Memories of Exmouth and the history of Rolle College

The entrance to the Owen Building. Ref exe 10-16SH 6921. Picture: Simon Horn

The entrance to the Owen Building - Credit: Simon Horn

The human memory is a remarkable thing.
I’ve always felt as if I have a good long-term memory. I’m strong on remembering dates and often seem to remember distant events from my childhood which other people often seem to have forgotten. I also seem to have peculiarly retentive memory regarding music too. I can often remember theme tunes to TV shows or adverting jingles from decades ago. This is useless as special skills go, however, as I have no musical ability at all so cannot easily reproduce any of the music I remember.

I’m also good at remembering lists of historical facts. Edward VI became king in 1461, for example. US President Warren Harding died in 1923. Henry VIII’s fourth wife was Anne of Cleves. Labour won a majority of five in the 1950 General Election. I don’t even need to check these things. Although, for the sake of the column, I will anyway!

Learning by rote had gone out of fashion by the time I was at school in the 1980s and 1990s and I do not think it was a bad thing that it stopped. But I think I would have coped well had it continued going.

I’ve never been as good with the names and faces of the people I’ve met, however. I’m often impressed by the ability most people have including myself to remember the names of many of the people they went to school with, often many decades after they went there. My parents are now in their late seventies and can still remember the names of many of their school friends who they knew in the 1940s and 1950s. I expect many of you can do the same.

More impressive still is the ability of many schoolteachers to remember many of the pupils they taught years after the event. A few years ago, I was recognised by one of my old schoolteachers by chance as my young niece played in a park in my hometown. It was a fair while ago now and I was probably easier to recognise than I would be now as I was younger and still clean shaven. Even so, it was still a good quarter of a century since I’d been in her class for a year when I was six. How many other children were in her class during her career? Assuming she had classes of 25 over a period of 35 years, (and both these figures could be higher than this) we’re talking 875 people! It reminds me of the end of Goodbye Mr Chips in which the retired teacher recites the names of all the boys he’s taught, just before he dies.

On a Rolle

For 60 years between 1948 and 2008, Rolle College served as a teaching college in Exmouth. The college was closed in 2009 and training was relocated to the University of Plymouth. The site now provides another very useful function as the home of the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education since 2020.

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Many were nevertheless very sorry to see the teaching college go. 4,000 students and 300 staff were to move to Plymouth. It is believed the move cost Exmouth’s local economy, £20 million.

Rolle College had opened as an emergency teacher training college in February 1946 initially for women only. Men were first admitted in September 1966. In 1988 Rolle College became part of Plymouth Polytechnic which itself became Plymouth University in 1992. The college’s origins went back to Southlands School, which moved to Fairfield, a large house on the Douglas Avenue site, at the start of the 20th century. Southlands closed in 1942 and was commandeered as part of the war effort the following year.

There is much more to say about Rolle College and I will return to the subject in the future. In the meantime, suffice to say, it is mind-boggling to think of how many people around the world today must have either become teachers after being taught at the college or been taught by someone else who was.
Exmouth’s Rolle College must have had an enormous impact.

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