Heckmondwike Grammar School’s Opening: 17th January 1898, 125 years ago.

On what was likely a cold and crispy January Monday morning, specifically on the 17th of the month, around a thousand children, workmen, a few parents and many esteemed members of Heckmondwike’s community descended on High Street. A momentous occasion was to occur; after five years of labour and heavy debate, the Heckmondwike School Board’s new school was to be opened. The new school was originally very different to the one we know now, comprised of a secondary section (or ‘School of Science’) and a larger elementary section. It also had a different name, not Heckmondwike Grammar School, but rather Heckmondwike Higher Grade School.  

A drawing of the School in the Dewsbury Reporter in 1898

On the morning of the 17th, children met in the school’s playground and were allowed to undertake a good time of ‘vigorous play’. Perhaps once worn out, they lined up and then marched into the Hall to the sound of “a rousing military march” played on the piano by one of the teachers from St James’ School. As the Higher Grade School was to replace various inadequate schools across Heckmondwike, each school marched in proudly led by their respective schoolmasters or mistresses. Most would continue to serve at the Higher Grade School. Furthermore, joining the children were the members of the Heckmondwike School Board and its Clerk, Deputy Clerk and Attendance Officer, alongside the workmen and parents mentioned above.    

One feels for the children as it was to be a day of speeches! First came Mr. Clarke, the Chairman of the School Board. The name will be familiar to many as he is the namesake of Clarke House. His speech started with an interesting point about how he anticipated this day would be remembered for a long time. By that, I doubt he thought of the 2020s!   

Mr. Walter E. Clarke, Chairman of the School Board in 1898.

He then explained to the children why the school was built. He first stated that Education Department cared about the children’s health alongside their education. Therefore the School Board was compelled to do something to improve the buildings of St. James’ School and the Upper Independent Schools, which were seen as inadequate. Furthermore, the School Board was aware of the rise of secondary education abroad, alongside in towns such as Dewsbury and Batley, and how it aided children and gave them the best chances in life. He argued this would eventually seep back into the town and pay for the investment and education that was to be provided. Ultimately, the Board did not want the children of Heckmondwike to be forced to take the ‘secondary’ positions in life!  

Clarke then moved on, and Mr. Robert Saunderson Cahill was introduced as Headmaster of the School. Clarke described him as ‘genial, willing, and thorough’ and determined to do his best and make the best of the opportunities he had in leading the schools. This description of his character would ultimately be a wise one. He then gave thanks to Mr. Humphreys and Mr. Smith Allat too, the masters of the schools that were to be closed. Humphreys retired not long after and there was reportedly somewhat of a sense of relief when he did. He was quite aggressive in his use of the cane and was described in very impolite terms by his scholars as ‘fatty Humphreys’!

The Staff of the Heckmondwike Higher Grade School, now Grammar School, in circa 1898

Clarke summed up his speech by saying that now they had splendid new schools, with a fine staff of teachers, it remained in the children to do their part to make them successful. He believed everybody would feel proud of the schools, from the ratepayers to the infant class.   

This was followed by applause.  

The School Board’s Vice-Chairman, the Reverend E. E. Jones, made remarks on the rapid educational developments of the recent years and how the progress of the nation depended upon them. He pleaded to the parents to let their children take advantage of the school’s classrooms which he saw as no different in beauty or facilities to that of the Sixth Form of Ruby University.  

Mr Oldman, another School Board member, then arose, echoing many of the previous points. He emphasised the importance of allowing children to remain in school longer and expressed his hope that everyone would combine with teachers to make the schools successful. Cheers followed this.   

Mr Oldham’s poster in the 1895 School Board Election

Hearty cheers were given to the new Headmaster and his assistants, alongside other long-serving teachers for the School Board. The Heckmondwike Higher Grade School was then declared open, and the ceremony ended with God Save the Queen being played on the piano. We must not forget that Queen Victoria was still on the throne in 1898! After this, the children were taken to their respective classrooms, where their names were registered, and they were afterwards dismissed for the day.   

The importance of this day for our school’s story cannot be understated. One may have expected more to have happened, but the beginning of 125 years of education in one building and its many later extensions started. The School Board’s motto of ‘Nil Sine Labore’ rang true in the building and opening of the school, and little did they know that 125 years later, it would remain one of the few constants in an everchanging school, town and world. 


  • Dewsbury Reporter – 22 January 1898
  • Collection of Newspaper cuttings kept at Heckmondwike Grammar School’s archives
  • Typed Account of the Day by an Ex-Scholar in 1970, located at Cleckheaton Library. 
  • Cyril Thackary’s History of the School, original manuscript sourced at the school but also published in the 1948 Jubilee Brochure.  
  • Typed Notes on the School’s early history by an unknown author

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One response to “Heckmondwike Grammar School’s Opening: 17th January 1898, 125 years ago.”

  1. Fantastic blog, beautifully written George. Thanks for sharing your research with us.

    Liked by 1 person

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