Written by Conor Reeves, a current Year 11 student.
As far back in the annuls of local history as 1578, you can find reference to a school situated in Sandbach and later in 1606 as a John Shaw’s profession is listed as schoolmaster. The predecessor of Sandbach Grammar School, or “The Grammar School” is it was affectionately known by the locals, was established some 70 years later.
The establishment that we, Sandbach School, can trace our roots back to was founded in 1677, when Mr. Richard Lea assigned a field off Middlewich Road, known as Lea’s Croft, to several pillars of the local community who were tasked with the foundation of the school. The land had on it a newly built schoolhouse which was paid for, alongside other benefactors of the parish, by local wealthy gentleman Francis Welles, who alongside Richard Lea gives his surname to two of the school’s modern day ‘houses’ as a result of their goodwill and selflessness during the foundation of the school. Welles alone, however, was credited as the main “foundationer”.
In 1718, a piece of land was left by the late Francis Welles for the good of a school. The cost of the building which resided on it had been paid for by Welles too. The cost of developing and bringing his wishes to fruition was paid for by many other local donors, including Lord Crewe and Welles’ son, Richard, who himself donated the huge sum of £100. The schoolhouse was then, and had been, used for some time as a school, honouring the wishes of Mr Welles. Initially, the school was started to teach basic reading of English only to 20 “poor boys” from the parish of Sandbach, who were to be nominated by the donors. Those who had donated larger sums or assets were allowed to choose a larger percentage of the cohort of 20 students. Students were made to learn the Lord’s Prayer, Creed, Ten Commandments and the Church Catechism by heart. The Master, however, could teach whatever subjects he wished including Greek and Latin, for which he could charge a fee.
Sometime around the 1720s, Charles Ward left £200 in his will in the interest of the school. 3 boys were to be chosen a taught until they were ready to be sent to one of the universities (which we assume means Oxford or Cambridge). These chosen students were to be known as “Ward’s scholars”, although it appears the money left was not enough to cover the costs and no Ward Scholars were entered into the school. Ward gives his name to the third school house.
Part of the school’s success or at least sustainability could perhaps be attributed to the way in which the parish charity (who ran the school) worked as an organisation as oppose to merely concentrating on providing an education because money was repeatedly invested into land and assets to ensure the school and “poor of Sandbach” had a continuous income thus meaning institutions like the school were not of relying purely on charity as it had been doing previously. In 1731, £420 was invested into land in Smallwood, Astbury. Monies raised from that this cash cow would ensure long-term income, because 100 years on in 1836, the land was still proving its worth and the school master, Rev. Robert Batty who received over £64 raised by the estate.
The charity rather fortuitously invested in land at Burslem in 1673, Staffordshire that proved to be rich in coal, greatly increasing the value of the land and turning a good investment into a spectacular one. As the land was used for rent but it was also mined by the Cobridge Coal Company, from which they also received dividends of at least £200 per year but usually more, regardless of the company’s success. It is not clear on which date the school became a Grammar School.
A new era
A Private Act of Parliament was passed in 1848 which demanded for better administration of the Sandbach Charities so that annual payments were to be made instead of small irregular payments. Under this act, a new school would be built to which, alongside the funds raised from the Smallwood estate, would be given the sum of £200 per annum for educational purposes.
The trustees of the school were duly chosen and a field on Crewe Road was purchased from Lord Crewe to house the new school buildings which the school still uses, even to this day.
The building was designed in all its grandeur by Mr (later Sir) George Gilbert Scott, who would go on to design parts of the infamous St. Pancreas Station. The building cost some £7000 to construct in “Old English” style. The design, with a main school building of frontage of 210 feet, was raised between1848-50 by Derbyshire contractor Mr Cooper.
The school buildings were eventually opened in 1851 with just 38 boys in the first term. At first the school flourished with increasing pupil numbers and in 1860s the site consisted of a residence for the master, a school room, a class room and investment into equipment for the popular laboratory, known as the “Old Round House” alongside sleeping apartments for the boarders meant that the school was in a very healthy situation. The school had a budget of £750, of which £200 was used to pay for scholarships for those who could not afford it.
By 1888, however, the school was in not such a grand state. Mr G. H. Heslop had taken over the position of headmaster, even though many thought this Cambridge graduate was too young for the job and, in fact, many parents removed their children for that very same reason. The buildings themselves were in an undesirable state, too. The School House had for some time been out of use and needed considerable repairs and the headmaster’s study was itself infested by Martins building nests against which he battled to stop.
The school had been transformed by 1897 as the school’s front field, which had hitherto been used to graze cows and horses, was levelled off and re-turfed for the boys to play cricket, an open air swimming pool had been constructed at cost of £50, new classrooms had been added and a very good Chemistry Laboratory was added to the school.
By the time Heslop left in 1898, for the position of Headmaster and the prestigious Sevenoaks School which is further testament to his transformation of Sandbach, the Grammar School held a “considerable” reputation for games and work. Heslop had proved his doubters wrong and was the perfect man for the job. Perhaps his lack of age was not to be dismissed, as it was by some parents, but applauded as it gave him an understanding of the students. It is said that he “understood boys”. Heslop’s influence was not only academic. He is said to have given the school its crest, which is a wheat sheaf, and its motto, which is “Ut Severis Seges”.
Now in custody of headmaster Mr S. W. Finn, M.A., the school had further developed with the expanding cohort, at about 110 students by the turn of the 20th Century. Benefitting these students was a gymnasium (now site of the LRC) and huge playing fields attached to the school which were in a ‘most healthy situation’. Under Finn’s headmastership, the school ‘continued to improve’ until it was ‘one of the chief schools in Cheshire’. This extremely well-oiled machine was so well-regarded in partly by the conduct of the students who would suffer strict punishment and the hands of the new headmaster for such misdoings as lying, cheating, “chasing cows” and not wearing the appropriate clothing, with consisted of an obligatory badge and school cap.
In 1911, an extension to old building was unveiled by the Marquis of Crewe. Known as the Crockett block, after the 1926-46 headmaster, in order for the brick work to match that of the original part of the building, the red stone quarry of Mow Cop was re-opened specifically for the school. As a result, it is not obvious that the 1911 extension is one and many people don’t realise it is not part of the original.
In the lead up to the Great War, politics and military affairs were very much part of everyday school life. The school libraries were constantly restocked with donations of patriotic books like “How England Saved Europe” and “With Kitchener to Khartoum”. The students were encouraged to discuss subjects of the day like whether conscription was desirable within the British Army, showing incredible foresight years before war was even declared.
When war was finally declared on the 4th of August 1914, the School like so much of the country erupted into celebration, singing patriotic songs like “God Save the King” and “The Old Grenadier”. Soon enough Old Sandbachians joined the ranks and the school were immensely proud of them. May “Old Boys in Khaki” actually visited the school and were welcomed warmly.
In all, around 225 Old Boys enlisted in the Armed Forces. All gave some and some gave all. 36 men gave their lives during and as a result of WW1. The death to survival ration was higher than the national average and for the size of the school, it suffered heavily.