M.G.S. Magazine - December 1961
Drawn by C. Brotherton.
Drawn by Elizabeth James
Drawn by Elizabeth James.
Two of the School's past Headmasters have always notably stirred my imagination. One started an era and the other helped to close one.
The first was that unknown and shadowy "Schoolemaster"
who taught the first "fifteen poore Children" in the original
school house down by Ledgard Bridge. I think of him standing before
his ragged and enthusiastic class, with the clear waters of Calder chattering
outside, faced with the problem of how to teach them to read English
well. Not to write, you notice; for which, on that opening day, he was
no doubt devoutly thankful. And by evening he had made some progress
and knew their names; and they, being boys, knew his and yet another
name by which his parents had never called him. I picture a dedicated
man, with the light of spiritual and physical battle in his eyes, and
I hope the light remained.
Like Goldsmith's village schoolmaster,
Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot,"
but his work bore fruit and his school endured.
The second was Osmond Horatio Syms, Master from January 1849 to July 1857, but to understand his part in our story a little history must first be retraced.
In 1706 the School moved from the house in Lower Hopton provided by Richard Thorpe (he was 68 by that time) into buildings erected by Mirfield parishioners at the Knowl. A part still stands, opposite the junction of Knowl Road and Nab Lane. It is called Thorpe Cottage, and local residents will be familiar with the inscription over its door. We do not know the original extent of these premises, but in 1804 they were described as "all that Messuage Dwelling house or Tenement with the Garden Stableyard and other Outbuildings and all that Building or Tenement adjoining to the said Messuage and now and formerly used as a school." They were probably not quite so large as they sound.
Here taught Charles Turner, Master of the Charity School, who died in 1746, and William Pilling, who died round about 1850 at the fine age of 90. (Pilling left a manuscript history of the school and this was last recorded (in 1897) to be in the possession of Mr. Broughton Fawcett. If it should come to light, it would be a treasure indeed).
It was to these premises that Osmond Horatio Syms came on the 4th January, 1849 and added his name to a Bond: "Whereas the annual income derived from the said Hereditaments and premises had since the original founding of the School by Richard Thorpe greatly increased in amount and on appointment of the said Osmond Horatio Syms to the Mastership of the said School. . . it was in consideration of such increased Income stipulated. . . that the number of Free Scholars to be taught in the said School should be increased from the number of fifteen. . . to the number of twenty and that such twenty Free Scholars in addition to be taught to read English well should also be taught Writing and Arithmetic."
In the same document Syms bound himself in the sum of £100 "to leave the said Hereditaments and premises in good and suitable repair, and on removal of him from the place of schoolmaster leave and surrender the same peaceably and quietly."
And so, with numbers and curriculum magnificently enlarged, a go-ahead and learned Schoolmaster suitably bound, (£100 was a very considerable sum), a new and glowing era of prosperity lay ahead. But alas! in July 1857 Syms, that patient but forthright man, and I admire him for this, erupted from Knowl declaring that "the Endowment was too small and the premises unhealthy."
His successor resigned after one month; the post was not filled up and the buildings remained empty until 1868 by which time the trustees had accumulated sufficient income to be able to carry put the proper repairs.
By the time Mr. George Green had been appointed Headmaster, in 1868, the School had been the subject of a number of visits by the Endowed Schools Commissioners and Syms' explosive action bore fruit in a scheme approved by Her Majesty in Council on 9th August, 1872—namely, the erection of a new school in West Fields. A site comprising 7,270 square yards was purchased for £405 11s. 0d. For the erection of new buildings, inclusive of classrooms, £816 7s. 6d. was allocated, and £870148. 0d. for a Headmaster's house.
The new School buildings in 1873 comprised three classrooms: (a) 34 feet by 19 feet; (b) 20 feet by 15 feet; (c) 18 feet by 14 feet. The smallest was fitted up as a chemical lecture room, with tiers of seats, lecture table and apparatus, but there was no provision for instruction in experimental chemistry.
I am told that we remember these rooms better as part of the Physics Laboratory, the Masters' Staff Room and Room 3—and we are all warmly conscious of what has happened to them!
Outside it was a warm March night; round the school a deathly hush prevailed; but inside one room the darkness was broken by a small point of light flickering and leaping, dying down and rising again. The flame grew bigger and fired more papers. The point of light gradually grew, the leaping flames lit up the room; shadows were cast, and fearful forms appeared. The flames grew; now the room was brightly lit, the flames crackled and leaped, gradually growing larger and larger. Suddenly, with a roar, the flames leaped up and up, up to the roof; caught hold of the beams and leaped through the roof out into the free night air. The warm night wind was polluted with smoke and particles of soot; the smell of burning blotted out all else. The darkness of the night which hid the smoke silhouetted the orange glow of the flames.
A tired railway worker going home across Westfields saw the orange flames leaping skyward and licking round the building. The flames were leaping and roaring, and the heat blistered the paint. The silence of the night was broken by the crackle and roar of flames and then the eerie wail of a fire buzzer rose and fell above the noise of the flames. Out of the night it spoke; then another and another joined in the chorus of that wailing as if mourning the fire. Then silence again; only the crackle of the flames was heard. Soon, however, with bells clanging loudly, the fire engines arrived, but by now that wing was blazing merrily.
Quickly the firemen set to work but fate was against them; the water force was too weak and hoses had to be connected on Huddersfield Road. More brigades were called for and again that eerie wail screeched out echoing its note of urgency through the blackness of the night.
In all, six brigades were called out: from Mirfield, Dewsbury, Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton, Brighouse and Slaithwaite. Now the silence had gone completely; voices were shouting directions, water was rushing out of the pipes, sizzling and steaming as it landed on the hot building; flames were crackling and then with a groan a large part of the roof went crashing to the ground.
In the morning the sun lit up a scene of desolation. A wet, blackened mass presented itself for inspection to the amazement and dismay of many; burnt pages of books, blistered paint, tired firemen, worried teachers and a burnt out building. Where the night before had been rooms, desks, and books, now stood a gaunt, desolate, roofless building.
All that morning the School was a hive of unusual activity. Gas and Electricity officials, two or three police cars, ordinary policemen, and plain clothes detectives came. The "Yorkshire Evening News" van came immediately the news was received, complete with journalist and cameraman, and the British Broadcasting Corporation showed a film of the building on the "Northern News." The pupils were given a day's holiday so that the teachers could sort everything out. Small groups of pupils who lived nearby stood around discussing the tragedy which had suddenly come upon them.
Although Mirfield is only a small residential town, its history is more eventful than that of many large towns
Mirfield has grown up around the Parish Church, which was built in 1261 so that the inhabitants of the manor (which was owned by Sir John and Lady de Heton) would be spared from further attacks by robbers, on their way to Mass in Dewsbury, the nearest parish church. (Lady de Heton had been attacked on her way to Mass in Dewsbury and one of her attendants had been killed). The church was used until 1871 when a new church, designed by Mr. Gilbert Scott, was consecrated. The tower of the old church still stands close to the present parish church.
By the fourteenth century Mirfield had become a flourishing agricultural and industrial centre and several important families like the Hoptons, Saviles, Thornhills and Beaumonts had settled here and built large halls, some of which still stand today.
The only relic of defence of these times is a mound of earth, near the parish church graveyard, on which was erected a moat and bailey castle by Ilbert de Lacey (owner of Hopton Hall) as a minor stronghold to protect his possessions. The church was built in the courtyard of the castle.
The only other relics of defence in this area are the butts erected at Battyeford near Warren House, where the locals could practise archery, so as to be able to fight for their country. In January 1642 the Constable of Mirfield, Sir Thomas Fairfax, ordered all men between 16 and 60 to report to Almondbury to fight against the Papist army.
In 1631 a most terrible plague reached Mirfield, brought from the south by Elizabeth Price. Men, women and children were all affected by it and pits were dug at Littlemoor and Eastthorpe Lane where large numbers of bodies were buried.
The people of Mirfield have always been very wild, so to keep them in hand stocks were erected outside the parish church and any offenders against the law were confined there for several days.
John Wesley visited Mirfield several times between 1742 and 1784 to stay with Benjamin Ingham of Blake Hall. John opened the first Methodist church here at Knowl in 1780. During this period other churches were built, including the Baptist church in 1830, the Moravian church in 1751, Christ Church in 1839, St. John's (Hopton) in 1846, St. Peter's (Knowl) in 1874 and St. Paul's (Eastthorpe) in 1881.
Mirfield also contains the Community of the Resurrection with the College close by. Its founders were Bishop Gore and Bishop Frere, who both lived in Mirfield.
In 1667 Richard Thorpe, of Hopton, presented a free school for fifteen poor children of the parish of Mirfield until they could read English well. This has now developed into Mirfield Grammar School.
In 1951 the Modern School at Kitson Hill was opened by the Earl of Scarbrough.
Several famous people have had close connexions with Mirfield. A baker's boy from the Moravian Board School became one of the country's greatest hymn writers and years later another boy from the same school became Prime Minister and first Earl of Oxford and Asquith.
Charlotte Bronte came in 1831 to Roe Head, which was then a school for refined young ladies. Several years later she became a teacher there and her sisters, Anne and Emily, became pupils. After being educated in Mirfield, Anne became governess to the Inghams at Blake Hall.
During the Industrial Revolution the Mirfield people feared the harm that the new looms would do. In 1812 the Luddites gathered at the "Three Nuns", marched across the fields and attacked the Rawfords Mill at Cleckheaton, where new looms had been installed. The attack failed, however, and later the Luddites were hanged at York.
In spite of several serious disorders, Mirfield grew into a communications centre and an important though small industrial centre. A canal was led here in 1766 and a railway in 1848; they both brought additional employment. These people of the past as well as the people of the present have helped to make Mirfield the important industrial town it is today.
Christmas in many circles is considered the best period of the year, for it is a time when joy and extravagance rule the day. Christmas which at first concerned only a few people has become almost a world wide festival, celebrated even in lands where Christianity does not thrive.
Unfortunately over the years many people have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. It has become commercialised, a time when manufacturers line their pockets from the sale of presents and greetings cards. Under this thick blanket of greed the real, pure, simple meaning of Christmas has been hidden. Christmas is the celebration of the greatest day this world has ever known; the one day which has affected the lives of people for nearly two thousand years; the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should, therefore, celebrate Christmas with the utmost reverence and joy, for it would be a sin to be sad upon such a day, but in our jubilation let us not forget the occasion we are celebrating.
Naturally, it would not be Christmas without gifts and decorations, for these are half the fun. Even Christ received gifts upon the day of His birth. Over the years it has become a tradition to have good food, holly and mistletoe, and presents, and this is as it should be, for all these add to the gaiety. Such material preparations are important, but they are not the most important. The spirit in which we give is all important; we must not give with thoughts of material gain but in a spirit of benevolence.
In order to enjoy Christmas to the full we must prepare for it not only materially but also mentally. I have found no better way of doing this than reading the story of the Nativity as told in the Gospels, together with Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol." These two, I find, go hand-in-hand, and lead me to ask "Why cannot the spirit which is born in us at Christmas last the whole year?" For the past three Christmases I have added to the reading of these two a visit to the Huddersfield Choral Society's performance of "The Messiah." This has been a great experience and has helped to put me in the right state of mind to enjoy Christmas.
There should be not only these material and mental preparations but the soul should also be prepared. We should not dream of going to a birthday party in rags, nor should we celebrate our Lord's birthday with a soul in rags. Christmas is not only a time for the giving of material gifts; it is a time for love to take the place of hate, and for faith to take the place of despair, and if we sincerely seek to make these changes then we are at least trying to prepare ourselves spiritually for this joyful time.
There is no need to celebrate with a large and expensive party with many gifts. This may in fact lead to the Christmas message being hidden under the mass of material things; all that is needed is love, goodwill, and Christ. There is no greater gift to offer at Christmas than love, and no greater giver than Christ.
At the holiday resort of Bournequay, on the South Coast, everything is bright and cheerful. The ice cream vendors are also looking cheerful-probably at the thought of the money to be collected, and not at the pleasant thought of serving sandy little boys, their hair dripping with sea water, in the middle of a hot afternoon, when everyone is coming to be served and the dear little boy cannot make up his mind which one he wants.
The man serving in the little confectioner's shop on the sea front, with similar ideas about distasteful, dirty small boys, eyes all quite serenely. The deck chair attendant is very amiable at the pleasant turn in the weather, and obligingly sets up a chair for an old lady who is rather feeble (having just "leapt" from her six horse power bath chair).
Young boys and girls, splashing about at the sea's edge, accidentally soak the dresses of a pair of elderly ladies, but they don't mind. It's summer, the weather is lovely, and anyway, the dresses will soon dry out. So everything goes on quite happily, with most people lazily lying on the sand, reading magazines, or listening-in the case of the younger generation, at least-to the fiendish noises evolved by that oscillating star of films, radio, and second rate dance halls-Elvin Presburg.
Some of the people who, if not already having reached old age, are feeling the number of their years, smile whimsically, and perhaps wishfully, at the youngsters dashing about in the sea, racing along the sands, and generally enjoying the things they themselves can no longer do, but they feel a deep inner contentment, realising that in their day they had their share of fun, and that now it is the turn of their children and grandchildren.
As the day passes and people decide that they have had enough sea side pleasure for one day, long queues begin to form outside the quayside cafe where, once again, the music of the present day songsters blares out, and there is a loud click when all the deaf old ladies turn off their hearing aids and continue their meal in peace.
Such then is the peaceful, lazy, sublime atmosphere of a beach in summer, but, as the packed bags of the visitors are put into vans and driven away to the station, and cars and coaches head in all directions away from Bournequay, a new atmosphere creeps in.
The smile of the ice cream vendor withdraws as if by magic, and as the gentle breezes become howling snow-laden winds, even the sand turns one shade darker. The annoying whirr of the two-stroke bath chairs begins, and the tender summer voices of the old ladies who occupy them turn into harsh, annoyed, chattering sounds, at which all brows retract three degrees.
The donkey attendant is no longer resplendent in his bright uniform, but instead crouches over the fire in his shack, with his tie pulled down three inches and his collar undone, smoking cigarette after cigarette and perpetually frowning.
The ice cream man begins to brighten up when he reaches home and opens the box containing all the cash he has made, and he grins slyly as he thinks of the good time he can have at Christmas at other people's expense. His sister, the one who keeps the beach toy shop, also feels happy. In the first place she has been able to get rid of a shopful of junk, and in the second she has been able to get rid of the said junk at a good price to lackadaisical holiday makers who will buy almost anything in their efforts to get rid of some of that money which seems to be burning a hole in their pockets.
The sand and promenades appear cold and grey, and the sky is leaden. The water is often riddled with rain spots. All is locked up, and the "Welcome to Bournequay" signs reversed. However, there is no need for absolute despair, for these resorts move with the seasons, and as spring Comes along and summer once more sparkles in the distance, a welcome smile will again be present, in place of winter's angry frown.