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Leverhulme's Public Life Remembered

Pupils at Bolton School Boys’ Division celebrated the birthdate (19th September) of Lord Leverhulme, the School's benefactor, in an assembly given by Headmaster Philip Britton. Having, in recent years, focused on Leverhulme’s palm oil plantations in Africa and the repelling of his philanthropy in the Scottish Highlands, the Head turned his attention to the soap magnate as a public figure. He told how William Hesketh Lever, who had always been a great admirer of Gladstone, became a Liberal MP for Wirral in 1906, the constituency in which his soap works and model village at Port Sunlight was sited. His opening address in Parliament was a speech imploring the adoption of an old age pension, similar to that which his own workers enjoyed and, it could be argued, helped sow the seeds of the welfare state. Jumping forward to 1913, the Head told how Sir William, as he was now known, experienced a busy year. On 1 April he signed papers leading to the formation of Bolton School (Boys’ Division and Girls’ Division) and in the summer, whilst dining with the King and Lord Derby, his Rivington bungalow was set on fire. Whilst Bolton and Chorley fire brigades were informed, neither attended and his home burnt to the ground. It has never been proven who set the blaze but it is widely accepted that it was women’s suffragists. Ironically, he was a supporter of this movement – Bolton School itself was a physical manifestation of his beliefs - but as a very public figure it was seen as a visible act against the establishment.

In 1917, he became Baron Leverhulme, the "hulme" element of his title being in honour of his wife’s family and also the High Sheriff of Lancashire. A year later he became the Mayor of Bolton - the only person to undertake this role as someone who was not a local councillor – the council had wanted to reward him for everything he had done for the borough and referred to him as “a notable son of the town.” His benefaction to his native Bolton included Hall i’th Wood, Leverhulme Park and Lever Park in Rivington. The council, in their wisdom, refused his offer in 1924 to invest in the fabric of Bolton by building a boulevard from Queen’s Park to Deansgate, instead deciding to build a small extension to the Town Hall!

The Head concluded his talk by telling the boys to take inspiration from the philanthropist, describing him as: “a man of great instinct and powerful vision with a passion for getting things done.”

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