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Robert Holgate 1481-1555

Some notes on the Archbishop Holgate Society

(written in 1998 by David Houseman, a former school captain at Archbishop Holgate School)

The Early Days

The Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner (3 April 1998) seems an appropriate time to put on record my own memories of those early days, partly as a matter of historical interest but mainly as a tribute to that band of stalwart Old Boys who first created, and then carried forward the work of the Society.

What follows is based partly on my own literature collection, made during the first two decades of the Society's existence together with information gleaned from archival material in York Minster library, but mostly on personal recollection so there will inevitably be errors (for which I beg indulgence); however I hope to be able to give some flavour of those exciting, early days.

I take as the limits of the "Early Days" of the title the period starting with the Society's foundation in 1947 and ending in early 1957 i.e. just about a decade.


The Foundation of the Society

Most current members will know that the foundations of the Society were laid at a dinner hosted by F H Woodward (school 1917 - 1923) at the Oxford and Cambridge Club on 3 February 1947. The venue was appropriate since the gathering followed up on a tradition whereby Old Boy Fellows of Oxford and: Cambridge colleges offered hospitality and help to members of the School during their undergraduate days ( Frank Woodward was himself a Mathematical Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge ).

The decision of that February meeting was "to form a London Association of Old Boys of Archbishop Holgate's School affiliated to the Association in York" with the principal aims of "facilitating re-union gatherings and social intercourse for its members"; also "to help all boys, past and present, of the school" and " to take steps, wherever possible, to enhance the reputation of the ancient school and to foster its traditions".

Colonel E A Loftus (school 1897 -1903) was elected Chairman; Frank Woodward was Honorary Treasurer and Harry Ward ( 1904 -1914) became Honorary Secretary.

Reunion Dinners.

The first reunion dinner was held at the Waldorf Hotel, Aldwych, WC2 on 14 May 1947. The cost was 16 shillings (80p); this was quite expensive when one considers that, during the war, the charge for any meal was limited to 5 shillings (25p). It was agreed to charge a membership fee, per annum, of one guinea (£ 1.05) for those aged 25 and over, with a reduced fee of half a guinea (52.5p) for those under 25. It has pointed out that Old Boys could become Life Members of the York Association at a cost of £4; this sum included receipt of "The Mitre" free of charge for the rest of one's life!

From the earliest times, much emphasis was given to the third of the above objectives ("taking steps, wherever possible, to enhance the reputation of the school ..."). This applied particularly to gathering information relating to our Founder - a seemingly endless task, which I enjoy doing to this day.

By the Autumn of 1947, Sir Gerald Woolston, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms and formerly Garter Principal King of Arms, had prepared, at the request of the Society, a sketch of the Archbishop's armorial bearings. A replica in oak was prepared and presented by the President to the Society.

The other objectives were forwarded by arranging to complete a list of Old Boys willing to offer hospitality to boys "newly coming to London" and to forward the list to the Headmaster. The Society decided upon affiliation with the Society of Yorkshiremen in London, especially because so many Old Boys were the recipients of Scholarships founded by that Society.

A pattern of two reunion dinners per year (spring and autumn) was agreed upon; most of these were held at Brown's Hotel, Dover Street (at least until 1963). Accompanying each dinner was a beautifully-produced menu card, the work of Frank Woodward (by now our Honorary Archivist). Collectively they comprise valuable historical material relating back to the early days of the school and to its Founder. The considerable effort involved was finally well-rewarded, since they formed a significant part of the material available to E N Jewels when he agreed to prepare a "History of Archbishop Holgate's Grammar School, York" published as a book in 1962 (and thus beyond the scope of my remit).

The pattern of two dinners per year was unexpectedly interrupted almost as soon as it began. We had planned our most important reunion so far, with significant progress to report, and with the Archbishop of York as our chief guest and speaker. The meeting was to be held at Brown's Hotel as usual, on 26 November 1948. At the last minute, the Archbishop's secretary discovered that the Archbishop Holgate Society held its meetings in London and not in York - so the Archbishop had to withdraw and the meeting was cancelled! Since that time I do not think that we have ever had the pleasure of receiving an Archbishop (as Chairman of Governors) at a London meeting ( I hope to hear that this was not the case). This was the only time a reunion was cancelled in the early years - and we made up for it by holding three meetings in 1949.

The reunion held on 12 January 1949 was the first occasion on which a committee meeting was held on the same evening and at the same place as the dinner itself; the arrangement proved popular and has continued more or less ever Since.

The Holgate Portrait

The only known portrait of our Founder belongs to the Holgate Hospital at Hemsworth (founded under the terms of Robert Holgate's will); it hangs in the Governor's Room at the hospital. The Society arranged for Eric Westbrook, Principal of the Wakefield School of Art, to make a copy and this was on show for the first time at the meeting on 12 January 1949. It was subsequently handed over, on "permanent loan", at a ceremony held at the School on 18 February 1949.

This dinner also witnessed the introduction of the first of a series of post-prandial discussions. The topic was "CRIME",introduced by Harry Ward who had himself lived in an English prison for two years and had studied the prison systems of several countries. The conclusion was "that the present crime wave is likely to grow for a while and then die down again to the astonishing orderliness which characterised us before the war"

The November 1949 reunion was an important one for the Society and the School. Our guest speaker was Rt. Hon. J Bowes Morrell, Lord Mayor of York. His speech mainly concerned proposals and arrangements for York's celebration of the forthcoming 1951 Festival of Britain. He also announced that consideration was being given to the establishment of a new (or second) University in York. Alderman Morrell played a leading part in the successful launch of the University at Heslington in mid-1963, a few weeks before our own new school was opened on adjacent land. The Alderman's name is commemorated by the University's main library; The J B Morrell Library. The Archbishop Holgate Society was active in a number of ways in assisting the start-up of both the University and the new school - but this is a story too long to detail here.

The Spring 1950 reunion saw another change introduced. Before this time the toast 'The School" was always replied to by a master (including the Headmaster). On this occasion, the School Captain (B A Shepherd) was invited to make this reply. He was, I think, well looked after and shown some of the sights of London over the weekend. The Society continued, at the Spring reunion each year, to invite the School Captain, alternating (usually) with a master at the Autumn reunion.

An appeal was made to all Old Boys to "turn out their attics" to find any momentos (e.g. school prizes, caps, badges) that might be hidden away and forgotten. There was quite a good response but I do not know where the material is now.

Grant of Arms to the School

For some time your committee had been investigating the possibility of a Grant of Arms being made to the School, in memory of the sixty-one Old Boys who gave their lives in the Second World War. The Grant was made on 20 March 1950. These Arms were formally presented to the School at a ceremony for "The Unveiling and Dedication of the Memorial to the Old Boys of the School who gave their lives in the war of 1939-1945", held in the School Hall on the evening of 15 December 1951 under the aegis of the Association of Old Boys of Archbishop Holgate's Grammar School.

During the following year (1952) the Society became a Corporate Life Member of the York Civic Trust and an annual subscriber to the York Georgian Society. We later (1954) subscribed to an appeal, made by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, to a fund to enable the Romano-British pottery excavated in Trentholme Drive, York, to be kept as an intact collection in York

At the end of 1954 or early 1955 came the announcement of Professor A G Dickens' biography of Robert Holgate, available as a St. Anthony's Hall (York) publication. It is a powerful and long-overdue attempt at the rehabilitation of the much-maligned Robert Holgate, notably in the context of one of the principal creators of the modern English State. It deserves to be better known and would be well worth a reprinting. At the time, copies of the book, specially bound for the Society were available at five shillings (25p) each, post free. I wonder if any member still has one of these copies?

Also, at about this time the Society designed and printed a rather elegant bookplate (copy attached). The committee reported that arrangements had been made for receiving books for the school library from members of the Society. They should be addressed to the school librarian "who will insert one of the Society's book plates marked with an appropriate serial number record of books so presented will be maintained at the school by the librarian there".

Founder's Commemoration Service

The major event for the Society in 1955 was the organising of a Commemoration Service on the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of Our Founder. He died in the parish of St. Sephulchre, Holborn . A special Order of Service was prepared, having due regard to the relevant clauses of the Deed of Foundation of the School. The service was held at St. Sephulchre's Church, Holborn on Tuesday 15 November. Leslie Orrey (1918-1926) was at the organ while the address was given by Canon G J Jordan (1906-1909).

Two further events worthy of note took place towards the end of our first decade. We had long been searching for (a) the oldest Old Boy still living and (b) a direct descendent of the Founder's family (Robert Holgate died without issue - as far as we know)

As to (a) there were hopes, back in 1947, that we might come across someone who had been a pupil of the Ogleforth school. Since the move to Lord Mayor's Walk was made in 1858, he would need to be a centenarian or close to it. We never found such a person; the oldest that we located was Edmund Birks (1882-1885), a retired architect and municipal engineer, living in Brixham. In 1957 he was, at 89 years of age, still making a daily trip by ferry from Brixham to his club in Torquay}. He was only slightly older than his contemporary at school, Alderman W J Hunter (also left school in 1885); He was Lord Mayor of Sheffield in 1938-1939 and was our guest speaker at the third reunion on 28 February 1948.

With regard to (b), one of the guests at our Autumn reunion in 1956 was Roland Holgate, a known descendent of the Founder's family, who was visiting the U K from Pietermaritzburg. I think he is no longer alive, but he has a son, Neville, a historian also living in South Africa and who for some time, corresponded with the Honorary Archivist about the Holgate family history. There were plans to invite Neville to a reunion dinner should he visit England, but,(as far as I know) this has not yet happened.

That brings me to the end of the decade. There is just one more thing that I would like to mention.

Our Early Presidents

In its first decade the Society had six Presidents. All were scientifically trained, and four of them were distinguished chemists. To give but one example, our second president, Leonard Anderson, ended up as Manager, Fine Chemicals and Antibiotics for the Boots Pharmaceutical Company. He joined the firm in 1918 after working during the war on explosives and acid manufacture. In 1927 he was given full charge of Fine Chemical Production and was responsible for the very considerable expansion and success of Boots in this field.

During the Second World War he planned and set up one of the first factories for the production of penicillin, the first really effective antibiotic. Having no equipment, he decided to culture this anti-bacterial agent in milk bottles. These were also in short supply, but, by going round door-steps, bomb sites and the like a sufficient supply was maintained. Later he was responsible for the development of the Antibiotic Unit, one of the most efficient plants in this or any other country, and a mecca for organic chemists throughout the world.

Though the school had already established a high reputation in the physical sciences in the 1870's and 1880's under its "mathematical" headmaster, Revd. Robert Daniel, it was when his successor, the famous Revd. "Bill" Johnson took over as Headmaster in 1896 that the reputation in practical science really burgeoned. By the end of 1897 the school possessed two purpose-built science laboratories. Two of the early science masters who had the honour of laying down the bases of modern, laboratory-oriented science were both pupils of Johnson, graduates of Leeds University and later masters. They were Arthur Plugge (1896-1900) and Jonas Hammerton (1897-1900), who must have been amongst the first pupils to use these new facilities. From that time, the scientific reputation of the school was as high as any in the North of England. There is a long line of graduates (mostly of Leeds and predominantly chemists) who carried the name and fame of the school far and wide. Some returned to teach. Notable amongst these was Albert Holderne (a Sheffield graduate), whose teaching of chemistry must have been experienced by several present members of the Society. This high reputation has been hard to win; let us hope that it may long continue.