The Prescotian Webzine

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I would be very humbled if any buildings designed by my practice could ever achieve the, type of impact which the timber and tile sheds of Prescot Grammar School have had on generations of pupils and on into their maturity - but, of course, they could not be built today as they would not conform with the fire regulations which, in view of their ultimate destiny, is a sobering thought.

What then was their charm? There is no doubt that the word applies as we all think of the atmosphere with nostalgia. Perhaps it was the way in which their battered elegance nestled into the playing fields and the soft way in which the dark timber blended with the roof tiles, relieved by a high proportion of cream painted windows. Perhaps it was the unity of design where the one idea was repeated throughout all the buildings, with variations on the theme to give continued interest and conclusion. Certainly they gave everyone a homely and welcoming feeling and, although I accept that not many pupils lived in sheds, they struck a note deep down within us.

I think that an important factor was the resonance which, for those who took Arts, is a sound idea. In very few schools of today is one able to attend a Geography class and at the same time reap some benefit from the French and Maths lessons on either side. Perhaps this accidental subliminal learning is the secret to the success of so many pupils. I will store this thought in case we experience a similar failing -it could make all the difference in the payment of fees by an authority should we tell them that we have designed only the second subliminal school in the country. I hope that I never have to argue the point.

I remember an occasion in European History with 'Fab' Bailey when, as well as receiving his lesson and two others, we were regaled with the noise from IIIb who had been left in tbe corridor toawait the arrival of 'Fanny' Stevenson. On hearing the racket Mr Briggs bellowed. "There is a great deal of noise here!" Fab turned to us and remarked irreverently that now there was an even greater deal of it.

Where else is there a school with a loft trap-door in a room which could eventually be used by the Sixth Form with the resulting single upward pointing footprint 2.400m from floor level? (8 feet to the Arts people) Where else, even moreso, would a trap-door be found in the same room - thus ensuring that one day three boys would sit on top of a moving desk as the last member of a Mole expedition tried to emerge - not revealing that a member of staff had just popped in ? No, always, but always one places traps in sensible places such as caretakers' rooms is by no stretch of the imagination could Mr. Beesley ever mis-use them.

Such sense in design would have prevented the dangerous scrabbling about in the rafters and the frantic nearly impossilble backing-out by the leading member of ten Mole pioneers in tight single crawling file between brick walls and piers, nose to bottom in pitch darkness, floor joists only inches overhead as the leader, with the only torch glimmering ahead encountered the rotting remains of a dead cat within the dusty cavern. The charting of the various routes underneath, Atkinson Alley, Ormerod Way and so only to be renamed with naivety as each new class took over and attempted to link itself to a heritage too intransigent and yet so strong as to last many decades in the minds of us all.

A building cannot be a success without people as I often vociferously blame our clients for the shortcomings of our buildings. It is an engine without fuel: silent and still - which PGS seldom was. People provide movement and interestt. They fill the empty canvas. We were very fortunate to attend a achool with such a dedicated teaching staff - true professionals whose interest was teaching. If it involved more work they regarded it as their duty: a bygone era. I fear.

I cannot end this article without reference to the windows. Modern school design would deplore those lower removable hopper windows. Which school in its right mind would have windows which were removable by the Sixth Form in Private study and so enable boys to drop the odd 1500mm to the path outside, and then to lower the chairs so that study and sunbathing could go hand in hand? Those same windows which caused those at the back of the Hall during assembly to be startled as two cats in hot pursuit hurtled through in the middle of Prayers - across the Hall and out again. Mr Briggs noticed the laughter at the back - which included some of the staff - and scowled. He was possibly trying to remember whether his use of the words 'tickut' or 'pockut' had been recent. It was not that memorable occasion when both were used together, 'A boy appears to have lost his tickut from his pockut' Perhaps he never knew.

On reflection, Architecture may have lost some of its charm as it becomes submerged beneath regulations which are administered by civil servants who bow three times to the east every morning if that happens to be written into one of the clauses. I keep remembering the illogicality of the PGS buildings which were nevertheless so successful.

Probably that is why I built a retreat in Co Kerry some years ago - no building regulations exist. Why? Because they take the delightfully Irish attitude that if it is not properly built, it will fall down. There are freshwater shrimps in our mountain tank and, "Sure. If they're alive. Bedad, t'water's bound to be healthy!" So you see that the spirit of the PGS buildings lives on somewhere.

And thank God for that.


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