SHEFFIELD Technical College closed 50-years ago but the memories are still vivid for its Old Boys Association, as Nik Brear discovered at their annual Christmas reunion...
“THE three years I spent here were the worst of my life!”
This is the message left behind by legendary nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow after he revisited his old school stomping ground.
There is no room for ambiguity in the entry left in Leopold Hotel’s guest book, which now sits on the site of the former tech college in Sheffield’s city centre.
“Peter hated the place – his only ambition was to finish and get out as quickly as he could,” his best friend and former tech college student Barry Northall told The Star.
“He was back in the city last month and I insisted he stay at the Leopold Hotel to see how the school has transformed. He and his wife Bella had a full tour and loved it. They’re planning to stay in the old headmaster’s office next time!
“He said it laid a lot of old ghosts to rest and he was chuckling away to himself when he wrote the entry in the hotel guest book.”
And Peter isn’t the only former pupil whose memories of the school remain strong after all these years.
“It was a violent place, no doubt about it,” said Alan Smith, at the Old Boys Association Christmas reunion, appropriately held at the Leopold Hotel.
“There were regular thumpings, beatings, canings and cuffings, but that was quite normal back then,” laughed the 65-year-old, who left the school in 1969.
“The headmaster, Herbert Wadge, was a real tyrant. But memories of my time here are fond ones. It was a real working class ‘lads’ atmosphere and I’ve rather missed that ever since.”
Roger Scholey, aged 70, left in 1958 and said he believes the tough environment set all the boys in good stead for later life.
“We were very happy here. It was tough but it was a good education, although we didn’t appreciate it at the time.”
Classmate Stuart Green, who left in 1959, added: “It was a great school, very exciting because our headmaster scared us all to death – even the teachers.
“He was in the Coldstream Guards in the First World War and it showed. There was plenty of corporal punishment at the school. I believe he had to be tough though, given how many boys he had to keep in line.”
The Sheffield Central Technical College’s Old Boys Association is one of the longest running in the country, dating back to 1946, and its members gather monthly.
“I think that’s quite an achievement to say the school has been gone since the 60s,” said club secretary Stuart, 71.
“We have a great group of people, with our oldest member in his 90s and the youngest in his 50s.”
Mick Warren, who left the school in 1963 and joined the Old Boys in 1964, aged 18, said: “Of course we reminisce a lot at these gatherings. It was a wonderful school and it taught us a tremendous work ethic which has stayed with us all our lives.
“We always have a lot of stories of the ‘old days’ to tell, but we’ve grown up with each other too and like to gossip about our children and grandchildren, as well as Sheffield goings-on.”
Ninety-one-year-old Ken Oldfield has just been made vice-president of the Old Boys, bringing the joint-ages of the president and vice president to a whopping 169 years.
“That’s got be some sort of record hasn’t it?” he laughed.
“I have such lovely memories of my time at the school between 1935 and 1938 and I really enjoy reminiscing with these boys.”
The Old Boys have even granted two honorary memberships – one to former Master Cutler Gordon Wilson Bridge, for his support of the group, and another to Ron Underdown, who taught English at the school in 1957.
“The school was a lifeline at the time to pupils who’d failed the 11-plus and provided a valuable opportunity to many who’ve gone on to do really well,” said Ron, 79, of Fulwood.
“I think half the plumbers in Sheffield and quite a lot of the city’s builders and engineers were trained at the old central tech school.”
And Peter Stringfellow wasn’t the only famous face to pass through the school, which also proudly counts tennis legend Roger Taylor, politician Irvine Patnick and singer Joe Cocker among its former pupils.
Writer, journalist and teacher Alan Smith has moved around a lot since his days as a boy in Sheffield, but still travels back when he can to meet up with his old schoolchums.
“I walked around the city centre today for the first time in about 10 years and it’s changed a lot. It’s more garish than it ever was but there’s no doubt that it’s still the same handsome city I grew up in,” he said.
“What I love about the Old Boys gatherings is that, even after 40 years away from the city, my accent is back within 10 minutes and it’s like I’ve never been away.”
* For more golden memories of Sheffield see Retro - our nostalgia supplement - free in The Star every Saturday.