Progressive innovation

Storm Jameson
Storm Jameson

Written by Dr Jack Binns

The Muni was a happy, healthy balance of sensible tradition and progressive innovation. Some classes were separate, but adolescent boys and girls mixed freely and equally in assemblies and nearly all the many school clubs and outdoor pursuits. The presence of girls was an appreciated asset, not just in the school choir, the school band, the school play, the Christmas break-up parties and not least in the Muni’s celebrated academic record. Of the 22 county major scholarships won in 20 years, 13 went to girls. On average, the girls stayed on longer and outnumbered the boys in the “sixth form”.

One of those very clever, ambitious young ladies was Margaret Storm Jameson. Not until 1912 did Whitby, her home town, have a county secondary school of its own, so in 1907 this 16-year-old arrived at the Muni by train. Her expressed purpose was to secure one of the only three county major scholarships offered annually by the North Riding. The scholarships were worth £60 a year and awarded on the results of the Cambridge university senior matriculation examinations. Margaret could not afford to go to Cambridge, but with £60 she could just pay the annual fees of Leeds university and her mother said she would find an extra pound a week to cover her living costs there.

A lesser man than headmaster Arthur Tetley might have been offended when Mrs Jameson told him bluntly that her daughter would come every day by train from Whitby and in two years would win one of those North Riding scholarships. However, Mr Tetley already had several precocious pupils in class 5B and soon discovered that Margaret would be in good company there.

Indeed, one of those talented, though wayward boys, also 16-years-old, was Sydney Harland from Snainton. He had spent two years at Falsgrave Board School and in 1903 won a major scholarship to the Muni. Sixty years later, when writing his autobiography, Sydney looked back with the most grateful and vivid memories of his days at the Muni.

Margaret’s love of literature was born at the Municipal School. As she wrote much later:

“None of us knew our luck in having AS Tetley as headmaster, a well-bred man and a humanist, with a genius for awakening enthusiasm in the minds of the barbarians he was condemned to teach. The afternoon he read [Milton’s] Lycidas to us blinded me with the light that met Saul on the way to Damascus.”

At the Muni she blossomed: as secretary of the Natural History and the Literary Societies and editor of the school magazine. The author of 45 published novels had her first short story in the Muni’s magazine.

Sydney Harland’s interests were different: he wanted to be a scientist, specialising in biology and geology, yet he too found his true element at the Muni. Unlike most contemporary grammar and public schools, Scarborough’s was strong in the sciences. In 1901 it had begun as a school of science and four of its original staff of six teachers were science graduates. Even some of the country’s newest and largest grammar schools had cause to envy the Muni’s upper-floor laboratories, purpose-designed for experiments in physics and chemistry and its lecture theatre.

At 17 Sydney spent a year as a pupil-teacher at Friarage. His own family background was poor (at one time his father sold second-hand bananas!), but never before had he been so close to so much deprivation. His classes of seven and eight-year-olds, mainly from the fishing community, were filthy, ragged and lousy. Some of them had no shoes. The odour of unwashed bodies and clothes sickened him but reinforced his socialist convictions.

Still the Muni had given him the education he needed to gain a £50 scholarship to King’s College in London and three years later a BSc in geology. It was the start of a brilliant productive career which earned him world-wide fame and reputation as “the foremost plant geneticist in the British empire”. When he died at his home in Snainton in 1982 he had come a long way from the Muni boy who made his own stink bombs in the “chemy lab” and disrupted a Conservative party meeting in the Londesborough theatre with one of them.

Not that the Muni suited all its gifted pupils. Leo Walmsley also went there by train from his home in Robin Hood’s Bay, but he neglected his studies, became a persistent, pugnacious truant and left with minimum qualifications. Unlike Storm Jameson, his 20 novels and 200 published short stories and newspaper articles were not initially inspired by schoolteachers.

Headmaster Tetley died suddenly in the middle of the Great War in 1916. Bevan was his natural successor. He had been at the Muni since 1900 as head of the higher-grade part of the school. As a scientist he broke the traditional monopoly of Classics heads, but his interests, like those of his predecessor, were wide-ranging and included botany, geology, geography and ornithology. For many years he was president of Scarborough Field Naturalists.

Then abruptly, surprisingly and regrettably, the Muni was “assassinated”. It was a victim of post-war austerity and endemic misogyny. In 1912 St Martin’s grammar school could be maintained no longer by the Anglican church and passed into the care of the North Riding. With 130 boys its premises were overcrowded, inadequate and outdated. The “solution” devised in Northallerton and approved in Scarborough was to amalgamate St Martin’s with the boys of the Muni and put them all into the Westwood building. So there was no room there for the Muni girls: they were expelled to make do with new cramped quarters at Westlands, a former girls’ private school emptied after the 1914 bombardment. The Scarborough Boys’ High School was created at their expense.