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Halesowen Grammar School

A Formative Influence

Hales Owen

HALES Owen dates back to Saxon times, for it appears in the Domesday Book: "In Clent Hundred, Earl Roger holds of the King one Manor called Halas; it contains ten hides. . . . it is yearly worth 25s" Clent Hundred was in the northern part of the county of Worcestershire.

In 1177 Henry II gave the Manor of Hales to David ap Owen and soon after it took the name Hales Owen. Subsequently the Abbey of Hales Owen was built and occupied by 1218. and the village took the name. By 1272 it had grown to a small town and was created the Borough of Hales Owen. It did not become known as Halesowen until recent years.

The subsequent history of the town over the next few hundred years need not concern us. Suffice to say that this small town set in the countryside of Worcestershire would have been little different from the many other small towns in the Midlands. The nearest large city of any significance was Worcester itself with its cathedral, castle and law courts. Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the West Midlands conurbation of today were then rolling countryside with a sparse population.

The First Free School

In 1614 a small Free School was set up in the town for the education of those local children whose parents wished them to be able to read, write and study the Scriptures. This would have been funded by local people in an ad hoc fashion and run by a clerk in Holy Orders. There are no records from the school but it is likely to have had a mere handful of pupils.

In Queen Elizabeth's time an Act had empowered the Lord Chancellor to "redress the misemployment of lands, goods and money hitherto given to certain charitable uses" because it had been found that there was widespread abuse of charitable trusts. This law was still on the statute book when in 1652, during the Commonwealth period, an inquiry was held into the misappropriation of funds that dated back to the dissolution of the Hales Owen Abbey in 1538. As a result of this inquiry it was decreed that "these lands and properties should . . . hereafter be governed, ordered and employed towards the maintenance and erection of a Free School within the town of Hales Owen and a Schoolmaster to teach and instruct within the said School the children of the inhabitants of the said town and parish of Hales Owen to read English Grammar and other Literature . . ."

The Endowed Free School

As a result of this decree, new trustees were appointed by the worthy citizens of Hales Owen and a new free school was built and a new schoolmaster appointed. This building and school continued to function unchanged with varying degrees of success over the next 200 years during which the region saw an immense change caused by the Industrial Revolution. Hales Owen found itself on the southern fringes of the Black Country, that hundred square miles of countryside situated on the South Staffordshire coalfield between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

In the first half of the 19th century the economic need for education was becoming obvious especially to the increasing numbers of middle-class families, often the owners of small businesses. An attempt was made by these families to use the school's charitable funds to expand the school and make it fee-paying, thereby providing them with the education they required for their sons, subsidised by the charity. The downside was that the children of the poor would be excluded, which did not concern them unduly. However, Archdeacon Hone, Rector of Hales Owen and chairman of the trustees, appeared before the Charity Commissioners and argued, successfully, that this went against the decrees of 1652.

The 1864 School

The 1864-1908 School Interior A compromise was eventually agreed that a new larger school would be built and nominal fees would be charged that would depend on the father's occupation. For a labourer's son the charge would be a few shillings per term; for the more affluent the fees could be several pounds. So in 1864 the old school was demolished and a new school built on the same site and this remained in use until 1908. This new 1864 school was rather small, consisting of a single hall with desks sufficient for about 60 children. As can be seen, it was rather like a large barn and was probably about as comfortable! An interesting architectural feature was the use of decorative brickwork which at that period was considered extremely avant-garde.

The 1864-1908 School The school also provided accommodation for the headmaster. This is shown to the right of the main door in this photo and the school hall is to the left. In the period from 1864 to 1884 this school had several ups and downs, due mostly to the somewhat variable quality of headmasters and assistant teachers. After an incompetent headmaster was fired in 1884, he was replaced by an Irishman, Mr Disney, and the standards of the school were vastly improved. Most pupils attended between the ages of about 10 and 15 after which they could read, write, do basic arithmetic and have some knowledge of history and geography. It did not turn out scholars destined to pass on to the universities.

The Expansion of Education

There were a succession of Education Acts in the late 19th century aimed at improving education in England and Wales, both primary and secondary. The earlier Acts were enabling measures giving local councils and other bodies the powers to build schools and pay teachers. The result was a rather patchy provision depending on the needs and views of local worthies - who were often the principal employers of the area. Very often their priorities were a ready supply of cheap labour and low local taxation. The results in the Black Country were among the worst in the country.

Later legislation was more forceful, e.g. the 1902 Act, which directed County Councils to set up Education Authorities with powers to take over schools and build new schools where necessary and apply local rates to that purpose. At Hales Owen the trustees of the free school were consulted about a take-over and at first demurred. But on reflection, faced with the building of a rival County Secondary School in the town they realised that their school could not compete. After lengthy negotiation it was agreed that the free school would co-operate with the County Council, would surrender some of its freehold endowments and allow the building of a new bigger modern school in adjacent grounds. As a part of this arrangement the County Council appointed some of the school governors. The building plans were to be drawn up by the County Architect's department.

The 1908 Building

A feature of the new scheme was that a substantial number of the pupils would be admitted to free places on merit. Some of these were to come from the surrounding area of Worcestershire and some from the neighbouring part of Staffordshire, for whom Staffordshire County Council would provide funds.

Another revolutionary change that some of the 1905 governors found hard to agree to was that the new school was to admit boys and girls. But the Director of Education for Worcestershire and, more importantly, the new headmaster, Mr Ralph Dickinson, insisted on it being implemented.

Late in 1905 the plans for the new school were drawn up and tenders sought. By the beginning of 1908 the new school had been built at a cost of about £6,000 - equivalent to over £1 million today. This included a stylish large headmaster's house in the school grounds set further up on the hill behind the school. The school was built to accommodate about 200 pupils and at the time was considered to be rather an extravagant undertaking. Such an expansion in grammar school provision was unprecedented. What these worthies could not foresee was the scale of expansion of secondary education that was to take place in the period 1905 to 1930. Within a few years of building this new school it was overcrowded. So much so that by 1930 a massive extension - far bigger than the 1908 building - had to be built.

Here is a view of the 1908 school taken a few years after it opened. By this time the cricket field had been levelled. Note the Union Flag flying at the flagpole. The headmaster's study is by the main door (centre of photo) facing to your left down the drive to the main school gates. As at LCGS, the headmaster could see all comings and goings!

Halesowen Grammar School c.1914

Neville Bradshaw - 1908

By coincidence our late headmaster, Neville Bradshaw, then aged 12, was one of the pupils in the first new intake in September 1908. By great good fortune a photo of the pupils and staff was taken that autumn and a copy still exists. We were able to borrow it and we reproduce it here. Sure enough a small severely cropped boy in an Eton collar can be seen that is undoubtedly him. An enlarged scan of him is shown in the top right-hand corner.

Staff and Pupils 1908

The 1908 school had been built about 100 yards uphill from the old 1864 school which was not demolished for some years. The old 1864 school was then referred to as Lower School and was used for woodwork, art and other activities for several years. For a few years it was used as a junior prep school with links to the school but that did not prosper and it had several other uses before it was demolished in 1974 to make way for a road widening and roundabout scheme to relieve traffic congestion.

HGS Soccer Team 1912/13By chance a photo of the school 1912 Soccer team has survived that was taken outside the ivy-clad exterior of the old school building in front of the main door. And there, third from the right in the back row, stands Neville Bradshaw, aged 16. One notes the disparate physiques of the boys in the team. Many children in poorer families in those days were inadequately nourished and some had their growth retarded by illnesses that today are a distant memory - diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles and of course tuberculosis which often went undiagnosed until it eventually killed.

The School 1931 - 1950

Stained Glass panel in the 1931 Hall The Old "Lower School" built in 1864 had been greatly expanded by the 1908 school. The growth in grammar school education after the Great War was such that by the mid-twenties plans were drawn up for much larger extension which opened in 1931. This extension, with a large assembly hall, more than doubled the size of the school. The stained glass window is in the main hall of the 1931 school.

And Yet More Growth !

An aerial photo taken c.1950 shows how Halesowen Grammar School evolved. After 1950 a technical school was built in the fields behind the school and this too became a part of the school. In 1972, like our own school in Lewes, it became part of a larger comprehensive school called The Earls High School. Now it is a school for 11 to 16 year-old pupils and there is a separate sixth-form college elsewhere.

The School c.1950

NRB - HGS Magazine