"I remember my days at school vividly and with great affection. Bolton School has a great tradition in the liberal arts. I've always acted for the love of it and this first love was inspired at Hopefield, the school theatre."

Sir Ian McKellen - Actor and Old Boy

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A Former Head Reminisces

Thursday, 13 June 2013

At a recent Old Boys’ Lunch, Boys’ Division Year 9 pupil Andrew Lee had the chance to speak with former Bolton School Headmaster Mr A J Mitchell about his time at the School and how things have changed. Andrew sums up the interview below:

The life of Mr A J Mitchell, and how Bolton School has changed in the last 60 years

A J Mitchell first arrived to teach at Bolton School in 1950, having been teaching at another grammar school for two years previously. He witnessed some of the most crucial changes in education, as the role that women played as teachers grew and grew, until it resembled something we would recognise today.

Mr Mitchell graduated from Sheffield University having achieved double honours for studying Latin and English. He decided to become a teacher after receiving advice from a tutor, and after realising that he enjoyed it. His chosen career path was interrupted due to the Second World War, and he was called up for service in 1944, after which he was enrolled in compulsory National Service for two years. The wage for a schoolmaster 60 years ago was about 400 pennies (about £24,000 in today’s money). When he came to Bolton School, it would have been markedly different to the establishment we have today. “I remember swimming here 65 years ago,” said Mr Mitchell. However he wasn’t talking about the current pool, but one that used to lie where the current Arts Centre hall is now. The modern building that we frequent regularly wasn’t constructed, and neither was the current Junior Girls’ School, Hesketh House. The levels couldn’t be maintained to the standard they are now because motorised horticultural equipment hadn’t been invented. There also wasn’t the fleet of coaches that serve the school, because people simply didn’t live as far from school as they do now. “Computers are the biggest change since when I was teaching. I’m not against them - school is changing and always has. It can be dated back to 1516 through the national archives - I’ve seen the documents myself.” Potentially the greatest difference between schooling now and then which we would recognise is the role of women. "There were about half a dozen working here full time, and more part time," he stated. This concept of education being dominated by men is alien to us, but in the 1950s it was the norm.

“It’s very nostalgic being back here, and it’s encouraging seeing people 50 years ago and still seeing the same people,” he observed, "...it’s nice to be back.” Mr Mitchell became headmaster of the school in 1982, and left the post in 1983. Having been promoted to deputy head previously, he said: “The staff backed me completely - it was the only reason I could do it. There were things you could do as staff, but not as headmaster.” Probably the best way to ‘sum up’ his time as headmaster is by using a quote from his portrait on ‘B’ corridor, where he joins his fellow leaders of the school:

”A J Mitchell’s brief term as headmaster was characterised by the qualities he brought to bear in his teaching and in his relationships with colleagues.”

Mr Mitchell was also pleased to see the new 6th form centre under construction, having supported the idea since his time as headmaster. “It’s nice to see girls and boys on the same campus. I understand the separation up to 6th form, but 6th form should be mixed.”

Perhaps one of the greatest and relatively unknown talents of A.J.Mitchell was his talent as a footballer. He was a fantastic amateur player who represented the 1st XI on numerous occasions. “I used to play left half as it was then called, and then I dropped to left wing”. Mr Mitchell continues to ‘keep an eye’ on current football at the school as well: "School football has done very well and has had a very good season". Although too modest to admit to most of his achievements and talents, Mr Mitchell was and still is an outstanding example of both an academic teacher and a sportsman - who has contributed greatly to the School’s history and development.

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A.J. Mitchell

Mr Mitchell in his role as Headmaster