The Kunnel's School Daze
THE OLD GRAMMAR SCHOOL
Listing: Grade II*
Date of building: 1434 - 1460
King's Norton Green is a medieval village oasis surrounded by the urban mass that is Birmingham.
On the green stands one of the oldest grammar schools in the Midlands, a 12th-century church and a 15th-century timber-framed house. It is the Old Grammar School and the medieval house, known as the Saracen's Head, which are being featured on Restoration. Both these buildings are of considerable historical and architectural importance.
The Old Grammar School is a wonderful-looking, timber-framed structure that has sadly fallen into decay and is on English Heritage's "at risk" register.
The school's most famous headmaster was Thomas Hall, a hard-nosed, puritanical protestant who took up the post in 1629. Hall threw his heart and soul into the job and on his death, his legacy to the country was one of the largest libraries in the land (now housed in Birmingham Central Library).
It was through Hall's staunch teachings and high moral attitude that the school became one of the best in England. Hall did this despite being at odds with the locals - he was a puritan in a Royalist enclave during the time of the English Civil War.
After continuing as a school for two hundred more years, the building fell into neglect at the beginning of the 19th century. Repairs were made in 1910 when a new external staircase was put in and again in 1951 after vandalism and further decay had taken their toll.
The nearby Saracen's Head was quite possibly the largest house of the royal manor during the 15th century. Currently being used as Parish offices and structurally intact, the house boasts highly decorative medieval workmanship, and the sophisticated building techniques confirm that the property held high status.
It was here that the wife of Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, stayed on her way back from Yorkshire where she had gathered troops for the English Civil War. The devoutly Catholic Queen arrived at King's Norton in July 1643 with around 5,500 men and spent the night in what is known as the Queen's Room, while her troops slept on land behind the church.
Both the Old Grammar School and the Saracen's Head are presently owned by King's Norton Parish, who lack the necessary funds to restore the buildings.
I went on to finish grade school and high school in St. Louis, Missouri.
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Washington Irving (Grade) School - St. Louis, Missouri
A typical example of nineteenth century school architecture is the original building of the Washington Irving School at 3829 North Twenty-fifth Street. It was designed by F. W. Roeder and completed in 1871 in a simple Italianate style with round arched windows. Three stories in height, it originally had twelve rooms seating 700 pupils. Ornamental brick work is evident is an addition erected in 1893-94.
The Old Kunnel attended and graduated from this school [1943-1946]. His brother Bill also attended this school and graduated from it.
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The history of Central High School dates back to 1853. They called it the "Mother of high schools." And, as with so many old St. Louis institutions, it had that all-too-familiar clause "oldest west of the Mississippi."
What became known as Central High was established on February 11, 1853, in the basement of Benton School, a grade school on Sixth Street, between Locust and St. Charles. Back then, it was simply called The High School, and it was the first public secondary educational institution west of the Mississippi.
Of course, where you went to high school has been a traditional St. Louis obsession, and what could be more compelling than to have gone to the place simply known as "The High School," a sobriquet also embraced by the city's oldest high school, St. Louis University High, a Jesuit institution.
Central has had a tangled existence. Back in 1856, The High School moved to a new building at Olive and 15th streets, an address that was then the western edge of the city. In 1893, the school moved to a third location, 1020 North Grand Boulevard at Windsor Place. In 1904, The High School was named Central, to distinguish it from two new high schools that opened that year.
Tragedy struck on September 29, 1927, when a tornado destroyed parts of the building on North Grand Boulevard, killing five students who were in the auditorium. This led to a grand jury investigation over possible negligence in maintenance or problems caused by the previous reconstruction of the building. The grand jury found that there was no negligence.
In 1928, all of the students were sent to the Yeatman High School building, 3616 North Garrison Avenue. At that time, the school was renamed Central.
Ironically, part of the old Central High, damaged in the tornado of '27, still exists. It's now a small part of Vashon High, 3405 Bell Avenue.
Because of its original name, Central's monogrammed sweaters and jackets had an "H" instead of a "C", a continuing reminder that it was the oldest public high west of Old Man River. When it took the name Central in 1904, the school still kept the "H." Cleveland High existed then and Central could not use the "C." [It is ironic that as the school colors are red and black, someone today in a letter sweater might be taken as a "Harvard" alum. (grin)]
When Central, still on North Garrison, became a magnet school in 1984, it was named Central Visual and Performing Arts, and the school's colors and mascot changed. So the school's original red and black colors and Redwings nickname (which replaced Owls in 1938) are now history.
The Central Visual and Performing Arts school is now located in South St. Louis. The North Garrison Avenue building shown here was the last Central High School, the first and oldest public high school west of the Missippippi River.
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