Former Lincoln schoolgirl recounts wartime tales on visit to revamped UTC home

She had rarely visited Lincoln since her school days in the 1940s, but on return to her former place of study on Lindum Hill, Norah Johnson was amazed at how the Lincoln UTC project had transformed the building she remembered.

Staff at the Lincoln University Technical College welcomed Norah, who is in her eighties, for a tour of the building she knew as Lincoln Christ’s Hospital Girls’ High School on October 16.

The premises, referred to for many years as the Greestone Centre, was given a new lease of life this year when it reopened as the home of the Lincoln UTC.

The project had involved a £7.5 million investment to transform the historic red brick building in to a state-of-the-art learning facility.

Renovations involved a combination of revived Grade II listed features and a brand new, modern three-storey extension.

The former Greestone Centre will become the Lincoln UTC campus. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The former Greestone Centre will become the Lincoln UTC campus. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

On Friday, October 16, staff at the UTC were transported back in time by Norah, who has, for a while, spoken of her ambitions to return to the school.

Marketing and Communications Manger Holly Pickering said: “The visit was extra special.

“All she wanted to do was sit in the building and tell me about what the rooms were when she was here.

“My office was the second office of the Headmistress and our Headteacher Dr Rona Mackenzie’s office was the former office of the Headmistress Mrs Saville.

The Lincoln UTC cohort on the first morning in their new campus. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The Lincoln UTC cohort on the first morning in their new campus. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

“Norah said there was a row of chairs outside that office and if you were sent there, or sat there the whole school knew you had been naughty!

The revamped suite of the historic building. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The revamped suite of the historic building. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

“Our reception was a music suite, our English classroom was the library and the annex, which we study maths and have a computer suite in, was a gym (and I thought it looked like a Chapel).

“The girls would start and finish the school day under the side door onto Greestone Steps, coming through the latin (learn or leave).

“We no longer use this entrance, but the Latin is still there and we hope to re-build it throughout the UTC.

“Our new building was simply a grass verge, their outside area and they had use of the Tithe Barn for evening meals.

“The girls Dug for Victory across Bishop Gardens and the back wall of the Cathedral, planting potatoes to help with the war effort. We line out there as our fire assembly point, so somewhere, under our feet is Norah’s war effort.”

Memorable plane crash

Norah Johnson, who now lives with her family in Ripley, continued her education at the girls’ school until she was 16 during the war, before going into service.

She told staff at the college about her memories in the halls which date back to 1897. During World War II she lived in quarters around the corner (now private housing).

She didn’t meet with the team empty handed either. A newspaper cutting she brought along revealed how every-day learning in Lincoln couldn’t have been more different to the picture today.

Norah's newspaper cutting of the crash on the Greestone steps.

Norah’s newspaper cutting of the crash on the Greestone steps.

She described how a Hamden Bomber AD 983 flew low over St Hughes Church on July 22, 1941, and crashed into the building halfway up Greestone Steps off Lindum Hill.

The plane’s full tanks had exploded on arrival of fire crews and several people lost their lives.

A plaque remains at Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School (LCHS) commemorating the event.

She went to school the day after the crash and said she remembers it clearly: “There were no trauma councillors in those days, you just had to carry on and that is what we did.”

Holly added: “She talked fondly of the building and all her comments centred on the memories of what the classrooms were and what lessons were going on in them. She remembers everything very clearly, as if she was in school yesterday and talks of her education in Lincolnshire with fond recollection.”