F R Poskitt ruled the roost from 1933 to 1966 with such force majeure that the boys nicknamed him 'Joe Boss'. However, his august presence endowed him with gravitas, crowned with a magnificent head of silver hair. Wednesday 6th February 1952 began as another normal School day, but mid-morning we were all summoned from lessons back to the Hall where earlier we had the customary assembly. No one knew why, as the Headmaster strode up to the stage, academic ‘mortar board’ in hand, looking solemn in complete silence, but we realised something very serious had happened. He turned, addressing us as 'My dear boys'. Poskitt never used such a term of endearment before or since and continued, 'It is with great sadness that I tell you that our beloved King died peacefully this morning', finishing with the tremendous historic time-honoured flourish 'The King is dead; Long live The Queen!'
The entire nation showed deep respect to George VI who had led us through the misery and horrors imposed during the Second World War. His inspired broadcasts gave us hope, but we young folk had no idea then that the King had overcome his previous serious speech defect. Following the devastation of air raids on all major cities, our Monarchs were there the next day to comfort bereaved and homeless subjects. The Royal Family stayed in London throughout the War and suffered the ghastly Blitz, particularly when a bomb landed on Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth felt that she could then look the devastated East End in the face. His valet had found the King dead early that morning when he brought in the customary cup of tea. The decision was made not to release the news to the public until his mother had been informed. The dowager Queen Mary, aged eighty-four, was very frail and there were concerns that the shock would be too great for her to bear, so there was delay until she had woken up as normal. Hence the public announcement was issued at 10.45 am. Every shop in Bolton closed that day in respect and all radio programs were cancelled with the BBC transmitting only solemn music between the news bulletins. We Scouts wore black silk armbands on our uniforms for three months in mourning.
The renowned War Hero, Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887-1976), had been honoured by Bolton and admitted as a Freeman of the Borough on 5th November 1949. Known by his nickname, 'Monty', we were all thrilled to see such a famous soldier when he visited the School. I was but eleven years old and singularly unimpressed when he bellowed, 'There are boys in this School who need a haircut' and could not believe that was how we had won the War.
For years after we suffered from imposed strict food controls and appalling School dinners and rejoiced when, at long last, sweets came off ration before the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. On that day, for the first time in our young lives, we no longer had to proffer a Government coupon for a purchase, and a seemingly endless queue of hundreds of boys stretched across the Levels to the tuck shop. On eventually reaching the head of the queue all that was available was one aniseed ball per pupil!
The head-magisterial mane was eclipsed when Margaret Higginson arrived in 1954 as Headmistress of the Girls’ Division sporting a superb auburn coiffeur. On occasions she stormed, like the Valkyrie Brunhilde, across to the Boys' Division, doubtless to complain of loutish lads' misbehaviour. When the occasional sunbeam penetrated the gloom of the dark satanic mills, her hair shone like the Rheinmaiden’s burnished gold. In those days it was de rigueur for all the boys to have regular 'short back and sides' haircuts, sometimes youngsters were trimmed round inverted pudding basins, and the girls had to suffice with home perms, not withstanding that their respective Heads were adorned with the best hair in town.
Poskitt enjoyed regaling us with what was, without doubt, an apocryphal tale relating to Lever's magnanimous endowment. He related with gusto that after Lipscomb was appointed headmaster, following Lyde leaving in July 1904 to become the first professor of Geography of London University, Mr and Mrs Lever invited Mr and Miss Lipscomb to tea. Lipscomb was a bachelor and he brought with him his sister, Mabel, to be his housekeeper. The new Head and his sister debated whether or not it was proper to accept an invitation from someone in trade, however rich. Fortunately they did accept and Miss Lipscomb observed that the silver was of good quality and the table cloth of fine material. The intention was for Lever to expound on his vision for education and he had already been a Governor for five years, issuing instructions to find 'the best headmaster in England'. The story does illustrate the truly appalling snobbery that pervaded British class-ridden society in those days. Lever and his brother rebuilt Blackburn Road Congregational Church to commemorate their father, a lifelong Congregationalist, with generous provision for social activities. The splendid building was known as a Cathedral of Nonconformity. The congregation was mainly humble local folk, mostly cotton mill operatives, who lived in the nearby streets but there were some from professional classes. My father and mother met, worshipped and married there, where I was christened. Even in my days there was a Women's (sic) sewing class and a separate, by invitation only, Ladies sewing circle, to which my formidable Great Aunt Cissie belonged, and never the twain did meet let alone speak, except in church.
The noble Viscount Leverhulme liked to address the congregation of this church when he returned to Bolton and my mother remembered him well. He recounted a choice anecdote on his last visit shortly before he died when she would have been sixteen. In a broad Lancashire accent he said, 'I've just come back from London and had a cheeky taxi driver who recognised me. When I gave him a tip he said "But that is only half what your son gives me!" "My Lord", I replied, "it’s all reet for him; he’s got a very rich father!"' There cannot be many folk who have defeated in words a Cockney Cabby.
During this era, paid holidays were a luxury, only enjoyed by the professional classes and limited to two weeks maximum a year. Operatives had to take unpaid holiday when the mills closed for a week for cleaning and joined holiday clubs to save money from their wages so they could stay by the seaside. Those that could not afford to go to Blackpool used to take bus rides to the moors to look at Bolton during the only week in the year that the town was clear of smoke. Many worked on Saturdays as a matter of course, so that Monday Public holidays were a treat for the family to enjoy a longer break. The powers of Bolton School that were at the time resolutely refused to allow the Whitsuntide Monday Public holiday which was bitterly resented. No matter how loud and numerous were the remonstrations, that Monday was a normal School day for us, whilst the rest of the town relaxed at home or on trips afar. One Whit Monday we arrived at School to witness a large Skull and Crossbones pirate flag flying from thetower. Those rebels who had hoisted this Jolly Roger symbol of mutiny had also nailed down the access hatch to prevent the flag being easily removed. Although we all thought this was very amusing, we were certain that 'Joe Boss' would go berserk and probably inflict some awful punishment in dreadful retribution on the culprits if not the entire Boys’ Division. At the end of the notices he read out in assembly, Poskitt merely remarked that as he came into School earlier that morning, he was so pleased to see the school was flying its true colours of black and white. We burst into laughter and applauded. So the great man did have a good sense of humour after all.