Toastrack Museum

Looking In

The following is taken from a series of correspondence between John Williams, a former art teacher at the Toastrack, and Manchester Modernist Society, January-April 2013:

“I have just come across your website while browsing to see how the College is getting on these days. Imagine my surprise to find photographs of the early days of Hollings and even more so to see photos I took myself!

I was a member of staff there from 1960 to 1974 teaching art and design to all the students, so I have much knowledge of those days.

Being particularly interested in photography as well as art, I was given a darkroom and equipment to do any photography the college needed for any purpose, so for all those years I produced masses of records.

IMG_0135John Williams

The brochure of Princess Margaret’s visit contains photos all taken by me. I also shot 8mm film of the event but that got lost. I still have some photos myself but since they were all college property, all remaining prints were left there when I went to the North Manchester College.

I have two large prints of the staff taken by me – one from the 60s and one in 1974. Miss Hollings was principal for a year or two, until her death. She was succeeded by Robert Wall, principal for most of my time there, and being at Hollings was by far the best time of my teaching career.

staff 1968Toastrack staff, 1968

The You Are Here photos you show could well be identity photos for Heads of Departments to get to know them quickly. I did them every year. I remember the sculpture in the entrance well, but don’t know who did it.

I am also responsible for taking the photo of the girl in her bikini, surrounded by four gentlemen, although I cannot remember what they are doing.

bikiniFrom left: Clothing staff Peter Lowcock and Matthew Paterson (with tape measure)

I came to live in Manchester in 1957 as I married a girl I had met at the College of Art in All Saints some years before, so my teaching career started in Liverpool. A further three years were spent teaching at a Secondary Modern in Altrincham. Then I noticed that art teachers were required for a new development called the Domestic and Trades College, which sounded like an unusual area of Further Education, and I was ready for a change by then.

The idea of working with older students appealed strongly, so I found myself up for interview for one of the posts, and there met an old acquaintance from the Art School, also applying. Fortunately, we were both appointed and so began my time at Hollings.

The radical design of the building, sat beautifully in the Fallowfield area, with the park opposite, and the spacious fields of Manchester Grammar behind, was so different from the normal appearance of schools and colleges. This was uplifting from the start, and so it proved. I consider myself very privileged to have been a part of it.

toastrackThe Toastrack, from the roof of Owens Park halls of residence

The first week of term, without students, allowed us to settle in and meet the other members of staff and sort out class materials in the organisation of the Art Department situated on F floor, the second one down from the top. The views from my room were delightful – front overlooking the park, and at the rear the Grammar school fields. And so that was how it stayed for a very happy fourteen years.

The fact of teaching art to students of the different trades was indeed a challenge, but a very interesting one which I hope I did with some success. Life at Hollings was indeed so different from all other places I had worked in. Gone were the playground duties, indiscipline and dull, drab surroundings. Instead, a beautifully designed interior, cork floors which softened footsteps, beautifully light classrooms where quiet, hardworking students applied themselves to the day’s tasks.

Toastrack students with folk singer John Bailey in Platt Fields Park

A mid-morning break between lessons saw us go down to the staffroom for a hot drink, served by the lovely May, our drinks lady. Furnished with Guy Rogers’ chairs and settees (now highly collectible), it was a comfortable place to chat to fellow staff. In a word, it was a very civilised, classy place to work.

But having thought over the years what it was that, above all else, distinguished Hollings as a special place, it has to be the staff. By some indefinable means, they were assembled from all parts to teach the various trades, which given the variety of skills involved must have been no easy task. As I gradually got to know most of them, it has to be said they were very good in their own fields, without exception, and they were also such delightful people to know. Many became firm friends, and to this day we keep in touch.

IMG_0006John Williams on his 90th birthday, 2012

I still think a lot about those days as being the happiest of my career. But all good things come an end, and restructuring and the lessening need of art in the educational scheme of things meant that I and many of my colleagues had to find other places of employment. So in 1974 I left Hollings and teaching was never the same again.”


All photographs kindly provided by John.



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