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Reminiscence and Reflection at Grand Reunion

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Grand Reunion at Bolton School saw over 1,000 alumni from both Divisions return to spend the day catching up with classmates and remembering good times. From Old Girls and Old Boys who left the School in 1939 to recent leavers from the Class of 2011 onwards, almost every era of the School’s history on the current site was represented.

The Reunion began as a normal school day would: with assembly held in both of the Great Halls.

The Girls’ Division assembly began with the prefects and current Headmistress, Sue Hincks, processing into the hall. After welcoming the many alumni and former staff to the reunion, and particularly her predecessor Gill Richards, Miss Hincks passed on the apologies of former heads Jane Panton and Margaret Spurr, who were unable to attend. The assembled Old Girls then sang the hymn ‘Lord, For the Years’, which was selected by the Old Girls’ Committee as a fitting choice for the occasion.

Following this opening, Miss Hincks gave an address which focused on the Girls’ Division’s long history of celebrations, and the confusion the 100/500 Celebrations have caused for some! She mentioned that at the Bursary Golf Day, an Old Girl had asked her, “What are we celebrating this time?” This was in part due to celebrations held in the 1970s to celebrate the school’s 90th anniversary, and the 125th anniversary celebrations held in 2002 to commemorate the founding of Bolton High School for Girls, which later became the Girls’ Division. Miss Hincks went on to list dozens of other celebratory events – at least one for each decade of the Girls’ Division’s history and including visits from the Duchess of Gloucester and Diana, Princess of Wales. As she pointed out, this proved that the Girls’ Division has a long tradition of celebrating historic milestones and events, and the Grand Reunion was to be no exception.

Miss Hincks also spoke briefly about some of the changes that have occurred over the past hundred years, and commented that, “The more we change, the more we stay the same.”

She then handed over to two mother-daughter pairs with strong connections with the Girls’ Division: Ms Valentine and Mrs Ibberson are both Old Girls whose daughters now attend the School. Ms Valentine talked about her own time as a pupil and some of her strong memories from the past before passing the baton to her daughter, Alex Hopkinson, one of this year’s Deputy Head Girls. Alex spoke about the traditions of the Girls’ Division, for example watching her friend and current Head Girl Sarah Ibberson perform her first speech in the role at the recent Presentation Evening. Mrs Ibberson also shared some of her personal memories of being a pupil as well as talking about how three generations of her family have attended the School, and were indeed present in the Great Hall for her speech! Sarah then addressed the audience and also talked about tradition, particularly mentioning the Ceremony of Carols, which is a fond memory for the majority of Old Girls.

The assembled Old Girls and their families were then invited to join in singing the hymn ‘One More Step’, followed by particularly rousing renditions of the School Song, ‘If God Build Not The House’ and ‘Jerusalem’. The assembly was punctuated by a musical performance of two motets from Year 13 pupils Rebecca Butchart and Jessica Willcock, accompanied by organist Peter Morrison. After the prefects and speakers had processed out to Miss Hincks’s favourite Saint-Saëns Symphony, the audience also offered a round of applause to Mr Morrison.

Meanwhile, in the Boys’ Division Great Hall, current Headmaster Philip Britton welcomed the Old Boys for the day of the Grand Reunion. He began with a little humour, clearing up one of the greatest questions of any reunion day by saying, “Let me just inform you, from the stage, that you all look younger fitter, healthier, wealthier and wiser than everyone else.”

Mr Britton went on to talk about the sense of the whole community coming together to celebrate the 100 and 500 year anniversaries, Old Boys and current pupils together, not only at the Grand Reunion but also at numerous local and regional events throughout the past year.

He mentioned that many Old Boys would be looking forward to speaking to former head Alan Wright over the course of the day. He also passed on apologies from his immediate predecessor Mervyn Brooker, who was unable to attend the reunion, and held a moment of silence in memory of former Deputy Head Alan Mitchell, who died recently. He paid tribute to Mr Mitchell’s embodiment of what a teacher ought to be in a school that values all-round education. The assembled Old Boys then raised their voices to sing the hymn ‘Now Thank We All Our God’.

The hymn was followed by a number of reflections. Next Mr Britton talked about the origins of the Great Hall and memories of the building from before the Second World War. A number of Old Boys then offered their memories of assembly under various headmasters over the course of the School’s history. Roger Gould recounted sitting in assembly under Mr Poskitt, Julian Lloyd talked about assemblies with Mr Baggley, and Mr Wright’s assemblies were remembered by Paul Johnson. The current Vice-Captains of the School provided two aptly chosen and thought-provoking readings as part of the reflections: Peter Roberts read ‘Paths are Made by Walking’ by Campos de Castilla, and Giri Nandakumar read ‘Ask Me’ by William Stafford. The School Captain Chris Pantelides also gave an address about the events held in the Great Hall today.

At the heart of the reflections on the School’s past, the Old Boys sang the School Song, ‘Forty Years On’. This was particularly poignant for the alumni with its lyrics: “O! The great days, in the distance enchanted, Days of fresh air, in the rain and the sun, How we rejoiced as we struggled and panted, Hardly believable, forty years on!”

Mr Britton returned to the podium to give an address, which he began by remembering how the rhythm of school life is reflected in the events in the Great Hall. He spoke of the ethos of the school: inspiring an inquisitive nature academically, producing caring individuals, establishing lifelong hobbies and interests, and taking a proper place in the local community. Finishing, he said that the aim of the school now was to send boys out to make a difference for good – and thanked Old Boys present for the difference they had already made in their lives and the difference they would continue to make in years to come.

Current pupils shared their musical talents over the course of the assembly. Year 10 pupil Victor Chow played Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor, 1st Movement, while Alex Moriarty in Year 12 performed William Boyce’s Trumpet Voluntary. The Boys’ Division assembly closed with the enthusiastic singing of ‘Jerusalem’ followed by applause for organist Michael Pain, in parallel to the Girls’ Division.

Shortly after assembly, lunch was served in the two dining halls. Though the menus were the same – both featuring alumni favourites ‘Tarmac and Fairly Liquid’ (Ginger Sponge and Sauce) and ‘Fly Pie’ (Currant Slice) – the recently refurbished and now very modern Girls’ Dining Hall provided a contrast to many Old Girls’ memories, while in the Boys’ Dining hall the traditional wooden tables and benches were the same as ever, simply decorated with tablecloths and lilies for the occasion. However, in both Divisions, the atmosphere over lunch was convivial as alumni shared their reminiscences of school dinners, favourite dishes, and lunchtime activities.

Classrooms were set aside for each ‘half-decade’, allowing those who left the School at around the same time to mingle and catch up with fellow alumni and former staff. In addition, there were rooms for those who would normally attend a decade Class Reunion in 2015. With former pupils in attendance from 1945 to 2005, the 100/500 anniversary celebrations made this particular Class Reunion all the more special! The 1975 and 1985 Reunion Rooms were very busy in both Divisions, with lots of attendees from these two years.

The School was open throughout the afternoon to allow Old Boys and Old Girls to wander the corridors, find old haunts and explore new areas such as the Riley Sixth Form Centre, Hesketh House Junior Girls’ School, and the new Beech House Infants’ School. There were also historical displays chronicling the history of the Boys’ Division in the Baggley Room and the Girls’ Division in the Sutcliffe Suite. Despite it being September, the sun was shining and the weather was pleasantly warm, and many Alumni took the opportunity to sit outside the Arts Centre, on the benches beside the Netball Courts or in the Headmaster’s Garden as they reminisced together.

Later in the day, Afternoon Tea with the Heads was served in a number of locations across the campus. Alumni enjoyed a warm drink and scones in the Arts Centre, the Leverhulme Suite in the Riley Centre, and Hesketh House Dining Hall.

As the day wound towards a close, special Reunion Cocktails were served in the Girls’ and Boys’ Dining Halls and in the Arts Centre. These were named after key figures in the School’s history. The non-alcoholic ‘Leverhulme Lifter’ was a delicious fruit punch named after the School’s most notable benefactor. ‘The Higg’ was named after Miss Margaret Higginson, who was the Girls’ Division Headmistress from 1954 to 1979; this refreshing cocktail was a take on the Bellini, combining Prosecco with Peach Schnapps. Last but not least, ‘The FRP’ was a delicious Kir Royale cocktail with Prosecco and Crème de Cassis, named after Mr Richard Poskitt, who was the Headmaster of the Boys’ Division for thirty-three years.

The Grand Reunion ended with a marvellous fireworks display over the lacrosse pitch. The Old Boys and Old Girls were delighted with the spectacle, which made a perfect end to a wonderful day.

The Grand Reunion was part of the 100/500 celebrations, which are being held in 2015 and 2016 to commemorate two significant anniversaries. The first of these is the creation of the Bolton School Foundation in 1915: Lord Leverhulme jointly endowed Bolton Grammar School for Boys and Bolton High School for Girls on the condition that they should become two halves of a whole, and from this point the schools became the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions that exist today. The School is also celebrating the 500th anniversary of education in Bolton, as Bolton Grammar School for Boys was listed as “a going concern” in 1516, and this was the first mention of a school in the town.

The Grand Reunion Weekend also included the Tillotson Lecture on Thursday evening, the Bursary Golf Day and Patterdale Open Day on Friday, and the Reunion itself. The centenary festivities began in March 2015 with a Gala Concert at the Bridgewater Hall and have also included a Uniformed Services Dinner, the 19th Bolton (Bolton School) Scout Troop Centenary Weekend, a Dinner for Former Head Girls and Captains, a Sports Reunion and Dinner, and the Joint Parents’ Associations Family Festival. The anniversary celebrations will come to a close with a Friends of Bolton School Celebration Ball in June 2016.

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Alumni enjoyed the good weather, reminiscing outside the Arts Centre and in the Headmaster

Alumni enjoyed the good weather, reminiscing outside the Arts Centre and in the Headmaster's Garden while the sun shone

The Reunion Assemblies were one of the highlights of the day

The Reunion Assemblies were one of the highlights of the day

The impressive fireworks display was a great end to the Reunion

The impressive fireworks display was a great end to the Reunion