‘Mr Wilshere’s own idea…is that if the children of a district have no beauty in their daily surroundings, they need beauty all the more in their schools’. Irish Builder 74, 26 Mar 1932
Building schools at a time when NI’s education was regarded as the worst in the UK, Architect Reginald Wilshere is best remembered for his much celebrated school designs in Belfast in the 1920’s & 30’s. Wilshere was from Essex, England, and took over responsibility for building Belfast’s schools in 1926. In all, he oversaw the design & construction of 26 schools of various styles and sizes. His team were skilful in a number of architectural styles and are attributed to have built the first modern movement style schools anywhere in Ireland. We set up screenings at two of his most beautiful- Strandtown Primary and Nettlefield, showing, Goodbye Mr Chips and Gregory’s Girl respectively.
We had the opportunity to talk to both present staff and past pupils of the schools – and there was huge sense of the love and affection for the building and the memories that it bought back to those attending. We had a ‘Memory Box’ at each of the events, and even the audience members who hadn’t gone to school there joined in in adding the Favourite and worst memories of primary school to the box. I’ll do a fuller post later but there’s some lovely and hilarious recollections in there! (i.e. Favourite Memory: ‘Being left alone with the bottles of milk for break time and drinking them ALL.’ Worst Memory: ‘Ten minutes later’ )
We’ll be posting all the memories up in the next couple of weeks but in the meantime, here’s one from Joan Crowther, (neé Coubrough) past pupil of Nettlefield:
When I noticed that Gregory’s Girl was being shown at Nettlefield Primary School, I jumped at the chance of going back with my daughter, just to see what it’s like now.
Maybe as you get older it’s only the good memories that remain, but I will always think of my Schooldays at Nettlefield as happy. I was always a “BIG” girl, but although I remember being teased i never felt unhappy there. I lived close enough to go home to my grannies for dinner at lunchtime (maybe that’s why I was a little overweight) I am 70 now so it’s only snippets of information that I remember. My junior infants teacher was a Mrs Wyteman, I think that was her name. There was also a Mrs Brownlow, who was really motherly, and Mr McRoberts was the headmaster. I can also remember playing ‘Tig’ on the circular seats in the quadrangle in the centre of the schools. my final year was spent in the Annex in Grovefield School. Mrs Nelson was the girls’ teacher and Mr Curtis took the boys. Now I think he used the cane a lot, but never on the girls. The qualifying exam was sat at Templemore Avenue School and I treated it as a great day’s outing, no pressure to succeed in those days. I still have the entrance card for that exam and also my reports from Junior infacts to when I left. I found a photo taken in the last year and I would love to know where these girls are now, Margaret Wilson, Marie Nichol, Maureen Lyons, Margaret Telford, and Ruth Kirk . I’m afraid I have forgotten the names of the rest of the class who left in 1955.
If you are – or know any of these ladies, please email me- vittoria (@) belfastfilmfestival.org I’d love to put you in touch with Joan.
Photography copyright : Elvina Porter McCullough