Bolton School Former Pupils

Joe Eden (1944-1952)

My first impression of Bolton School was when I went for an interview with Mr Poskitt, the Headmaster. It seemed to be enormous, even though, at that time, the building was only half completed. Furthermore, I didn’t realise that only half of it was the Boys’ Division. However, when I finally found myself in Shell A1 and in possession of the Grey Book, I found that I was one of 693 in the Boys’ Upper School.

When I was sitting at my desk, I realised how fortunate I was to have been awarded a Foundation Scholarship. The other thing I soon realised was that I could not tell which of the boys were from richer families, or, like myself, from a working-class background. I never saw any bullying [although I had experienced that at my previous school]. We were separated only by our Houses, of which there were four, which were really for sports. I also realised that neither I nor others were developing a Bolton School accent. In other words, I felt at home, which was a very pleasant surprize. (I know that ‘surprise’ is correct, and would understand that Charlie Greene, who taught me, would insist. I remember Ian McKellen, in an interview on Actors Studio on TV, remembered how Charlie Greene had a distinct pride in the English language and its grammar. Different too? than? FROM! Good boy! We were being taught grammar. Now, compare this with another, a bequest from William Haigh of Wigan, who left land worth 33s4d for ‘a prest to teche gramer at Bolton upon the Mores’. This appears to be the start of the grammar school we are talking about. More later.

When I was at the School, I believe it was classed as a public school, when it was in fact a private school. It was a member of the Headmasters’ Conference. Public, because it was preparing the student for public life: in Law, in the Church, in Medicine, for instance. That’s what I believed. It was not just a matter of remembering things and regurgitating them in exams, but a new sort of thought and learning for our future postgraduate education. Imagination, perhaps? Now, it is an independent school.

I loved the education I was experiencing, as well as good reports. Another quality I admired was the School’s interest in sports. Imagine 32 acres of land with levels to play soccer, or other games, with the lowest level being reserved for athletics or cricket, with a pavilion to complete the scene. One of the things I remember was sometimes, instead of writing 100 lines ‘I must not do [whatever had been done]’ we had to do 100 weeds. We had to go to Sergeant Somerville and get the kit required, fill it and take it back to him. He was in charge of the swimming building. I did start as a non-swimmer. Once I had struggled to swim my first length, I did more swimming, including life-saving, and earned what I think was a bronze medallion. In more senior years I would swim before lunch, which at that time was in the Girls’ School building. I was usually in the later part of the boys going over for lunch. Sometimes, if it was quiet, a couple of the girls would aim just ahead of my nose and cannon the lacrosse ball in my direction. I know that the two girls were accurate in their throws, so I would just walk slowly and smoothly, earning one of my nicknames: Tiger. I was never hit.

I chose my sports according to my pocket book. I chose running, including cross-country, and boxing. No gear. In Canada, ice hockey equipment is expensive. One of our family came over for a hockey clinic and said that the gear in Canada was about half what it would cost in England. I did quite well in both running and boxing. Nothing spectacular in soccer or cricket, except that I could also bat left-handed for defensive times when aiming to draw the game for rain, poor light, etc.

I am, of course, assuming that all the students were as happy as I was. However, those parents who have not experienced Bolton School and are contemplating sending their youngster there are interested in the results in the postgraduate choice they would have, and would look at the choices made by recent graduates, look at the facilities and the 32 acres of grounds. I’m not sure that a number may not really concerned about how the experience may be for the youngster.

This Summer, it will be 70 years since I graduated from Bolton School. Then a gap of many years until I received a newspaper cutting from my cousin about how the School started, and how it was at that time. I learned that the school known as Bolton Grammar School settled by the tall Market Cross in the shade of St Peter’s Church in Medieval Bolton. Those three – the Church, the Market Cross and the Grammar School – were often seen together in those days. There was a rescue by Robert Lever in 1644 which helped, but the most exciting was when William Hesketh Lever, the soap magnate of Lever Brothers, decided not just to re-endow the School, but to refound it. He insisted on a merger between the Grammar School and the Girls’ High School, and a new school to be built on Chorley New Road, for which he held an architectural competition – and was prepared to pay for it all. I’m not sure when the building was started, but certain that it would require a huge amount of his favourite Runcorn Red sandstone and a lot of oak. That sandstone seems to be forever, and is not out of place with the newer part of the building – rather like Accrington Brick, or Nori, which is often used on the front of some houses and buildings and doesn’t deteriorate with age as regular brick does. Now, we’re talking England. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. The man who was the architect for Liverpool Cathedral was the same man that designed the traditional public phone booth. There are many years that we know little about, but one thing that I do remember is that at the time I was leaving Bolton School I was pleased to receive the Hulton Scholarship which was to help a poorer student in their first term at university. I also received a really good Bible, inside of which was my name and Mr Poskitt’s signature, and a note that it had been given in 1691, which suggested to me that the School had remained active all those years.

In my final year at the School, I was surprised when I was invited to tea at the home of one of the Board of Governors. I accepted, still wondering why. After tea, she said: “I would like you to lend a hand at the Bolton Girls’ Recreation Club. They are without a leader.” I did volunteer and it proved to be an unforgettable experience. I took part in fundraising to buy a Bush TV, had the girls bring their boyfriends and act as pickets for the course, a cross town run. I also helped with the club magazine, Spotlight.

I was at the School from 1944 until 1952. I went through a stage when I had had enough. I said I wanted to leave School. I was summoned to Mr Poskitt’s office. I was going to be a junior clerk. “Do you like Maths? I could have you articled with a very good company.” “No, I don’t.” “How are you going to get there? You just have a bike.” We talked for some time and then he said: “You are bored. What you’re doing now is too easy. My suggestion to you is you will read Medicine. You’ll never regret it. You’ll never be bored.” The last time I saw him was in my final year at medical school, accompanied by my wife. He was pleased, and his words on my wife were: “You’ll never regret marrying this young lady.”

This, and all the other things I’ve written about, show what this class of school can do for the young person. Mr Poskitt was a tall, well-proportioned man, who walked briskly down halls, graduate gown flowing behind him. Apart from feeling ‘I’d better behave myself, or else’, I do believe he had a finger on every student and would act as a guide in rough times.

These are the things which helped me to get an excellent impression of the School. Our recent achievements include top independent school, top volunteering, top outreach. The Boys’ Division has achieved Apple Distinguished School status, which recognises the School as one of the most technologically driven schools worldwide. And also, they are what William Hesketh Lever envisaged, as well as the dream that no child with what it takes should be deprived of a good education because of lack of funds. This is in top gear at the School, as I write.