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Memories of
the Early Years
is in several parts

1: Plans
and Negotiations

2: Final
Preparations and Panics

3: In Action

4: Appendices
(various authors)

 

Design & Layout
© S-Print 2004/5/6/7

I

 

Rannoch School
The Early Years
1958 - 1965

Written by Jane Whitworth & Elizabeth Fleming
[copyright 1994]

ExRannoch.com is delighted to have gained the kind permission of the authors to reproduce their work on this site.
Please note that this work is their copyright and should not be reproduced without permission.

Editor's note: Not all photos from this book are included below.

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IN ACTION

On 24th September 1959 the first term started with eighty-two boys. As the first boy arrived wearing the new school uniform (bringing back memories of the many evenings spent discussing materials and colours) most people were caught secretly watching him getting out of Jimmy Duncan's taxi - he had in fact come all the way from Canada!

There were eighty-two new faces that had to be learned and no-one knew anyone else, nor did anyone know where anything was or what was behind each closed door; hence a frantic last minute labelling of all the rooms. The daily routine, although planned in advance, had to be flexible to allow for quite a few hiccups, and every evening late into the night the Headmaster and Housemasters were planning the next day in detail. 

Dougal Greig as well as being Headmaster was Housemaster of Dall House whose boys lived in the main house; Pat Whitworth was Second Master and Housemaster of Potteries House, whose boys slept in the converted potting sheds that included the Whitworth quarters, and some temporarily in the south wing of the main house until the first wooden dormitory block was ready for occupation at the start of the second term. The third boys' house, Wade (called after the General), with Mike Haines as Housemaster travelled, for the first term, up and down by mini-bus to the Barracks for bed and breakfast. John Fleming was Estates Bursar as well as Technical master and became Housemaster of the fourth house, Wentworth, which opened in the south wing of the main house in September 1960.

 

Three Founders

L-R: John Fleming, Dougal Grieg, Pat Whitworth

 

The staff that first term consisted of Diarmid Cross, John Fifer, David Stratton-Watt, Ronan Hutchison, and David Barry who joined a couple of weeks after term had started. Mhairi Sword came as Headmaster's secretary, Jane carrying on as Bursar. Mrs. Mclnnes who lived on the Dall estate was the School Nurse, her son, Alastair, was invaluable in his ability and versatility working with Pat and John on the many and various problems. 

Anthony Gore-Brown became the first Warden (head boy) and head of Dall, and David Haddow and Alastair Seal, heads of Wade and Potteries. These three were all about fifteen years old and did a tremendous job as the first Leaders.

It was not until half way through the first term that, on 2nd November 1959, the Articles of Association were finally drafted and the first Board of Governors which had been chosen by the three founders from friends they knew in academic and financial circles and one local landowner, were appointed under the Chairmanship of Duncan Bullard.

 

Elizabeth to her parents: 

Rannoch, 4th October 1959

Well, things are going quite well - domestic crises are the worst but not my pigeon I am glad to say. Mrs. Calder is cooking magnificently and one boy likened the food to a 5 star hotel! So no grumbles so far. Joe and the cleaners are the headache. They are a bit bolshie - stand up for their rights etc. but Mrs. Bullard is doing her best to handle them. Mrs. Calder has a 23 year old cook from 5years in the RAF Catering Corps. 

John is now Associate Housemaster with Dougal of Dall House. Dougal is finding Headmastering too much for him as well as Housemaster, but in this way keeps a human touch with at least one section of the boys. This has only been decided on today and will mean boy entertaining for me. Jane has been having Potteries boys in. She and Pat seem very happy in their potting shed but of course it is very difficult for her as Pat is so very busy just now. He has been Duty Master all last week and now John is D.M.

Maths classes were going all right and I rather enjoy teaching the 16 boys of Third modern form. But I find 23 boys in 2nd form rather a handful, especially as three are much more advanced than the rest John and I went to Edinburgh on Friday/Saturday to get more essential furniture in the big van.

The boys look so nice in their green uniforms and the red and white and blue and white of their games kit looks A1. on the lawn for P. T.

This weather is too wonderful to be true. Day after day of warm sunshine and no rain except, unfortunately, on the day the boys arrived. In Edinburgh there is a serious water shortage and threat of rationing but here all is well and there is no sign of there not being plenty of water. And as for hot water, the oil boiler is so big that it will heat the water even while the boys are using all the showers!

There are now boys sleeping in the ex-drawing room and we have the Oval Room as a very charming sitting room and the octagonal table in the turret is just big enough for our family suppers - two chairs and two stools! and it is opposite the kitchenette so is very handy. 

Not everything went perfectly. Unfortunately there were among the boys a few baddies. Hence the incident in the village shop on the boys' first free afternoon. In spite of its being early closing, the shop had specially opened, but later discovered there had been some shop-lifting. When the miscreant was found out, he declared he had never found it so easy before - he was returned next day to his parents! 

Probably the biggest headache for the school was keeping going the home-made electricity supply for lighting, boilers, etc., from the different generators. This burden fell on Diarmid Cross, John Fleming and Pat Whitworth who took turns in being duty officer on the generators. This necessitated starting and stopping engines depending on demand, getting up horrendously early to crank the generator so that the kitchen staff had light by which to cook breakfast. To be woken at 4.30 a.m. by a large New Zealand cook thumping on your bedroom door shouting that he had no b— electric light was no joke. This New Zealand couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jock McGrimmon, were touring Scotland in 1960 in a dormobile when they visited the School. They offered to take on the job of cooking and stayed for a couple of years. 

The generators used to supply electricity to the School were many and varied - there was the original Pelton wheel, a small DC supply, which ran at night, a couple of big generators purchased in the Naval scrap yards in Rosyth, which were nicknamed ‘Grandfather' and ‘Great-grandfather', an even bigger Caterpillar generator with a donkey engine just to start it. For a time there was a startomatic which would, with the aid of an old-fashioned street lamp clock, start on its own, a great boon for John, Pat and Diarmid who found that early start, cranking those engines, quite a strain – perhaps Diarmid had the right  idea, it  was known which was his duty week by the sight of his pyjama legs appearing under his trousers. 

Once during classes it was noticed that the bulbs were getting brighter and brighter and even brighter until they began exploding. The three electricians converged at the double on the generator sheds to find the Caterpillar's governor had stuck, the engine was literally running away - the only method of stopping it was to cut off the fuel supply. 

During the first term the main generator required a major repair which to allow sufficient time had to be carried out on a Sunday when there were no classes but it was definitely touch and go whether the three engineers would manage to have it working again by dark for the Sunday evening chapel service, to be taken by a visiting minister. The minister arrived totally unaware of all the drama, and took as his sermon's opening remark "There are some things in life that we take for granted such as electric light..." He was slightly disconcerted by the suppressed laughter, but at that moment the valiant and filthy engineers succeeded and the lights came on.

The generator shed was an old wooden one with a wood floor, under which the red-hot exhaust pipe was fed. Needless to say a great deal of fuel was spilt and soaked into the floor and of course the obvious happened; a fire started under the floor filling the shed with dense smoke - luckily this happened during the holidays and once the engines had been turned off it was easily put out by buckets of water. 

A few years after the School had started a large turbine system was installed over by the swimming pool making use of the old water system for the sawmill wheel. It was a big undertaking and ninety per cent of the work was done by the boys - repairing the dam and the old wooden lade, and installing four twenty foot long, two foot diameter pipes to supply the turbine. The turbine was bought second hand from a disused hydro-electric scheme in Cumbria and proved a wonderful educational experience for all the boys who participated. This required electricity poles to be erected over to the school and the holes for these were dug by competition, each house and each service had its own hole! This was still not the ideal electricity supply, either there wasn't enough rain, or the rain had washed leaves etc. into the gate, or it froze - hence it deserved its name of The White Elephant!

Thankfully, fairly shortly after this, enough money was found to pay for the Hydro-Board to bring in their supply from Kinloch Rannoch. What excitement when they finally switched on about four p.m. on the 18th January 1963 and Pat turned  off the generators; there was a strange silence and masses of lights. Wonderful! It was some hours later that the Hydro Board discovered they had connected ,the meters up backwards so for the first few hours they were paying the School to use electricity! With the advent of the Hydro Board, the turbine was put to good use supplying free electric heating for the swimming pool. 

John Fleming writes to his mother: 

Rannoch, 29th January, 1960

Things here are going pretty well. One of the big efforts at the moment is to get evening activities going strongly, and my part in this is carpentry and boat building (canoes). We are also running art, clay modelling, chess, aero modelling, printing, stamp club, debating, dramatics, typing, Highland dancing, gymnastics, music (instrumental), radio and photography. Every boy in the school is involved on at least four evenings per week from 6.30 till 7.15 p.m.

The new carpentry shop with 20 places is a great success and none too big either. The fire station is also very successful alongside it and we are erecting the third hut we bought outside the top end of the walled garden, for a bicycle shed.

 

The founding Team
Elizabeth Fleming is 5th from left, Jane Whitworth is 7th from right, both in second row.
 

By the start of the second term more buildings were in use and as a result of the inconvenience of mini-bussing twelve boys up and down to The Barracks, Wade House moved down to Dall and took over the dormitories used by Potteries whose new wooden block was ready for occupation. Potters found these were very different to the small rooms in the main house, they were large and cold - the only heating being gas fires. It was later learned that one Potter wrote home to say "it was much better now that the beds had been moved so that the snow fell between them rather than on them" - their Housemaster was obviously a fresh air fiend! 

The builders meanwhile had been working on the old sawmill and converting it into a swimming pool - indoor too! This had consisted of a slate roof over a vast hole where the sawmill engine had once been. Dougal and John saw the opportunity offered by digging and blasting out some more of the rock until the hole was large enough and long enough for a swimming pool. At last came the day that the builders filled it with water and celebrating this occasion nearly ended in tragedy. The builders' young apprentice was seized by his workmates and thrown into the pool - but no-one had enquired whether he could swim. As one of the men said, "He went down and then there were bubbles, he came up and went down again, and there were more bubbles, then he went down again and there were no bubbles!" However he was successfully rescued and resuscitated and all was well.  

It was found that a swimming pool full of good Dall [burn] water was as black as peat and it was always a worry that one could not see the bottom of the pool, so immediate enquiries were made as to how to sort out this problem and a filter system was installed. A few years later the old roof collapsed into the pool and for some years the School had no pool until a new roof was built. 

The earliest sailing dinghy to be bought for the school was a Wildcat, it was shortly followed by a couple of Mirror dinghies. There was also an elderly launch for the Loch Patrol Service, run by Diarmid Cross. There was the original Dall boat-house and jetty - in this boat-house some years before, had been discovered an early Oxford University Eights boat, so it was a good large boat-house with a slipway. During 1961 the second boat-house was erected but this was blown down in the big gale of January 1968.

Dougal Greig discovered and bought in Edinburgh a large ex-lifeboat named the 'Ariadne', and arranged for her to be sent up by road when the term had begun. The unloading of this was not going to be easy so Diarmid wished to see it before deciding how to do it. He and the Whitworths drove to Pitlochry late that evening knowing the low-loader was on its way. They dropped into the Police Station to enquire "if they had seen a lifeboat on the road". This was greeted with a fair amount of scepticism but the sergeant on duty did agree to telephone his opposite number in Aberfeldy, (It was lucky that breathalyser tests had not come in then!)

This trip was unsuccessful in seeing the boat, so the advice of Dochdo Cameron was sought as he must have known how earlier boats had been launched on the Loch. He offered to show them the place if he could be taken there by boat next morning when the lorry arrived. Persisting in taking his garden rake with him for soundings, he sat in the bow of the Whitworth boat. He chose a spot half way to Kinloch Rannoch where a burn comes into the Loch. There the lorry was backed into the Loch but that was not nearly enough to float the boat off so a rope was tied from the front of the lorry to the road bridge over the burn, and the lorry-driver backed further and further in. Eventually Diarmid Cross, a good six-footer, was out of his depth trying to stand by the lorry back wheel! Then after a lot of pulling and shoving the Ariadne was floated off and towed back to Dall and anchored for the night.  

Next morning in the middle of classes the siren was heard and all alarm bells were ringing - a boy had reported that the Ariadne was sinking at her moorings and everyone rushed down to the Loch to save her. The Fire Brigade managed to put a pump into a boat and started to pump water out of the Ariadne but this was a losing battle as by this time the engine exhaust was under water and flooding the boat even faster. The Loch Patrol got their other boat going and managed to cast off the Ariadne from her moorings and pull her to shallow water where she was safely beached but sadly after quite a lot of water damage to her engine. It then became a great project for some considerable time to bring her back into working use.

 

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