The Prescotian Webzine

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Founder's Day Celebration Dinner, Statham Lodge Hotel

Two hundred Old Prescotians and their partners attended the Celebration Dinner which was to bring to an end the Anniversary Celebrations. There were three eminent speakers.

A member of Staff from 1927 - 1969 Geoffrey Dixon proposed The Health and Wellbeing of the School"

"Mr. Chairman, My Lord Bishop, Mr Headmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen....

As I was going through that rigmarole, it occurred to me that it was a pity that Brian Preist was not made a bishop - 1 know he entered the ministry - then we could have had a Preist who became a bishop and a Bishop who became a priest.

I recently had a visit from a psycho-therapist, not before time you may say - but no cause for alarrn. It was a social call from an Old Boy. John Mitchell (45-50), who was practising in Manchester but now lives in Somerset.

To the business in hand: it is a great honour and privilege to be asked to propose the health of the school on this its 450th anniversary After all these years we are not going to quibble about the precise date or whether the 'free school' was a completely new institution or whether it was to be grafted on to an existing fee paying school. The arguments are clearly set out in Frank Bailey's excellent history which I have been re-reading. Once again I was impressed by Frank's clear and cogent style, the logical marshalling of his facts and the scholarship which informed those facts. By the way, I believe the headmaster stil has a few copies left of the most recent reprint.

Gilbert Lathum's will was made in response to that outburst of intellectual and spiritual freedom we call the Renaissance. New schools were founded all over the country but, alas, many have not survived. It is to the credit of the people of Prescot that they have resisted all attempts to move it elsewhere or to transfer its endowments to other purposes.

How were those early pupils dressed ? In a uniform resembling that of today's Bluecoal Schools ? I'm sure you remember Wordsworth's sonnet on King's College Chapel;

'Tax not the royal Saint with vain expense,
With ill-matched aims the Architect who planned
Albeit labouring for a scanty band
Of white-robed Scholars only - this immense
And glorious Work of fine intelligence!
(Room 10?)

I can hardly see them as 'white-robed Scholars.' Probably boys' dress was a miniature version of their fathers' and a likely scenario could have been:

"Boy. where's your ruff today ?"
"Please, sir, it's getting washed."

As I run my eye over the last 450 years (I've have 90 of them) I turn from fact to speculation and try to picture our school against the great national events of the past. How did Headmaster Thomas Webster announce the news of the defeat of the Armada ? Perhaps Ashurst Beacon had already done it for him And after the ill-fated rebellion of 1745 trailed back to Scotland, how many boys from the school went to gaze upon the poor bewildered Scottish straggler hanging from the beam in a barn in what is now known as Scot's Barn Lane. Poor fellow, after trailing all the way from the Highlands to Derby and back to Manchester, he turned west instead of north - as I did somewhat later. Was it the sight of Prescot that proved to be the last straw and caused him to hang himself ?

Those were days of difficult decisions. Stuart or Hanoverian, Charles or George - it was touch and go. When the outcome seemed certain, can you picture the scene when the Headmaster, the Rev. Robert Chapman, addressing morning assembly announced.

"Will the boy who wrote in the lavatories. 'Up yours, George' please erase the word 'yours' ? " ....................Or eighteenth century words to that effect ! And then Trafalgar and Waterloo. I can definitely refute the suggestion that a Prescot boy was the original Sam in Stanley Holloway's monologue. Remember the scene; the Duke of Wellington inspecting the troops. Somehow. Sam's musket falls to the ground.

"Sam. Sam, pick up tha musket".
"Nay. Tha knocked it down - tha picks it up". The story may be apocryphal but I do recognise the type. It persisted.

One thinks of the generations of Prescot watch-making families. Many of our Old Boys must have helped to maintain the traditional skills in precision engineering.

As we approach times within living memory we must once again pay tribute to the part in our history played by C.W.H. Richardson He took on a school under threat of closure and in a few years turned it into a viable secondary school acceptable to the authorities for entry into the State system. Those of you who remember him with affection as a lovable old eccentric may fail to appreciate the dynamic and forceful personality he must have been in his younger days

When I joined the staff in 1927, the school was making steady progress growing rapidly in numbers to take its place as a fully-fledged grammar school. As a step on the career ladder I planned to stay two years. In the event you know I stayed for forty-two When I retired the clouds had begun to appear on the horizon. Grammar schools were under threat from educational theorists and politicians bent on social engineering. That we had provided for the sons of people of modest means an education equal to that of the great public schools was of no consequence. We were elitist and by implication socially divisive, if I sound bitter it is because I am bitter. Nobody likes to have his life's work torn up and thrown into his face. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which the present headmaster and staff strive against great odds to maintain some of the traditions: and values of the school as you knew it. Your continued presence here, sir, assures us that you will continue to do so. Perhaps the future is less threatening than it might appear. Will the reaction against populist conceptions of equality restore the best features of the past? Is It the eternal optimist in me or do I detect a change in the climate of public opinion ?

On that note of hope I beg to propose the good health of the school.


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