The Caretaker’s Daughter’s Tale

Heritage Open Day at Spring Hill College in September provided a vivid Down Memory Lane occasion especially for three visitors to the 1857 Spring Hill College building, and led to several new recruits to the Moseleians Association.

With a crucial end of season Attock CC fixture taking place on the school field after delays and interruptions for rain, visitors took the tried and tested route through the Grade II listed Victorian Gothic showpiece.

From the main (and temporarily scaffolded) entrance, passed Reception and the WW2 Roll of Honour, former pupils and first time visitors moved via today’s 6th form Library, where the history of SHC was displayed, to the rooms of the former Heads’ House.

Then, en route to views from the 80-ft tower, they traversed collegiate corridors to the one-time assembly hall, now a learning resource centre with an IT-equipped sunken section still displaying hints of the swimming pool for 70 years concealed beneath the feet of pupils attending morning assembly.

But most fascinating of all to Margaret Yarnall, husband John and daughter Nicki was not on the official tour.  It was the former caretaker’s house specially opened for their private visit by head teacher Roger McBrien, at the east end of the college building and used for storage while awaiting improvement and restoration.

For Margaret lived there as a girl, daughter of long-service caretakers Les and Doris Brown, through her school years at College Road and Moseley Modern and courtship with John who was in the same class, until their marriage in 1965.

From the moment the key turned in the lock of the school corridor door to the house, the memories came flooding back for the couple and for Nicki who had visited, with brother Steve, while their grandparents continued in occupation until their retirement.

The staircases between the three floors, some of the wallpaper, the Victorian metal window frames in arched stone settings, the first floor bathroom put in for the family to improve on the old ground floor washroom, the four bedrooms, two of them occupied by her grandmothers.

“I remember sliding down the one set of stairs on a tin tray,” recalled Margaret, whose bedroom was on the top floor, “and dad somehow managed to get central heating extended into the house from the main school while the head’s house remained heated only by open fires!”

As a resident of the campus Margaret was privileged that her and John’s wedding reception was held, courtesy of then grammar school head Mr Bruce Gaskins, in the school library where for Heritage Day teas were served.

Margaret also fondly recalled for Ann and John Dyer, fellow pupils at MMS when it opened in 1955, and others at the Heritage event, her fond memories for Mr Gaskin’s predecessor, Mr Ernest Robinson.

“Unlike the boys of Moseley Grammar we saw him off duty and he was a lovely man, very courteous, charming and thoughtful.  To me, a little girl, he was like a lovely granddad, sometimes to be seen sitting with his wife in the garden, a real lady and gentleman, not at all aloof and having a maid, Ethel, who also did the shopping.”

Margaret thinks the head had a particular rapport with her father because he was an old boy of the grammar school and Les returned the compliment by driving the Robinsons to see various properties when they sought a place to retire  eventually in the Cotswolds.

Also in line with Major – later Lt. Colonel – Robinson’s First World War and WW2 Home Guard military service Sgt Brown had been on General Montgomery’s staff in the campaigns through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, typing up from shorthand notes many of Monty’s reports.

While most visitors to Spring Hill College on the day were from the locality in response to a leaflet drop, and from other parts of the West Midlands, the Yarnalls travelled from their Evesham home to recollect a building they last experienced in detail half a century ago and said it had been worth every minute.