Hidden school slates recovered in time for unveiling of blue plaque

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Torquay Boys' Grammar School

It was Torquay Boys' Grammar School Charitable Trust that first came up with the idea of celebrating the anniversary of this non-conformist British school in Torquay by erecting a blue plaque at it first home - Abbey Hall, Torquay.

What I could not know then was the request would turn out to a society first, in that we would experience a lesson unique in history courtesy of one of the 'old boys' of the original school.

It was in October 2003 that Mr D Simmons, secretary of the charitable trust, contacted me about the proposal for a blue plaque at Abbey Hall on Rock Road, Torquay, to firmly celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of what in effect was the first boys' grammar school - initially the Torquay Pupil Teachers Centre - in Torquay.

Founded on September 4, 1904, Abbey Hall welcomed its first students from Torbay, Kingswear and Dartmouth long before public transport was available making it a huge transport challenge to some of these boys.

With the headmaster at Torquay Boys' Grammar School on Shiphay Manor Drive - having moved from another site on Barton Road - in support of a blue plaque, he arranged sponsorship for the plaque and pamphlet to be assured.

He was Roy Pike and his agreement came with the proviso our pamphlet would be written by Mr Simmons in conjunction with John Pike, retired librarian, although we could still oversee publication.

This and making the arrangements with Torbay Council and agreeing the wording for the plaque, occurred quite quickly as by now the timing of the anniversary day was but a few months away.

Eight weeks later and we had received the plaque from the manufacturers in Buxton and with the literature now in hand we had also received confirmation that Cllr Nick Bye, at the time Worshipful Mayor of Torbay, would attend with his escort Cllr Mrs Christine Weston.

Interestingly, at the time Christine was also appropriately chairman of the Torquay Boys' Grammar School Charitable Trust, although we were aware that this would be her last and indeed Mr Bye's last appearance at any unveiling as both intended to retire soon from public life.

In my presentation later, I offered warm thanks for their service to the community and hoped they would enjoy a happy retirement.

On the due date, March 4t, 2004, the Mayor of Torbay, Nick Bye, formally pulled the chord and exposed the plaque high up on the wall of Abbey Hall, being well out of reach of any future vandalism.

Headmaster Roy Pike - not to be confused with librarian John Pike - informed us that this rather 'grim stone building' had originally consisted of one large hall serving as the assembly hall and for classrooms for the junior forms.

An adjoining section in a labyrinth of classrooms was used for senior forms.

All had meagre furniture and equipment being truly antique.

Later, I was able to relate an equally amazing story based on the observations of one of the 'old boys' of the original school.

He recalled from pre-First World War days, that some of his fellow pupils had hidden their 'personal slates' in the roof space of Abbey Hall.

Fortunately, having learned this prior to the event my builder checked, and lo-behold we discovered some of the wooden edged slates were intact and to the astonishment of our large audience at the unveiling, they were able to get an extra treat - the viewing of school slates still carrying their chalk writing, concerned with lessons in that time. A unique viewing indeed!

With the official proceedings over refreshment was then served in Abbey Hall courtesy of Mr N Dollar, secretary of the Abbey Hall Centre, and his team, in their building providing services to a disabled association.

The pamphlet on Abbey Hall - Torquay Boy's (first) Grammar School is still available by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, Office 1, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA