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The fire in 1923
Aerial viewAerial view
Wooden huts from Brackley RoadWooden huts from Brackley Road


by Jason Roberson

The highlight of my years at Towcester Grammar School was the fire that completely destroyed the buildings in 1923. This was of course a schoolboy's dream, especially as it occurred during the end of term examinations, but more of that later.

I entered the school in 1918 when it was a brick building opposite the Bull Inn and consisted of a large hall which on occasions housed two classes, two small classrooms plus staff room and office. The staff consisted of Headmaster (Mr Wetherell), Mr Gibbs and Mr Acton, plus a part-time groundsman. There were about 40 pupils, all boys. The playing field boundary was at the Oak Tree and where the pitches are now was agricultural land. There were no such luxuries as school buses; the country boys cycled to school. On wet days they spent much time drying their clothes round the stoves that were used for heating.

Soon after my arrival at the School, foundation trenches were dug out extending from the existing building towards the private house which is now 44 Brackley Road. (Since demolished) There was, of course, much rumour and speculation as to what was going to happen to the site. Eventually wooden huts arrived and were erected as classrooms extending as arms from a main spine passage. Towcester Grammar School doubled its size and became co-educational. I remember that we small boys were not very pleased at having to go into classes with girls - doubtless the older boys felt rather differently about this. The huts were hot in summer and very cold in winter, but we had to grin and bear these discomforts.

In the early hours of the 12th December 1923 the whole school was destroyed by fire, the cause of which was never discovered. I well remember the day - it was the Thursday of Towcester Fat Stock Show. This was always held in the High Street and I was able to spend the whole of the day amongst the animals in their pens and in the sale ring.

The four years that followed must have been very difficult years for the Headmaster and Staff. The school classes were distributed around Towcester in years a various halls, These included the Conservative Club, Mission Room (now 61 Watling Street), the Church of England school in Richmond Road (now the County library), Watling Street House (now the Chinese Restaurant), the Studio at the top of Park Street, and for a time the Town Hall. The classes remained in their buildings but the staff moved from one building to another as the timetable required. On occasions during the change over periods we were left without supervision and then a great time was had by all.

I spent most of this time at the Conservative Club and I well remember the difficulties that were experienced each morning when we arrived. The bar was in the main hall and a partition was erected across the hall to enable two classes to be taught there. If the hall had been used the previous evening the partition had to be erected and the dirty glasses to be cleared and the bar tidied before we could start work. Despite all these difficulties the School survived. Mr Clarke (Headmaster) and his staff must have worked wonders to have kept everything so well together.

We all got very excited as the new buildings grew and they were opened and put into use in 1928. I believe that even in those days there was a shortage of money for school building and I wonder how long the wooden huts would have remained in use if there had not been a fire - perhaps until now.

The re-opening of the Grammar School was commemorated in June 1928 by the MERCURY & HERALD with the following article:

Blackwell & Riddy, Kettering, were the architects and Mr J T Powell, Northampton the main contractor. It cost nearly £20,000. It consisted of a room for the Headmaster, Secretary, a large hall suitable for gymnastics, room for domestic science/canteen for scholars who came from a distance, hot and cold showers, staff rooms, 2 music rooms, 3 laboratories, an art room and 8 acres of playing fields down to the River Tove where an open-air swimming pool may be built.

At the opening ceremony were Mr P C F Clarke, Head Master, Mr Penney, Mr Gibbs, Mr D Grandorge, Miss E M Keward, who are teachers still in living memory.

Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke, Bart, and Chairman of the County Council opened the school. He reminisced that in 1892 the County Council first became involved with the school when it made a small grant for its upkeep and a council member was appointed as a governor. In 1913 a great change took place and the County Council took over the whole responsibility for the school's maintenance and became the trustees of its endowment. He said the Head Master had been through a complete agricultural course and the Council hoped to give the school a rural bias. Sir Arthur said that the annual cost of the school would be £4,000 of which an estimated £1,000 would be collected in fees.

Such were my years as a pupil, and I am amazed to find that my connection with the School now extends for an almost uninterrupted period of over seventy years as a pupil, parent, Old Towcestrian and Governor.
  1. This text is reproduced from the chapter "My Years at Towcester Grammar School" by Jason Robeson in "Towcester - The Story of an English country town" ISBN 0 9524619 1 9 © 1995 Towcester and District Local History Society
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