Life Lessons from Lord Leverhulme
Bolton School History

Earlier in the week, Bolton School’s Head of Foundation Philip Britton addressed both Senior Schools ahead of Lord Leverhulme’s date of birth, 19 September. Lord Leverhulme, who was born in 1851 in Bolton, gave a generous endowment to Bolton’s High School for Girls and Grammar School for Boys, enabling them to become Bolton School (Boys’ Division and Girls’ Division) in 1915. Each year the Head reflects upon a period of Leverhulme’s life and considers how his life lessons can inform our own.

Mr Britton told how, in 1911, Mr William Hesketh Lever became Sir William and chose to link his baronetcy to Port Sunlight. In 1917 he was made a Baron and he associated that with Bolton. In 1922 he became a Viscount and went on to link that with the Western Isles in Scotland. Mr Britton focussed his talk on Leverhulme’s exploits in the Isles of Lewis and Harris and told how they could be regarded as one of Leverhulme’s failures. The Head told how Leverhulme bought them as a retirement project with the ambition of improving the lives of crofters and other locals. However, during the 1920s, the islands suffered from a number of issues, not least the dearth of young men after the First World War – over 1,000 had perished and then in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1919, two hundred returning men tragically lost their lives as the naval yacht HMY lolaire foundered in rough seas, near Stornoway. The lack of men contributed to young people emigrating, one such example being the mother of Donald Trump!

Mr Britton expounded on how Leverhulme liked to vertically integrate industries and spoke of how he saw a big potential in harvesting a new type of seaweed; something which did not come to fruition. The ambitions in Leverhulme’s head, Mr Britton explained, did not always tally with those of the local community. In Lewis and Harris, most locals did not take kindly to his interference and were happy to continue with their herring fishing. While he was effectively driven out of the islands, the Head told how there are still reminders of him today - through the naming of schools, roads and places. To this day, pupils at Bolton School Junior Boys’ Schools remain pen pals with their Western Isles counterparts at Leverhulme Memorial Primary School.

Considering Leverhulme’s experience in the Western Isles, the Head concluded that you cannot do good to people, you must do it with them. He linked it to today’s delivery of international aid and stressed how the need to respect people is very important.

Reflecting on his assembly last year, shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Mr Britton told how we had since witnessed King Charles’ coronation. He reminded the audience that in 1911, a flagpole was erected at the School when George V came to the throne and that for Elizabeth II, School has the coronation lanterns. For Charles III, he announced, the School will link a newly installed flagpole at the outdoor adventure learning centre Patterdale Hall with the Coronation and also, in keeping with Charles’ general wishes, will plant trees in a sustained and systematic manner. There will, he explained, be two principal projects: one to replace the Patterdale larch plantation with a planting of indigenous species and another to increase the use of the Tudor Avenue woodlands on the School campus, including some further planting there.

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