Bolton School Former Pupils

The Story of Camping at Bolton School (1900-2000)

'Courts and camps are the only places to learn the world in.'

Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1779)

One of Bolton School’s most proficient music students recently turned down an offer of a place elsewhere on the grounds that at 12 years Bolton School seemed to offer him a better chance of an all-round education than another school with more obviously advanced but more specialized opportunities.

We hope it did!  And if it did, then perhaps it wasn’t just in academic pursuits, or even in sporting activities, but in what we can call 'out-of class' pursuits in which we have had an edge over our neighbours.

Some of this almost certainly comes from the School’s consistent and dedicated employment of staff who see themselves as traditional schoolmasters, not just teachers: an important, decisive distinction.  Not just the romantic poverty of Oliver Goldsmith’s schoolmaster, nor even 'the ones who puzzle their brains with grammar and nonsense when good liquor might give genius a better discerning' (She Stoops to Conquer!).

The traditional schoolmaster is taken over by the desire to serve the whole person, and actively pursues opportunities to address all aspects of development, not simply, nor even mostly, the academic.

Many former pupils will express nostalgia for the times spent pushing their teachers towards diversions in their favourite topics, when well-known jokes and anecdotes would lighten the Friday-afternoon hours.  Bob Gardner (Old Boy, 1956-1964), in the preface of his record of an extraordinary expedition called Tuareg Summer (Circadian UK July 2013), writes: 'For much of the twentieth century, when not fighting for survival in two world wars, British adults in general and educationalists in particular encouraged young people to be adventurous.  Baden-Powell’s idea of Boy Scouts, school camps and Outward Bound training were all manifestations'.

The spirit of camping takes a powerful part; whether it was through the romantic poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Victorian novelists like Rudyard Kipling and the Imperial mood of Vitai Lampada, or William Smith (Boys’ Brigade) and Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys, it seemed to come to Bolton School at the beginning of the 20th century with the appointment of W G Lipscomb (Headmaster 1903-24), former Head of Isleworth Grammar School, ‘where he had run school camps’ (WEB p.134) and decided to revive his interest in Bolton Holidays 1910.  Manchester Grammar School had already established its pattern.  TheBoltonian of that year records an interest in 'scouting activities'.

The rebuilding of the old grammar school at the end of the 19th century coincided with the growth of a new appreciation of the open countryside, brought about partially by an appreciation of the horrors of industrial and urban growth, particularly obvious in south Lancashire and Bolton.  In the following century Richard Poskitt used to invite intending interviewees to count the 75 smoking mill chimneys visible from his study and assure the candidates that life at School wasn’t as bad as it looked!

Jeremy Paxman’s portrait of the English is his book of that name has a pointed chapter entitled 'There always was an England', which describes how the citizens of the 'dark,satanic mills' yearned for something lost in the rush for industrial wealth: a country of rural bliss that never really existed, but was keenly sought, 'particular to this point in time and place', that brought forth the Ramblers Association, the Scout and Guide associations, local natural history societies, the CTC, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and, of course, the National Trust.

We should not underestimate the strength of the excitement of adventure, and the equal thrill of getting out from home with companions, which are still components of camp recruiting and planning, as we shall see.