Sheffield City Grammar School


After passing my 11 - plus (remember that?) in 1962, it was my privilage and pleasure to attend the Sheffield City Grammar School. At that time, it was situated in the centre of town on Orchard Lane, just off Leopold Street, but shortly after I started, it moved out of town to Stradbroke and a brand new set of buildings with it's own playing fields.

The buildings in town were a fascinating mix of classrooms, basement rooms, odd corridors and creaking stairs, definitely a place worth exploring. With the help of as many former pupils as I can make contact with, I'm going to tell you a little about what it was like.

But first, for your edification, a little background information about the grammar school in Sheffield.


Formal education in Sheffield actually dates back some 500 years or more. It is noted that the Canons of Beauchief Abbey engaged a teacher in 1490 to instruct boys and novices in grammar and singing. One of the earliest of Sheffield's schools is mentioned in the books of the Church Burgesses, when in 1564, a Mr Yonge obtained a licence to keep a school. In 1604, Thomas Smith (who was probably born in Sheffield) of Crowland in Lincolnshire, left the sum of 30 per year for running a Free Grammar School. The founding of the school was permitted by King James I and he gave instructions that the school should be called the King James Grammar School.

In 1648, Sheffield Castle was demolished (see Sheffield history section) and some of the stone was used to build a new grammar school in Townhead Street and this became known as the Royal Sheffield Grammar School. It remained in use until 1825, when a new school was built in St George's Square. Many other schools were built in Sheffield during this period and some were very highly regarded, having taught some of the leading citizens of the country.

Another first for Sheffield occurred after the passing of the Education Act of 1870. The first school to be built in England under the Act was Newhall School at Attercliffe in 1873. In the same year, Broomhall School was opened, quickly followed by Netherthorpe and Philadelphia.

In 1874 a plan was produced by the Sheffield architects, Innocent and Brown, for the laying out of Leopold Street and the realignment of Church Street and Bow Street (now West Street). In 1876 the area between Orchard Lane, West Street, Orchard Street and Balm Green was covered by a huddle of old houses in two streets now gone (Smith Street and Sands Paviours). This site was bought by the Sheffield School Board (SSB) for building the Central Schools and offices for themselves. At this time, Mark Firth (of steel fame) was interested in founding an Adult Education College which he intended should become a University College, so the Board sold him part of the site at the corner of West Street. The new building, called the Firth College after it's benefactor, was opened by Prince Leopold (hence Leopold Street) in 1879.

In the following year, 1880, the Central Schools were opened by Earl Spencer. They consisted of an infant's school, a junior school, a separate school for standards V and VI and a Higher School which was to give secondary education without actually saying so as the Board did not then have full legal powers. They were hoping to provide candidates of University standard for Firth College. The Higher School is claimed to have been the first secondary school to be opened by a school board in England.

At the various opening ceremonies, it was praised as an amazing and advanced school and was an early example of non-discrimination against women in education. Both boys and girls were admitted, by examination, from all the elementary schools administered by the Board.

As soon as Firth College was finished, the then Medical School made plans to leave Surrey Street and build nearby. The school was finished and occupied in 1887. In 1897 Firth College and it's branch, the Technical College in St George's Square were combined with the Medical School to form the University College of Sheffield. In 1905, the College obtained it's full University Charter and moved to new premises in Weston Park. The Central School then expanded into the newly vacated buildings.

In 1891, J B Mitchell-Withers won an architectural competition for additions to the Central School. These were opened in 1895 by the Secretary for Education, Sir George Kokowith.

In 1896, the Free Writing School in School Croft, used by the Pupil Teacher Centre for day classes, was bought by the Council for demolition as part of a slum clearance and road widening scheme. This meant that a new home for the Centre was needed and the Board decided to build on the vacant plot at the corner of Orchard Lane and Holly Street. The building was to accommodate all pupil teachers from Board and Voluntary Schools, together with preparatory classes made up of candidates for pupil-teachership. The new building was opened in 1899 by the Duke of Devonshire.

Further extensions and additions were made after the turn of the century, but the last significant building was the Education Enquiry Office fronting West Street. This building was fitted with an early form of air conditioning. The incoming air was passed through canvas sheets constantly sprayed with water jets, heated and taken up ducts inside pilasters. Alternate pilasters were used as exhaust ducts with an extract fan on the roof.

By 1892, the various schools began to acquire identities becoming Bow Street Elementary School, the Central Higher Schools and the Pupil Teacher Centre. In 1902 when the new Education Committee of the City Council had full powers to provide secondary education, the Higher School was divided into two, the boys remaining in the old building and it's extensions while the girls moved into the Firth College building. This situation continued until 1933 when both schools moved to new premises at High Storrs.

The Pupil Teacher Centre then transferred to the vacant premises in Orchard Lane. Discussions were held during 1936 with a view to changing the Centre to a secondary school and permission was granted for the change in February 1937. Thus was born the City Secondary School, but it didn't keep this name for long. In 1940 the Secondary Education Sub Committee recommended -

"That the Secondary Schools provided and maintained by the Education Committee be named "Grammar" Schools instead of "Secondary" Schools, as recommended in the Spens Report on Secondary Education."

And so it was that the Sheffield City Grammar School came into being.


My first form teacher was Mrs Jennings who also taught us history. We had Mr Cawton for maths (Mr Curtis in later years), Mr Fuller for French (he had a false leg dating from the 2nd world war and was very fond of telling stories about the French resistance. It was a good way of getting out of the lessons, just get him started and away he went!) and Mr Drake for woodwork (that was somewhere down in the basements, but a place I used to love going.... the smell of freshly planed wood and the glue pot bubbling away in the corner, it was another world....I would have been happy to spend my entire school life in that room and was quite pleased when I gained my 'O' level woodwork!).

The memory isn't what it used to be but other names I recall are Mrs Essenhigh - English language and literature...I used to hate the lit lessons, reading poems and then trying to analyse them after. I dreaded being asked what I thought of anything we'd read! I was so painfully shy that I used to go bright red just thinking about being asked something and then the moment of truth came when we were reading Julius Caesar. We were given parts to read out loud in class and my character (can't remember who) had to say 'What bastard doth not'. I was expecting all kinds of comments and reaction from the class, but fortunately I managed to stay calm and delivered the line very professionally (well, I thought so!) and it all passed smoothly.

Mr MacPherson (married Betty Thorold) - physics...he was ok and quite likeable. I recall that he became a father while we were still in the old school (funny what sticks in your mind) the classroom had a hole in one corner with a spiral staircase that went down to the lab technicians room. There was also a Mr Early who took us for physics in later years. Isn't that what Ward taught, I seem to recall he was quite keen on cricket.

Chemistry was a bundle of fun with Mr Hum, Mrs Davy and in later years, Mr Paulson (Biffo because of his ears!). He was quite a good, friendly teacher, played hockey regularly. I recall he once came in with a big fat lip as a result of an accident whilst playing. The chemmy labs used to smell terribly of H2S in the old school, it's a wonder we weren't all poisoned. The Kipps apparatus seemed to be permanently on and the fume cupboards never seemed to work all that well. We did the usual trick of making a chemical cocktail and keeping it in a cupboard, adding a bit of something each week to see what happened. When I think back now of all the chemicals lined up on top of the benches ... hydrochloric, sulphuric and nitric acids to name a few, it's a wonder there weren't some serious injuries! The only time I can think of an incident was when Biffo showered us all in flying glass trying to make hydrogen from zinc and hydrochloric acid. Not sure what happened, but the results were quite spectacular!

I think it was Miss Aston (small and quite pretty) who took us for geography in the early years, then we had a young lady (can't remember her name) who was built like the proverbial. She was South Yorkshire shot put champion! A lot of the lads used to accidentally drop their pencils when she was busy at the desk in front to try and sneak a look up her short skirt!

Mr Parsons took us for Latin, what a joy that was......despite his brusque manner he was quite fair as a teacher. He was also involved with the school choir, something I got dragged into by mistake one time. I think it was during the first year of sixth form. I was helping put the chairs out for the class when he strode in and started straight into it before I had the chance to get out. Sadly, I am somewhat tone deaf and have a voice to match and it wasn't long before I was thrown out for 'grunting' as he described it.....well, I was trying my best!

Mr Barnsley took RE but don't know much about him. Miss Johnson took art, not one of my strong subjects. Andrew Clarke taught music in the new school at Stradbroke, the only real memory I have of that is that the classroom had small windows that were high up on one side. Not sure who discovered the reason for it, but if you stood on a desk and looked out, you could see straight into the girls changing rooms! It's the only lesson I can recall most of the lads wanting to be early for.

Gordon Sanderson was the boys games teacher and Wendy Osborne took the girls. At the old school, there were no facilities on site, so we had to troop through town to the YMCA gym for PE. If memory serves, it was at the top of Fargate, up some creaky stairs on the second or third floor of an old run down place. The changing rooms were horrribly smelly and quite cramped and the exercise area wasn't that much better. For games such as football and rugby, we had to take the bus up to Ringinglow and the famous Castle Dyke playing fields. In warm weather it was fine, but in the depths of winter it was hell frozen over. The wind used to whistle across the moors and cut straight through you. It was certainly a great relief when we moved out to Stradbroke to have our own playing fields and gym, the only downside I recall was the poor drainage. Quite often we had to play in Richmond Park or go on the dreaded cross country run. I didn't mind too much as I enjoyed running, but some of the others used to try and get out of it or take short cuts, but somehow they always got found out.

I have seen Gordon Sanderson since, it was at the City School after he'd retired from teaching. He was acting as a sort of community liaison officer for the school. My brother Derrick also went to CGS and he formed a band with another ex pupil, Phil Holden. Phil's daughter went to CGS and she arranged for the band to play there for a social evening organised by Gordon's a small world isn't it?

Don't forget to check out the pics! ............. School photos

More to follow soon...........................omnes amici.