Old Scholars Reunions

This weekend should have been the Old Scholars Reunion at Bootham School. It is with great sadness that the reunion has had to be cancelled again this spring, due to Covid-19.

There have been Old Scholars annual reunions for well over a century now.  The Old Scholars Association was formed in 1879 and the first gathering of members, at Whitsuntide, was held the following year. 

In the July 1942 issue of the school magazine, “Bootham”, Roger Clark wrote of his “Memories of Whit”:

“1889 was my first Whitsuntide as an Old Scholar—and, of course there is nothing afterwards quite to compare with the glamour of the first year or two of going back—while you are still something of a hero to the small boys who were at school with you—while the Masters who taught you (” The men who tanned the (metaphorical) hide of us “) are still there, still kindly interested to see how the seed they tried to plant and nourish is coming to fruition—while your own contemporaries—your closest friends—are still coming back and looking to renew the old affection.”

In the November 1912 issue of “Bootham”, Robert O. Mennell wrote in his “Report of the Old Scholars’ Gathering, 1912.”:

“Looking back, it was no mere sense of holiday glow that we brought away with us, but, as Edmund Gower truly said, ” a very deep impression of the genuine and inspiring nature of such an Old Scholars’ gathering.”

Three photographs of Whitsun gathering at Bootham School in 1912.
Whitsun gathering at Bootham, 1912

Even though meeting up was more difficult during wartime, some gatherings still took place. For example, in 1915, the usual reunion in York could not happen, but members of the Association met in London.

“Old York Scholars’ Association. Thirty-Seventh Annual Meeting, Held in the Castle Assembly Rooms, Richmond-on-Thames, Saturday, May 22nd, 1915. T. Edmund Harvey, M.P., presiding.

After the singing of Alma Mater T. Edmund Harvey, who had returned specially from France to preside at the meeting, said : 

 I think all of us feel, and we are glad to feel, that our annual gathering is something infinitely more than a social function; it is a time of inspiration and of fellowship, where friends meet together to help each other, to share in the sense of comradeship and of unity and to get inspiration from the ideals that have been lit for us in our youth in the two schools.” *

(*  two schools: Bootham School and The Mount)

The March 1917 issue of “Bootham” reports:

“In view of the increased difficulties of holding the annual Whitsuntide gathering it is proposed that the cricket match as arranged by W. B. Barber shall take place as usual, and Old Boys in the neighbourhood who can come shall be encouraged to spend Whit Monday in York. It is hoped that (subject to the agreement of the Mount Old Scholars’ Association) there may be a small reunion of Old Scholars in the neighbourhood of London, possibly ‘at Jordans, if available, on the afternoon of Saturday, May 26th (during Yearly Meeting), when a minimum of necessary business shall be transacted and a quiet afternoon spent together in the country.”

and the May 1918 issue:

“On Tuesday, January 22nd, at a joint meeting of the Committees of the O.Y.S.A. and Mount Old Scholars’ Association held at Bootham School careful thought was given to the holding of the Whitsuntide gathering this year. The difficulties are greater than before, and after long consideration it was agreed not to meet this time in York. W. B. Barber expects to bring his cricket team to Bootham as usual, and it was decided to arrange for a reunion at Jordans on the Saturday afternoon following Whitsuntide (May 25th) of those who live in the neighbourhood of London or are attending the Yearly Meeting. It is not likely that food can be provided. A joint meeting will be held in the afternoon, as last year, but in view of our being out of York, and only meeting in small numbers, we decided not to bring forward important matters of business involving the expenditure of large funds.”

There is a report of the 1918 York meeting in the July 1918 issue of “Bootham”:

“Old York Scholars’ Association. Whitsuntide, 1918: York.

Everything else may change, but we are still members of the same great company, and nothing helps us to realise this more than these few days spent in the old familiar surroundings with the friends and contemporaries of our schoolboy days.   …..   Addresses from the Presidents of both Associations and the singing of ” Alma Mater ” put us in mind once more of the meeting of the O.Y.S.A., at one time so prominent a feature of Whitsuntide, and now soon to be held so far away from York. Representatives from both Schools were selected to attend at Jordans,   ……   To leave Bootham again must have been a wrench to all of us, but the influence of Whitsuntide had not failed to do its work. As we returned to the many and varied duties which call us in these troubled times we did not go back empty. The thought of all that our School and our Association mean went with us, and the great hope that the day of our reunion must shortly come has been able more than anything else to strengthen and revive us.”

The same issue has a report of the meeting at Jordans:

“Old York Scholars’ Association. Whitsuntide, 1918: Jordans. Saturday, May 25th, 1918.

ONCE again our annual reunion has been held at the Old Jordans Hostel in company with the Mount Old Scholars’ Association.    …………   About a hundred and twenty had come down from London, a number large enough to fill the Jordans Meeting House.    ……    

T. Edmund Harvey, M.P., in opening the meeting, said :—

“It always seems to me when I come to our gathering at Whitsuntide that the Old York Scholars’ Meeting is one of the most beautiful of life’s wayside inns. Along the journey as we come year after year, we turn aside from the dust of the highway and leave the care and the worry of the journey behind us. We come for this season of refreshment to the familiar place. Although it is not the old loved centre that we have turned to to-day, we are still as Old York Scholars meeting together as an association in the same spiritual centre. The old memories are here. Many of the old friends are here. We are grateful for this happy moment.””

Photograph of Whitsun at Jordans, 1918.
Whitsun at Jordans, 1918

After the Great War, reunions at York resumed.  The July 1922 issue of “Bootham” has a report of that year’s reunion:

“Changes there have been, but obviously the School is thriving. Long may it flourish! And quite certainly, the spirit of O.S. is unchanged. We felt it most at School Reading on Sunday evening, when the Headmaster gave us a great message in his own inimitable way, and we joined lustily in the singing; but it could be felt all through. The same old programme was carried through with the joy and enthusiasm which have always marked our re-unions, We all were boys together ; we felt again our common membership of the great body which is Bootham.  ……..  

 our hearts are full of thanks to everyone who helped to mix that magnificent tonic—” Old Scholars’,” 1922.”


Photograph of four Old Scholars at the 1930 Whitsun reunion in York.
Four Old Scholars at the 1930 Whitsun reunion in York.

The Second World War caused further difficulties for holding reunions at York.  We read in the July 1942 issue of “Bootham”:

““Whitsuntide, 1942 The question of holding the Annual O.Y.S.A. gatherings had been carefully considered in view of the request of the Government that we should avoid travelling as far as possible, and the air raid on York, aggravating the problem of accommodation, confirmed our decision to cancel the meetings. It was with the greatest regret that we so decided, for it is no light matter to break the long continuity of these reunions. “

A small gathering of those local to York was held that year instead.

“We greatly missed the sight of the field full of visitors, but there was some consolation in the thought that had they come they would have had a colder, windier and wetter Whit-Monday than most of us could remember ! Appropriately at lunch-time the following telegram came from one large group of Old Scholars overseas :— ” Sing up Bootham, Swing it Mount ! Keep the thing in tune. These ‘ere camels got no umps, They’ll be with you soon.” “

In the July 1943 issue of “Bootham” we read the following:

“The School and former Whitsuntide gatherings were in the thoughts of many Old Boys, who sent kindest remembrances to everyone. J. G. Appleyard (1930-35), Major, writes: ” Whit-Sunday. My thoughts are very much with you in York this weekend, and I know that all other Old Scholars in North Africa will be thinking of the same things at this very special time in the School year. Needless to say, one feels very ‘ homesick’ for the old place and for the Whit, gatherings, though I suppose that this year, as last, you will be having a much quieter time than the normal Whit. “

The July 1945 issue of “Bootham” has the following:

“Although V-E Day had come and gone, it was inevitable that Whitsuntide, 1945, should be of the wartime variety. It may come as something of a shock to realise that only a dozen present scholars were at school when the last Old Scholars’ gathering was held in 1941, and on that occasion the usual programme was very much modified. One boy only remains in the school who was present at a pre-War Whit., and he is not likely to be still at school at Whitsuntide, 1946. A whole generation has passed through the school who know not the ways and traditions of Whitsuntide, but they will come back at the first opportunity, in ’47 and ’48, if not in ’46, and the break in the long series of gatherings will not be allowed to make any break in the fellowship of all Old Scholars, whatever their years.”

It is clear from the reports of past reunions that they have meant a lot to Old Scholars over the years.  Let us hope that it is not too much longer before Old Scholars can meet in person again at Bootham.  In the words of G. P. Hugo (Bootham 1918-21), Flight-Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force in 1944,

“I hope, indeed, that the majority of Old Scholars will be able to renew old friendships at a not too distant date.”

V.J. Day – 75th Anniversary

Victory over Japan Day, 15th August 1945, fell during the school summer holiday.  There was not much mention of the end of the War in the report of the school terms in the following edition of the school magazine, “Bootham” (January 1946).  However, there was a report of the Old Scholars’ Football match:

“The first peace-time game found a large crowd of Old Boys on the touch line, but, unfortunately, even their vociferous support failed to save their side from a crushing defeat.

The School fielded an exceptionally fine side, whose drive and combination were too much for a rather moderate opposition. Nevertheless, it was a most enjoyable game, and the result would have been much worse if it had not been for some splendid work by Sandie Scott in goal.”

It was also reported that two Old Scholars had died on active service since V.E. Day (Norman Kendall Dixon and John Philip Ward), and Cedric Rowntree Robson, a prisoner of war, was missing, “from a Japanese transport ship, sunk between Thai and Japan”.

A General Meeting of the O.Y.S.A (The Old York Scholars’ Association) was held in the John Bright Library at Bootham School on, 27th October, 1945.

“In his opening remarks the Chairman explained that this was not, and could not be, a properly-constituted annual meeting of the O.Y.S.A. For that we should have to wait until next Whitsuntide. In the meantime, this meeting was very necessary, in order that due preparation might be made for what everyone hoped would be a record gathering, after the long gap of five years. …………..

The chief function of the magazine during the war was to give scattered Old Boys news of each other, and of the school. That the former had been done so well was due to Anthony Pim, who had been tireless in keeping in touch with Old Boys in every kind of wartime activity, and had made “Across the Months” the most valuable and interesting part of the magazine.

Before the meeting closed Arnold S. Rowntree expressed the warm sympathy felt by all present for those of our number still far from home in many parts of the world.”

In the April 1947 edition of “Bootham” magazine we read:

Members of the School Committee and the O.Y.S.A. Committee met at Bootham in October to consider a War Memorial. A wish to record the names of the 38 Old Boys who gave their lives on active service, as was done on a plaque in the John Bright Library after the 1914-18 war, quickly found agreement, and a committee to make the necessary arrangements was appointed. Some consideration was also given to a larger war memorial but it was felt that this needed more thought and discussion than were possible in a single committee meeting. ”

Discussion about the proposed memorial took place at the 69th Annual Meeting of the O.Y.S.A. held at Bootham School, York, on Saturday, 24th May, 1947. (Reported in “Bootham” magazine of November 1947).

“Regarding the new memorial, they all came to the conclusion that the right thing to do would be to have another plaque in the Library, and after much thought and care and discussion it had been felt that there should be a bronze plaque in that room with incised lettering bearing the names of the 38 old boys, including the Christian names by which they were known at school and other initials. …… For certain technical reasons it seemed best that the shape should be the other way round to the 1914-18 memorial, with the names probably in three columns instead of two. It was also felt that it should be a simpler plaque and not so decorated, and their desire was that the artist engaged should produce something more simple, but embodying the school coat of arms. The inscription should read : ” 1939-45—In memory of all old Bootham boys who have faithfully striven to follow the light, and especially in memory of those our fallen.” Then would follow the list of names, with the school motto at the end.”

The War Memorial Plaque was unveiled at the annual meeting of the O.Y.S.A in May 1948.  There is an account of the unveiling in the December 1948 edition of “Bootham” Magazine, as follows:

“Report of the Proceedings at the 70th Annual Meeting of the O.Y.S.A.
Held at Bootham School, York, on Saturday, 15th May, 1948

Before the normal proceedings of the annual meeting, Old Scholars, present scholars, masters and relatives, met in the John Bright Library for the unveiling of the War Memorial Plaque at the back of the room by Kathleen Gray in memory of Old Scholars who died on war service.

Roger Clark, retiring President of the Association, presided, and observed that when he agreed to perform this, his last duty as President of the Association, before handing over to his distinguished successor, he was led in thought to a similar occasion nearly 30 years ago when the earlier memorial tablet at the front of the room was set up. He was not present then, feeling that it would not be easy to attend the setting up of a war memorial in a room so closely associated with one who was throughout a long lifetime identified with peace.

He now realised, however, that the task was not so difficult, as none of them looked on this tablet as a war memorial. War was essentially hateful to us all, and it was also, they might be sure, to those whom they were thinking of to-night. They wanted no memorial, and nothing to glorify war, but they should look on it as a reminder in years to come of those 38 young Old Scholars who should have come back to “friendships renewed and memories refreshed.”

Roger Clark recalled the great words of Dryden and John Bright on the subject of war and death, grief and affection, and expressed the heartfelt sympathy of all with those to whom those who died were close and dear.

Kathleen Gray then unveiled the memorial tablet, which is designed as described in the report of last year’s annual meeting, and read the names of the 38 Old Scholars remembered in the inscription”

Memorial Plaque 1939-1945 in John Bright Library, Bootham School.
Memorial Plaque in John Bright Library, 1939-1945

V.E. Day – 75th Anniversary

On the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe, we look back in the Bootham Archives to see what was recorded about it.

The July 1945 issue of the school magazine, “Bootham”, contains a report of the school terms from January to June 1945.  There is just a brief mention of V.E. Day, as follows:

“What shall we say of V-E Day, but that we all enjoyed ourselves ? Some went camping ; some went home ; most went for cycle rides.”

The same issue contains an editorial which reflects on the war and the Old Scholars’ meetings at Whitsuntide, has a message for those still overseas, and remembers those who will not return.


“Although V-E Day had come and gone, it was inevitable that Whitsuntide, 1945, should be of the wartime variety. It may come as something of a shock to realise that only a dozen present scholars were at school when the last Old Scholars’ gathering was held in 1941, and on that occasion the usual programme was very much modified. One boy only remains in the school who was present at a pre-War Whit., and he is not likely to be still at school at Whitsuntide, 1946. A whole generation has passed through the school who know not the ways and traditions of Whitsuntide, but they will come back at the first opportunity, in ’47 and ’48, if not in ’46, and the break in the long series of gatherings will not be allowed to make any break in the fellowship of all Old Scholars, whatever their years.


These pages will be read by many who are still far from home, in Germany or Italy, in India or the Far East. We hope none of them will feel that plans for a grand reunion are premature. We know that many will have faint hopes of getting to York next Whit. We would assure them that they are not forgotten now, and will not be forgotten then. It is always a pleasure to hear from them and we hope that these pages may serve them as one link with home.

We have been very glad this term to welcome back some who have long been absent, and in particular those who have been prisoners of war. We rejoice to see them again and look forward to visits from many more. But there are those who will not return ; we remember them with pride and sorrow. Their names are recorded on the opposite page. The list is complete as far as our information goes ; if there are any omissions we are sorry and would like to be told. Up to now nothing has appeared in the pages of ‘Bootham’ about these comrades whom we have lost. In the next issue it is hoped to give some little account of each one of them. The help of our readers in doing this is earnestly sought. Some have already written of their friends who have gone. May others follow their example, and in so doing help their old school worthily to remember them.”

List of Bootham Old Scholars killed in the war from 1939 to 1945, published in July 1945 issue of "Bootham" magazine.
Bootham Old Scholars killed in the war, published in July 1945 issue of “Bootham”.

As we read above, there were still Old Scholars overseas after V.E. Day.  Unfortunately some of these, too, did not return.

Stories from the Archive – Leisure Activities (Part 4 – Swimming)

In February 2016 I gave a talk about the archives as part of the Thursday lunchtime Recital Room series. I’ll put the talk on the blog in a series of posts. Click here for the previous installment.

In terms of swimming, until the school swimming pool was opened in 1914, the school swam at the open air pool in Marygate. Sidney Kemp Brown remembered the opening of the new pool. “The school of course did not wait for the official opening before starting to use the bath, and No. 12 bedroom claimed the first bathe, decidedly ‘unofficial’ and taken at dead of night while the ‘tank’ was being tested, before even the glazed lining tiles had been laid. There was of course no filtering plant; the water got steadily dirtier and biologically more interesting until it was impossible to see the bottom, and then the whole lot had to be emptied and the bath filled afresh with cold, which took several days to warm up.”

Opening of Swimming Bath 1914

Stories from the Archive – Leisure Activities

In February 2016 I gave a talk about the archives as part of the Thursday lunchtime Recital Room series (click here for the full programme). I’ll put the talk on the blog in a series of posts. The first installment is below.

Photograph of Arthur Rowntree (Headmaster 1899-1927).
Arthur Rowntree (Headmaster 1899-1927)

Today I’m going to talk about the leisure activities of the school over the years. Inevitably the talk cannot be a comprehensive survey of all the leisure activities that students have taken part in, but hopefully it will give a sample of some of the activities, their development and the stories within those activities.

In January 1915 Arthur Rowntree, the Headmaster at the time, gave a talk to the Friends’ Guild of Teachers about Leisure. He argued that:

“Everyone coming to school ought to learn two things: to cultivate what he likes and to cultivate what he dislikes.”

“The leisure-hours of the modern boys’ boarding school ought to be well filled. If it is a twentieth-century characteristic to plead for leisure hours unfilled, then let me ally myself with the nineteenth century in maintaining that not one percent of the boys needs unfilled leisure time.”

“And let us remember that hobbies, beginning in small ways and developing until they unite with higher interests and involve considerable intelligence, encourage individuality in the boy, and last through life as a part of that true education which is an influence deepening and enriching human life everywhere.”

Memories from the Archives – Part 7

In January 2015 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 from Old Scholars. I’ll share the photographs and text from the talk in several parts on the blog. Below is the final part of the talk. Read the previous part here. On Thursday 25th February I will be doing another talk as part of the Thursday lunchtime recital room series, see here for the full programme of talks (the talk starts at 1.05pm, entry via the front door of No.45 Bootham).

PH.03.004.005b 1910s scrapbook page 5 Swimming bath opening interior

The new swimming baths, opened in 1914

Henry Kenneth Fisher was at Bootham between 1909 and 1914, and remembers the then-new swimming baths. They were opened in 1914, so it was the centenary of the baths two years ago. “Then in my last year came the cutting down of the trees to provide for the building of the long awaited swimming bath. The teams of magnificent horses that dragged away the tree were the subject of my first photographs and I still have them. What a joy that splendid new bath was after the horrors of the old open-air Marygate Baths where the water was covered with leaves, soot and algae, and the surrounding slabs were so slimy as to constitute a veritable ‘death-trap’ to the unwary.”

Photograph of the old Lodge (on Portland Street) after the bombing raid in 1942.
The old Lodge (on Portland Street) after the bombing raid in 1942.

Moving a little further forward, Douglas Stewart Jackson, who was at Bootham between 1939 and 1943, recalled his time at school during the Second World War. He remembered that: “I don’t think life at school was affected to any great extent by the war. The school staff may have had different feelings about the situation, some were called up for service in the forces and some pupils got involved in routine jobs that could be handled safely by those with a limited knowledge of the work and necessary safety precautions. A couple of us became ‘school electricians’ and having learnt the skill required to change lightbulbs, moved on to mending fuses and attempting to find and repair the cause of the problem. I do not recall either of us receiving an electric shock, but I am sure we did many minor jobs that would have been considered far too dangerous by the modern ‘Health and Safety Executive’.” He goes on to remember the air raid on York in 1942. It happened while the school was closed for the Easter holidays, and the main damage to school buildings was the destruction of the old ‘Lodge’ (the Bootham term for the health centre) at the school end of Portland Street. Douglas says that “At about this time there was discussion regarding ways in which pupils could become involved in activities which could help the people of York to overcome some of the adverse affects of the war. This was looked upon as a Quaker equivalent to the Officer Cadet Training Corps run by most boys schools. It started off with a series of practical training classes in bricklaying, cement and concrete manufacture and on a more basic level an attempt to salvage a high proportion of the undamaged bricks on the site of the Lodge. I thoroughly enjoyed this training and I think it was some of the most useful skills learnt at Bootham.”

This has just been a few snippets from the memories of a few people about their time at Bootham, but I hope that it has given you an idea of the extra detail and insight that can be gained from people’s memories, particularly if you then integrate that with other records.

Heritage Open Days observatory tours

11/9/2015 – Please note, the Saturday tour is now fully booked.

There are still a few spaces left on the observatory tours this weekend – email Jenny.Orwin@boothamschool.com to book a place. The tours take place on Saturday and Sunday at 12.45pm, meeting in the Recital Room, access via the front door of 45 Bootham. Tours must be pre-booked as places are limited. Full details, as well as listings of other events in York, on the Heritage Open Days website.

Photograph of telescope in Observatory c1905.
Telescope in Observatory c1905

Heritage Open Days

11/9/15 – Please note, the Saturday tour is now fully booked.

Once again we are running tours of the observatory for Heritage Open Days 2015. There will be one tour on Saturday 12th September and one on Sunday 13th September, both starting at 12.45pm. Click here for full details. Tours must be booked in advance with Jenny Orwin (Jenny.Orwin@boothamschool.com).

Photograph in Bootham School Observatory. One of the students shown is looking through a telescope.
Bootham School Observatory

Hoard of coins found at Bootham School in 1953

In September 1953 a workman digging drains for the new kitchen block found a hoard of medieval coins. An inquest was held in the John Bright Library, and the coins were declared Treasure Trove. The Yorkshire Museum in York, which now holds the coins, is doing some research about the collection. If you remember the hoard being found, or attended the inquest, it would be lovely to hear from you. Please get in touch with the Archivist, Jenny Orwin (Jenny.Orwin@boothamschool.com).

An article was written about the find by R.H.M Dolley and I.H. Stewart, click here to read it.

Heritage Open Days

We’re running tours of the observatory on Saturday 13th September and Sunday 14th September as part of Heritage Open Days this year. Bootham School has had an observatory and encouraged young astronomers for over 160 years. Come and explore the current observatory, which was opened in 1902.

Photograph in Bootham School Observatory. One of the students shown is looking through a telescope.
Bootham School Observatory

You can find all the details on the Heritage Open Days website, along with other local events. Tours must be pre-booked.