Built for the girls’ grammar school in the 1930s, the buildings were vacated in 1986 when the girls’ school merged with the boys’ grammar school. Fine sandstone structures around a double quad with extensive tree-bordered grounds, the buildings became a fine home for the new comprehensive school.
Occupying a first storey room with a fine view across the playing fields to the south, Room 14 is one of the warmest rooms in the school. A large free-standing electric fan, now tucked away for the winter, is testimony to how hot the room becomes in summer. Even in October, a sunny day can prompt the winding down of the blinds that cover the twelve foot high windows. To be too warm is preferable to being too cold, rooms on the other side of the quad which already feel chilly.
On the first cold morning of the autumn, a teacher walked down the corridor with a scarf wrapped around her neck. The heat is not turned on until after the half-term holiday at the end of the month. Rooms heated by large radiators may be much warmer in January than they are on heating-free days in October.
The chill recalls childhood days when there was no central heating at any time. There was an open coal fire in the living room and the kitchen, but only in the coldest weather would the kitchen fire have been lit. There were fireplaces upstairs, but little sign that they had ever been used, they didn’t even have grates. The coal fire was supplemented by a paraffin heater which was lit and placed in the bathroom to make the experience of washing slightly less cold than it might have been. On winter night, the most warmth came from running the sink full of hot water and plunging both arms into it.
No-one would have thought our house unusual, coal fires were the norm. We were thought unusual when we had electric storage heaters installed in 1972 and the house became a place that was always warm.
Presumably, schools were as cold as houses, if not colder because of their high ceilings, but there are no memories of people complaining. In High Ham, the two classrooms in the primary school were heated by pot belly stoves. It used to be the responsibility of the older boys to go out to the store for scuttles of coke to stoke the fires.
Undoubtedly, the moment will return when the classroom blinds are closed to keep the room cool. In the meantime, there are only seven schooldays until half-term.