FIRST COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL
A landmark event of 2011 saw publication of the first complete history of the school: The Story of Sutton High School for Boys, Plymouth, 1926-1986.
This is a substantial work of more than 140,000 words, gives a fascinating insight into the routine working of the school from beginning to end. It also recounts local authority education politics – pulling no punches in the process. It was published in time to mark the 25th anniversary of the school’s closure.
A copy of the book was presented to the then current Lord Mayor, Councillor Peter Brookshaw, by its editor, the Rev John Fairweather-Tall (1944-49), who was accompanied by Dr David McCallan, the last Headmaster. The presentation in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour was made on behalf of all who attended the school, both staff and pupils, throughout its 60 years’ vigorous life.
Addressing the Lord Mayor, John referred to the impressive piece of silverware the school had presented to the City of Plymouth to mark its closure, and continued, “We are proud that this is the centrepiece in the display cabinet here in the Council House. We trust that the book we now present to you as Lord Mayor will also find a suitable place as a mark of our mutual esteem.”
The volume is in four parts, the first two being the work of the redoubtable Dr C F Jones, for 23 years its second headmaster. In Part 1 he tells how the fledgling school “seemed to leap into its stride” from the start, various activities creating “that esprit de corps for which Sutton has always been noted.”
Dr Jones, characteristically calling a spade a spade, makes personal comments on some of the subsequent happenings, “for I lived all through it, and my life was centred on the school for nearly twenty-three years.” The story he tells, his dry wit spicing the account here and there, is of “how things were when the best boys were selected and given special opportunities to make their way in the world by the use of their abilities and their efforts, however lowly their origins.”
During four years of the Second World War, from 1941 to 1945, the school was evacuated to St Austell, and in 1949 Dr Jones published an account of those days, titled, A School at War. Long out of print, though with many a copy lovingly cherished on the bookshelves of Old Suttonians, it is now given renewed life as Part 2 of the history.
Dr Jones retired at Easter 1958. “Retired” proved a relative term for such a man: before the Easter holidays had ended he had been offered a safe seat on Plymouth City Council, but only half an hour earlier he had taken another phone call and accepted an invitation to stand in for the Secretary of the Head Masters’ Association who had been taken ill. He spent the next five months occupying the secretary’s chair in London. That he was the man they turned to in their hour of need indicates the respect in which he was held in national education circles. Later he accepted the Plymouth Council seat.
Overcrowding had been a major problem over the years as numbers grew and the curriculum expanded. Hopes of a new building rose and fell until finally the Education Committee recommended that the school be closed. Major events of the years from 1958 to 1984, when the Regent Street building was vacated, are told in Part 3 by Andrew Leigh, at the time a member of the Sixth Form, and currently (2011) a senior official with the UK Government’s Department for International Development.
From September 1984 until the school closed in June 1986, senior boys joined girls at Stoke Damerel High School. The story of these final two years is told by Dr David McCallan, Headmaster during this period, forming Part 4 of the history.
The book is illustrated, though pictures from the earlier days proved particularly hard to track down. Thanks to several Old Suttonians loaning their greatly treasured photographs, the number has not been as sparse as at first seemed likely, and the result has been a pleasing addition.
A press release of the publication, sent to all local media, resulted in several features and reports. Chris Robinson, whose ‘Looking Back’ articles in The Herald are widely read, gave generous space to reviews. Chris himself has close links to the school, his father and two uncles all having been educated at Sutton. Eleanor Radford, in her Herald series, ‘Neighbourhood News’, has also twice provided prominent reports.
The press coverage led to enquiries pouring in and sales of the book quickly soared. The enquiries came not only from Old Sutts, but also from those eager to buy a copy for father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, life-long friend and so on. They came from all over the UK and around the world, including France, Portugal and other European locations, as well as from farther afield, including countries such as the USA, Canada and Indonesia.
The book attracted favourable comments from other sources too. John Kelland, who saw widespread service in the police, including two stints as Commissioner of the Royal Fiji Police, and service as Inspector General of Dependent Territories Police in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was for 14 years Chairman of our Association. Invited to write the book’s Foreword, he said, “This book is a ‘must read’, not only for all Old Sutts, but for citizens of Plymouth, formerly Sutton, to read about ‘their’ High School. Full of facts and information, it is at the same time nostalgic and immensely enjoyable.”
And there have been many similar appreciative comments from former Suttonians who held or still hold responsible positions in all manner of professions and trades, both in this country and others.
Publication is in two formats, book and CD. The book is a POD (Print on Demand) production priced at £15, and can be ordered from any good book supplier by quoting its ISBN number: 978-0-9571111-0-3. The CD format has exactly the same text and pictures, but these are in full colour in the CD if they were so originally. (NB: these CDs are not of the sound-playing type.) Tip: don’t miss details of Chris Robinson’s etching of the school near the end of both book and CD. Prints are available, either with colour wash, or in black and white. Telephone 01752-705337 or 228120 for Chris’s shop, or visit his website: www.chrisrobinson.co.uk.
If you enjoy reading this history, you will join the many whose memories have been stirred by accounts of former days and by those who people memories. Like them, as the final-page Epilogue says, you will hear the strains of a familiar song wafting softly yet insistently through the air. Listen carefully and you, too, will catch the words:-
“… The future find us proud and prouder ever
Of those dear days we spent at Sutton School.”