The first in a series of articles by imminent School Archivist, Berwick Coates in which he introduces us to the characters who made the school what it is today.
At some time or other, everyone asks himself the sort of question that all children, sooner or later, come out with: ‘Where do I come from?’
That is why the Archive exists; it tries to help anyone connected to the school – pupils, parents, governors, visitors, teachers, support staff ,anyone – to try and understand the place. It keeps the past alive.
Of course the present matters, and that is as it should be. But we understand the present better if we know how we got here. The Archive guards the school`s history; it protects its roots. Without roots, nothing grows.
Joseph Lloyd Brereton was born in 1822, one of eleven children of a country priest in Norfolk. Because his health was not strong, he was educated at home till he was fifteen, when he was sent to Rugby. He was bright, and went to Oxford, but again poor health prevented him from doing well in exams, and so ruined his chances of an academic career. He had to settle for the clergy, and, after several false starts, came to be the Rector of West Buckland, where it was thought that Devon air would be good for his lungs.
Dodgy lungs did not prevent him from sweeping the 17-year-old daughter of another clergyman off her feet. He married her, and fathered sixteen children on her, eleven of whom reached maturity. (What might he have achieved had his health been robust?)
He became friends with a local nobleman, Viscount Ebrington, who became the third Earl Fortescue on the death of his father. They remained friends for the rest of their lives, and devoted those lives to the cause of education – particularly education for ‘the middle classes’. The ‘upper classes’ already had heir public schools, and nobody bothered much about the ‘lower classes’ because – poor souls – they could barely afford, many of them, to put regular meals on the table, never mind pay school fees.
Brereton and Fortescue were ambitious. They looked far beyond the village of West Buckland; their dream was to set up schools for the ‘middle class’ all over England.
The word ‘class’ was not so evocative then as it is now. What we call the ‘class system’ was all-powerful, of course, but everyone went along with it because it was simply ‘there’, like the weather. It took a long time for prophets and reformers to come along and say that it shouldn`t
be there. But that is another argument altogether.
People used the word ‘class’ then simply as a means of referring to certain human groups, just as we use the term ‘teenager’ or ‘yuppy’ today, with nothing derogatory implied. You had to call them something.
Brereton and Fortescue cottoned on to a great truth. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, a lot more people were becoming more comfortable, more affluent, and so more aware. If schools specially designed for them could unlock the minds of their children, just think what a colossal contribution they could make to the whole life of the country.Berwick Coates
About the author...
Berwick Coates was educated at Kingston Grammar School, and read History at Cambridge. Since then, he has been at various times an Army officer, writer, artist, lecturer, careers adviser, games coach, and teacher of History, English, Latin, and Swahili. He has published nine books, ranging from A-Level History and popular history to memoirs, humour, cartoons, and light verse.
He has taught every age and every ability from primary remedial to Oxbridge entrance. He has lectured to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, on subjects ranging from Alexander the Great and Hannibal, through medieval and early modern history, to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
His latest book is a collection of fifty views of Christmas (illustrated by himself), entitled 'The Perfect Christmas Present'. He has also written four historical novels and one modern one. He is at present finishing a book of teaching memoirs.
A range of Berwick's books are available to purchase on Amazon
You can find out more by visiting his WEBSITE