Bury Grammar School was founded in 1570 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I by Reverend Henry Bury, a wealthy philanthropic clergyman who was committed to educating the people of Bury, Reverend Peter Shaw, the Rector of Bury, and Edward Stanley, the third Earl of Derby, who gave land on which the School was built.
The School was first located on land beside the Rectory in Bury near what is now Bury Parish Church. One of the earliest known pupils was a local boy called Thomas Wilde, whose father was given financial help for his son’s education at the School. It is likely that at the start Bury Grammar School only employed one school master and concentrated on teaching basic skills of reading and writing.
Bury Grammar School was a school for boys only until 1884.
The Devil's Stone
The 1625 date stone from an early Bury Grammar School building is now positioned under the Girls' School clock. Named 'The Devil's Stone' by pupils in the 17th century, its mythical story appears in 'BGS - A History' by IB Fallows, where he describes how mischievous pupils performed a ritual with bread and sticks to incite the Devil to appear.
Reverend Henry Bury
In 1634 the Reverend Henry Bury, one of the original founders of the School and alumnus of Cambridge, died and left the sum of £300 in his will to the 'free school' of Bury. This sum was the equivalent of many thousands of pounds today and he is the first known benefactor of Bury Grammar School.
BGS has deep-rooted links with Harvard University in the USA. In 1640 the former Master of Bury Grammar School, Henry Dunster, sailed to America. He was born in Tottington in 1609 and educated at Bury Grammar School and Magdalene College, Cambridge.
Three weeks after his arrival in Boston, he was appointed the first President of Harvard College at the age of 30. As well as the first and youngest, he is regarded as one of the greatest Presidents in the history of Harvard University and also helped to establish the Harvard Press. To this day the School still has links with Harvard University.
The Roger Kay Hall ceiling is based on the design of the ceiling in the main hall of Harvard Hall, one of the oldest buildings at Harvard University.
Reverend Roger Kay
The School experienced a difficult period in the early eighteenth century and was eventually saved by the actions of a former pupil, the Reverend Roger Kay. He bequeathed funds to the school in 1726 and the re-founded School was opened on 6 May 1730. The 6 May was a significant date for the Reverend, being the date his old Cambridge College, St John’s, celebrated their Founders' Day.
Bury Grammar School now celebrates its own Founders' Day on the Friday nearest to 6 May each year. One of the highlights of the school year is the procession from the Schools through Bury to the Parish Church, where a special service is held. Reverend Roger Kay is believed to be buried under the pulpit of Bury Parish Church, which is a memorial to him. His wooden chest, containing his artefacts and letters from his time at BGS, remains at the School.
Bury Grammar School at this time was still a school for boys only but Reverend Roger Kay also recognised the importance of girls’ education. He said in his will in 1729, “I charge my Estate called Warth in Ratcliff with the payment of £5 yearly in order that ten poor girls born or to be born in the parish and town of Bury might receive an education...............to make them perfect in Reading The Bible, to teach ’em to write well and to be good accountants to fit ’em for Trades or to be good Servants.”
At first ten “poor” girls were selected to attend and each year until 1742 three or four new girls were admitted. On average they stayed about two years. A requirement of entry was the ability to read. Sadly, fewer and fewer girls attended over the years.
New School Building
In 1784 a new School building was opened. The new building, built on the site of the previous BGS schoolhouse next to Bury Parish Church, cost £1,330 to build and consisted of one room which could be partitioned. By 1862 this building was too small to house the 74 boys on roll and an additional school building, with a new school yard and gas light, was built adjacent to the existing school room. The new school building was dedicated to Rev Roger Kay.
The former school buildings still exist today, and now display a plaque commemorating their past use.
Sir Robert Peel
It is thought that Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister from 1834-1835 and from 1841-1846 and founder of the modern-day police force (the 'Peelers'), attended BGS in the late 1790s before continuing his education at Harrow School and later at Oxford University. His memorial, Peel Tower, located on Holcombe Moor, can be seen from the School.
The Original School Crest
In 1823 the Reverend Henry Crewe Boutflower became the 23rd Headmaster of Bury Grammar School. It was he who devised the School Crest of a swan with a key in its mouth and the motto Sanctas clavis fores aperit ('The key opens sacred doors').
The crest wittily honours the two main benefactors of the School: the swan was the symbol of the medieval French Duc de Berry (Henry Bury) while the key is a play on the surname of Roger Kay. The Kay family crest also displays a griffin with a key in its mouth. The original crest was updated in 2014 to its current format.
The Irwell Duck
There is an alternative and mythologized version as to how the School Crest came into existence: once long ago, when dense forests covered north Bury, a swan wounded by a hunter's arrow scrambled from the Irwell, with a key clasped firmly in its beak. This was taken as an omen that the School was to be built nearby and it would bring blessings of learning and knowledge to the town: the keys to wisdom and understanding.
Rev. E.J.S. Lamburn: Just William
Rev. E.J.S. Lamburn, Classics Master at the School in the 1870s, was the father of Richmal Crompton, the author of the world famous 'Just William' stories, which are partly based on her brother John who was a pupil at BGS before the Great War.
Rev. WH Howlett
In 1879, Rev. Howlett became Headmaster of Bury Grammar School. During his 40 years as Headmaster he would oversee a transformation in the School including its move to a new site on Bridge Road. Rev. Howlett retired in 1919 and died in 1921. Legend has it that he died of a broken heart following the loss of 98 old boys in the Great War, all but one of whom had attended the School while he was Headmaster.
Girls' School Opens
During the 1880s a local educationalist, Henry Webb, passed a resolution that stated “it is desirable that a High School for Girls be formed” and in January 1884 Bury High School for Girls opened on Bolton Street. There were 23 pupils. The Headmistress was Miss Jane Penelope Kitchener, a first cousin of Lord Kitchener. The School logo was a bee and the motto was Industria et Perseverantia - diligence and perseverance. In 1900 the School was handed to the BGS Governors and was re named as Bury Grammar School for Girls.
In 1906, Bury Grammar School for Girls moved to its current location on Bridge Road.
Combined Cadet Force at BGS
In 1892 Rev. William Henry Howlett founded the BGS Cadet Corps. This became the current Combined Cadet Force which today has over 300 members - both boys and girls - and is one of the oldest and the largest voluntary CCFs in the country. It retains strong links with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The Combined Cadet Force, with its Corps of Drums in their Blues, traditionally leads the procession on Founders' Day from the School to the Parish Church. The photograph is the earliest image we have of the Cadet Corps and dates back to circa 1893 and includes two original members of the Corps who died in the Great War: Tom Boardman (Lt. Col T.H. Boardman DSO, killed 1917) and Frank Bentley (Captain F.M. Bentley MC, died 1918, who was the proprietor of the 'Bury Times' prior to WW1.).
In 1892 Sarah Alcock became the first BGS girl to attend university. She went to Victoria University (now Manchester University) to study for a degree in Mathematics and is the first name on the Memorial Board in the Roger Kay Hall. In 1897 Sarah returned to Bury Grammar School for Girls as a member of staff. After her retirement from teaching, she became a Governor of the School 1934 – 1959. The School still remembers Sarah and her dedication to the School and presents the Sarah Alcock Prize for Mathematics each year to a Year 13 girl for achievement in Mathematics.
BGS moves to Bridge Road
In 1902 work began on the new School buildings along what became known as Bridge Road. The new building housed both the Boys' School and the Girls' School but boys and girls were kept separate. The new Boys' School, housed on the left side of the building, was officially opened by Lord Derby on 17th December 1903 and the Girls' School, housed on the right side of the building, by his son Hon. Arthur Stanley MP on 17th January 1906.
On 26th June 1906 the corner stone of a central hall, symbolically linking the two Schools, was laid and The Roger Kay Hall was officially opened with a golden key by Lady Alice Stanley on 7th March 1907.
The Roger Kay Crest appears in the stained glass windows of the Hall, as do the Knights of Bury Grammar School and the Hall retains fond memories for both old boys and girls.
Early School Uniform
By 1908 the Girls' uniform was well established and consisted of long dark skirts, a white blouse and school tie. By 1914 the long skirts had been replaced with shorter tunics and the school tie had gone. The sports outfits consisted of skirts of equal length which apparently did not hinder the girls who won numerous sporting trophies!
The boys uniform has changed many times over the years. The earliest known School photograph taken in the 1870s shows the boys wearing an assortment of uniform including caps and blazers with boots or clogs. In the 1880s an attempt was made to introduce College Caps (squares) but this was not popular and did not last. It wasn’t until 1937, under the Headship of Mr Lionel Cornwallis Lord, that the general appearance of the boys was “tidied up” and all boys were required to wear the standard blue blazer, grey trousers and school tie. School caps had to be worn at all times.
Girls' School Magazine
In 1912 the first Girls' School Magazine was published featuring articles on a visit to The Beguinage, Ghent, opening of the White Ribbon Club.
1913 Morris Shield
In 1913 School Captain William Morris was awarded the Morris Shield in recognition of his leading the School to victory in the Public Schools Athletics Sports in London. The following year Morris was declared Champion Athlete, winning the quarter mile and setting a record in the long jump. William Morris won a scholarship to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where his friend and training partner was Harold Abrahams, whose story featured in the Oscar-winning film 'Chariots of Fire'.
World War I
BGS Old Boys and Old Girls played their part in the Great War. Old Girls such as Nellie Wike (née Orrell), born in 1895, served as a nurse in WWI and over 600 Old Boys of Bury Grammar School are known to have served with the forces. They included all members of the 1911/12 1st XI football team, one of the most successful in the history of the School. Three of the players did not return. Altogether 98 Old Boys, including two School Captains, died in the war.
Joe Morris, brother of William Morris (please see 1913 Morris Shield above) was the last Bury Grammar School Old Boy killed in action in the Great War, on 4th November 1918. Joe was killed in the same battle as the war poet Wilfred Owen. Joe is buried at nearby Pommereuil Military Cemetery. His parents paid to have the School motto 'Sanctas Clavis Fores Aperit' inscribed on his headstone. It is unique in the world.
There is a remembrance plaque in the Roger Kay Hall to all Old Boys who lost their lives in the Great War.
Lord Kitchener's nephew, Captain Henry Franklin Chevallier Kitchener, was commander of HMS Ajax which played a vital role in the WW1 victory. He corresponded with his first cousin, Miss J. P. Kitchener, the first Headmistress of Bury Grammar School for Girls, and his letters thanking his 'Cousin Jennie' for items of comfort she sent to him during his time at war remain in the School archives.
BGS girls aided the war effort by knitting mufflers, gloves, body bands, socks, jerseys and cuffs, as well as providing books and cakes, which were all sent to the sailors. The original carved mirror from HMS Ajax still hangs in the Headmistress's office.
Bazaar for Buckley Wells
In February 1924 a bazaar was held over four days to raise £4000 to purchase the Buckley Wells playing fields, a 20 acre site that is still used by the School today.
The appeal brochure states "this appeal is made to Bury to help the Schools to pay for their new fields. The playing fields that were sufficient in 1904 for 300 boys and girls are in 1923 insufficient for 680. When therefore the fields at Buckley Wells, formerly occupied by the Old Bury Cricket Club, were offered on most generous terms, the offer could in wisdom only be accepted."
World War II
During WWII 47 ex pupils were killed in action, of whom 21 were awarded decorations. The School is immensely proud of all those who fought in the wars and of those who gave their lives during the battles.
Old Boy Bert Minton served throughout the First World War and was seriously wounded in fighting in Belgium in 1914 and 1917. In the Second World War, despite being in his mid-40s, he enlisted in the Merchant Navy and died during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941. The School is proud to still be in contact with the family.
The girls also played a part in the war effort 1939-1945 under the then Headmistress, Miss Perigo (Headmistress 1940 – 1954). She reported “The war years brought their own especial problems and responsibilities. The School was situated in a neutral area, thereby escaping the upheaval of evacuation; but the most that could be aimed at was the maintaining of comparatively normal standards of work and the giving of as much service as we could to war sufferers. Knitting for the troops and the Merchant Navy, the making of camouflage nets, financial and material help to refugees and those in bombed areas were part of this service, and, as always, parents were ready to support any work the girls undertook.
The demands of National Service affected the Universities and Training Colleges. Essential books were often hard to come by. Yet our academic successes continued and the School did good work. We were, in those days, I think, buoyed up by the feeling that it was our bounden duty, in our comparative security to keep the lamp of learning still alight, knowing that in the greater part of western Europe it had already been extinguished.”
Dr Arnold Meier
Dr Arnold Meier, born in Germany to Jewish parents, fled Germany to England in the 1930s and eventually became Head of Modern Languages at BGS. To heal the post-war relationships between the two countries, in 1956 he initiated the football and language exchange between BGS and the Deutscher Gymnasium in Cologne, which continues to this day as one of the longest-running foreign exchange programmes in the country.
The words for the Girls' School song were written by Latin mistress Miss Daisy Orme and music by Miss Elizabeth Shuttleworth in 1957. The original sheet music is still on the piano in the Roger Kay Hall.
The first Boys’ School song dates back to the early 1900s but was replaced by the current version in 1949. The music was composed by Music master J.H. James, with words in Latin by Headmaster, R.L. Chambers.
New Boys' School Opened
In 1959 an appeal began, to raise the funds to build a new school on the opposite side of The Boulevard (later Bridge Rd). Plans were drawn up and in September 1966 the new Boys' School was opened by Lord James of Rusholme, using a vintage key.
A Royal Visit
In 1976 the School welcomed a Royal visitor, the Duke of Edinburgh.
A commemorative ceremony to those who re-founded the School in 1726-1730 was held in the Boys' School.
By 1976 the BGS Estate was firmly established, consisting of a Girls’ School on one side of Bridge Road and a Boys’ School on the other side.
Recent Building Programme
From 1993 to the present day BGS has completed a number of significant building projects all designed to improve the learning facilities and day to day lives of our pupils.
In 1993 the Old Magistrates Court House was re furbished to house the Junior Boys. The building still retains the original cells in the lower floors, these are now used as music practice rooms (the old cell doors have been removed!)
From 1997 to 2019 the School has continued to invest in new facilities: a new Girls Junior School (1997), new Kindergarten and Infant School (2008) containing a wonderful octagon hall, a Fine Arts Centre (2013), a Joint Sixth Form Centre (2016) and new sports facilities (2017 and 2019).
450 years after Revd. Henry Bury, Revd. Peter Shaw and the 3rd Earl of Derby founded Bury Grammar School to educate children in the town of Bury, we are blessed to have a successful, diverse and welcoming School community. In 2020 we marked and celebrated 450 years of Bury Grammar School’s history and at the same time looked forward to the future with confidence.