There are several legends about the original site for Shirley BHS. A factual memory has been provided by Shirley Old Boy Chris Skellerup who lived on North Parade.
Chris (at SBHS 1960-63) wrote for the School Archives some years ago that ‘there were large paddocks where the School is now'. The land was intersected by ditches, gorse hedges, decaying fence posts and tangled, rusty wire. A small creek meandered through the paddocks.
Before the building of the School’s original Administration Block (on North Parade) there was a very ramshackle, partly roofless cottage in which horse feed, hay and a bit of horse gear was stored. An old but serviceable well was near the cottage and there were a couple of ancient fruit trees, an old pine and two or three poplar trees.
In the paddock fronting North Parade, Scotty Fraser the ploughman kept his two big Clydesdales ‘Nell’ and ‘Baldy’. Nell was black with white and Baldy was roan and white. Marshland Road was unsealed and market gardens lined the roads. Scotty was fully employed ploughing their paddocks.
In the back paddocks, Hamilton the milkman kept a string of short-tempered, nasty grey ponies. His access to the paddocks was from Averill Street since no school caretaker’s house had been built and that section was also part of the paddocks.
Later, after Nell died, Baldy had a paddock mate, a retired race horse called ‘Murphy’ and Levy’s from the North Avon Garage kept a Jersey cow called ‘Blossom’ there. Mrs Levy had a scatty flock of white Leghorn hens which roosted in the cottage.
The paddocks were also home to an assorted form of wildlife – skylarks, fantails, flocks of tiny finches as well as thrushes, blackbirds, starlings and magpies. There was even a pair of moreporks in an old pine next to the cottage.
Wild cats, stoats, hedgehogs, water rats and field mice preyed on each other and the birds.
In the summer, except for the horseflies and midges, the paddocks were enchanted places – tadpoles in the creeks and ditches, wild watercress which we were forbidden to eat, butterflies, birds, wild buttercups, forests of mauve and prickly thistles, dragonflies. The paddocks were frequented by lads in the daytime and courting couples (especially in the cottage with its bales of hay) in the evenings.
In winter, the paddocks were soggy, muddy, marshy hellholes but they were still our playgrounds. Fierce battles were fought, muddy clods thrown at rival gangs as we battled for possession of the few high-ground spots. We arrived home covered in mud and wondered how our mothers knew “You’ve been in those Scotty Fraser paddocks again.”
None of us wanted a school built there and we hammered survey pegs right into the ground, coaxed Baldy to stamp on them or surreptitiously moved them.
However Shirley BHS was built, Shirley lost its remaining oasis of wildlife and we lost our playground. Dad and I used to fly our kites in the autumn. My sister rode the old draught horse and jumped Murphy over the hedge and ditches. Several boys made a perilous motorbike track there. Suddenly they all had nowhere to go after the school was built.’