Memories from the Archives – Part 1

In January I did a talk as part of the Thursday lunchtime recital room series. It was entitled ‘Memories from the Archives’ and I talked about a number of memories of Old Scholars. I’ll publish the photographs and text from the talk in several parts on the blog.

Today I’ve chosen to focus on the memories of students have of Bootham. Accounts by Old Scholars of their time at school turn up in various places – the school magazine (often comparing their own schooldays to the present-day school that they read about); the early editions of the register often contained stories of their most notable achievements or exploits at school; often Old Scholars will send in their memories for the archive, sometimes as part of an autobiography, other times just remembering one particular incident; over the years a number of oral history recordings have been done, and memories have been collected at anniversaries of particular events. In some ways these memories are a different kind of record to the ‘official’ documents – minutes, prospectuses, reports and so on. Often you need to bear in mind that the account may be of something that happened many years earlier, is written from the perspective of one individual, and depending on the audience, may have been edited! Having said that, the memories of individuals give an amazing insight into the experience of being at Bootham over the years, and when you piece those together with other records, a much wider picture starts to emerge. The memories often mention aspects of school life that would get missed out of the ‘official’ documents, perhaps because they weren’t seen as important or noteworthy. But I think that it’s often when you start to be able to see things through the eyes of individuals that events that happened in the past seem to come alive.

I’ve picked out about half a dozen pieces of writing by Old Scholars recalling their schooldays, and have pulled out short passages from each. I’ll work through them chronologically, although there isn’t time to give a complete history of the school.

Photograph of Bootham School, dated June 1863.
Bootham School. Photograph dated June 1863.

The first individual is George Scarr Watson, who was at Bootham between 1853 and 1858. I’ve put up a photograph of the back of the school from 1863 to give you an idea of what it might have looked like around the time that he was there. The school was originally started in 1823 in premises in Lawrence Street. For the first six years it was run by William Simpson, and then in 1829 the school was brought under the care of the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting of the Society of Friends. At that point it was known officially as the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting Boys School, and more generally as York Friends Boys School. In 1846 the school moved to Bootham, after the purchase of 51 Bootham, then known as No 20 Bootham, from Sir John Johnstone for £4,500. The decision to move had been made because of concerns over ill-health at the Lawrence Street site, and the Foss Islands area was not seen as particularly healthy. The photograph gives an idea of what the grounds at the back of the Bootham site looked like before the fire in 1899, which destroyed much of what you can see in the photograph.

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