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News > Alumni News > The History of Stockport Grammar School and Stockport in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The History of Stockport Grammar School and Stockport in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

In 2014, Old Stopfordian Laura Cooper explored the history of Stockport Grammar and the town in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as part of a research project.
2 Mar 2023
Alumni News
The Hallam Driveway in 1916
The Hallam Driveway in 1916

One of the first, long term buildings that Stockport Grammar occupied was on Chestergate, now within a few metres of the great industrial arches of the Stockport Viaduct. It was first used in 1607, and ceased to be Stockport Grammar School in 1829, due to encroaching industrialisation. At the time it was in the typical area for a grammar school, the outskirts of the town near Adlington Square, an area popular with the country nobles. In the 18th century a bear pit was built right opposite the school, which was presumably not conducive to the pupils’ learning, as at the time it was the entertainment equivalent of a football stadium.

Most pupils were sons of the gentry, but there were some remarkably egalitarian exceptions. For example, the son of a husbandman (farmer) and the son of the Mayor of Stockport both entered Cambridge from Stockport Grammar in 1728. Though the school spent nearly half a millennium as a single-sex school, some girls may have been informally taught at Stockport Grammar School. There is the suggestion that a small number of middle-class girls were educated under Headmaster Elkanah Hoyle along with his own daughter, and a Governor at the time mentioned his aunt having been a pupil.

But the school eventually moved from Chestergate due to the increased industrialisation and “social degradation” of the area in 1829. The building itself was put to various uses after this, including its rather appropriate use as a mill warping room (which prepared yarns for weaving) in 1843.

Manchester, and its surrounding towns which heavily relied on Manchester for trade, was the world’s first industrialised and centralised city. Advances in machine technology (achieved in Lancashire generally) meant that small-scale workers could not compete with factories, as they did not have the resources to buy the equipment that would make their work more efficient, so were put out of business and had to join a factory. Stockport itself was primarily an industrial town, and therefore had very few middle-class people living in the town itself so it was almost entirely populated by factory workers. According to Friedrich Engels in his The Condition of the Working Class in England, Stockport was “renowned throughout the entire district as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes and looks … excessively repellent”, and had the most cellar dwellings he had ever seen in the area. Cellars were the coldest, dampest and most dangerous but cheapest places for workers to live. Disease was common in the working-class areas, with regular typhus and cholera epidemics meaning the death rate in all of Stockport and Manchester (including suburbs) was the highest in the country in 1869, at 31-32 deaths per 1,000 population, a rate that must have been higher in working-class districts. Overcrowding was a major problem, even by 1891 there were found to be 132 cases of Stockport families sharing one room, and two of these were families of seven. As late as 1921, the average number of occupants of a house was 4.2 people, meaning at the upper end of this range there were families of over seven living in three or four rooms.

The main industry in Stockport was the textiles industry, with half of the population employed in it in 1851. These industries were increasingly becoming moved to mills from the domestic sphere, as independent workers could not compete with the increased output of the mills. And into the 20th century these mills were moving out of the hands of individuals or family companies into the control of corporations, who raised capital by selling shares in the company. By the 1880s “super mills” were being constructed, including the two Broadstone Mills, which were in 1907 the largest spinning mill in the world, with 262500 spindles (the object which thread is spun round on a spinning machine). Hatting was also a key industry in the town, moving into mills before the 1890s, when 4730 people worked in the industry, making mostly felt hats. There was a brief coal industry in Stockport from 1875 to 1900, but coal was quickly exhausted and pits were forced to close.

The wave of immigration from Ireland, especially after and during the Potato Famine meant that in 1851 about one in 10 Stopfordians were born in Ireland, and more were born of Irish families in England. This caused tension between the working-class English and Irish. The working-class Irish were generally considered to accept poorer pay and worse living conditions than the English, as they had much less resources as subsistence farmers in Ireland, for example some of them frequently went barefoot and did not expect to eat meat several times a week. This resulted in Irish workers being employed instead of English workers, and the reduction of wages due to employers deciding to pay everyone the wages that only the Irish would accept, therefore making everyone else accept these wages for fear of losing their job. The Irish workers were seen as socially inferior to the English, and were especially mistrusted because of their Catholicism. In Stockport, this resulted in the Anti-Irish Riots of 1852, when a gang of English youths attacked a group of Irish men and other English people destroyed Catholic churches, resulting in 100 people being injured.

With the burgeoning manufacturing industries, there was pressure on schools such as Stockport Grammar School to focus more on a commercial education than a classical education, by abandoning Greek for the more profitable Spanish, for instance. The school was split in two, the more popular, classical Upper School and the commercial Lower School, so they could continue with classical teaching but still attract parents who wanted their children to go into industry. By 1848 fees were charged for the Upper School, starting at two guineas per head per annum, whilst the Lower School was still free. Despite this, the pupils were described as being entirely middle-class, according to a school inspection, the school having lost its veritable egalitarianism of the 17th century. Presumably many of the Lower School pupils went on to be factory owners and industrialists in the mills of Manchester and the surrounding towns.

The new school building on Greek Street, near Wellington Road was initially in another prosperous, middle-class part of town. It was built by Phillip Hardwick at the cost of £5,000 in a Tudor Gothic Style to accommodate the headmaster and some boarders and to teach 150 pupils. The Goldsmiths picked a good site, near a major road and on a hill, as all coming through Stockport could see it. It was opened for teaching on 30th April 1832 with a procession including the Company of Goldsmiths, the Mayor, the Bailiff of the Manor, local clergy and 110 pupils. Before 1848 there was still free tuition, books and stationery for the pupils accepted via entrance exam.

Across from Stockport Grammar School, on Wellington Road was the National School, which educated poor children at the cost of a penny a week. Around this time there were attempts to improve the education of working-class children, so that they would not have to work excessive hours in factories whilst they were still young. In Stockport, the education readily available to working-class children was the Sunday Schools, though they were often inadequate in all teaching, both theological and secular, and were not frequent enough for the children to learn anything of value. The 1834 Factory Act meant that all children under 14 had to spend two hours a day at school, whether they were working or not. However, the schools that working-class children were sent to were often poorly staffed, possibly by illiterate old factory-hands, and many children employed in factories were illegally pulled out of school to work, and they dared not complain in case they were made unemployed.

The 1880 Education Act made it compulsory for five to 10 year olds to attend school, though by the early 1890s attendance of all pupils was down to 82%, due to being pulled out of school illegally, as their family needed the income. The 1902 Education Act caused an increase in the number of secondary grammar schools and allowed existing to be subsidised by local councils. With another act, the 1918 Education Act the school leaving age was raised again from 12 to 14, with day classes for children aged 14 to 18 in work. This did not necessarily mean that all working-class children had the sort of education their peers got at Stockport Grammar School, but it gave them the basic tools to be employed in high-skill professions and allowed a small number to go to university.

Due to the increased availability of other, cheaper schools and industrialisation meaning that you did not need to learn Greek to get rich by opening a factory, the number of pupils shrank until by 1887 there were only five in the Upper School and 17 in the Lower School. The small number of pupils left the school vulnerable to petty feuds between the two opposite schools. In the winter of 1871 to 1872, a snow ball fight between Stockport Grammar School and the National School got out of hand, and the larger number of National School pupils drove the Stockport Grammar School pupils back into the school, some of the other pupils infiltrating as far as the main hall. One boy sought safety in a cupboard, which was also occupied by a skeleton used for science demonstrations, and when he leapt out of the cupboard in horror he found it was hooked onto his back, scaring away the National School pupils for good.

Due to the Grammar School’s low pupil numbers the school sold part of their playing field in 1887 and a Technical College was built there, the only council run school until 1902 it still exists as Stockport College. However, the arrival of a new headmaster, Rev. William Alfred Pemberton, caused the numbers of Stockport Grammar School pupils to increase again, reaching 89 by 1889 with numbers settling at 120 in the 1890s. Around this time, in 1881, the Goldsmiths’ Company severed their connections with the school for the time being by having the school remove inscriptions on the building front about their patronage.

Due to an increase in demand for a liberal education, the school built their first science lab in 1902, and began teaching four hours of Science each week, which allowed them to get a grant of £150 a year. But soon the school had outgrown their original site, having 155 pupils in 1910, and the area had become noisy due to traffic from the electric tram which was introduced in 1902. As in common with their previous exoduses, they moved to the quieter, middle-class area around Buxton Road. The building was vacated by the end of 1915. It was used as an evening school and a hired hall, until the Town Council was looking for a place for their War Memorial and found the elevated, central location of the old school ideal, so the building was demolished in 1923. The names of the 52 Old Stopfordians who died in the First World War can be found on this memorial, on the site of their old school.

Six areas were considered for a site, including one deemed to be too near Stepping Hill Hospital and another in Davenport was too far from any tram line. The area chosen was the Bramhall Lodge Estate, which was chosen due to its proximity to the London & North Western Railway Line, with a station nearby in Davenport. The architects Spalding and Spalding drew up plans for the building, which the Board of Education objected to, deeming them too elaborate for a school. The Governors countered by saying that the building was to be “of a character suitable for a Grammar School and not limited to those of an ordinary Secondary School”, according to James and William Ball in Stockport Grammar School 1487- 1987. The Board of Education disapproved of the £32,000 cost (which would have bought over 3,000 cows at the time), so the swimming pool was cut from the plan. But the architects managed to persuade the Governors to pay £500 for the building to be elevated by two feet, so it would look more impressive from the railway. Stockport was very near to Britain’s first successful railway line, the Liverpool to Manchester Line, which opened in 1830. This allowed these two cities to grow into the great port city and the great industrial city they became in the late 19th century. The raw materials, like cotton, that the factories in Manchester needed were brought by boat or ship to Liverpool, which they came to ultimately from cotton plantations in the US worked by enslaved African-Americans.

The Foundation Stone was laid on the 4th April 1914 by Walter Bright Hodgkinson, who was the Chairman of Governors. The charity of a former mayor of Stockport, Ephraim Hallam, contributed two thirds of the building funds. Ephraim Hallam built Heavily Mill in 1859. The school was formally opened in the middle of the First World War in an appropriate manner, by Colonel George Dixon, Commandant of the Cheshire Volunteer Regiment. He was received by a guard of honour by the Grammar School Detachment of his very own regiment.

This building was designed to teach 250 pupils in ten classrooms in a two storey block around the Quadrangle. However, this number was soon exceeded, there were 256 pupils by the end of 1916 and 324 by 1920. Due to the numbers of male teachers leaving teaching to go into the Armed Forces, female teachers were needed to be employed to fill the vacancies, though they were strictly segregated from the male teachers.

Little over a month after moving in to the new building, the Grammar School Cadet Corps were formed in March of 1916 and were affiliated to the 6th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. The headmaster of the time, Alfred Edward Daniels was Commandant, with the staff not called up for regular army duty as officers. The ranks swelled to 100 and several members went straight on to the armed forces after leaving school. After the war the Corps floundered, and it was disbanded in 1921, the uniforms going to Russia as aid.

160 Old Stopfordians had volunteered to fight in the First World War before conscription was introduced, and many others joined the Armed Forces after conscription, both willingly and unwillingly. The 52 Old Stopfordians who died in combat were recorded on the School’s War Memorial, which was made and carved by Mr JL Taylor, the woodwork teacher at the time. Three of the men who did not return from the war left the school in 1916, LD Coburn, JL Pritchard and GCL Walsh were all under nineteen when they fought and died in the trenches.

Industry in the town had to change during the First World War. The National Aircraft Factory Number Two was built in 1917, and employed 2,500 workers from both the car and plane manufacturing industry. It produced 400 de Haviland DH9 fighter bombers and over seven large DH9 bombers. Industry in Stockport generally had begun to decline around this period, for example, only one quarter of the working population of Stockport was employed in the textiles industry in 1921 down from a half seventy years previously. This was despite a post-WWI boom in cotton spinning which meant that the town reached peak spinning capacity in 1920, but these machines needed fewer workers to operate them than earlier ones, and industry had diversified since 1851. But from this peak the cotton industry began to decline in Stockport, as foreign competition was beginning to make cheaper products.

Just after the war ended the first Sixth Form was created, then with nine pupils. Three subjects were taught for the Higher School Certificate: Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Physics as well as subsidiary English.

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