History – Chapter 1

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EVAN EVANS 1897-1909

Kilburn Grammar School’s history equals in time the proverbial human life span of three score years and ten. Like a human being it was born, it grew in size, in strength and in achievement and it reached maturity. Its end came in 1967 and almost all that could be identified with it rapidly ceased to be.

For its first ten years KGS was a private establishment with a claim to public status. Its founder was the Rev Dr H G Bonavia Hunt, vicar of St. Paul’s Kilburn, a church which later became redundant and was demolished in 1936. Hunt was a man of remarkable energy and range of activity. He was forty years old in 1897 and his first qualification had been in music. He was born in Malta, the son of William Hunt, so it was presumably from a Maltese mother that the name “Bonavia” was derived. His doctorate was conferred by Trinity College, Dublin in 1887. For over twenty years he edited “Cassell’s Magazine”. He was founder and editor of “Little Folks”, editor of “The Quiver”, founder and first warden of Trinity College of Music in London and author of a “Concise History of Music” which by 1913 had reached its eighteenth edition. Ordained in the Church of England in 1878, he came to St. Paul’s in 1887 and left in 1905. He died in 1917.

The Rev. H G Bonavia Hunt

The Founder and First Warden
The Rev. H G Bonavia Hunt

Bonavia Hunt was in 1896 elected as a member by the Willesden School Board. Set up under an act of 1870, these Boards were bodies empowered to levy a rate and were charged with the duty of providing “elementary education” where it was not already being given in church or other voluntary schools. In 1900 he became chairman and so remained until School Boards ceased to be in 1903.

Willesden, of which Kilburn forms the south-east corner, was in the 1890’s a growing London suburb. Hunt later declared that his initial reason for founding a new school was solely to provide a choir school for his church, “but it soon became evident that there was a pressing need in the whole neighbourhood for a school which should provide secondary education for boys.” It must be noted that before the 1926 “Hadow Report”, “secondary” defined school education of a higher level than the basic “elementary” and not, as now, a stage in the educational process between “primary” and “higher”. In 1897 there was no general state provision for secondary education.

Dr Hunt appears to have collected a body of influential citizens, probably those later named as governors of the new school, and in 1897 a “Deed of Foundation” was drawn up for the Kilburn Grammar School. The first governors included the Vicar of Willesden, the Chairman of the Willesden Board of Guardians, the Vicar of St Gabriel’s, Willesden Green, a JP who was a past Sheriff of London, a formerChairman of Willesden District Council, the then Chairman of the Willesden School Board and Hunt, as warden and honorary treasurer, seven in all.

An advertisement for the school appeared in the local press on 7 January 1898. It announced that a school “For the Sons of Business and Professional Men” would open on 10 January at 1 Willesden Lane “Close to the route of omnibuses from Cricklewood, Marble Arch, etc.” Termly fees were three guineas for seniors and two guineas for juniors. It was to be a “first grade modern school”. A later advertisement noted that scholarships and exhibitions to a total annual value of £100 were awarded. The headmaster was Evan Evans, RA Lond late senior lecturer of CuIham College, Oxford. At that time Evans was thirty years of age.

On the first day thirty-three boys assembled in the school’s one room! Numbers grew and Hunt approached the Willesden Technical Education Committee, of which he was a member, to secure the use of two rooms in the Polytechnic Institute building in Priory Park Road for the Easter term and an additional one for the summer term. Later, when he sought a continuation of the arrangement, he ran into opposition from another member, W B Luke, a prominent local Liberal, a Free-churchman and a fellow member of the school board. Luke argued that the Polytechnic needed the rooms and that it was wrong for a public body to be identified with a private venture.

Evan Evans and Class

Evan Evans and Class c1899-1900

It was clear that Luke had touched a sensitive spot. In August a letter from Hunt appeared in the local press, refuting the description “private venture” and asserting that KGS was a public grammar school established by voluntary effort. Its governors were precluded from deriving any profit save for bona fide services. The Technical Education Committee had been invited to nominate a governor, a post which Luke could easily have taken up, but his “party is desirous of crushing all voluntary effort, and of establishing an opposition secondary school in the Institute”. The following week a reply appeared, not from Luke but from “B.A. Cantab.” It asserted that the school had been started for Dr. Hunt’s own reasons under a headmaster he had appointed; scholarships and exhibitions were in effect reserved for St. Paul’s choir- boys and the school was not a public grammar school but should be called “St Paul’s Choir School, Kilburn” or “Bonavia College”. To this letter was appended a vigorous editorial note, commending Hunt for taking risks to fill an education gap in contrast to the actions of those “who only seek to wreck it because they do not approve of the manner in which he set about performing a public service.” Hunt replied that scholarships and exhibitions were open to all and complained of “sectarian prejudice” and “factitious opposition”.

The charge of sectarian prejudice is a reminder that Church of England versus Free Churches, especially in education, was a very live issue at that time. In April 1898 a lengthy advertisement had appeared, listing the governors, and declaring that the religious education would be in accordance with Church of England principles, but without party bias and that a conscience clause protected other churches and faiths. On 28 January an advertisement had for the first time referred to the Bishop of London as “Visitor”. Such an official was not a social caller! In the middle-ages a Visitor was charged to visit, inspect and where necessary reform religious establishments, among which schools were then included. In modern days the post was titular rather than real. At about the same time the advertisements began to be surmounted by a bishop’s mitre, which gave them a distinctive appearance shared by no other local school advertisement. In securing Bishop Mandell Creighton’s cognizance Hunt probably at the same time received permission to use the shield of the see of London – crossed swords on a red ground, surmounted by a mitre – as school badge. It was presumably also at this time that the school’s motto, “Pasce Agnos Meos” was adopted.

In June 1898, while the school was still in three rooms, there appeared an advertisement headed “Forward Movement in Secondary Education.” It claimed “Professional, Commercial and Civil Service Departments”. In January 1899 KGS reopened after the holidays in a large house at 28 Cavendish Road.

KGS at Cavendish Road 1899-1900

Kilburn Grammar School at Cavendish Road 1899-1900

There were now about eighty-five pupils. In July the first annual prize distribution or “Speech Day” was held at West Hampstead Town Hall. Mr Irwin B Cox MP took the chair. Evans reported that there were 106 boys, 20 in the junior or preparatory department. There were 7 staff – this number would have included part-timers – all graduates or trained teachers. During the course of the evening a school song was sung. The words were by Bonavia Hunt and the music by Leonard Butler, the organist at St Paul’s, Kilburn. In view of the school’s later attachment to Shakespearean production, it is interesting to note that a scene from “Julius Caesar” was given by the boys. The lower school sang two songs and presented recitations in English, French and German, the senior school also gave items in French and German, there was violin music and S Elston, the head boy chaired a debate by pupils on “Is knowledge of Latin essential to success in life?”. Hunt in his remarks revealed that a site had been secured in Salusbury Road for a purpose built school.

In the event construction had to begin sooner than the governors had expected. The Cavendish Road premises had to be quitted and no suitable temporary home could be found. They were forced into a bold step. A trust was formed to raise the £4,500 needed. The architect was G B Carvill and construction was by George Neal. In April 1900 the school began to move piecemeal into still uncompleted buildings. The conditions did not prevent it from giving the first “Play Night”, in July at St George’s Hall, Langham Place, during which the Sixth Form presented “Richard II”.

The first really “grand occasion” in the life of KGS was undoubtedly the opening of the new “Speech Hall” by Bishop Mandell Creighton in July 1900. The local press reported that the practically completed buildings on a site nearly opposite the Maria Grey College were of red brick with Portland stone dressing. Evans’ report claimed a classical department in the school, as well as those already named. Pupils were beginning to sit a somewhat motley assortment of public examinations. Shakespeare, sport, a proposed rifle corps and swimming were among the other matters to which he referred. In the previous September “The Kilburn Times” had made favourable comment on the school’s swimming activity. Bishop Creighton distributed the prizes and spoke disparagingly of the general state of English education. He stressed the importance of parents not handing over education entirely to the professionals. They must “get inside the school and regard themselves as part of it”. They were wise words from a respected figure. Mandell Creighton was a parish priest and a Cambridge historian who was consecrated Bishop of Peterborough in 1891. Translated to London in 1897, his tenure there was brief for he died six months after his visit to Kilburn. Permission was given by his widow to call the hall “Creighton Hall”.

Press reports of the 1901 speech day contain the first mention I have found of staff names other than that of Evans. E F Hamer, BSc was second master and visiting staff included C Couillault, B-es-L and Herr Lazarowitch. Sgt.-Major Ibbs of the Royal Fusiliers took “Battalion Drill”. From April 1902 to October 1903 staff were listed in the school advertisement. The first list included the four already named and A Golland MA, Rev W H Braille MA, D. R. Stephenson, ACL, T. Miles TCM, and Senor T Pinochet professor titulado, Univ. Salamanca. At this speech day Evans commented on the school’s need of a permanent playing field and indicated that a benefactor could expect to have his name perpetuated in return. “The Kilburn Times” took up the matter with emphasis. It said that the Kilburn Grammar School had taken its place as one of the educational centres of the metropolis and would bring fame and credit to the locality. Some “local Carnegie” was needed! Until parliament did something for schools of this character, there would remain the anomaly of a local board school, with a large playground provided by ratepayers, standing almost next to a school for the children of those who provided the bulk of the rates, which had no more ground than one could swing a proverbial cat in. The board school was Salusbury Road, then in process of being built, and, incidentally, intended to have far more pupils crammed into it than KGS was ever to know! At the same function Hunt, who claimed credit for the discovery and appointment of Evans, revealed that the headmaster had recently declined appointment as an HMI. Subsequent events were to give an ironic twist to this refusal.

Speech night in 1902 saw the unveiling of a memorial window in the Hall to Mandell Creighton by his successor, Bishop Winnington Ingram. It had been subscribed for by the pupils. Evans again mentioned the opening of a preparatory department, which is puzzling unless we assume that it had been discontinued for a while. It is clear that in those years KGS was not a secondary school in the modern sense. In 1906 mention is made of the youngest boy in the school as a “little dot” of five years. Evans’ speech also included a curious eulogy on the teaching of singing to boys. “Vocal music is held with us, not only as a grand vehicle for instilling in the boys a proper sense of patriotism by means of national songs, but also as a physical exercise, for it is an excellent antidote against the possibility of drooping, round shouldered and hollow chested boys”. It also helped to prevent consumption.

The governors were now experiencing financial problems. There was no “foundation” income and the buildings had cost a lot. In September 1902 Hunt led a deputation to Willesden District Council to urge that ratepayers whose children did not go to publicly maintained schools should receive some assistance by way of schools like KGS None was forthcoming. “The Kilburn Times” gave its habitual support but a correspondent calling himself “Fairplay” wrote rudely that if the school was not self-supporting it should reduce its expensive staff or raise its fees.

The Balfour Act of 1902 had made county councils responsible for “higher” or “secondary” education. Middlesex County Council found Willesden very ill provided. Luke, now chairman of the Willesden Technical Education Committee, was talking of a school to be opened by the county and Hunt protested that this would harm KGS Luke disclaimed any such intention but said that though he knew little of the school it was “denominational”. In 1904 the earlier dispute was repeated with even greater vigour. As before Hunt at once had recourse to the local press, denying that KGS was under the control of St Paul’s Church. As before Luke published no written answer, but others weighed in, “Educationalist”, “Vindex”, “A Parent” being nom-de- plumes used. They seem to have had the better of the argument, pointing out that Hunt was chairman of the governors, that the vicars of St Paul’s were to be ex-officio governors after him, that he had nominated the first seven governors for five years, that their secretary and clerk was H J Harrington, a churchwarden of St Paul’s and that one of his assistant clergy, Braine was on the school staff. Furthermore, his elder son, Wilfrid Hunt, was now second master. Hunt claimed that this was Evans’ doing and contrary to his own wishes since nepotism could be alleged. The critics also pointed out that the Bishop of London was “visitor” and that twenty choristers of St Paul’s had places at a nominal £1 per year each. Hunt nevertheless had the last word, challenging his opponents to come out from behind their “unmanly” aliases. They declined to do so!

This episode was preceded by a mysterious quarrel between Evans and the governors. All that we know for certain is that on 16 October 1903 “The Times” (of London), carried an announcement that the headship of Kilburn Grammar School would shortly be vacant and enquiries were invited. The problem must have been sorted out before the end of the year. What part Hunt played is unknown but he could scarcely have allowed himself to be overruled in such a matter, although he claimed to have been so done in the matter of his son’s appointment as second master.

Fifth Form c1903

Fifth Form c1903

It was at the time of this advertisement that the school’s regular insert in the local press revealed a change in the academic organisation. The commercial department continued as before, but professional and civil service were replaced by “Science”, offering chemistry, physics, hygiene, etc., and “Art”, providing primary, advanced and technical drawing. The last cannot have taken root, for it is the recollection of our present senior “Old Boy”, H A Lane, (1907-1913) that there was almost no art taught in his day.

Hunt left his incumbency at St Paul’s in 1905. Naturally he also ceased to be a governor. It is perhaps significant that in 1906 Luke for the first time attended speech night. He paid tribute to the school’s work and said that both Middlesex County Council and Willesden Education Committee “had their eyes on it”. The County Council had indeed for some years been negotiating to buy the school, but one may suspect that as long as Hunt chaired the governors a take over would be resisted. Now the obstacle was removed and as from 1 September 1907 the buildings and equipment were purchased for £6,500, Middlesex and Willesden each paying half. It was agreed, with Willesden complaining at the extra expense, that additions be made to provide a capacity of 300 as against the existing 140. There were also rumblings about the extravagance of the Board of Education’s accommodation requirements. Willesden might grumble, but both it and Middlesex had to act. It was declared in the District Council Chamber that no other town of the size and rateable value of Willesden was without a public secondary school. The District had been living off London for its needs in this respect and the London County Council was not going to tolerate this for much longer.

Evans had established a school which appears to have had a good deal of local esteem, for which he was given due credit. “The Times” advertisement of 1903 had led to a number of parents preparing to withdraw their sons. “The Kilburn Times” and “The Willesden Chronicle” usually spoke favourably of the school, often enthusiastically. Luke, County Alderman Pinkham/ County Councillor Furness and others thought well of it. Dr J S Crone and G A Sexton, both chairmen of Willesden District Council in their day, and the Rev J Crowle Ellis, also a county councillor, were prepared to send their sons to KGS

School public entertainments were a praised feature. Evans attached importance to good diction. At Christmas 1899 the first recorded entertainment took place, while the school was still in Cavendish Road. It was in aid of the “Daily Telegraph” widows’ and orphans’ fund in the South African war. The first “Play Night” was in 1900 but it is not until the next year that we have a detailed programme. It was at St. George’s Hall and included a lengthy excerpt. from “Julius Caesar”, German and French plays, a dialogue, rifle drill, French and German songs and recitations, and the presentation by B B Evans, a local store owner, of prizes which he had donated for swimming. Evan Evans habitually persuaded parents, governors and others to give prizes for work and sport. He called them “the sinews of war”.

School activity in cricket, association football, rifle shooting and swimming all seem to have prospered. In 1902 there was first reference to an athletic sports. The Kensal Rise Athletic Grounds were commonly used, but in 1906 they took place at “The White Hart”, Willesden and the programme was typical of the period. It included hundred yard races for each year-form, high jump, long jump, quarter mile race and sack race for the upper school, egg and spoon race, obstacle race, three legged race, slow bicycle race, one mile bicycle race, consolation race, and a shooting competition. Evans frequently stressed the need for “mens sana in corpore sano”. He tried to enlist the support of district and county councillors by getting them to be “Presidents” of various school sporting activities. KGS was also a pioneer in the Baden-Powell Boy Scout movement, a troop being started under Drill-Sergeant Piggott in 1909, but its life seems to have been brief.

In 1906 an Old Boys’ club was started with a dinner at the Cafe Monico, Picadilly, attended by over sixty members with Evans, Wilfrid Hunt and other staff. Stanley Elston, the first head boy, was secretary. These dinners, together with “at homes” – entertainments and dances – continued for some years. At the 1908 play night the Old Boys’ Dramatic Company performed two sketches; “Hatez-vous Lentement” and “Beim Barbier”, both of which drew loud applause!

The KGS was now governed by the “Willesden Urban District Council Higher Education Committee” which was made up of eight county council and seven district council nominees. All those appointed were aldermen or councillors. They included County Aldermen Pinkham and Adams, County Councillor Crone and District Councillor Biddiscombe, all of whom had been governors under the old regime. At its first meeting early in 1908 the new body elected as its chairman County Councillor W B Luke. He continued so to be chosen for over twenty years without a break. Evans was reappointed head and Wilfrid Hunt second master. All the other staff were also retained. Evans seems to have found the new governors congenial. His first report mentioned 140 pupils but said that nearly 20 were expected to leave at Easter. Parents were unsettled about the school’s future. The governors resolved to issue a letter of explanation and a prospectus. Later in 1908 Evans complained that numbers had fallen to 132, the cause being that he was no longer allowed to admit boys under eleven years of age, whereas competing schools took them at eight. The school was being depleted of the “middle class boy who creates the kind of environment which should be maintained in the interests of boys coming direct from council schools”. When the prospectus was prepared it set out the curriculum as “Scripture, Reading, Writing, Geography and History, English Grammar, Composition and Literature, French, German, Latin, Arithmetic, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Drawing, Manual Instruction, Drill and Singing, together with such other subjects as the governors may arrange from time to time”. In a number of subjects this catalogue showed hopeful intention rather than an existing reality!

At the 1908 speech day Luke presided for the first time. He announced that fees were to be modified and reduced and that the authority was spending money to improve the field next to the school. This field was later the asphalted playground. He commended the abilities of the “Scholarship Boys” admitted by selection from the elementary schools. Alderman Sir Ralph Littler, Chairman of the Middlesex County Council presented the prizes and unveiled a painted portrait of Evans, a gift of past and present pupils. It seemed like a high point in Evans’ career, but he was in fact on the brink of disaster.

In his chairman’s remarks Luke had referred to an inspection of the school by the University of London and one forthcoming by His Majesty’s Inspectors on behalf of the Board of Education. They were menacingly connected. The first had taken place in May 1908 to ascertain the school’s fitness to prepare pupils for the new “School Leaving Examination”. The report made sombre reading. The buildings were declared inadequate, which was no surprise. But organisation was defective, teaching was too much instruction and not enough development of enquiry, lower form work was uninteresting and the composition of forms ill-assorted, upper school teaching was sacrificed to preparation for examinations. The confidential report on staff, and on Evans in particular, was damning. The headmaster was not fit for his post, he had not got the support of his colleagues and he distrusted their ability and discretion. He ruled boys by fear of heavy punishment and the timetable and curriculum showed his lack of power to organise.

The governors, who must have been appalled, at once asked the Board of Education for an inspection. It was carried out by a Dr Edwards and two other HMIs. They presented a preliminary report, probably verbal, in October and a full one in December. In the interim Luke interviewed the assistant staff and came away with an impression of strong feelings about working under excessive pressure. The reports were devastating. They criticised the buildings, the low average age of the boys, the standard of work in upper forms, lack of school societies, an “incomplete” monitorial system, inadequate provision for school dinners (at the time provided by the headmaster, the advertising of examination results of a poor type, long and fatiguing school hours, and an entrance examination of low standard. Detailed criticism of standards and methods of teaching, subject by subject “piled Pelion upon Ossa”. Once again the principal blame was laid on the head- master. His attitude was totally wrong. He was a good coach but a poor scholar and an almost impossible organiser. He was obstinate, arrogant, unaware of his own limitations, and without self-restraint. He treated his staff like boys. His discipline of boys was severe, compelling them to stand for over forty minutes at a time. In the opinion of the inspectors it was not in him to change his attitude to staff. “The responsible head is at fault when the organisation shows lack of confidence in the masters and lack of sympathetic understanding of the pupils. The alternative is rule by fear, and this prospect is one which calls for the gravest consideration of the Governing Body.” The last sentence was in effect an ultimatum. To these charges Evans made an equally detailed reply.

Luke thought the report unduly severe but he admitted that there had been grave errors on Evans’ part. Other governors laid the blame at the door of Rev E C Monk who taught English and Scripture, with some singing. In one of his first reports to the new governors Evans had singled out Monk as a hard-working assistant during school hours but not over ready to carry out orders and with no interest whatever in the out-of-school life of the boys. The quarrel appears to have come to a head when Monk refused to take Saturday morning choir practice. The HMIs had an unfavourable impression of him and the governors resolved that he be warned to mend his ways. He accepted the caution in writing. The governors expressed their support to Evans but advised him to conciliate his staff.

There was little sign that he tried to do so and meanwhile the avalanche was gathering speed. In January 1909 the Middlesex Education Committee expressed its serious concern, but Luke tried to hold off any action. The Board of Education stated that only provisional recognition would be given to the school while steps were taken to “remedy radical defects”. The University of London declined to give recognition for the School Leaving Examination. The governors warned Evans of the seriousness of his situation. In May two visits were made by HMIs and no improvement found. The governing body was warned that unless they acted no grant would be made from the Board. In June they interviewed the staff individually.

Wilfrid Hunt supported Evans and denied the charges made against him. The governors resolved to say that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations. In July the Board confirmed the refusal of grant and Middlesex declared themselves ready to dismiss Evans over the heads of the governors. The National Union of Teachers took up the matter with the chairman of the Board of Education, Walter Runciman, through Sir James Yoxall MP, secretary of the NUT but Runciman refused to budge. At a special governors’ meeting in September Luke said that he felt that they had to submit and ask Evans to resign. He complied, thanking them for their kindness over two years. They expressed their reluctance and regret and their high appreciation of his ability, zeal and devotion. Evans’ conclusion of his last report to them is dignified and moving. “Today, gentlemen, my twelve years of work is culminating in the loss of my professional character and the deprivation of my means of livelihood – a deprivation quite unmerited, as time will show.”

I have been fortunate enough to receive personal reminiscences of the school in Evans’ last years as head from “Archie” Lane, a prefect and the second house-captain of Curtis. He was one of the first scholarship boys admitted, being eleven years old. With another boy he habitually walked the three miles to school from Church Road, Willesden. He recalls Evans as a fiery Welshman with iron-gray hair who, at their first encounter slapped a school cap on Lane’s head and demanded half- a-crown! Unlike the rest of the school, the scholarship boys had studied neither French nor Latin and Evans himself gave them intensive teaching and homework to enable them to catch up. Lane considered that the school’s standards in basic subjects were low. The Hall was sometimes used by more than one class and Evans’ “bellowings” made life difficult for those who had to share with him. Lane does not remember the discipline as unusually harsh for those days, although there was at least one caning before the whole school. Among other members of staff he recalls Couillault as a “typical” Frenchman in frock coat with a blue ribbon in the button-hole, (unidentified), and “Imperial” beard and moustaches. Among a variety of playing fields to which games players had to travel there was one near Gladstone Park with an old tramcar as dressing room.

Evan Evans professed a full Christian faith. He was fond of repeating the school motto, “Pasce Agnos Meos”. He remained a generous friend to the school from which he had been so painfully parted. After a period of time he presented annually first two and then an increasing number of awards for competition in various subjects and he paid for or underwrote the cost of the stained glass window for Winnington Ingram and the painted portrait of Wilfrid Hunt. The impression he leaves is of a man whose personal relationships easily became emotionally charged. In this we can see, perhaps, the cause of his downfall.

Next: Chapter 2 – Wilfrid Bonavia Hunt 1910-1925

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