Learie Constantine at Nelson Cricket Club

Learie Constantine
Learie Constantine at the centre of this 1930s cricket photograph.

School’s Ultimate ‘Ringer’

Learie Constantine
Learie Constantine at the centre of this 1930s cricket photograph.

He was one of the West Indies’ top cricketers… and when the staff cricket team at a Lancashire school recruited him it must have been one of the cheekiest uses of a ‘ringer.’

Learie Constantine, the devastating Trinidadian allrounder, set the Lancashire League alight with his performances for Nelson Cricket Club in the late 1920s and 30s and made Nelson his adopted town.

His spectacular performances for the West Indies cemented his reputation and he was named Cricketer of the Year 1940 by Wisden, the cricket bible.

You can imagine what the boys of Nelson Secondary School must have thought when Learie – whose daughter Gloria attended the school – turned out against them for the staff team in a friendly in the 1930s.

The cricketer became a campaigner for equal rights and was to become Sir Learie and later Lord Learie, although in Nelson he was always ‘Our Learie.’

girl prefects
Girl prefects in 1945. Gloris Constantine is second left on the back row; the headmaster is George Mutch and headmistress Miss Cliff.

The photograph of this notable occasion is from the archive of the Rev David Wiseman, who lives at Skipton and is the founder of Nelson Reunion for former pupils of the old school in Oxford Road.

The school became Nelson Grammar School and eventually a comprehensive named Walton High School, subsequently demolished and replaced by Pendle Vale College, the ‘old boys’ – and girls – are kept in touch through David’s regular publication, full of memories, anecdotes, who’s where, interviews, letters, pupils reunited and, sadly, some obituaries.

The idea for the publication came to David in June 2008 when former pupils were gathering to look round the school for the last time.

He recalls: “Over 1,000 old students came to that weekend on Oxford Road, which we appropriately called ‘The Last Day at School.’ People came from all over the country on one last trudge up Oxford Road, where previously they had pedalled cycles, carried satchels, and held hands!”

“It was a great weekend, with exhibitions, tours of the classrooms, and sentimental visits to places we’d last visited more than 50 years ago – the school gymnasium), the dining rooms and the assembly hall stage, all of them unchanged. It also gave folks opportunities to visit places previously forbidden like the previous headmaster’s study or the girl’s changing rooms!”

When it was over, David – who had already organised some reunions – decided to follow up the event with ‘Nelson Reunion,’ a regular magazine to link everyone who ever walked and worked at Oxford Road.

David added: “Now, six years later, we have over 300 members, not just former pupils, but former staff members too.

“We could hit the 400 members mark within the next few years. We haven’t many Walton High School members as yet, though we welcome them gladly. They’re still a bit too young for nostalgia, I suppose.”

David’s interviews with pupils and staff have included Lord Learie’s daughter Gloria – who was known as ‘the first black girl in Nelson’ in less politically correct times, Bobby Elliott, drummer with The Hollies, and John Crew, a teacher now in his 90s and still teaching French.

David said: “Basically, it is a school reunion every six weeks, delivered to your own living room. We have members as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and to the west, half a dozen in California and well over a dozen in Canada! We have over 50 members who are former pupils of the old Nelson Secondary School pre- 1945.”

If you would like to know more about joining Nelson Reunion, please contact David, either at 4 The Ginnel, Skipton, North Yorks BD23 2HW (01756 797443) or e mail at davidwiseman1@sky.com David will send a free sample copy to all those former students who enquire.

caps on boys
Caps on, boys! Lads awaiting a visit from King George VI. David Wiseman is at the front, second from the left.

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