Heritage & Archives
Aysgarth School was founded in 1877 by The Reverend Clement T. Hales. He was a Cambridge Scholar and a true visionary who went from being a well-respected Master at nearby Richmond School to starting his own Preparatory School in rented accommodation near Aysgarth Falls, then building what is the current school building at Newton-le-Willows in 1890. Hales chose for his School crest an oak tree, and for its motto, "Ex quercu non ex salice" - of oak not of willow.
Pupils in those days wore top hats, Eton jackets and collars on a Sunday. Life at the original site was documented by Colonel Meinertzhagen - boys learning to swim in the river in the pool below the falls; walks on the slopes of Penhill, Royal Oak Day, when every boy had to have a bit of oak in his buttonhole, learning the ways of birds, otters, foxes - a first-rate school, hard and healthy. The boys enjoyed a measure of freedom which was exceptional in those days.
When boys and staff moved to the new buildings in Newton-le-Willows, it was said "Very few schools can compete with Aysgarth in its completeness". Aysgarth School had its own Eton and Harrow Fives Courts, indoor swimming pool and a gem of a chapel which housed a magnificent organ not possessed by many parish churches and where the first foundation stone was laid.
The sudden death of Hales from pneumonia in 1900 was a sad blow to the School - he was only 57 years of age. His daughter, Mary, continued to be the owner of the School and Mr Brooksbank who held the position of Second Master was asked by Mary and her Trustees to carry on the School. Brooksbank retired in 1908 having found and introduced a successor, Walter Chitty.
During Chitty's time at Aysgarth he introduced the game of Rugby and rifle shooting as well as a tuck shop! A man named Frank Joy joined Chitty as Vice-Principal and helped him purchase the School from Hales' relatives, the Moulsdales, and further additions and improvements to the School building were made. Joy went to join the First World War, as well as many other members of staff, but eventually came back to Aysgarth in 1919 to then become Headmaster following Chitty's retirement. The years of Joy's Head Mastership were marked by further expansion and improvement including a new library and many boys joined the school, including pupils from Scotland for the first time.
In 1933 a major event caused unforeseen alterations to the life of the School. This event was the fire. School was due to break up for Easter holidays and trunks had been brought out in readiness for packing. One of the maids reported smoke and a smell of burning on the top dorm floor. Within half an hour smoke was coming out of the roof. Just as it seemed the chapel would be engulfed, the wind dropped and the fire was under control. Although the central block was gutted, it was soon seen that Aysgarth could be re-built. The fire took its toll on the Joys and once the School was re-built they sold the School to Mr R. W. (Tommy) Thompson as Headmaster and Commander Campbell and Mr Archbold as partners. Then came the Second World War. Similar to 1914, the young masters had to go to war and domestic staff were called to work in factories and on the land. Hundreds of windows had to be blacked out - which was an enormous task! Everything was rationed and scarce, from petrol to food and clothing. Staff patched and darned as much as possible and grew about forty tons of potatoes each year and boys helped to harvest them. Casualties were fewer than in the First World War, yet 51 old Aysgarthians lost their lives, as did two of the masters. After the war, numbers continued to increase. Very sadly Mr Thompson died aged 62. Simon Reynolds (a King's Scholar at Eton) was brought in before this to help prepare boys for Common Entrance and to become House Tutor. Simon and his wife, Wanda (Mr Thompson's daughter) eventually took charge after Mr Thompson became ill.
Mr John Hodgkinson, a former housemaster at Uppingham took over in 1988 with his wife, Hilary. They provided steadiness and wisdom to see the School through a difficult period when financial crises and foot and mouth affected the ability of parents to afford an Aysgarth education. During his time, Philip Southall (Assistant Head and then Joint Head) and Simon Dowson (Bursar) joined the School and helped to rationalise and rebuild numbers. In 1993, 'Oak House', Aysgarth's Co-ed Pre-Prep opened its doors, providing an education for both boys and girls locally up until the age of 8.
Today Aysgarth's core aims remain the same as Clement Hales - to prepare boys to go on to the most selective schools all over the country. Between 2002 and 2015, former Headmaster Anthony Goddard with his wife Caroline made their mark by significantly building up the numbers in the School whilst providing a happy and caring environment particularly for the boarders. Under their leadership the School saw a lot of improvements in decor and new buildings including an extension to the dining hall, more homely dormitories, new classrooms, a superb new Sports Hall and re-developed performing arts centre. Mr Goddard, along with a new Committee of Trustees launched the Aysgarth School Foundation in 2008, which has since raised nearly £1 million for bursaries and development projects.
The Aysgarth School archive is managed voluntarily by Ted Haslam.
Ted Haslam joined Aysgarth in 1983 as a teacher and left in 1988 for a headship at Barnard Castle. Upon his retirement in 2009, he rejoined Aysgarth in a number of teaching roles including head of Pre-Prep before finally leaving teaching in 2014. As well as maintaining close links with Aysgarth over a number of decades, his grandson is also currently at Aysgarth.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the School, Ted would be happy to hear from you - please email them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
My first thought upon taking over from Stuart Tate as custodian of the Aysgarth School archives was that I probably qualify to be in an archive myself! When I arrived to teach in the school during the Christmas holidays of 1982 what a wonderfully eclectic mix of colleagues I discovered! Gerry McCann could be found regaling the boys with his stories of how, during World War II, he shot down German planes from the top of the tower using only a penknife. The boys loved it. They knew the tale was made up and Gerry knew that they knew, but he was such a superb raconteur that no one minded. Jeremy Marston would be coaching in the fives courts, pausing only to take off his fantastic 1920s style fur overcoat. Stuart Tate would be making gloriously witty comments, one of which was his trademark. “I taught him all I know and he still knows nothing!” To top it all there was the charm and friendship of Andrew Bigham. I was part of the school’s staff youth team (ie the group of younger teachers at that time!) which included Old Aysgarthian Philip Southall, Oxford United fanatic John Walker and the cultured Director of Music, Tom Oakshott. On meeting these characters and many more, I knew that I had arrived at a special place. There was certainly nothing like it where I came from in Australia.
After six years I left to become a headmaster, but twenty one years later, following a retirement that had lasted five weeks, I returned to fill a variety of roles. Today’s Aysgarth pupils retain the spark, humour and zest that the boys had when I first arrived back in 1982, and I have found myself teaching the sons of some of the boys I taught in the 1980s! Charlie Bryant asked me if I taught his father, Edward. “Yes” I replied. “Did you teach my grandfather?” he then enquired! I still don’t know whether he was serious or just winding me up. But then you could never be sure of that with Aysgarthians. The younger generation of the Milbank, Vaux, Wyvill, Price, Swan, Hotham, Bourne-Arton, Wallace, Willoughby and Macdonald of Sleat families often enquire if they are better behaved and more intelligent than their fathers. Naturally I reply in the affirmative, but then I am also guilty of calling them by their fathers’ Christian names at times, so perhaps I am confusing the issue.
So what does my work in the archives entail? Well, I have a constant stream of requests from members of the public for information about distant relatives, or from research assistants wanting information about distinguished past pupils. Although I am not an expert on all things Aysgarthian (although my work does brings back many memories), thanks to the organisation and foresight of former staff and pupils and of the Old Aysgarthian Association I can usually discover the information that is required. This has made me realise that as well as being the caretaker of the school’s past, I must also preserve its present for the future. With that in mind I am attempting to collect current items that will become archive material in the years to come. Items of school memorabilia such as books, trophies, pictures and school uniform often arrive as gifts or appear in auction houses or on ebay, and some of these are displayed in the archives cabinet situated next to the Reynolds Hall. I have also embarked on a project to trace the history of many Aysgarth treasures.
People have so many amazing recollections and these do need to be written down and kept. Recently I have had a wonderful time with Wanda and Simon Reynolds recording their reminiscences. If you feel that you could provide us with a memoir of your time here, or you have anything relating to the school that you would like to donate, then we would be most grateful to receive these in order that we may add them to the archives for the benefit of future Aysgarthians!