by Bob Dobson (Pupil No 5723 1952-57)


Move Ahead

In 1957 Her Majesty’s Inspector had again referred to the inadequacies of the building with its small playground of 1700 square yards, inclusive of the bike shed; the playground was used by as many as 450 pupils but ball games were forbidden. Ill-ventilated basement rooms made concentration difficult -

kitchen and dining room accommodation is hopelessly inadequate. No showers; only 21 wash-basins with no hot water: The small, badly surfaced playground is rendered less usable during the winter by piles of coke. They have totally inadequate toilet facilities. The time has come when most serious thought should be given to solving this problem.

Early in 1960, however, the school did acquire a library, long overdue after 65 years, but the following year when Her Majesty’s Inspector reported on the new arrival it was concluded that:

it is not large enough, not used enough and those who administer it are not sufficiently in touch with current thought and practice in the school library world.

They reported also on the fact that 225 boys, kitchen staff and Art School students took their mid-day meal in two sittings in a room adequate for only 72 people. There had been no canteen facilities at all before Bastow’s day when he had arranged the loan of an oven from the local gas and water boards.

The report recommended urgent repairs before re-decoration but held back from enumerating other deficiencies in the premises and equipment because of the possibilities of a new building, concluding that ‘with the fresh inspiration of a worthy building, the school’s future growth should be healthy’. Were they not aware that the plans for a new school had been struck off the county council’s building programme?

The report made for disheartening and depressing reading, although it did end with some praise for the kindly humanity of the headmaster (I found little evidence of that, however, as I bent before him to receive a thwacking across my buttocks!). I thought then that Ben, with his sleek black hair combed across his forehead, had the look of Hitler. As a fifteen year old, I saw him in a different light than I do today. Oh, that I could shake his hand and say ‘Thank you, Sir’.

Second-former S. Greenwood penned this verse in the 1961 issue.

Grammar School Boys

To see us on our way to school

You’d never dream that we were ‘cool’

Our uniforms, so trim and neat,

Make nice old ladies want to weep.

But when at night our homework ‘s done,

And if there’s time left for some fun

We wear our ‘drains’ and chisel toes,

And dash out just to see what goes.

But if you all think that we’re mad

(That’s the opinion of my dad),

Remember in tins age and time

It’s hard to dwell on the sublime.

But we’ll carry on with our Latin tags,

Our science, maths and schoolboy rags,

And trust we turn out at the last

As good as any in the past.

A new era

Ben Johnson, headmaster for 26 years, retired in April 1967 and went to live in Hampshire. His replacement was a former pupil of the school from 1940 to 1947, who had distinguished himself in academic and scholastic life after spells in the army and industry. Ralph Bailey, BA returned to the school and brought vigour with him. He had retained a fondness for the school and remembered his time there when the still-serving secretary, Miss Holding, and the janitor, Arthur Street, were younger.

The baton passed to Bailey was a heavy one. He continued to run the school with some changes in staff. Amongst others he lost his deputy and former master, Lou Portno, who had served the school for 40 years. After speaking of ‘Pug’s’ qualities as a teacher – French was his main subject - The Accringtonian’s editor wrote,

perhaps that which will remain most vividly in some boys’ memories is his dynamic energy in the pursuit of some offender on the back row when not only the other boys but even the desks got out of his way!

In March 1968, a farewell evening was held in their ‘alma mater’ to allow over 500 former pupils - mostly boys - and staff to join together in saying farewell to their building. They sang to Mr Crick’s old piano accompaniment; told stories which began ‘Do you remember...?’; shook hands with lads they remembered in short pants; then slipped away for a few pints in local hostelries. They remembered lads unable to be with them. A wonderful evening.

In the previous 73 years5 nearly 8,000 boys bad passed through AGS - almost 500 had gone to university - and they had been taught by 225 much-loved staff. At 4.00pm on Friday 5 July 1968, the school bell rang for the last time on Blackburn Road. School would reassemble at the new £226,000 building at Moorhead, across the fields from Accrington High School For Girls. My young brother was amongst them. The splendid facilities were state-of-the-art: airy, well- lit classrooms; well—stocked laboratories; a spacious gymnasium; grassy, well-drained sports fields; and, most importantly, the luxury of sufficient toilets. The school was in excellent shape with Ralph Bailey still at the helm.

It is likely that the boys at Moorhead read the Accrington Observer and Times or national newspapers and realised there were local and national politicians and some educationalists who were opposed to single-sex grammar schools, regarding them as elitist and unfair. They wanted all boys and girls to have the same education without the stigma of the eleven-plus. They were moving towards what had become known as comprehensive education and this was seen as the way forward. With the hindsight available to the present-day parent, there are many who think that abolishing the grammar school system was not ‘forward’ at all.

Ralph Bailey kept at work in the early 1970s in a political climate dogged by inflation and economic stringency, keeping his eye on the ball of primary concern - the personal development of his pupils. He continued to value and enjoy the goodwill and fellowship of his staff in the Moorhead community.

Just as Accrington Grammar School was born in a time of educational upheaval, set against a background of political thought and activity, so did it die in July 1975. At that time Ralph Bailey said ‘The Grammar School is dead - long live the grammar school tradition’.

Gone but not forgotten

In conclusion I record not only the passing of the soul of the school but also its body. After the 1968 exodus, the Blackburn Road building was retained as an educational establishment, primarily as a satellite campus for Accrington and Rossendale College based in Sandy Lane. Catering students learned their skills there. On occasion The Old Boys Association held a dinner there, each of them remembering that they were eating in the old ‘chemmy’ and biology labs.

In 1998, without any prior publicity, the education authority sold the building to a demolition company with permission to demolish. Hyndburn Borough Council officers deserve castigation for not having the forethought to buy back any memento of the building; the gates, gate posts or portico would have made fine exhibits in a public park. Within weeks the slates were off the roof. I received a phone call from a man who had arranged to buy several tons of stone with which to build a house in Wigan. He proposed to place a block on the wall of his house which would read ‘ACCRINGTON 1895’.

The newspapers captured the mood of Accringtonians and old boys bemoaning the loss to the town. I wrote to the mayor asking him to try to ensure that whatever was built to replace it, whether a street or a block of houses, it be given a name to associate it with the old school. No acknowledgement. No reply. As I write in July 1999, there is a hole in the ground between Hartmann Street and Lister Street. There is a lump in my throat as I think of it.

In ending my essay I am aware of its shortcomings. There are aspects and facts I have not touched upon, people I have not mentioned. I have over-personalised it. To have been given the opportunity of telling a story previously unrecorded has been a privilege and an honour. There is an extensive archive collection of material in Accrington Local Studies Library (with some similar material for former pupils of Accrington Girls High School). I would urge anyone so minded to take advantage of this wealth of information and write more, especially about some of our Old Boys, famous throughout the country, to heap praise where it is due – on one of Lancashire’s finest institutions, Accrington Grammar School.


I acknowledge with grateful thanks Lancashire County Council: Accrington Local studies Library for kind permission to reproduce photographs and extracts from Accrington Grammar School’s magazine in this article. I would also like to thank June Huntingdon for all her hard work in typing up this article.

Notes and References

Henry Parkinson used the name, ‘Accrington Friend and Well-wisher’, as a pseudonym to conceal his generous gifts of pictures, photographs, books and other items of local interest to the town. By his death in 1938, he had donated almost 1,000 photographs to Oak Hill Park Museum which were later transferred to the Local studies section of Accrington Library. In 1918 he founded Accrington and District Historical Association. Henry appears again in the next chapter as the uncle of Margaret Jane Parkinson, who married Henry Pilkington, ‘an adventurous ancestor’


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