The other school in Free School Lane

Of all the shameful pieces of demolition in Rochester, one particularly rankles: the old Math School in the High Street.

Of course, I would say that because I was taught there, in the final cohort before the school quit the city centre for newer pastures.

What was the advantage of tearing it down? What replaced it? Well, a car park, mainly. And next to the Math (and haunt of certain masters at lunchtime) was the Blue Boar Inn, mentioned by Dickens in Pickwick Papers. That also fell to the demolition man about a year later and is now the east part of that car park next to the casino.

A victim with the Math building in 1968 was what we called N Block. It was the citadel of the sixth form, so I never set foot inside it. Why N block? After A, B and C Block, N Block seemed an illogical alphabetical jump. The N in fact  was for Nicholas; for this attractive stone building was originally St Nicholas’s School and taken over by the Math only a decade or so earlier. It was built in 1857, apparently using stone from the medieval Rochester Bridge, which had just been demolished.

St Nicholas School viewed from Corporation Street

The first view is taken from Corporation Street (the nameplate is on the house on the right, if you look hard enough); that house was demolished a lot earlier; its grounds would have made up part of the Math’s lower yard — our rather grown-up name for playground.

The wicket fence in the foreground separates Corporation Street from The Common, where animals were kept before sale at the market or slaughter.

The superb drum tower in the centre is still there. This is the northeast bastion of the city wall. The rest of the wall, which you can see today, was hidden under the old Math and exposed on demolition. This tower was generally, but not particularly strictly, out of bounds when I was at the Math, although we were once sent up there in an art lesson to sketch the view. It was a deep drop inside, but that didn’t prevent certain hearty types from suspending one unpopular pupil by his heels inside.

St Nicholas girls queue in Free School Lane

Overpaid, over here … and giving us sweets

Mrs Doreen Ford has happy memories of her time at St Nicholas’s School.

Mrs Ford (née Medhurst), now of Cypress Road, Frindsbury, went there in the 1940s. She lived in Eastgate Terrace, opposite the former museum, now the Dickens Centre, in the High Street, which meant she could go home for lunch every day. “I can remember the school as clear as yesterday. We had such happy days there, even if it was war-time,” she said. A particular highlight was the visit of American soldiers. “They brought us all sweets — real candies. It was such a treat!”

The headmistress was a Miss Ring, who was part of the Ring of Rochester removals firm family. Mrs Ford transferred to Troy Town for a while before returning to St Nicholas, where she stayed until she was 15. She then worked for Stanhope printers at the end of Love Lane, which became Staples.

Mrs Marie Turner (née Hallen) also loved her time at St Nicholas. She writes from Upper Luton Road, Chatham: “I was so surprised to see your feature on St Nicholas. I went there from 1948-51 and loved every minute of it! The headmistress was Miss Ring and I think there were only two teachers — Miss Dendy, who was very strict, and Miss Huffam who later married and became Mrs Horsham.

“I remember the winding, creaking wooden staircase and the roaring open fires in the winter, even in the hall. It’s such a shame that it was pulled down as it was a lovely building, looked after by the caretaker, Mr Hazel. Thank you for bringing back lovely memories for me and lots of old pupils.” My pleasure, ladies.

Two aunts among the class of 1929

At this point, I discovered a family connection. My father mentioned that his cousins Joan Andrews (née Pitcher) and Gladys Butler (née Gull) had attended St Nicholas. And then Joan’s sister Betty Baker supplied this wonderful picture from the class of 1929-30.

The class of 1929

And it is superb. Look at the clothing. Look at the surroundings. I knew which pupils were my Auntie Joan (whom I never knew) and Auntie Gladys (whom I knew well — I still have her birthday cards).

But who were the others? An appeal in the Medway News soon paid dividends, with the help of Mrs Enid Bradley (née Arnott) and Mrs Irene Barnard, of Catherine Street, Rochester.

“I was a pupil there until 1936,” Mrs Barnard writes. “I was Irene Archer in those days and I remember a lot of the girls who were there. That picture took be right back through the years. Thank you.”

Here are the names, so far: 1 Queenie Boast; 2 Doris Diprose; 3 Miss Hilda Ring; 4 Lily Boys; 5 Diana Penstone; 6 Gladys Gull; 7 Sheila Everett; 8 Doris Hysted; 9 Lily West; 10 Joan Pitcher; 11 Ethel Scott; 12 Enid Arnott; 13 Florrie Mott; 14 Mollie Coleman 15 Florrie La Marr.

Any more? Please let me know.

BACK TO HOME PAGE
Rochester & Strood
Chatham
Gillingham
Medway villages
Medway at war
Crimes that Shocked the Medway Towns

One Response to The other school in Free School Lane

  1. Valerie and Vera Sharp says:

    We both went to St Nicholas School. It was a happy time. It was so distressing when this lovely building was demolished.

    I (Valerie) was younger than my sister and was then sent to Warren Wood Secondary School. This was a horrid place (now demolished). Oh that I could have stayed at St Nicholas!

    Thank you for the memories. Does anyone have any photos after the one on this page? Would love to see them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>