M.G.S. Magazine - December 1961
That a single match, the merest flicker of a flame, could cause such tremendous destruction does not seem possible.
Fires rank with those tragedies that always happen to other people, and when this disaster struck the oldest part of our school the prevalent feeling was one of incredulity. No-one could really believe that such a thing could have happened.
Not only were the buildings themselves destroyed but also books and records, many months' work in notes, and personal possessions of both staff and pupils.
The loss of buildings and furniture cannot, however, really be compared with the destruction of irreplaceable books, records, and carefully collected specimens.
A great deal will have to be spent to replace the buildings, but many things have been destroyed that money cannot replace.
It has been said that good can come out of evil and our fire may, in some ways, provide an illustration of this. Although much damage has been done, and real losses and inconvenience suffered, the school will eventually have new buildings which will doubtless have many advantages over the old ones; they could never have the charm or atmosphere that the old buildings possessed.
The fact that the old wing of the School was totally destroyed by fire during the early hours of 17th March 1961 is old news by now. For the record it can be stated that the fire was started by an intruder, who was subsequently sentenced at Leeds Assizes, and that six fire brigades fought it in vain.
By the time for Morning School, Room 6, the Library, Room 3, the Masters' Staff Room, the Physics Laboratory, the Biology Laboratory (better remembered as Room 4) and half the Domestic Science Room had been gutted. Of five thousand books in the Library only a few charred pages remained. The total damage has been estimated at £46,000.
We can be thankful that it was a still night; if the prevailing wind had been blowing, the Chemistry Laboratory would undoubtedly have gone too. As it was, the fire area had a clear line of demarcation, and the rest of the School was unaffected, even by water.
For weeks the smell of charred wood hung over the premises. Even worse was the sickening sense of unnecessary loss as one remembered-apart from the fabric-some personal possession, perhaps only book or notebook, which was prized and can never be replaced.
One of the most heart-warming sequels of the fire was the way in which, immediately our losses were known, friends of the School rallied round with offers of help. While the ruins were still smouldering, Old Grammarians were turning up with obviously cherished books of notes to help to replace those lost by the Staff and, in particular, the Sixth Form and VA whose G.C.E. examination was close at hand.
Many features of the School, such as the fine Honours Board made by Mr. Berry, presentation pictures, and so on, were destroyed in the fire, and these cannot be replaced through official channels.
In May, a special joint committee of friends of the School, with members drawn from Governors, Staff, Parents and Old Grammarians, was formed to raise funds in connexion with the above and it was decided to send out an appeal for donations to all those thought to be concerned with the well-being of the School.
The target set was £1,000 and so far the excellent sum of £685 has been received. The Committee is most grateful to all who have helped the School in this way.
The Appeal Fund is, of course, not yet closed and donations, however small, will be thankfully received by Mr. A. H. Barker (Hon. Treasurer), at the School.
One of the most important needs after the fire was accommodation. Offers of help in this respect were made at once by Whitcliffe Mount Grammar School (who in recent weeks have lost their own library through fire) and the use of their Physics Laboratory was very gratefully accepted. Fortunately our own new Biology Laboratory extension was nearing completion, and two Terrapins (prefabricated class rooms) were rapidly erected on a strip of ground near the air-raid shelters. These are delightful rooms and a pleasure to work in. (Passers-by find them most entertaining, too). A Terrapin Physics Laboratory appeared later but this has taken much longer to equip and has not yet been in use. However, as these notes are being written, workmen are very busily engaged in fitting the benches and we hope to take possession soon. The unaffected half of the Domestic Science room was quickly functioning again.
Nevertheless, our accommodation is still strained. The Annexe is now crowded and Sixth Form classes are held in what was originally the girls' cloak room. A temporary Library has been fitted out on the stage and there the Sixth Form pursue their private study, cut off from the sounds of P.E. lessons by the stage curtains.
The sounds of pneumatic drills, reversing lorries, workmen erupting into song (commented on in our last notes) are now, of course, part of our daily life.
As soon as work stopped on the new Biology Laboratory it was begun again at the other end of the School, on the new Dining Room and kitchens, which are sited on the old drive. Much fun has been had in the local paper on the subject of square meals in octagonal dining rooms. As we write, however, in the early days of November, leaning moodily by the window of the Girls' entrance, we seem to have achieved the foundations of a magnificent pill-box. It is good to know that if trouble should break out between Mirfield and Kirkheaton we could defend the Main Door against all comers.
We mourn the loss of the lovely flowering trees along the drive. It is part of the price we pay for progress.
Meanwhile, the desolate area of land formerly sacred to the air raid shelters and to small boys playing "I'm the King of the Castle" has taken to sprouting tennis courts like mushrooms. The third court there is now completed and the whole north-east side of the School has greatly benefited from the face-lift. We should now be able to play tennis almost immediately after a period of heavy rain. This is just as well. The Russians have recently exploded their 57 megaton bomb and a Swedish scientist has forecast earthquakes, storms and floods for next May.
On 12th June, 1961 the Biology Laboratory extension was officially handed over to the School.
One of the first replies to our Fire Damage Appeal was from Mr. Ken Baxter, of Northern Jazz Presentations, 1 Euston Road, Leeds, 11, who offered to give a concert by the West Riding Jazz Band (of the Grand Hotel, Harrogate) at School, in order to raise funds. This offer was gratefully accepted and the concert was duly held during the evening of 10th October.
Unfortunately two members of the band, travelling from Normanton, ran into unforeseen difficulties and the start was delayed, but the younger members of the audience found the programme of traditional New Orleans jazz to be well worth waiting for.
The proceeds of this concert amounted to almost £37 and we offer most hearty thanks to Mr. Baxter and his friends for helping us in this way.
During the School fire all the library books were burnt. There were 4,893 of them.
To date, we have replaced 2,500 books of which 1,920 have now been catalogued and prepared for use.
Many people have donated books to the library. They include:- Sir Ronald Walker; Ruth Ledgard, prior to emigrating to Australia; Mr. Stanley Livesey, "Peter Scott's Autobiography"; Mr. Lionel Walker and other friends have promised books which await collection; Mr. E. E. Kitchener, whose name was almost the first on the Honours Board, sent many of his personal books; Herbert Jenkins, the publishers, sent us four of their most recent publications.
SPEECH DAY was held in the Vale Cinema on 28th March, 1961. Before a much larger audience than usual, prizes were presented by a very distinguished Old Grammarian, Dr. JACK NUTTING, Professor of Metallurgy at Leeds University.
The FOUNDER'S SERVICE was held as usual in the Parish Church on Ascension Day. The address was given by Father JONATHAN GRAHAM, C.R., and prayers were said by the Rev. T. WILLSHAW. The lessons were read by the Head Boy, MICHAEL ELLIOTT, and the Head Girl, NANCY HOLROYD.
On 10th November, 1960 the whole School went to the Vale Cinema to see the film, "The Ten Commandments."
The CAROL CONCERT was held in the School Hall on 15th December, 1960 and was attended by two hundred and fifty parents and friends, who greatly enjoyed the singing.
An old friend, Mr. ROGER TRAFFORD, visited the School on 25th April, 1961 and gave a very sensitive one-man performance of "The Merchant of Venice."
The usual round of educational visits during the past year includes:- Miss BOX and Miss HELLAWELL and the Sixth Form girls to Nostell Priory; Miss BOX and Miss HEYLINGS and the Fourth Form girls to the Ideal Homes Exhibition at Leeds; Mr. SAYWELL and the Sixth Form scientists to the Metallurgy Department at Leeds University, Fox's Biscuit Factory at Batley, and Rowntree's of York; Mr. BARKER and Mr. BOOTH led a visit to Leech's, Photographic Chemists, at Brighouse. Mr. ELLIOTT is still seen, on Saturday mornings, slipping off with French parties in the direction of Huddersfield.