Scarborough Boys’ High School joined the elite

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by Dr Jack Binns

In the summer of 1922 the Municipal School at Westwood lost its girls and instead gained a hundred new boys with their headmaster, Mr CF Turnbull, from St Martin’s grammar school. Mr Bevan stayed on as head of the new all-boys school until his retirement the following year.

The amalgamation of two different, rival boys’ schools from opposite sides of the Valley, which was still a distinctive social boundary, might easily have caused ill-feeling and friction. That it did not was a credit to both staffs who from the beginning worked together in harmony. When Turnbull became second master to the new head, Mr Fred Mayor, and there was an objection from the Muni’s previous second master, Turnbull generously offered to surrender the position. His offer was rejected and the two men were friends as well as colleagues from then on.

When Mr Mayor (1923-6) took up his post at what was now called from September the Scarborough High School for Boys, there were only 263 pupils at Westwood. However, year by year, the numbers increased to 450 by 1933 and 500 by 1937. A preparatory department with entry at eight had been added to the main school in 1927 so that some boys attended for as many as 10 or 11 years altogether.

Another reason for the expansion of numbers was that from 1926 onwards the county council was permitted to offer 50 per cent of the total of admissions to scholarship boys instead of the previous limit of 25 per cent. Fee-paying was still an insuperable bar to many parents, particularly since the school-leaving age remained fixed at 14 until as late as 1948.

Thirdly, the curriculum was much enriched under headmaster Raymond King (1926-30) and then Henry Marsden (1930-61). German became a main school subject in 1931; biology was re-introduced in 1933; Geometrical and Machine Drawing in 1941; and Latin in 1946. The strength of the sciences and practical subjects throughout the school, inherited from the Muni, was still evident. In 1950 the metal workshop was re-equipped with new machinery.

By our standards, when there are now about a thousand students at Scarborough Sixth Form College at Sandybed, the sixth form of the Boys’ High School was minuscule. In 1930, only 30 boys took the Higher School Certificate and 20 years later still only 70.

Nevertheless, the quality of these High School sixth-formers and their teachers was quite extraordinary. Even as early as 1931, there were only 14 other public and state secondary schools in the whole of England which were rated more highly by the London Board of Education for “organized advanced courses”. As a result, much to the delight and pride of Henry Marsden and his talented staff, their school became one of only 20 in the north of England to be eligible for Hastings scholarships at the Queen’s College, Oxford. Scarborough now joined the elite company which included, for instance, Newcastle Royal and Manchester Grammar School.

It was a deserved accolade of which the school took early and full advantage. Between 1934 and 1943 the Boys’ High won seven open scholarships at Cambridge colleges and between 1942 and 1946 there followed four Hastings awards, two in history and two in modern languages.

Another indication of the direction favoured by Henry Marsden was the adoption of rugby union, instead of soccer, in 1937. With a fixture list which included some of the strongest schools in the north-east of England, from Hull to Ampleforth, Scarborough Boys’ had declared its arrival. The high standard achieved by its teams in rugby, cricket and hockey was reached in spite of the lack of adjacent playing fields, the one vital amenity not provided by the Westwood planners.

The continued expansion of the Boys’ High, now well beyond the 400 pupils for which Westwood had been built 60 years earlier, finally convinced the North Riding education authority that it had the means as well as the need to build a new school at Scarborough for the 10 per cent who were allowed to pass the formidable 11+ entrance examination. Also, what Henry Marsden merrily called “a good half-hour’s walk to loosen the joints before play”, the handicap of sports fields on a mountain top two miles distant, was another important consideration of the county.

In September 1959, exactly 20 years after the girls had made a similar journey out of the town to Sandybed, nearly 700 boys and their teachers moved out of Westwood to their new home at Woodlands on the north-western outskirts, half way between the crematorium and the hospital. Westwood became a boys’ secondary modern, 15 years after the Butler Act required it; later a “temporary” venue for Alan Ayckbourn’s theatre in the round; and finally an outpost of Yorkshire Coast College.

After 31 years of exemplary service, Henry Marsden retired in 1961. Alec Gardiner took his place in what was already regarded as the most modern, innovative and best-equipped grammar school in the north of England.