3: In Action
Jane Whitworth & Elizabeth Fleming
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Editor's note: Not all photos from this book are included below.
all started in 1957 when Altyre School, an independent part of
Gordonstoun, had notice to leave Altyre House. Mr. Chew, the Headmaster
asked various members of the staff to look at the possibility of finding
another place for the school. However the Governors of Gordonstoun
decided to build what is now Altyre House in the main school grounds so
the search for alternative accommodation was abandoned. But the idea of
another smaller school had taken root and three members of Altyre staff
continued their search with the possible idea of starting another
of the original three then withdrew and the other two invited Dougal
Greig, another Altyre master who had been independently considering a
headmastership in England, to join them and become Headmaster of the new
establishment. So these three, the founders, Dougal Greig, John Fleming,
and Pat Whitworth, set out to find a suitable house. Quite a few places
were looked at and discarded until in early 1958 Tom Duff, a builder
friend of the Flemings, who lived in Strathtay suggested they look at
Dall House on the south shore of Loch Rannoch. This was up for sale from
the Forestry Commission who had bought it, and the surrounding land,
from the heirs of Captain Vernon-Wentworth. Dall had been built in 1857
by George Duncan Robertson of Struan. The founders offered £1500 for
the house, walled garden, and a field beside the loch, about twenty-five
acres in all.
saga of the early years with all the ups and downs is illustrated in
Elizabeth Fleming's letters to her parents:
My dearest Mother and Father,
I expect you have guessed we have become a bit unsettled with the
prospect of the school closing in a few years time.
other masters, Dougal Greig and Pat Whitworth, and John have got
together to form a company to start a new Independent Boarding School
for boys, public school age. While retaining the Gordonstoun principles
of character training through various activities, mountaineering,
sailing and soon, we mean to put a far greater accent on work - both
academic work, and a 'job well done'.
is 40-45, has been second head at Strathallan School, has had business
experience in his father's firm, did exceptionally well at Oxford with
Distinction in Applied Psychology, was in Air Sea Rescue during the War,
native of Edinburgh, and is an extremely wise person. He will be the
Headmaster and teach English and History. Pat was at Gordonstoun,
Cambridge, teaches Science, has taught in South Africa and Altyre, and
will be a housemaster. He is extremely nice, and about John's age. John
will be in charge of the place, fabric maintenance etc. (just what he
has always wanted!), teach carpentry and Geography. I am to teach Maths,
(meanwhile anyway) and, as Dougal is a bachelor, will have a good deal
of entertaining of parents, governors, guests, etc. We are all prepared
to work for nothing -expense accounts only, for a year or two as also is
and his wife who will do the housekeeping. We also have another master
(Classics) in view who at present is teaching in Pakistan and climbing
in the Himalayas. That is the nucleus and only one more needed to start,
plus cook, secretary, nurse, maids, etc.
have found a very suitable house. Dall House on the southern shores of
Loch Rannoch. It would house entire staff and about 50 boys including
library, assembly hall, classsrooms, etc. It is in quite good condition
- needs painting and some minor repairs. Lovely situation close to the
loch and the public road. It has a hard tennis court, boat house and
boating rights on the loch (sailing, and swimming and rowing). Also a
sizeable burn for fishing. Wonderful hills just behind (climbing,
camping, skiing), curling rink, cricket pitch, fields for rugger, pony
trekking (Dougal has been offered a present of up to 40 garrons!) -
we'll have half a dozen or so! So you see there is plenty to offer right
a way. We have been to see the place several times and Tom Duff, a very
reliable builder and good friend from Strathtay days, has seen it for
us, knows it, installed the central heating plant in 1934 himself- no
dry rot, own reservoir, own electric plant (we think hydro-electric),
but house wired for mains only 3 years ago.
£250 Aga only 3 years ago plus another range, refrigerator room nearly
half the size of this kitchen. At present owners are the Forestry
Commission who have just acquired all the land and are anxious to have
us as otherwise the house would have to be pulled down and also they
welcome daily work for wives of poorly paid forestry workers. We hope to
get it for a song and ground burdens are practically nil.
Paterson, our lawyer, is on to it and will do the negotiating
for us just now. We
probably won't know for certain till the end of July or so.
(Pat, Dougal, John and I, plus Valery and John)[John
and Elizabeth’s children] intend to go there all next holidays and
supervise the work and do as much interior decoration as we can and get
on to getting furniture, etc. Mr. Chew has been informed and assures us
we will have no trouble getting boys - otherwise we are not talking
about it openly in case the deal doesn't come off! Then we will
leave Altyre next April and prepare to open in September 1959.
are to be living in the main school, living on ‘perks' and food from
the main kitchen as more economical to start with.
am thrilled with the idea. It has put new life into John and Dougal. It
will be hard work but a most invigorating life and full of tremendous
interest. What Valery and John may lose will be more than repaid by the
pioneering atmosphere in which they will be living, and of course, they
will benefit by the boating, riding, tennis, skiing, etc. etc. There is
a little 'one-teacher' school at the foot of the avenue where they will
go to school and Dougal says he will make up any deficiencies for them
by some coaching and then Valery will go off to boarding school a little
sooner, and John will join our school - to be called Rannoch School.
think and talk of nothing else now - it really is the break John has
been looking for. We may not have a genius like Hahn for starting the
school but the Big Three, Dougal, Pat and John - who are financing it in
equal shares - (and Dougal has lots more in reserve if necessary!) are
complementary in their attributes, and I think the three together will
form a very strong leadership and influence. Actually Dougal always
includes me and I often go to their meetings and he relies on me a lot
for details -I only hope I will not let him down as I am very a ware of
my inexperience. As for the teaching, I am going to take a
Correspondence Refresher course in Maths and John will do one in
is all a tremendous risk but an inspiring one, and when we win through,
what a wonderful achievement it will be. We are all just longing to get
to grips with it. I cannot start finding out about beds and blankets
till the sale is sure! While it is not a deadly secret, we do not want
it talked about beyond the immediate family till the offer is accepted,
signed and sealed just in case it doesn't come off.
Now I think you are in the picture as far as the main points go and I do hope you will give us your approval, as that will mean a lot to us. We have the advantage of opening about the peak year of the bulge in birth rate after the war - all the schools are overflowing and turning away boys - of course we cannot expect bright boys to start with.
our board of governors we hope to include perhaps Dr Hahn, Dr MacLeod,
Mr Turner (ex-head of Rugby) Douglas Paterson, Tom Duff, Mr Winthrop
Young and others.
Paterson's first question was "have you enough capital", and
the answer was that though we must economise as far as possible by doing
as much of the repair work as we can, we have just enough to start on.
John's mother has undertaken to find us a cook and a nurse through the
W.V.S. contacts. She will be a great help in furnishing and so forth,
and uniforms. Dougal's parents are also whole-heartedly behind us.
and when we succeed there is ample scope in the district for expansion.
Dougal, Pat and John ha ve very high ideals and if they succeed in all
they are aiming at it should become a good school.
far as we personally are concerned, it will mean a few years of being
extremely economical because we will be living without salary. Valery
will not suffer - she must go to boarding school as arranged - Dougal is
adamant about that, but we'll have to be careful about clothes and
holidays (what lovelier place to have holidays than there!) But at the
same time John insists that I dress better than I do at present, so
during this winter I shall have to spend some money on clothing! I shall
furniture will probably be used to furnish the drawing room and dining
room of the school for use of visitors, parents etc. and we must have a
den of some sort of our own. Then later when the school makes its way
and can afford more furniture we will get ours back for our own room.
These are just details to be worked out and of no importance.
now you know! and all this has blown up since the beginning of this
you so much for your two encouraging letters. It is wonderful to know
that you don't think us quite crazy! Yesterday afternoon in warm
sunshine Altyre sports were held! Mr. Brereton
Brereton, Headmaster of Gordonstoun] was collared by Dougal and told
our aims for the first time. He is delighted and says also we should
have no trouble getting boys. On Saturday John and I go early to Rannoch
followed later by Dougal and Pat and meet Douglas Paterson (our lawyer)
and the Forestry agent to go round boundaries etc. We hope to get access
to the place in order to work there in the summer holidays.
August 1958 the founders moved in and started work during the school
holidays. Elizabeth's sister, Jane Dowding, came for a few days holiday
to discuss the possibility of helping as Dougal's secretary.
of the first purchases on behalf of the school was a pantechnicon from
Thomas Love & Sons in Perth. One evening, there was an invitation
from an old friend, Nancy Thorn, who owned the disused Ardeonaig church
to accept, dismantle, and remove the 24ft. long pews for use in the
proposed chapel at Rannoch. Dougal, Pat and the Flemings went over to
south Tayside in the pantechnicon, loaded the pews and after a pleasant
meal set off home at llp.m. Pat was driving with the two Fleming
children asleep with Elizabeth in the front while Dougal and John made
themselves comfortable in the luton overhead. Half way along the Loch,
Pat heard intermittent thumps overhead, and stopped to investigate what
was falling off. All was well - Dougal and John had been trying to open
a beer bottle. The pews were to be installed in a barrel ceilinged room
above the South door to form a chapel. But with numbers increasing the
pews were dismantled to make way for beds. Some of the pews eventually
went into the permanent chapel gallery.
House, Rannoch, 22nd August, 1958
arrived back on Monday afternoon, and by evening we had electric light -
a small ex American army generator producing 110 volts which is what the
house had previously. We just put on the 3 or 4 circuits we were using
and it had made a huge difference.
yew by the back door is down plus all the privet etc. - pulled out by
the pantechnicon. It was so overgrown and devoid of leaves lower down
the stalks that clipping was no use. So it is all clear and we can plant
afresh. The honeysuckle up the chimney is away and today we finish the
ivy, we hope. The Forestry Commission have all signed and agreed and now
only the Secretary of State to sign and that is a foregone conclusion,
so we are going ahead and builders coming any day now.
Monday also Dougal's brother, wife and family of three visited us and
stayed to high tea - ten of us! - but we pooled resources and had boiled
passages are festooned with electric cable - Pat's remote control switch
to his "phut-phut" which stands by the big garage. After all
are in bed he presses a button and the engine chugs to a halt! Pat's
other generator is AC 250 v. 6 Kw. Diesel, which will be a booster to
the 6-10 Kw generator which he is getting for the Hydro turbine - all AC
250v so we will have 12-16 Kw which will be ample even for ironing, a
small cooker, immerser for the holidays etc. and mostly for nothing as
the Diesel will only run at peak periods. The little thing we have now
will always be useful for workshops or one or two cottages or similar.
Yesterday evening I found most of my cooker missing! - and the gas cylinder. I eventually ran the gas to earth in the workshop with one small portion of the cooker being used as a Bunsen flame for soldering!!! They had found some tin solder on an old tap in the Science block and for flux were using resin scraped from one of the doors!! - that's ingenuity for you.
House, Rannoch (Station) Early September, 1958
here continues at a great pace. We now have baths - a great luxury that
even Jane will agree with after three weeks of paper stripping. It is a
gas contraption with three burners given by Miss Rutherford, the local
schoolmistress. It heats five pailfuls of water and we have fixed it up
over the end of the bath and all feel much cleaner!
and Mrs.. Riley have been here for a week (he is to be P. T.I. and she
housekeeper) and they have worked like Trojans - Tom at clearing the
tennis court and bonfires while Agnes and I stripped wallpaper. Jane,
this is much less tedious with polypeel and proper strippers and we've
done red room, our sitting room, all three upstairs rooms and very dark
green room on ground floor. Only two more rooms and attics to be done.
The latter I've started and even Pat has promised to help one evening!
He has got new hoses for the hydrants which is a good precaution. There
are hydrants all round the house with pressure enough to send water
right over the house, water drawn from the hydro-electric plant with 450
cellars are all cleared of 1200 empty bottles, Valery and John having
done the bulk of the bottle clearance. We have found a good deal of wet
rot - "cellar fungus" and a Sagged floor above, laid on wood
joists is not very safe and is to be renewed - £200 app., but not
deadly, and it will clear away all tendency for Dry Rot. The cellars
will have ventilators and will make a laundry, soap and household store,
household repairs workshop and one or two other things - all useful. We
had never really investigated the cellars before.
The Dairy Block (Wade)
Scottish Land Development Corporation visited us and say they can make
two good Rugger pitches and a cricket square on the land between the
road and the loch by shovelling up the floor of the loch with bulldozers
for the low patches. Also the smallholders here are anxious to
co-operate and we may get the old cricket ground next to the
house after all, which is by far the best proposition.
Riley was delighted with the kitchens here and has been planning them.
She says that with steamers and mixers etc. there is enough space to
cook for two hundred, and of course will do as they are to begin with.
joiner has been here all last week and has done many of the new
window-sills. We have found a local man, Jimmy MacDonald, who is a
painter but recently worked for the Forestry Commission. The latter have
willingly released him for three months and we are employing him to
paint the outside - three coats on all window, downpipes, doors, etc.
This will amount to little over half the original painting estimate by a
contracting painter from Pitlochry - less time wasted on travelling for
one thing, and he is very keen to do the job for us.
had the forester, Pat Garrow, and his family of five for tea today and
they left their dog behind so we have a golden cocker spaniel for the
night! He has offered us a building on the other side of the burn via
the swinging footbridge, for a carpentry shop. Big high building that
used to house the sawmill. In good order - stone built with corrugated
roof but floor missing in places where the big saw was. It will be ideal
and a lade nearby with possibilities for a water wheel.
seems as if there is every intention of having horses here - perhaps on
the ground between the road and the loch where Major Walmsley's horses
are now. That with sailing and rowing, climbing, games, swimming and
tennis as well as farming, forestry, botany, horticulture and carpentry
surely will make a tremendously varied leisure programme.
was planned to open in September 1959 and Dougal Greig and John Fleming
left Altyre in March 1959 with Pat Whitworth following in July. During
that year there was an endless amount of work to do, stripping and
painting and renovating the old house both inside and out (the mass of
ivy on the outside walls which had been cut at the base sometime
previously, was removed by attaching a car to it, and driving off), the
area of the old cricket pitch had to be stoned (a really painful
back-breaking business which many friends and visitors were inveigled
into helping with, while others spent time trying to think of an easier
mechanical way of doing it). A local farmer, Duncan Robertson of
Innerhadden, was kind enough to come in and plough the future rugger
pitches. Meanwhile builders and joiners transformed the wood drying shed
(together with the old sawmill, this had been a later purchase) into a
gymnasium, with the old saw-mill becoming an indoor(!) swimming pool,
the potting sheds into a boys house (hence Potteries), the old dairy
into laboratories, a greenhouse into an art room. Plus, of course such
necessities as kitchen alterations and washrooms had to be made in the
main house. The builders, William Duff & Sons of Aberfeldy were
extremely good in holding their massive bills until enough boys had paid
On the main house five hundred slates were missing, all downpipes were lead and squashed by the ivy, the roughcast was painted in camouflage paint from World War II. When the ivy was pulled away and burnt in huge bonfires, large slabs of roughcast also fell away from the walls. During the winter terms John, often accompanied by Pat and/or Dougal drove down every week to Rannoch on their half-days to supervise the work - slaters, builders, painters, plumbers, all were at work.