Children’s writing slates discovered in roof space of former Pupil Teachers Centre

Abbey Hall, Torquay. Photo: Derek Harper

Abbey Hall, Torquay. Photo: Derek Harper - Credit: Archant

It was after contacted by the headmaster of Torquay Boys' Grammar School that I learned they wanted to celebrate their 100th anniversary of the school founded in 1904, as a Pupil Teachers Centre based in Abbey Hall, Rock Road, Torquay.

It was where young men and women from around Torbay, Kingswear and eventually Dartmouth had come to train as teachers of the future.

The idea of a Blue Plaque for Abbey Hall had been suggested, and having discovered the hall was first used as a 'British School' set up by non-conformists for boys and infants in 1853, a plaque seemed most appropriate.

With an original prospectus of that time confirming 'No parent infant will be excluded because its parents are any particular denomination, though no churchman or dissenter need fear his child will imbibe sectarian principles', by 1871 this 'British School' was re-organised so that only boys could attend Abbey Hall and they were being schooled at either Upton Vale Baptist Church or Torre Hill Church - much later that site becoming today's Central Church.

By 1902, an Education Act of Parliament had required that all local areas set up day centres in order that pupil teachers could be trained and so it was that on September 4, 1904, the Torquay Pupil Teachers Centre officially opened at Abbey Hall, Torquay.

Having agreed a Blue Plaque was appropriate and with the sponsorship and arrangements for a history publication agreed, arrangements were finally made to install, unveil and organise the event for March 4, 2004, the first of many anniversary events that year.

With elected mayor Councillor Nick Bye and his escort Councillor Christine Weston agreeing to officially attend our event, we ensured this was open meeting for members of the society, the public and parents past and present of any student of Torquay Boys' Grammar School.

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The historical content and research of the 'TCS Collectors' pamphlet was undertaken by one of the teachers of Torquay Boys' Grammar School - Mr David Simmons - and now the celebration and unveiling ceremony was held on March 4 as agreed.

With the difficulty of access to Abbey Hall, situated at the lower end of Abbey Road on the (then) Post Office junction and Rock Road, we were delighted to welcome over 70 people on the day.

As occurs at many of our events, we generally find an amusing incident occurs somewhere along the way.

On this occasion, for a variety of reasons we had to site the plaque quite high on the Abbey Hall wall, which involved calling in the caretaker.

During the installation process he told us there were some 'old school slates in the upper roof space' - not roof slates but education slates used by the children.

These wooden boarded slates, some with chalk writing on them, had for some unknown reason been left hidden in the roof space over 80 years ago.

Being too good an opportunity to miss, we arranged to have some brought down and at the unveiling ceremony then produced the long unseen 'educational tools' to everyone, as a unique bit of history of the boys' writing, long before the advent of saved work using pen or a computer memory.

We were so pleased former pupil Mr Arthur Ryder had come along on the day, as he was able to confirm the slates were genuine.

We also heard the hall had originally comprised a large room serving as an Assembly Room and numerous classrooms were built inside the hall.

But with pupil teacher numbers in decline, only those with a scholarship or paying fees continued to attend, until eventually the National Board of Education adopted the hall in 1931, when it became a first secondary school. Later, the new Torquay Secondary School at Barton was built.

Now the hall's labyrinth of classrooms and assembly room were handed to the YMCA, until commandeered by the RAMC Territorials just before World War Two. Finally, the hall enjoyed a variety of uses (once a Jewish Synagogue) before being used as a centre for the disabled.

• The Civic Society Abbey Hall pamphlet is still available by post by sending postage stamps and a sae to Torbay Civic Society, Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ1 1DE.