Forty Years On
STEVE THOMPSON THE GROUNDSMAN’S TALE : 1974-2014
Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School History Paper No 4
Steve Thompson has been at Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School since the very start. Over the years his role has changed as the school’s priorities have changed and the facilities improved. Amongst many title he has been Facilities Booking Manager, Minibus Driver, Relief Caretaker, Swimming Pool Manager and Weekend Duty Caretaker. But to the staff and pupils he will always be ‘The Groundsman’. CRW
In his own words
“I began work with Lincoln City Council Parks Department on 17th September 1973, straight from school!
After completing a 12 month trial, I continued with Lincolnshire County Council, which took over the workings of the City Council, and started paying my Superannuation in 1975. I was told that there was a vacancy coming up at Lincoln Christ's Hospital School, as Mr.Gordon Ogg, the then groundsman, was retiring. That was in 1974, and the CDT department was still being built when I started as apprentice to Gordon.
We had several functions which no longer take place, such as Lincolnshire Police Sports Day which was very entertaining , and was opened by a celebrity each year. The two most famous faces I had the fortune to be introduced to were Ken Dodd and then Norman Wisdom the next year! After that Lincolnshire Police moved to their Headquarters at Nettleham!
We also held an annual cricket match each year between the School 1st X1 and Lincolnshire Gents X1. They don’t come much bigger, other than England V Australia!!!!”
Memories from the early years
Editor: one of the features of the post-1974 Archive is that we have many photos of the school and its activities, but many of them aren’t dated. The starting point for this whole article was when Steve was asked to look at this aerial picture to try to put a date on it and tell its story. CRW
“I know that the pale oval shape immediately in front of the tennis courts was a high jump area, and was laid around 75/76. It wasn’t there for that long, due to not being used very often and other developments.
I remember at that time one could leave equipment sat around, whilst going for lunch etc, and it still being there when you returned. However, things began to change around this time! I remember leaving a spade actually embedded in the pale area mentioned as I was working on the run up at the time, and went for lunch. To my astonishment when I returned it had gone, never to be seen again!!!! I was rather disgruntled by this, and a lesson was learned!!
Looking at the picture, I do not know what was taking place on the field. The white van is parked on the cricket net practice area which were 3 solid concrete “slabs” each the length of a third of a wicket, and covered in a rubber/bitumen surface over the concrete. Very effective too! Then the net frames were erected during the season over the top etc.
I am also puzzled by the dotted markings in the junior playground, both horizontal and diagonal. When I first looked at the photo I had no idea what they were for, and why one set is surrounding the fives court area, but I now remember. It was the Cycling Proficiency layout, as we used to hold lessons and the test on a regular basis, with free standing traffic lights etc. dotted around. In fact the sign at the crossroads of the Language corridor which now reads "Strictly no access. Alarm On" was one of the signs from the layout!
I did notice that the rugby posts were in fact the old oak ones which were here when I first started! They were replaced with metal ones during the 80’s. They were so heavy!!!
The dividing tree line between the two fields was decimated by the Dutch elm disease in the early to mid 70’s and some of that looks as though it was the old Hawthorn hedge too, which grew out of control and had to be severely pruned to restore order.
The sports hall and other 74 buildings still look brand new, so I would suggest that this picture was around 75/76
My little wooden shed was in the corner by the old coke boiler house next to the 14/18 hut. I see the large wooden shed opposite the CDT block had gone, and it was there when I first started and contained all the goal posts etc. out of season. That went around early 75 on completion of the driveway
What I can’t see on the photo is the two storey ‘Ruston Hut’ just inside the Biology Courtyard and the portable units used for toilets! The metal steps up to the top portable classroom was a little precarious to say the least ! I also remember George Palmer, senior Science Technician, having an angina attack whilst coming down them one day. I started growing my original bedding plants in the top room, as it contained the school propagator. It got rather warm in there, and I remember dropping off one lunch time, to be awoken with a start when George stormed in!!!! Time wise, I would say they were put in around 85/86 and taken out again in the early 90's, so probably not there when the aerial photo was taken”
More changes over 40 years
“I’ve seen a lot of changes, mostly for the better. Here are a few of them.
The swimming pool
When I started, we had the open air pool, which we could only use in the Summer months. It was 25 yards in length, and towards the end of its time it was used as an outside pool by numerous local children during evenings and weekends. They would climb onto the Sports hall roof and jump into the deep end, narrowly missing the diving boards which jutted out into the pool. I am still astonished that no one was injured or killed. That was the main reason for Mr Behenna to close it down and have it drained.
It then became more of a nature pond with frogs and toads being the main inhabitants, and various water insects also taking residence. The major worry was hoping that the surface of the pool did not crack after it was drained, and especially during frosty weather. Fortunately it survived!
I could not wait for the new pool. It was built in 1993-1994 and the actual pool hole had to be extended from 25 yards to 25 meters. That took place at the shallow end as it was easier.
It was officially opened by Princess Anne on 9th June 1994. The security visit by Police and sniffer dogs a couple of days prior to the visit was one eye opener. Everyone remembers the large red royal helicopter. I also remember that we were a small group of support staff at the time, and we “followed” Her Royal Highness around the site to cheer her on, waving our Union Jacks etc. in several places along her planned route as she passed by. Eventually, she realised that it was the same faces over and over again, and she gave us all a broad smile as she came around the corner.
I had to learn new skills involved with the daily running of the new swimming pool, and eventually went on a course simply to be qualified in the running of the pool plant, and of how to dose the chemicals etc. correctly. It is a very intense daily programme and important responsibility to keep the pool running correctly within the guideline regulations, but it makes it all worthwhile though, when we are told that the pool is “one of the best pools in Lincolnshire”.
Nettleham Road Field
In the early days of LCHS, we had two sports fields to look after, one being the Girls High school field on Nettleham Road. It was so peaceful over there.
It was a wonderful field, though the walk down the cinder path and along Byron Avenue certainly ate into lesson time. We had two hockey pitches, seven grass tennis courts and three hard standing courts, also used for netball, all of which took some looking after. A wonderful wooden pavilion enabled the students to change in privacy, and there was even a separate area for staff to change. Unfortunately due to its age, it had no showers, but wooden benching, with lift up lids enabled me to store hockey nets etc. for the two hockey pitches. There was also a high jump pit, and rounders pitches during the summer months.
Finally, there was the luxury of a reasonably modern phone, from which the staff could contact the main school if needed, or ring for an ambulance etc.
All mod cons in those days!!
The PTA used the field for some evening events, but we stopped mowing it while Mr Cox was headmaster. It took about ten years for us to get permission to sell the land because it couldn’t be used by the school. Also a £2.5m Sports Lottery bid to improve the main site had been unsuccessful. This had been led by Mr Williams, and Mr and Mrs Barker. Mr Cox, the Governors and many others kept working really hard on this. Gillian Merron MP was involved a lot. Eventually the field was sold in 2005 and has become the Palmer Road development, named after our Olympic medallist, Paul Palmer. The money was spent on creating some of the great facilities we have today
The grounds today
If you look back through the old aerial photos there have been enormous changes inside and out. When I started, someone would have said I was dreaming if I had talked about an all-weather pitch, dance studio and fitness suite. To have changing rooms opening directly onto the field meant we no longer have that muddy area between geography and the sports block , or noisy children coming and going for PE lessons out on the field, especially during the exam season. It is such an improvement. And the changing areas in the sports block are no longer lathered in mud any more
The front of the school
Some people think that I only do things for the sports teams, but a lot goes on the front as well. Over the years we have done a lot to make the school a nice place for people to work in and for visitors. There has been a lot of mowing lawns and planting hedges, flowers and trees in the last forty years, and I was particularly pleased to develop a woodland walk through the shrubbery, and thought it turned out rather well. Mr. Williams kindly found money for some benches for me to install at various places along the walk, which gives the students somewhere to sit and relax and study in a reasonably peaceful atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle of the buildings. It also provides an ideal spot to enjoy lunch on a nice summer’s day. I find doing jobs like that so rewarding!
We still have the annual sports day at school (weather permitting), and I was so pleased to see the return of the school house system, after several decades without it, when ‘political correctness’ deemed it unfair to have competition between students.
To me, it is part of the school’s history. My brother, who came to Lincoln Grammar School in the 60’s was in Bluecoat House, and we would cheer him on during Sports Day on a Saturday morning!! That’s another big change. These days you don’t get many people turning out on a Saturday except the teams themselves, some staff and a few parents
We still have the Old Lincolnians Cricket Club using the cricket square during the summer months and the indoor nets during the winter. Made up of ex-pupils of the school, numerous characters have come and gone over the years, and numerous runs scored and wickets fallen in their time here.
The groundsman’s life and equipment
It has changed so much. When I started I had to rely on the County Council to cut the field once a week, providing the tractor or mowers hadn’t broken down! They always managed to arrive shortly after I had marked out the track, and it then proceeded to rain after they had eliminated my markings. What a struggle that was in those days!
We were entirely reliant on the County Council to provide all our materials and machinery in the early days. We had no roller for the cricket pitch, no grass cutter for the football, or chain harrows to re-level the surface. There was no fertiliser to help the grass survive the onslaught of the new season and no seed to reseed any bare patches. It became so frustrating that my job was not being done properly.
Aerating the field was unheard of, and I cannot recall ever seeing a machine for top-dressing the pitches
Everything changed with the sale of the Nettleham Road field in 2005. Most of the income had to be spent on provision for sport or we wouldn’t have been allowed to let a housing developer buy the land. After persuading the Estate Manager, Jean Palmer, and Headteacher, Andy Wright, we have completely turned things around. Today we are now practically fully equipped with top of the range equipment and materials that combined are able to produce reasonably satisfactory playing surfaces for both the school and community users to enjoy. It is a world away from the County Council run days and it gives me enormous pleasure to produce half-decent football pitches and be able to use equipment when needed without having to rely on others.
Looking back over 40 years, that is by far the biggest change to my working life here, along with the superb 3G pitch and cricket facilities we now boast in our armoury.
It makes me proud to think that I have been part of this immense change, and to know that the school is now in total control of how it produces its sports surfaces, and the benefit that all players both from the school and outside in the community receive from using them.
Being groundsman at Christ’s Hospital School has given me an opportunity to fulfil my ambitions and hopefully to make people outside the school aware of exactly what we have to offer here and that the facilities are something near what they are supposed to be!”
Most of the information in this article has come directly from Steve in a series of emails in the second half of 2014. As well as being a personal story, it is a unique perspective on the school’s development. We were delighted when ‘The Lincolnshire Echo’ chose to feature him when writing about the 40th anniversary of Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School in September 2014.
There are virtually no photographs to illustrate this article because in the twentieth century participants usually didn’t document their own story thinking about the future. Today of course digital technology and social changes have transformed this, the rise of the ‘selfie’ in 2013-2014 being the latest advance. The post-1974 Archive would be extremely pleased to receive any photographs of LCHS sports teams and facilities taken from the 1970’s to the present day. Pictures of Steve Thompson at any time in the last four decades would be especially welcome
And finally, ‘The Groundman’s Tale’ is the first of a series to be published in the years ahead. If you have a story to tell, please get in touch. CRW