1977 was an important year in my life – the year that my family uprooted from Scotland and took us south of the border to Nottinghamshire. It was the year after the heatwave summer of 1976 and I was not happy to be leaving my home country with holiday forays to the Highlands and islands. Nationally, it was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, so I waved my little Union Flag with the rest of my classmates as the royal Bentley drove past our school in Kirkcaldy, Fife, and then saw the Queen and Prince Philip again when they came to Nottingham.
But at Rossall, it was also a historic and significant year; the first intake of Year 7 girls as the school made its first planned steps towards full co-education. Rossall was established in 1844, so the school was already well into its second century, but had until that point only accepted a few girls in the Sixth Form, often the daughters of masters at the school. So the arrival of eleven 11 year old girls was quite a moment for an institution which until that point had been very male-dominated.
Back in August, I received a lovely email from one of the first eleven year old girls to join Rossall, Deborah Parsons (née Hills) who was in James House & Dolphin between 1977 and 1984. This week, she sent me a delightful piece of writing with her memories from those early days. Many of Deborah’s experiences will seem similar to the experiences of our class of 2017 girls; those oversized blazers, the excitement of having a locker, delight at a nice piece of cake, the play rehearsals. But much is different too – no longer the long queues outside the phone box to call home or ballroom dancing lessons in the Museum Theatre… now there’s an idea!
I have added Deborah’s memories below. It will be fascinating to compare notes in another 40 years’ time to see whether there are still plenty of resonances across the ages. I certainly hope so.
Memories of Rossall forty years on …by Deborah Parsons (née Hills J & Dn 1977-84)
Michaelmas Term 1977. Eleven girls were admitted to Rossall at the age of eleven. Oversized school uniform had been purchased from Walkers in Fleetwood and tried on, at home, in excitement and anticipation, on numerous occasions over the summer holiday. My overcoat still fitted me in the Fifth Form!
We spent the first three years in James House under Cyril Fayle, while Dolphin House was designed and built. We were provided with a girls’ common room, each with our own desk and locker, where we did prep. On one occasion, one of the boys snuck into our common room but on hearing Mr Fayle’s voice, climbed hastily out of the window. His narrow escape didn’t go unnoticed. Mrs Fayle wanted an explanation for the large footprints that had appeared in her crushed flowerbed!
At break, we shared the boys’ common room which had a piano and a table tennis table. I have happy memories of playing chopsticks and “round the table” and of rehearsals for the Annual Choral Competition. Mr Fayle would line us up in the common room and walk behind us while we sang the unison: “Old Abram Brown is dead and gone.” If he tapped on your shoulder, he considered you were tone deaf and you had to mime on the day.
Our days were governed by bells and food. Like Pavlov’s dogs, when the bell rang in James House in morning break the whole house would form an orderly queue which snaked up the stairs. Twice a year on Mr and Mrs Fayle’s birthdays, we were given a piece of birthday cake, either chocolate or vanilla sponge with fresh cream filling. Delicious. More often we were given a biscuit or a slice of frozen bread & a lump of solid butter to make toast in break. Everything was shared fairly. We only had access to the brew room and House library, at set times in the day and if we were lucky the boys would allow us to play with their “Scalextrics,” which was set up in the House library
Every Saturday after games, we had compulsory ballroom dancing lessons in the Museum Theatre. It was long before the days of “Strictly Come Dancing.” There were only eleven girls so the boys would rush to choose a partner and we would be taught the “waltz” or “cha-cha-cha” or “strip the willow.” Saturday evenings were film nights in Big School. We were allowed to sit with the Sixth Form in the balcony. I’m not sure how much of the films were ever watched!
Other happy memories: Half day holidays for winning the “Excellent Cup.” The excitement of Rossall Award with its array of activities or Ross Hockey. Late night rehearsals for “The Insect Play,” “Joseph” and “Oh Rossallia” and interminable queues to phone home from the payphone under the Archway. Daily Chapel services. Walking down the nave under the full glare of hundreds of pairs of eyes. A school monitor asking how my first week had been. He looked like an adult so I replied, “Very good, Sir,” to which he kindly pointed out that I didn’t need to call him “Sir.” Being taught about Archimedes by Mr Gill in the baths of Dragon Crescent. In the break between our double Physics lesson he asked for a volunteer to “get their cossie on” and sit in the bath, so we could measure how far the water had risen. On another occasion, we were taken across the road to Parrs farm to watch a cow give birth..our introduction to reproduction! Mr Goode would neither call us by our surnames nor our first names. Instead, we were each given old fashioned nicknames such as Gladys, Gertrude or Ethel. During the first gym competition, I spectacularly flew over the horse and landed in a heap on the other side, amidst gasps from the gallery. When asked why the boy “catchers” on either side of the horse hadn’t prevented my fall, they replied that they weren’t quite sure where to grab me! Fortunately, only my pride was dented.