Bolton School Former Pupils

Rev Christopher Hughes Smith (1939-1948)

Christopher remembers a much-loved teacher in the Boys’ Division, Mrs Emma Saxelby.

I had not been taught by her during my early years in the A-forms, but of course knew who she was.  When I was in 5A, walking along the corridor one day, she sidled up to me and said, 'You are going to do Modern Languages after School Certificate, aren't you?'  It hadn't been decided – I was wondering about History, but was unsure of who was the main History teacher – so I said 'Yes'.

In the Sixth Form I was a Monitor, one of whose duties was to check the progress and behaviour of the boys as they passed the Memorial Window on the stairs.  It was late November or early December.  The reading in Assembly had been from Daniel 3, the story of the golden image and the instruction to worship it, with the threat of 'burning fiery furnace' in case of refusal.  The three under orders, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, defied the order to worship on the ground of their conviction that God would deliver them, 'but if not', they still refused to worship and would take the consequences.  After Prayers on that morning, Emma stopped by me and said quietly, 'That “but if not” is the high point of the Old Testament.'

Early December was the time for Oxbridge candidates to go for scholarship exams and interviews.  Emma Saxelby kept going until they departed, and then was off School.  The rumour went round that she had 'flu.  She died two or three weeks later of cancer.  In January, we were at her funeral in Mawdesley Street Congregational Church.  At some point, much later, I wondered whether, at the time of the reading from Daniel at Prayers, she had been praying to be healed from cancer, 'but if not ...' she had kept going for the sake of the Oxbridge candidates.  In the reading from Daniel, she had recognised the defiant power of faith and hope.

Emma had endowed the Saxelby Exhibition at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  I went up for a trial run with a boy in the year ahead of me, whom I later learned was supposed to be the Exhibitioner that year.  I did not take up the place in the following year (I was too young anyway), but took the exam a year later and was awarded the Saxelby Exhibition at Open Standard.  I did National Service before taking up my place in Emmanuel in 1950.

It was a very great privilege to be at Bolton for the whole period of secondary education.