three occasions between 1963 and 1965 the school closed early because of a lack of fuel oil.

Originally, playing space with some form of hard surface area for football was available at the back of the school, bordering up to Ardwick Cemetery, but this was taken over when the building work started. The Ardwick Cemetery itself, covering about 5 acres, had been opened in 1838 when there were no local authority cemeteries. The management of the Cemetery was entrusted to a Committee of 9 Directors, with the first Mayor of Manchester, Sir Thomas Potter, as Treasurer. Although at that time only a Church of England service could be used in a churchyard, the number of burials was so great that restrictions had to be imposed in 1893. By the Manchester Corporation Act of 1950, all further burials were prohibitied and the cemetery was transferred to the Corporation which was empowered to use the land for school playing fields or as an open space. A record of the inscriptions on the tombstones was deposited with the Registrar General, and a copy placed in the Local History Library of the Central Library. The burial registers were handed over into the custody of the Town Clerk.

It was decided to develop the land as a playing field for Nicholls Secondary School, which, according to a brochure published at that time, thus became the first Secondary School in the inner area of the city to be extended to bring its accommodation up to modern standards and to have a playing field on its own site. The work was carried out in 1963/4 and cost £18,275. By September 1964, however, Mr. Roberts felt that the field was not as yet fit for use. Pieces of debris and rubble were apparent on the surface, and parts were draining badly. Several inspections were made and some minor work carried out, yet, even by 1966, the Headmaster was not prepared to sanction everyday use. Although further improvements were needed, Nicholls field was formally opened on 16th June 1966 by Sir Philip B. Dingle, C.B.E. LLD, Town Clerk of Manchester 1944-1966, the architect of the Manchester Corporation Act of 1950. A plaque marking the opening was unveiled by Sir Philip and eventually erected on the Devonshire Street side of the field. This plaque, besides giving details of the opening ceremony, included the following: "The field was formerly Arwick Cemetery, where between 1838 and 1950, the remains of over 80,000 people were interred, including John Dalton, Scientist 1766-1855; Sir Thomas Potter, first Mayor of Manchester 1773-1845; Ernest Jones, the Chartist 1819-1869; Bugler Robert Hawthorne, 52nd Light Infantry, who won the Victoria Corss at Delhi in 1857, and many other of all walks of life who served God in their day and generation". After the ceremony, there was a display of physical education activities on the field by pupils from various Secondary Schools and a football match between Nicholls Secondary School and a Manchester Schools' Football Association team.

Further improvements were still needed, however, and in suceeding years some major drainage was carried out, attention given to areas of subsidence and a "red gra" area were made available. This, together with the hard court areas and certain athletic facilities, dramatically improved things; by this time, however, the school had ceased to exist as a separate unit. Full credit must be given to the Headmaster, Staff and boys of the school for the way in which they built up and maintained a high standard in competitive games and P.E. During the second and third weeks of its existence the school established a House system. A Staff committee reviewed proposals for such a system, put forward by Mr. McDonnell. The Scheme, with four houses - Livingstone, Mallory, Scott and Shackleton - and including a system of conduct and merit marks was soon operative, emphasising an incentive approach and competitive aspect.

In football, a commendably high standard was quickly reached and maintained, with teams winning Manchester Schools' Football Association trophies and having representatives in that Association's trials and teams. Mr. Roberts worked hard for many years as an official of that body. A highlight of the football season was always the Staff v Boys match. Swimming tests were held regularly, and by 1957 an Inter-House Swimming Gala was held at Whitworth Baths - in later years at Victoria Baths. In march 1953, there was an Inter-House Boxing meeting. By March 1961, there were Inter-House Rugby matches, and in 1963, the school won a Manchester Schools' cup. The first Sports Afternoon was held at Cringle Fields, when the school was conveyed there by private buses. Then White City became the venue until 1963, when Chorlton Grammar School playing fields were used. In 1953, the school won the 440 yards relay at Belle Vue Sports and was second in the mile team race. This latter event was won in 1955 and 1956 and the senior relay was won in 1958. On 24th July, 1957, the school was awarded the coveted Teachers' Memorial Shield. The Chief Education Officer, Mr. J.K. Elliot received this from the officials o behalf of the school, and presented it to the School Captains at an anthusiastic ceremony, after which guests and officers had tea and refreshments provided by the girls of the sister school. School closed early on the last afternoon of that term as a reqard for winning the Shield and also for a good attendance record revailing in the school at that time. P.E. work in the gymnasium became noted for its smartness and crispness, and, let by Mr. J. Barnes, groups of boys gave displays to teachers and scholars at other schools on at least three occasions, and a film was made of P.E. groups at work in July 1964. From the earliest days, it was the practice to have school photographs taken, including teams and games groups. Cycling proficiency tests were held occasionally, and Road Safety and Accident Prevention talks given and films shown. There was a regular participation in the Safety Quiz competition, and a trophy was won in 1964. The whole school saw the film of the Coronation at the Apollo Cinema, the "Conquest of Everest" in 1954, and the Olympic Games film in November 1965.

The initial entry in September 1952 was made up of boys coming mainly from the closed Ardwick Municipal and Armitage Street Schools, with the remainder from Ross Place and other re-organised schools in much the same pattern as in the neighbouring Girls' school. The entry was roughly graded in ability, with classification tests completed by 15th September. By September 1956, there were 395 boys in the school, with an intake into the 1st year of 108. A prefect system, with regular meetings, was established from the beginning, and there is a reference in 1954 to a School Council, although this idea did not seem to flourish. Good standards of behaviour were expected and indeed established with the normal use of corporal punishment for severe cases of misbehaviour. The school had a distinctive uniform, including a black blazer with a badge which had a castle tower as its emblem. School colours were royal blue and gold, and the various items of uniform were available directly from the school. Prices were listed in a school brochure (1956) as: Blazer, up to 28" length, 42/6d; Cap, all sizes, 5/6d; School Tie 3/-d; Pullover, 28" chest, 25/-d, and every encouragement was given towards the wearing of uniform.

When the school opened, the Headmaster and staff spent much time carefully preparing and agreeing on work schemes, and a remedial course was soon evolved. A pattern of formal examinations at Christmas and July was established. The Headmaster was aware of the need for as many boys as possible to complete a full 4 year course, and early in 1954 he had discussions with Mr. H.E. Marchington (Deputy Headmaster of the Secondary Technical School and Principal of the Evening Institute) about an examination after the full 4 years, which would allow successful boys to omit the Preliminary Technical Course at the Institute. By March, 1955, the 4th year Technical group (11 boys) sat their "mock" examination in the school for the Preliminary Technical Course of the U.L.C.I. By this time, of course, the U.L.C.I. Secondary Schools Certificate - to be taken after 5 years - was established, and, not unnaturally, Mr. McDonnell felt that his most able boys should be persuaded to stay on and take that examination. In January 1955, he interviewed parents of promising candidates and then decided to embark on this policy.

For the majority, however, the basic 4 years course of study was the aim, made up of work in English Language, Literature, Mathematics, General Science, History, Geography, Religious Education, Art, Craftwork, and Woodwork. A 3 year course was given in Technical Drawing and a 2 year course could be taken in Rural Studies and/or Metalwork. At the end of the full 4 years, all pupils sat the Nicholls School Certificate Examination, the certificate gained indicating in which subjects the boy had attained a satisfactory standard. From the beginning of 3rd year, the Technical Course group was nominated, and from these it was hoped to draw the first 5th formers. In addition, there was a full programme of Physical Education activities and some Music when possible. In September 1956, 7 boys made up the first 5th form. When the summer U.L.C.I. examination came along 5 of them sat 6 subjects each - English (including oral English), Mathematics, Building Geometry, General Science, Woodwork and Geometical and Engineering Drawing. English Literature was also included as a subject in the years that followed.

By the beginning of the 1957/8 school year, the number of those opting to complete 4 years had risen to 70% but it was proving difficult to maintain a 5th form. It should be remembered that it was possible for boys to take the M.E.C. transfer examination for entry to the Authority's selective schools. Fortunately, Mr. McDonnell's enthusiastic efforts to develop an "academic top" to the school received a strong boost by the decision of the Authority to introduce a selective stream into the Secondary Modern Schools. The first such intake began in September 1958. Out of a total intake of 150, 14 were selective. 5 streams were set up in the 1st year with the selective 14 made up to one form of 30 by choice from the non-selective boys. Parents of the 14 had earlier signed the necessary agreements. By this time, Mr. Robers had succeeded Mr. McDonnell. In 1959, there was a 4th form entry with 9 selective boys, a 5th form of 15 and a total of 478 boys in the school. The roll dropped to 420 the next year, with 8 selective boys in a 3 form entry, a 5th year of 5 boys, who worked with 6 of the best boys from the 4th year. The entry was reduced because of severe accommodation problems already mentioned, yet the decline in numbers was never checked after this. Demolition and rehousing in the area steadily reduced the population. By 1962 there were only 4 selective boys in a 1st year entry of 70 and a total roll of 339. From 1963, the selective entry ceased, and Mr. Roberts noted a decline in the general study standard on entry. Yet there had been some merit in the plan, and many of those who had completed 5 years successfully moved on to the Sixth Form of other schools or into Further Education. 7 Boys did this in 1963 and the same number in 1964.

The image above was generously donated by Bob Rigg

A Nicholls' classroom in the 1960s, probably an English lesson with Mr. Fred Houldsworth. The pupils names from the left, Geoffrey Light, Ali Abdul, Bob Rigg, and I think Fred Burrows.

Sound efforts were constantly made to give good careers advice and to place boys in sound employment on leaving school. The school had a member of staff in charge of careers advice, and officers from the Youth Employment Bureau gave fine support. Careers evenings for boys and parents were arranged and in 1965 a Careers Convention was held jointly with the Girls' School. In the early days, many excellent visits in school time were made to various firms and industries, a few examples of many being: November 1952 to Wheatsheaf Colliery, February 1953 to English Steel Corporation, January 1958 to Kemsley House, December 1963 to G.P.O. Sorting Office, November 1964 to Rootes Motors, March 1966 to Manchester Fire Station. Often, lecturers from firms visited the school - from the C.W.S. in 1960, from A.V. Roe in 1963 and 1964, and from Mather and Platts in 1961. Service representatives often visited to talk and show films - one such in November 1957 was from the Army Apprentices School. The film "Aims of Industry" was shown to the 4th and 5th years. Other visits of general interest were arranged frequently to such places as Manchester Museum, the Town Hall, and Heaton Hall. There were visits to special Science lectures at the University in 1959 and to the "Atoms for Work" Exhibition in 1963. Lecturers came to the school to speak on a wide variety of subjects: "Religions of the Orient" (1956), "Missions to Lepers" (1957 and 1958), the Y.H.A. Movember (1962), "Wild Life" (film, 1964), "Care of Pets and Animals" (1966) and "Money Management" (1966). Major Kendrick of the Salvation Army visisted in June 1958. On occasions, boys from the 4th and 5th years took part in Inter-school discussions and conferences arranged by the Student Christian Movement and the Christian Education Movement. These were often a combined exercise with the girls' school, and a joint Carol service was held in St. Matthew's Church from December 1964. Earlier the School had had its own service in the gymnasium.

Every year, groups attended the Halle Concerts for schools, but, because of staffing problems it was difficult to establish any kind of musical tradition. Indeed, the subject had difficulty in surviving. Initially, from 1952, help was given by M.E.C. Inspectorate in the persons of Mr. A. Rooke and Miss Ryall. There was a choir by 1956 - some members were in the Manchester School Children's Choir - and, led by Mr. H.R. Williamson, this school choir took part in a special concert on the evening of 17th July, 1956, and again in February 1958. Unfortunately, from 1960, there was no music teacher available. The second of the concerts just mentioned was to mark the opening of the modernised Gymnasium / Assembly Hall. 3 plays were also presented, produced by Messers Hopkins, Rogers and Martin. Work in Drama was at times very successful. In December 1954, each form put on a play at the 3rd and 4th year Christmas parties. In December 1955, two plays were produced - "Road to Bethlehem" and "Pied Piper of Hamelin". In July 1956, Mr. J. Cule produced the "Farce of Pierre Pathelin" before an audience of 300 parents, boys and friends, a production which had been highly commended at the Adventure Theatre Guild Festival in the Lesser Free Trade Hall earlier in the year. In 1959, three One Act Plays were given. IN May 1960, the Drama group participated again in the festival at the Lesser Free Trade hall, and in December of the same year, 3 one act plays were presented in school for 2 nights. There were frequent vists by groups to the Library Theatre. A group saw "The Merchant of Venice" at the University in February 1960, and there were two visits to a production of "Henry V" in 1957 and one to the "Taming of the Shrew" in 1959. The 5th year saw a production of Macbeth in 1965 and school parties visited the Festival of the Arts activities at the Free Trade Hall. Support was given to a Hyde Road Library Essay competition in January 1959, and prizes were gained in a Manchester Library Painting Competition, 1st prize, 3 highly commended, and 7 commendations.

Parental support for concerts was always encouraged. In 1953, Mr. McDonnelle had tried to establish a Parent Teachers' Association, but without any permanent success. Open Evenings, however, were undoubtedly successful, commending in July 1954, and then held effectively each following year at that time. The Headmaster generally gave a bried address to the parents, and often there was a P.E. display, or Drama and Choral work, as in July 1956. In July 1959, the event became the first Speech Day with Alderman Leslie Lever and Councillor W. Parkinson as special guests. Certificates and trophies (of which there were many) were presented, and Mr. Roberts gave a report. In 1960, the Chief Guest was Alderman Dame Mary Kingsmill Jones. Because of accommodation problems, there were no ceremonies in 1961 and 1962, but from 1963, Speech Day was held again, this time in February, with Alderman L. Biggs as Chief Guest. Open afternoons were resumed each year in July, and in December 1963 Mr. W.T. Stevenson (formerly M.E.C. Chief Inspector of Schools) was Chief Guest at an evening ceremony. The last Speech Day was on January 14th, 1965, when Alderman Leslie Lever was again the Chief Guest with Mr. K. Marks, a former deputy Headmaster of the School, also a Guest Speaker, and with Mr. E. Power, District Inspector, in the chair.

Mr. Power was District Inspector for almost all of the period of the school's life, taking over from Miss M. Smith in 1953, and he was very heavily involved in helping the school over its building problems as the years went by. Initially, Mr. Barks was the District H.M.I., being succeeded by Miss Brunt in 1957. Her visits were often concerned with assessing the needs and working sof biased and extended courses in Secondary Schools, and often her senior colleage, Mr. E. Bullock, visited with her. Other specialist H.M.I.'s - Mr. Rockwood, Mr. Sagar, Mr. Bernard, Mr. Powell and Dr. Fletcher visited on occassions. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress (Alderman Leslie Lever and Mrs. Lever) visited in May 1958; Alderman Lever visited again in July 1963, and in May 1958, the Education School Meals Sub-Committee visited to see the dinner arrangements.

Much credit must go to the two Headmasters and their staffs for the success achieved during the school's comparatively brief existance as one unit. Although Mr. McDonnell's term as Headmaster was brief (1952-1958), yet it was under his wise and determined leadership during the inevitably difficult early dayts that sound foundations were laid. Mr. A. Houldsworth was his Deputy, with Mr. H. Roberts as Second Assistant. When Mr. Houldsworth left to take up a Headship in April 1956, Mr. Roberts took over his duties. When Mr. McDonnell left in August 1958 to become Headmaster of Barlow Hall Seconday School, Mr. Roberts was appointed Headmaster, and Mr. K. Marks became his deputy. At the end of 1964, Mr. Marks moved to the temporary Headship of Clough Top Secondary Boys School, Manchester, and Mr. G. Parry took over from him. Later Mr. Marks entered politics as M.P. for Gorton, suceeding Mr. K. Zilliacus, who, by interesting coincidence, had opened the new extensions at Nicholls in 1962.

It was by no means easy to recruit staff at a time of National shortages in certain subjects. Mention has already been made of the difficulties in Music. There was a time in 1959 when there was no master for Science, and there was no qualified person to teach Rural Studies from 1963. This was unfortunate, because there had been an excellent greenhouse and rural studies block. Initially, Craft was taught at Bank Meadow Centre, then an independent unit. From April 1957, the centre officially became part of the school, with Mr. A. Lilley remaining as teacher in charge. Sadly, Mr. Lilley died in December 1962. In 1960, there was a staff shortage for Woodwork and classes had to be integrated with others. In any case, the building work taking place at that time meant that there was no spare accommodation. Eventually the staff vacancy was filled by September 1962, with the major extension available, all craft work was taught on the school site.

A total of 67 teachers served for some period of time on the staff during 15 years. They were, given in order of appointment:

Messrs H.N. Brunt, M.J. Donoghue, A. Houldsworth, J.D. Hore, J.A. Hoyne, C.D. Low, J. Lee, K. Marks, V.H. Platt, H. Roberts, A.C. Wood, E. Parrett, J. Cunningham, J.R. Williamson, N.E. Wood, D. O'Connor, J.M Ashton, F.H. Marshall, A.K. Dean, F.H. Tempertton, P.T. Webb, J.L. Cule, E.G. Moore, A. Lowndes, A.B. Afford, K.A. Thomstone, A. Simpson, D. Rogers, K.N. Seckler, S.R. Houle, J.C. Smith, A. Lilley, J.G. Gowman, S.S. Thompson, W. Hopkins, J. Barnes, R.E.K. Martin, F.J. Houldsworth, G.J. Carroll, G.E. Dunckley, S.M. Plaskitt, G.R. Chivers, J.D. Henshaw, H.J. Gooch, E.H. Duckworth, E. Grinyer, M. Feeley, To. Sowerby, J.G. Parry, R. Atkins, B.C. Hadkins, O. Davies, J. Coyne, F.B. Jackson,. H. Mills, F.H. Harper, J.G. Taylor, R.C. Mottershead, T. Bradbury, F. Baines, B. Fox, D. McNally, R. Haslam, G. Dawkins, R. Teare, W. Rutter, G. Clayburn.

Mr. Roberts had the distinction of serving the school as teacher, Deputy Headmaster and then Headmaster for the whole of the 15 years, and the following 14 teachers were on staff when the closure took place in 1967: Messrs Barnes, Clayburn, Duckworth, Dunckley, Gooch, Harper, Haslam, Henshaw, Jackson, McNally, Parry, Sowerby, Rutter and Teare.

Mrs. Hurst was a Non-Teaching Assistant until February 1955 - Mrs. Fisher succeeded her until she retired in 1966, receiving a piano stool as a gift from an appreciative school. Mrs. C. Smith took over her duties until reorganisation. The first caretaker resigned in January 1953, and was followed by Mr. R. Newsham. There was a caretaker's house attached to the old part of the building on Devonshire Street, and from this centre, Mr. Newsham gave remarkable service. He became and indespensible part of the organisation, he cheery and cooperative manner being a great asset.

When the city's re-organisation plans were under consideration, the school hall was used for one of the public meetings in October 1965. After the final decisions had been made, the Inspectorate visited the school on many occassions in 1966 to plan the necessary changes for accommodating girls as well as boys. By April 1967 work had begun on sonverting a toilet block, providing a girls' changring room, converting on Metalwork room in the Craft Block for use as a science laboratoy and equippping a large room in the same block for Housecraft. On 26th July, 1967, the school ceased to exist, merging to form the Nicholls Ardwick High School from September 1st. Some staff left for other appointments, the others joined the sfatt at the new school.

The school had done much of which it could be rightly proud, and had lived up to one of is aspirations as stated in its brochure, "Such is the scope of activities of the school that every boy should find something which appeals to his particularly interest and ability." Accommodation and buildign problems had been very heavy burdens to carry for at least half the tiuem. Latterly the demolition and rebuilding of the surrounding areas were injurous to progress. Yet the school took with it into the merger of a good spirits to competitiveness, a belief in hard towth and come of the community spriti of the neighbourhood, which it had tried to stay alive.

This history of the Nicholl's School was extracted from"A Century of Schooling" by Donald Woodhead


The photographs below were in Donald Woodhead's files.  They had no description on them but based on the fact that the pupils are all boys I am  assuming that they were taken at the Nicholls' Boys School.