A Heathen Century

All Old Heathens reading these accounts are welcome to send comments or memories of their own to the Editor.


Head and shoulders of Thomas Cox
Thomas Cox

Thomas Cox [Headmaster 1861–83] published his history of the School in 1879.1 These webpages arose out of a desire by the Committee of Heath Old Boys Association to extend that history. The format chosen was to recruit a number of Old Heathens to record their personal memories of a decade in the life of the school, with a view to inspiring other Heathens to add their own thoughts, memories and anecdotes so that a picture builds up of the everyday life of the school through a major part of the twentieth century.

To lead up to the point where personal memories can start, there follows an outline account of the period of fifty years or so which followed the time of Cox.

Heath Grammar School from 1883

The ‘Heathen Century’ mentioned above can be taken to run from the time of Cox to 1985 when the school’s separate identity was merged with that of the Crossley and Porter school to produce the Crossley Heath School of today.

Ironically, the year 1885, which represented the tercentenary of the granting of the school’s charter by Elizabeth I, found the school with a new building but no pupils!

The present building on Free School Lane that present-day Heathens will remember as their school was first occupied on April 17th 1879. It had been built following a number of decisions taken in the 1870s, including the rejection of a proposal to merge with Hipperholme Grammar School. The Governors sold various items of property owned by the charity and raised the cost of the new building which amounted to £9,737 13s 8d.

In 1879, the building offered accommodation for 200 pupils but there were actually only 41 in attendance. When this figure fell to thirteen in 1882, the decision was taken to close the school. Mr Cox was pensioned off at £150 per year for life and the school building was closed.

In the immediate years that followed there were many debates about the future and one possibility discussed and rejected was to lease the building as an ‘adventure’ school, although it is not clear what this might have involved. Finally, the governors took the initiative and in February 1887 raised various financial guarantees from the worthies of Halifax by which they agreed to underwrite the finances of the School for the next three years.

The School thus re-opened after Easter 1887 with a new Headmaster — Archibald William Reith at an annual salary of £400 — and some 80 to 90 pupils. In the years that followed, late Victorian prosperity appears to have swelled the number of middle-class families willing and able to pay the fees for their sons to attend the school. In addition the Waterhouse Charities agreed to pay for a number of scholarships valued at either £6 or £12 per year. In 1897, the school decided to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the formation of the Governing Body. Over £2,000 was raised by these celebrations — probably over £200,000 at today’s values — and in addition more farmland owned by the School was sold off.

This meant that the School entered the twentieth century in a reasonably healthy financial position which was now supplemented by an annual grant from the West Riding County Council. In the early 1900s, the school had strong Classics and Science departments with English, Mathematics, History, Geography, French and Art taught in addition. Saturday morning school lasted until 1.00 pm but on Thursdays pupils went home at 11.00 am. The holiday pattern was much like the present day. Between 1905 and 1908 the sports field at Kensington was purchased, levelled and provided with a second-hand pavilion — all at a cost of £125 which was raised by a series of concerts and competitions.

Archibald Reith died in January 1908 and was commemorated by a plaque in Halifax Parish Church which was dedicated in 1910. It read, in Latin,

In pious memory of Archibald William Reith, the restorer and for more than twenty years the Headmaster of the ancient school of Heath, who, when it had long been empty of pupils and had even closed for four years, took it under his care in the year of Our Saviour, 1887, and by his untiring labours and unwavering fidelity administered it with such devotion that, when at length having fulfilled his task he was snatched away by death in the year of Our Saviour 1908, he left it to his successors pre-eminent for the number of its pupils, for the greatness of its distinction, and above all for the courtesy of its manners.

Some testimonial!

Head and shoulders of William Edwards
William Edwards

Archibald Reith was succeeded by William Edwards whose tenure of office lasted until 1916 when he went on to become Headmaster of Bradford Grammar School. It was during this time that the fives courts — fondly remembered by many Heathens for a variety of reasons — were donated to the school by the MP for Halifax — J.H. Whitley — who later went on to become Speaker of the House of Commons.

The contribution of Heath Old Boys (sixty of whom were killed) to the country’s defence during the First World War is suitably recorded on the magnificent carved wooden memorial that once stood on the top corridor of the Heath building outside the gallery to the hall and is now situated just inside the main entrance on the main corridor of the Crossley Heath School.

Many privations were caused by the war. Several masters went to serve in the forces and one of the temporary (female!) replacements was Phyllis Bentley, later to win fame as a writer. Through these crises, Heath's academic achievements continued. For example, in 1915, of the 30 most successful candidates for the Oxford Local Examinations Board, no fewer than 12 came from Heath — no other school provided more than two and that included many of the leading public schools in the country. In individual subjects, Heath boys were first in Classics, second in Political Economy and twelfth in French.

Mr Edwards was succeeded by the grandiloquently named Owen Richard Augustus Byrde whose period of office until 1935 brings the school’s story into the memories of Old Heathens still living from whom it would be fascinating to hear.

Head and shoulders of O.R.A. Byrde
O.R.A. Byrde

O.R.A. Byrde presided over sustained academic success but the financial difficulties through which the country passed in the post-war 1920s had their effect on the status of the school. In 1922 it became apparent that the school would have to choose between receiving a national government grant or a local one — it could not have both. Thus began some protracted negotiations which ended with the school surrendering its independence to Halifax County Borough in 1926. All the assets of the Heath Foundation, started by the charitable gentlemen of the Tudor period, now passed to the County Borough, although in practical day-to-day terms the school seems to have been largely unaffected and many scholars remained fee-paying.

John Bunch

1 Thomas Cox A popular history of the Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth, at Heath, near Halifax Halifax: F King 1879