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Jolly jannies: The unsung heroes who keep our schools together across Aberdeen and beyond

Where would we be without our janitors? Whether it's marking out the football pitches or picking up after pupils, the jannies quietly keep our schools in order.

In 1977, Dyce Primary School pupils gathered round to give their janitor, Alex Cheyne, a big send off when he retired. He received gifts from the oldest and youngest pupils, Nicola Reid, left, and Carol Main. Image: DC Thomson
In 1977, Dyce Primary School pupils gathered round to give their janitor, Alex Cheyne, a big send off when he retired. He received gifts from the oldest and youngest pupils, Nicola Reid, left, and Carol Main. Image: DC Thomson

We all have a favourite teacher from our school days, but we never forget the jannies and their ‘can-do’ attitude when it comes to classroom calamities.

Janitors are the glue that holds schools together – sometimes quite literally.

From diligently picking up the lunchtime deluge of litter, to rescuing footballs marooned on the school roof, the indefatigable jannies do it all.

Youngsters at Cloverfield Primary School, Bucksburn, say farewell to janitor Doug Smith in 1988. He was presented with a lawnmower by pupils Ben Holman and Elizabeth Barclay. Image: DC Thomson

They paint the lines on the pitches, and if a straying football smashes through a classroom window, they’re always on hand with plywood to make repairs.

And if you attended a school with a mid-century flat-roofed extension, the jannie would never be far away with a bucket to catch the leaking rain on a wet day.

We take a look at the unsung heroes of our schools, who quietly keep things in order behind the scenes.

1976: Corgarff School

Of course, not all jannies were men. The legendary Tina Troup was Corgarff School’s kindly cook, cleaner and ‘unofficial janitor’.

Miss Troup was a stalwart beloved by generations of pupils for her gentle manner.

By the time she retired in 1976 she had chalked up an incredible 30 years’ service.

Mina with Corgarff Pupils Alex, Lorna, Alasdair, Shona, Duncan, Louise, Neil, Derek Ian and Cameron in 1976. Image: DC Thomson

Nicknamed ‘Mina’ by ‘her bairns’, she had the grit and determination of the wartime generation that you don’t often see nowadays.

Each day, Mina got up at 6.30am and cycled a mile uphill to school from her Toll House home, whatever the weather.

She battled through snow and storms to ensure the building was warm and clean for the pupils arriving.

And in rural Corgarff, where most of the children had lunch at school, Mina always cooked up something special.

1977: Kittybrewster Primary School

At primary school, the jannie’s office was an Aladdin’s Cave of odds and ends, tools, mop buckets and keys.

It was always an exciting mission if you were sent there to fetch the jannie to clean up a mishap.

And it wasn’t just ailing school buildings that jannies patched up.

Retiring after 16 years’ service at Kittybrewster Primary School in 1977, janitor Robert Rogie was presented with a radio-cassette from pupils Dianne Smith, left, Richard Singer and Gillian Hodge. Image: DC Thomson

More often that not, if you took a tumble in the playground, you’d find yourself in the jannie’s office.

There wasn’t much that couldn’t be fixed with a kind smile and a wet paper towel on your grazed knee.

Followed, of course, by a stinging swipe of the dreaded Dettol and a big plaster.

1978: Strathburn School, Inverurie

At Strathburn School in Inverurie, jannie Nicol Bowman supervised the school’s Cycling Proficiency scheme.

Over the years, he helped hundreds of children learn how to cycle safely and get ready for the road.

Patrick Robertson and his friends at Strathburn School, Inverurie, receiving National Cycling Proficiency certificates and badges from Olive Dick. Looking on is janitor Nicol Bowman who assisted in the instruction. Image: DC Thomson

And he was present when the children were rewarded for their efforts.

Instructor Olive Dick dished out certificates and badges outside the school in 1978.

1979: Cullen Primary School

It was three cheers for Gordon Bain, Cullen Primary’s much-loved janitor, when he stepped down after 13 years at the school.

He had also been jannie at the old Cullen School before it was replaced with a new build in 1970.

Cullen Primary School pupils Donna Annand, left, and Keith Bruce make a presentation to  Gordon Bain. Image: DC Thomson

A familiar face in the community, Gordon had been on the town council for many years, and ran an ice cream and confectionery business with his wife.

Pupils presented their retiring jannie with a pair of waterproofs for use when pursuing his favourite past-time – bowling.

1982: Balnagask Infant School

There were tears when Balnagask Infant School closed in June 1982.

John Taylor surrounded by Balnagask pupils before their move to Tullos Primary School in 1982. Image: DC Thomson

Not only were the little ones flitting from their infant school to nearby Tullos Primary School, but they also had to say farewell to their jannie.

Pupils helped jannie John Taylor pack up the school, but he wasn’t going with them.

Instead, John was being transferred to Summerhill Academy.

1983: Cummings Park School

Janitor John Ferguson shut the gates to Cummings Park School for the final time in June 1983 – two days before the rest of the city schools finished for summer.

The school was shutting for good after it was discovered it needed extensive – and expensive – improvements.

Jannie John did the honours of seeing pupils out of the school for the final time, before the kids and acting head teacher Evelyn Sunley transferred to Bramble Brae school.

Janitor George Ferguson closed the gates to Cummings Park Primary School for the last time in 1983. Image: DC Thomson

Cummings Park was one of seven schools earmarked for closure, despite a long campaign from parents to save it.

Instead of being in school for the last day of term, the school’s 104 pupils were treated to a trip to the cinema to see Star Wars Return of the Jedi.

1987: Kirkhill School

As well as the day job, some jannies helped out with extra-curricular activities, like Charlie Ritchie at Kirkhill School.

The Kincorth school’s badminton team took home a trio of trophies in 1987 at the Scottish schools badminton championships in Edinburgh.

Kirkhill School team coach and school janitor Charlie Ritchie with team captain Colin Dow, front with the Quaich, Hazel Corken, middle left, Jason Guyan, middle right, and the rest of the team, back from left, Edward Arnott, Kelly Barclay, Justin Davis, Kerry Powell, Justin Reid, and Kim McDougall.

The top team had their school jannie and badminton coach Charlie Ritchie to thank as part of their sporting success.

The team won the Royal Bank Scottish Quaich, the Aberdeen Journals shield and the Evening Express shield, but unfortunately jannie Charlie missed out on the finals due to illness.

1988: Fernielea Primary School

Improving the school environment often falls under the remit of the jannies.

Whether emptying the bins, tidying up shrubs or servicing the play equipment.

In 1988, pupils at Fernielea School in Aberdeen were thrilled when jannie Harry Gordon brought the natural world into the classroom.

Fernielea Primary School janitor Harry Gordon shows his fish to nursery youngsters Barry Sim and Angela Milne. Image: DC Thomson

Harry took his pet fantail fish Tex and Dex, and his goldfish Rex into school to show the nursery children.

Little ones Barry Sim and Angela Milne were excited to meet the fish, which Harry had  taken in for the older pupils’ environmental studies project.


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