Whitcliffe Mount School

 

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In a brief deviation from my blog’s usual content, this post is about saving an old building. Whitcliffe Mount School was funded and built by the people of Cleckheaton at the turn of the last century, having been denied a secondary school by the then Education Authority. They built it on top of a hill and negotiated the rights to the rich coal seams that ran beneath so it could never be undermined – that’s how much they cared about the education of their children in this west Yorkshire working class town. From the start, there was equal access for girls to this school, and its ethic, to promote community and character in its pupils, is evidenced by this quote from its first headmaster in 1909:

“This School is foremost a society of staff and pupils, wherein a corporate life has to be developed, implying individual and mutual responsibilities of character and behaviour, of work and achievements. If pupils are turned out clean in thought and speech, with a sincere love of character and effort…with a power of skilful work…and a determination to serve as intelligent citizens, the school will achieve what I believe was the cherished aim of those who laboured to establish it.” Joshua Holden.

In a series of moves, often obscure, obfuscated, and difficult to follow, the local council has prevented the building from being Listed and scheduled its demolition without consideration of repurposing options. The developers are paying nothing for it; it has been handed over in return for ‘its materials’. The area will become a grass verge.

The local people are trying to resist. Developers willing to consider repurposing have been found and the council has agreed to a meeting, which would be a sign of some meeting of minds were it not for the fact that the date is some weeks after the keys are to be handed over.  There have been petitions and protests but the lack of clarity persists, and the schedule seems unperturbed. In a last ditch effort, Spen Valley Civic Society – the thrust behind much of the work towards preservation – has written to HRH Prince Charles. The letter is reproduced* here:

Whitcliffe Mount School was founded and built at the turn of the last century, funded entirely by the donations of the working class population of Cleckheaton for the education of their children and as such, is unique as being the only state school founded by the will of the people and not arising from the direct policy of a responsible Education Authority. Despite local objections and the availability of repurposing options, it is about to be demolished and replaced by a grass verge. We are desperately hoping at this last minute to recruit the support of His Royal Highness in halting this process until a full and open public debate can be held.

This is the building in question, an outstanding example of its kind designed by William Henry Thorp F.R.I.B.A , many of whose other works are Listed. Founded in 1908, it accepted girls in equal numbers to boys from the start and placed value on community and personal development as this quote from the first headmaster makes clear and its motto, Justly, Skilfully, Magnanimously emphasises:

“This School is foremost a society of staff and pupils, wherein a corporate life has to be developed, implying individual and mutual responsibilities of character and behaviour, of work and achievements. If pupils are turned out clean in thought and speech, with a sincere love of character and effort…with a power of skilful work…and a determination to serve as intelligent citizens, the school will achieve what I believe was the cherished aim of those who laboured to establish it.” First headmaster, Mr Joshua Holden.

Below is a brief summary of the school’s inception, its character, and the reasons so many people wish to halt plans for its destruction. A more detailed supporting document is attached, along with scanned images from the book ‘Justly, Skilfully, Magnanimously’ (1957) of its earliest pupil rolls.

Whitcliffe School arose from a technical institute in Cleckheaton after the local Education authority determined that the area of Spen Valley should have only one secondary school, which was to be based in Heckmondwike. Prominent local people worked to accrue funds, many others made donations, William Henry Thorp F.R.I.B.A. was commissioned as architect, and the first sod was cut in 1909. Critically, the rights to rich coal seams running beneath the site were negotiated in order to prevent undermining, thereby demonstrating the priority given to education.

It became a grammar school in 1928, state funded in 1944, and in 1973, a comprehensive. It has had an excellent reputation throughout.

In 2014, the governing council, Kirklees, undertook reviews of several schools in the area in conjunction with a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with a view to redevelopment. Whitcliffe was one of these and despite local protests, this is currently the plan. Dissatisfaction with the process is founded on many issues, including the way in which the Foundation building was rendered ineligible for Listing despite its history, soundness, and architectural value; the lack of any discussion about alternative use; and the disturbing fact that the developers, Laing O’Rourke, are able to demolish the Foundation Building in return for the value of just its materials. While Skill may be involved in some of these actions, there does not appear to be any sign of either Justice or Magnanimity.

Thus, a fine building, paid for by local people in the face of Education Authority opposition and with architectural value, is to be demolished without consideration of re-purposing, its price just the materials of which it is composed and its replacement a grass verge. That much of the process has taken place in closed meetings and with poor engagement of local people is exemplified by the now urgent fact that a meeting to discuss the matter of alternative use and the developers able and willing to buy and convert the building into apartments, is scheduled, by the Council, to take place after the building has been handed over to the developers on August 24th.

If His Royal Highness were to take an interest in this travesty, we would be more hopeful that a better solution may be reached.

If you are local to the area and have an interest in preserving this building in recognition of its architectural and social value, the Civic Society would appreciate your support. If you are Prince Charles or an influential member of his entourage, you would be welcomed and welcomed and welcomed if you should chose to intervene.

 

*Pre-post version. May have been edited prior to sending.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Whitcliffe Mount School

    • Yes, it is and others by this architect have been Listed. The clock tower was donated by a local businessman at the time and the bricks and mortar bought by Cleckheaton people. My father went there, as did my sister and I, but this is less about sentimentality than the unique history of the school and of course, that beautiful building.

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