Sixty years ago

Editor’s note: this article was originally published in The Heathen 1938 1(19) and therefore refers back to 1878 but appears to have sufficient of interest in it to merit a separate page on the website.

In the demolition of the buildings to make way for our extensions the workmen made an interesting discovery which is connected with the rebuilding of Heath sixty years ago. This was a bottle containing two pieces of paper which had been hidden there “as a piece of schoolboy imitation of laying a foundation stone.” One of these papers is inscribed :—

   Albert Edward Francis
son of
Edward Francis,
Postmaster of Halifax,
Pupil of the 2nd Class
in this School.
Revd. Thomas Cox, M.A.
Revd. H. R. F. Canham, B.A.
W. E. Sadd, B.A.
Mathematical Master,
Aug. 6, 1878.
A. E. Francis took
2nd prize in 2nd Class
for term ending Midsummer

The other is similar except that it bears the name of Edward Samuel Cox son of Revd. Thomas Cox, Headmaster, and this boy took the 1st prize in the 2nd Class.

Mr. A.E.F. Francis, a solicitor recently retired, lives in London. Although both papers are in his handwriting he writes that he can only dimly recall the incident of the two sheets of paper in the bottle, probably, as he himself suggests, because Cox would have had the actual task of hiding the treasure after everyone else had left the premises. This apart, Mr. Francis has very vivid memories of his days at Heath and we have persuaded him to give us some of his reminiscences.

“As we were”

In the year 1872 Halifax was chiefly important for its business in wool and, owing to the success of the Crossley Brothers, for the manufacture of carpets in which it had become a formidable rival of Kidderminster. There were numerous mills weaving cloth and textiles but none to compare in size and success with John Crossley & Sons Ltd. The town was barely half its present size. The principal streets of shops — Silver Street, Cheapside, Woolshops and Swinemarket — were steep, narrow and tortuous. Commercial Road was cut through unbuilt on land to Hall End several years later. Dreadful slums existed between St. James’ Road and Orange Street and cellar dwellings — houses super-imposed upon houses — were common in that neighbourhood. The town had no general system of sewerage. Work in the mills began at 6 am. and there was a twelve hour day with intervals for meals — half an hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner. Children were employed in the mills and spent a laborious life — half the day at work in the mill and half the day at school and so were called “Half timers.” The Elementary Education Act of 1870 had just come into force and the first school in the town built under its provisions was that in Queen’s Road. It was said by the optimists of the time that the cost would never exceed a 3d. rate but the Education Levy was very soon at 1/— in the £. Education was voluntary but later became compulsory.

These few sentences will give some idea of the social life of Halifax when I first knew Heath School. I learned to read at a Dame’s school in St. James’ Road, which my sisters attended ; and, as there was no suitable preparatory school, I was taken before I was 10 years old by my father to the house of the Head Master of Heath (the Reverend Thomas Cox). The latter gave me a piece of prose to read and asked me a few “General Knowledge” questions and I was entered. My Latin grammar is dated March, 1872. The school house was a stone building — Elizabethan both in age and character — and consisted of one long room running westward from the back of the Head Master’s house to which it was joined. There was also, later, one class room in the Head Master’s House where French lessons were given on one day of the week only and, later, the “Head” held in it some of the classes which he took personally. The big schoolroom was heated by one large open fireplace and in severe weather and at 9 a.m. the fingers of some of us who were farthest away from the fire were frozen. There were three Masters and some eighty or ninety boys in this room and I recollect on my entrance being given a Latin Grammar and told to learn the First Declension. After a short time for preparation the class (mine was at first the fifth or lowest) would be called up and each one would recite the different cases of the noun or, later, the Tenses of the Verbs. No attempt was made to teach anything or give any explanations at this stage but inattention or failure to do one’s task was always punished either by “lines” or by caning. Arithmetic was also “taught” in that sums were set and were either “right” or punishment of some sort would follow. Discipline was strict and any boy desiring to “leave the room” between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12 noon or 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. (the normal school hours except on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when there was no afternoon school) had to ask leave of the “Head” and was invariably given a small imposition of “ten lines” — copied from one of the day’s tasks. The impression I received of the relation between Masters and boys (and I still retain it) was that of “natural enemies”: the boys (including myself) were mostly inattentive and troublesome and not interested in their lessons and the Masters especially the Second Master (the Rev. Wm. Brooks, irreverently called “Daddy” Brooks) seemed to lie in wait for a boy to do some trifling act of inattention or disobedience and then punish with a smart box on the ear, an imposition of ten lines, or a note to the “Head” in a bad case which meant an immediate caning on the hands or the back. The lessons were mostly Latin and elementary mathematics (arithmetic and later Euclid and algebra) almost no English (either grammar or composition) and no history in the lower classes. After two or three years from my entry I was removed from Heath by my father and sent to a private tutor near Buxton in Derbyshire (who took four or five pupils) and this ended my first period as a “Heathen.”

A short description of the surroundings of the old school house may be interesting. To the north of the School were open grass fields extending to the house “Well Head” which seemed the beginning of the town and the buildings; to the south were more open fields extending to that part of “the Moor ” (formerly “Skircoat Moor ” and later called “Savile Park”) which adjoins the road to Salterhebble and “Manor Heath.” On the east, immediately opposite the “Heads’” house and on the other side of the road, was a house and good garden surrounded by a high stone wall which was occupied by two elderly brothers named Pilkington, one an architect and the other a solicitor in the town, obviously both “characters.” On the west was the School’s playing field which extended up to the houses known as “Heath Villas.” West of “Heath Villas” up to “the Moor” were more open fields but there were two or three large houses on the fringe next to the open moor. Our playing field was very much on the slope following the contour of the road and a cricket pitch had been made near the middle by cutting away on one side and filling up on the other — the bank on the east was rather steep dropping suddenly about a foot so that “fielding” on that side during the cricket season required anticipation as well as a quick eye and hand. We played association football and a sort of rounders in the winter. Matches at cricket were rare but we played “The Orphanage” and one or two other school teams; especially Rishworth and a private school kept by a Mr. Norton.

Of my school fellows: I have vivid recollections of the sons of the neighbouring clergy. The “Head” had four sons in the School at one time — Thomas, Robert, Edward S. and William Cox: the two sons of the Vicar of Greetland, James H. and John R. Marshall; the three sons of the Vicar of Pellon, Theodore, William and Arthur Town; two sons of the Vicar of Holy Trinity, George and Arthur Hope; three sons of the Vicar of All Souls’, Akroydon, Howard and Cyril Holmes and another; the son of the Wesleyan Minister, Richard Watson Dyson (afterwards Astronomer Royal). I had two great friends — humourists of the first order: W.F. Thomas who became a caricaturist and journalist and created the characters of “Ally Sloper” and for years drew the cartoon on the front page of a comic paper “Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday” now extinct. He wrote several humorous books. The other was Arthur Town mentioned above who graduated at Cambridge and became a school master at Pangbourne. Thomas was for ever sketching and drawing caricatures of those around him and A. Town had a caustic wit of true Yorkshire type and I fear that their accomplishments caused me so much amusement and interest that school work was often neglected and that I thoroughly deserved the description —“a very troublesome boy”— that the Mathematical Master (Mr. Sadd) gave to my father over a game of chess.

After two or three years in Derbyshire I returned to Heath School about the year 1877 and was placed in the 2nd class, there were only two or three senior boys in the 1st class and there was a change of Masters. Mr. Cox was still “the Head,” but the Reverend W. Canham had succeeded “Daddy” Brookes and there was a Mathematical Master (W.E. Sadd) and a Junior Master and a visiting French Master (Mons. Poire) and a Drawing Master (Stofford). The days of the old Elizabethan schoolhouse were numbered, as the fields abutting on the school proper which formed part if its endowment were sold for building, and a new scheme was prepared by The Endowed School Commissioners (since merged in The Charity Commissioners), and the present school building was projected. I was in the old School during the closing year or so of its use. The new building was in course of erection and I remember particularly one of the Masons (Alf. Turner), who was a professional cricketer in the summer, giving us some very good bowling practice in his dinner hour. At this time E.S. Cox sat at the next desk to mine and we often watched the Masons at their work.

I find I got the 1st Prize in the 2nd Class in 1877, and the 2nd Prize in 1878. The event, no doubt, surprised me and Cox and I looked about for some way of celebrating it. The writing of the two papers enclosed in the bottle is mine and I may have been responsible for the scheme but I think Cox must have put the bottle in its place after the Masons had ceased work and I had gone home. I do not think I could have forgotten the actual deposit of it if I had been present. I feel sorry that I am so hampered by the facts as no doubt a vivid imagination could make quite an entertaining story about it.

One trifle I remember about the building operations. The Mason who carved the inscription over the front entrance spelt “Grammar” as “Grammer.” I wonder if it has ever been altered.

I hope I have not, unintentionally, made any reflections upon the characters of the Masters (long since dead) in my young days. They merely followed the “System” of their time as others can testify in other schools of that age.

The results of making boys educate themselves, as it were, with very little assistance from the Masters was not in my case without great advantages. When I began the study of the Law there was nobody to teach me — the Law Society (now a kind of Legal College) was then a mere Board of Examiners. There were the books and the knowledge they contained and I set to work upon them, found that I had an aptitude for the work and, without the assistance of a legal “coach” succeeded in getting First Class Honours and The Clifford’s Inn Prize at my Final examination in June, 1885 which, I understand, is a record that has not been beaten by any Halifax Law Student.

A.E.F. FRANCIS. [Heath 1872–1875; 1877–?]

First appeared in The Heathen 1938 1(19)

Andrew Connell [Heath 1958–1965] writes that

AEF Francis was wrong in crediting his fellow-Heathen, the comic artist W.F. Thomas, with the creation of Ally Sloper (a proto-Andy Capp cartoon figure, who lasted almost 50 years). Thomas was the third in a sequence of artists who drew Ally Sloper.