This topic has long featured in the RHS digital history ‘To Do’ list, but has been promoted up the ranking by the arrival of memorabilia relating to one of the more famous individuals who have occupied the post. Sergeant Major Alexander Falconer occupied the position from around 1894 until 1923, when his retiral was heralded by a full-page article in the summer 1923 edition of Schola Regia.
Falconer was one of a long line of Janitors at the school, where the first recorded we can find dates back to 1694. Interestingly, from the start of Falconer’s tenure to the present day (2021), there have been the same number of Janitors as Rectors – fourteen.
Janitors are mentioned in all school history editions, from 1849 onward. There are a few colourful characters, and the post in the early days required more than just janitorial duties; discipline, drill instruction, Rector’s secretary, librarian and tuck shop being some of those mentioned in addition to the normally expected duties, with swimming-pool cleaning being added to the duties some time ago and continuing to this day. Katy Gray (RHS teacher 1976-1993, and great grand-daughter of Sergeant Falconer) explains some of the more modern duties; “Ian Drummond’s wife, Betty looked after my pre-school twins in the Janitor’s house when I returned to teach (initially, part time) in the late seventies and I saw at first-hand how much Ian had to do – unseen and often unacknowledged!”
Several have been ex-servicemen, notably Falconer, Percy Campbell (a sub-mariner and POW for 5 years) and James Fulton MBE (also a POW).
The post appears to have been considered as one of some standing, occasionally occupied by students, in one case by an undergraduate (David Malloch) who went on to become a famous poet. James Nisbet is shown due deference in his retiral photo of 1994 surrounded by three Rectors. An article (shown elsewhere) about William Crawford, one of his successors, does however adds a touch of colour and comedy to the genre.
Payment in the early days appears to have been haphazard. In the early 1800’s, it was stated as L.1 : 13 : 4 (One pound, thirteen shillings and fourpence – or £1.67p in new money), and by 1849 five pounds was all that had been added to the salary. In addition to this he receives at present one half of the Matriculation fee (1s 6d in 1927, 5s the following year, discontinued 1895). Sadly, since 2000 the title of Janitor has replaced by the thoroughly modern-sounding but somewhat antiseptic ‘Senior Service Support Officer’, so presumably this will attract a superannuated local authority salary.
An extensive article about the history of Janitors at the Royal High School is available here. In the meantime, a gallery of images through the years follows.
Click on any of the images below to enable a full-screen slideshow.