Kirkham Grammar School Founders’ Day
Today, Wednesday April 1st 2020, at 2:30pm Kirkham Grammar School would have been holding its annual Founders’ Day Commemoration Service at St Michael’s Parish Church.
Founders’ Day is an occasion on which the school community reflects on and gives thanks for its long and distinguished history, whilst remembering in particular those who over the years have been supporters and benefactors of the School.
Holding the service in St Michael’s Church gives an appropriate reminder of the School’s earliest origins and its continuing links with the church: KGS was founded in the Sixteenth Century as a chantry school in the church grounds, in all probability before the stated founding date of 1549. For the next four hundred years, the School was situated next to the Church and the lives and work of the two institutions were firmly intertwined. The School moved to its present buildings in 1910 but has retained close links with the St Michael’s.
The Founders’ Day Service is actually a relatively recent tradition: it was instituted after the Second World War as an end-of-term event perhaps comparable to a modern Open Day, in that it was an opportunity for the School to display to the public something of its life and work and to celebrate all that it stands for. The day used to feature an inspection of the Cadet Force followed by a public parade of cadets to the Church, and the service was followed in the afternoon by a School against Old Boys cricket match.
The first recorded occurrence was on Saturday 26th July 1947, when the then newly appointed Headmaster Mr Dennis Norwood instituted the event as an end-of-term celebration of the School’s heritage. This extract from the newly-formed General School Committee in May 1947 shows the new Headmaster’s plans for the day.
In modern times, Founders’ Day has become a service of thanksgiving, normally held on the last Wednesday of the Spring Term, at which the school community gathers for a short act of worship, with music led by its choir, an address by a guest preacher and an act of thanksgiving for the School’s benefactors read by the Headmaster:
The names of those benefactors whose names are read out are somehow evocative of the school’s long and distinguished history: Thomas Clifton, Isabel Birly, Cuthbert Clifton, Thomas Westby, John Parker, Thomas Langtree, Thomas Hesketh, Arthur Greenacres, Henry Colborne, James Barker and William Grimbaldeston.
These names all have a role in the history of the school which is recorded by history, most notably Henry Colborne, whose bequest left in trust with the Drapers’ Company of the City of London in the seventeenth century led to the longstanding and still flourishing connection with the Drapers. Perhaps the most colourful story relates to Isabell Birly, daughter of a Kirkham alehouse keeper who apparently saved the school from falling into disrepair in the year 1621 with a donation of £30 (then a substantial gift) which she brought to the school authorities in her apron.
Like so much else in our lives, today's Founders’ Day has fallen victim to the Coronavirus pandemic, along with the whole routine and rhythm of school life: like all schools in the UK and across much of the world, KGS is closed for normal teaching and learning for the immediate future, with pupils and teachers adapting to distance learning, and the school campus deserted other than for a handful of children of key workers. Public examinations have been cancelled leaving the GCSE and A-Level cohorts uncertain of their fate, and deprived of the bittersweet rituals of the end of their school days, with celebrations such as the Fifth Year Party and the Sixth Form Ball postponed to an as yet unplanned future date.
Founders’ Day is a perfect opportunity for all in the present and past school community - pupils, parents, teaching and non-teaching staff - to pause, reflect and give thanks for being part of an ancient, loved and resilient community. In its 470+ year existence, the School has been through difficult times and always emerged in the long term even stronger and wiser, and will do so again.
Let’s all take a moment today to pray for our well-loved school, to give thanks for the leadership and energy being demonstrated by the Headmaster Dan Berry and his staff, as well as the guidance and support of the Governing Body.
I have also always thought that on Founders’ Day, every pupil past and present should perhaps take a moment to give thanks for the financial and other sacrifices made by their own families to give them such a special education. We too easily take our schooling for granted, and I think many Old Kirkhamians will echo the thought that we appreciate and love the School even more as the years go by.
Since 1999, the Founders' Day Service has concluded with the School’s adopted hymn, the much-loved Lord for the Years. We're not singing it today, but here it is on YouTube - watch, enjoy and reflect on those words.
And in case you haven't seen it before, here is a link to a blog post I wrote a few years ago about Lord for the Years.