The Fire in the Workshop
One other event of many years earlier could have had tragic consequences but mercifully did not. It was the fire in the workshop four or five years after the turn of the century. It happened on a Sunday just after evening service. Someone, a pupil almost certainly, piled up some wood between a bench and the wall and set it alight. The school was 100 strong then, and once the fire had been seen and reported, many of the 100 seemed to be rushing hither and thither, while Fred Bell, the secretary, banged away at the gong in the entrance hall, and the Head, 'Da' Braithwaite and James Woolman were fetched to organise the fire fighting. Indeed, the Head was very effective. He summoned up all the buckets in the school, lined up the boys and moved the buckets along the lines. Then Fred Bell came in with a recently purchased fire extinguisher, directed it onto the heart of the blaze and, lo! there were only charred embers. It was not the end of the excitement, however. The Head was convinced (not without reason, many people thought) that a pupil had started it all. He held his own hostile and unpleasant interrogations. When these proved fruitless, he called in the inspectors and detectives who one night went on with their cross-examinations up to midnight and beyond, trying to break down resistance. It was no use ; they discovered nothing. From somewhere came a rumour that there would be no Christmas holiday. Neither that threat, if serious threat it was, nor the Head's stirring oration on the Sunday evening following the fire had any effect. At last, the after-effects, like the fire itself, burned themselves sullenly out, becoming part of the legend of school life in the early nineteenth century.
William D. Braithwaite
Between 1900 and 1929 there were three headmasters. All were English, all were faced with great difficulties, and all were in differing degrees overcome by them. The very success of Joseph Radley's long successful Headship was the first problem, the more so because the school had during his last years lost momentum. And as though the rapidly changing patterns of the new century were not enough, there was the added complexity of the relationship of the Ulster School to the English Quaker schools which, since the time of John Gough, had supplied so many of its Superintendents and Headmasters. Increasingly, English and Ulster Quakerism were taking on regional differences. This, in fact, was the first problem that faced the Governors as they set about the task of finding Joseph Radley's successor. The scholars themselves spoke - as Ulster people spoke anyone afflicted with an English accent, Arnold Marsh recalls, was greatly ridiculed. Yet the Masters
The differences and even tensions which lie behind these words have remained with the school, and perhaps with Ulster, well into the second half of the twentieth century. In part it is a matter of class : it is somehow better to speak with an English accent and preferably a received English accent at that. In part, it is clearly a matter of past history and one's attitude towards it : of the English occupation of Ireland and the rugged independence of the North which made it different even before the Scottish settlement in the Lagan valley. But whatever explanations may be offered of the relationship of England and Ulster, it is a simple fact that no Headmaster, English or Irish, could at this time have found his task at Lisburn easy ; and he could not know, of course, that in twenty years' time the establishment of Ulster as a Province of the United Kingdom with its own parliament would make yet more difficult the whole business of English-Irish relations, even in schools.
Much the most likely local candidate for the Head's position was Charles
Benington, Joseph Radley's second master. Born in England, he was
nevertheless by now so thoroughly settled in Lisburn that it was easy to
think of him as native and to the manner born. In his 86th year, a month
before his death, Bulmer Hobson recalled with typical trenchancy the virtues
of Charles Benington. `Apart from J.R., the only teacher in the place', he
asserted and then remembered how the second master had once punished him
unfairly, had discovered his mistake, and had apologised to him,
`insignificant bit of a lad though he was'. What better qualification for
Headship could there be than proven teaching ability and a sense of fair
play that extended even to a slip of a boy ? "But then", he said, "the
Committee was obsessed with appointing an Englishman". Others, too, had a
high opinion of Charles Benington, among them Professor Isaac Swain of Cork
who in 1941, nearly fifty years after the Committee had dismissed him as
staff spokesman about the school meals, wrote this final tribute to
a gifted teacher, affectionately remembered by the many pupils who came
under his care, first at Ulster Provincial School and then at Brookfield
where he went as Headmaster. soon after Joseph Radley retired
The words recall far-off days when a man taught subjects as varied as
English, Geography and Science, and then turned artist in his spare time, as
though to show that the Renaissance ideal of the all-round scholar and
gentleman was still possible.
Interestingly, there is in Lisburn Strong Room considerable documentation of the search for Joseph Radley's successor (as there is of other episodes in the school's history since 1900), but it is enough to say here that the Committee's choice eventually fell on William D. Braithwaite. He had taught at Newtown as an apprentice and later at Ackworth, and he became the first Lisburn Head to boast a degree, three in fact, B.A. (London), B.Sc. (London), and B.Sc. (Victoria i.e. Manchester). He was small, black morning-coated, and brimful of energy ; and he was determined to let the public know that there was a good school on Prospect Hill in Lisburn. Hitherto it had hardly been heard of, save among Friends - one wonders what he had known of it before coming to it. From the first, he was known as 'Da', or `Wee Da'.
If the school had had a wise governing body, W. D. Braithwaite might have prospered. As it was, his task was made difficult by the inability of some of his governors to restrain rather than oppose him when he let his enthusiasm run away with him. For the new Head looked on Ulster as a backward place in need of bringing up-to-date as soon as possible. He wore a gown as he bustled around the school, keen to stimulate pupils intellectually and anxious to let it be widely known that this was a place where things were on the move. There must be in future an annual Speech Day at which an outsider, not a Friend, would preside, and at which the guest should be well-known among English Quakers. There were to be books for prizes and they were to be stamped with the new school badge in gold lettering, "Quae Sursum Sunt Quaerite" (Seek those things which are above), Colossians ch. 3, v. 1 having been officially adopted as the school motto in 1904. The names of successful pupils were to be published in newspapers and widely advertised. The upright style of writing was replaced by the sloping one. Prefects were appointed in 1903.
Unfortunately, however, William D. Braithwaite's manner did not help his cause. To many Ulster eyes he was fussy and pompous, and when he confidently announced, as he frequently did, that it was his mission to banish the old-fashioned in favour of the new, he was resented. There are not many parts of the world where people welcome being told that they are out-of-date, and Ulster is not one of them. Nor did it help matters that Da's wife was Georgina Birrell, a relation of the well-known Augustine Birrell, the President of the Board of Education, 1905-8 ; for this well-connected lady played her part, too, in urging her husband not to relax his efforts to set the Province to right. So Ulster Quarterly Meeting found itself harangued and harried by a small Yorkshireman in a hurry. Like any other large body of people, the Quarterly Meeting needed careful, sensitive handling, particularly as it had for years had regular acrimonious divisions within itself. Da's treatment of it has been described by Arnold Marsh in vivid, partly amusing, partly sad words
Winifred Squire supports the impression : "One of his Speech Day addresses included the words : "I might almost say like Nebuchadnezzar, Is not this great Babylon that I have built ?" So it was not long before some Quakers were expressing strong dissatisfaction with the new Headmaster, and some of them were members of Committee. It was Joseph Radley's situation all over again with the difference that Joseph Radley's splendid combination of toughness and sensitivity was no longer there.
There is no point in dwelling on the clash of these opposed forces and their ultimate collision. For the next ten years the critics of William D. Braithwaite became greater in number and more vociferous in their war against him. By 1910 they were able to seize on a matter of school discipline and make of it sufficient of a cause célèbre to have him removed, though Quarterly Meeting was deeply divided over the business and some Friends took pupils from the school in protest. It was a blow which (typically) 'Da' was slow to see coming and it was really the end of him. For a brief time he opened a school at Blaris and, when that failed, repeated the experiment in York. It is interesting to note that William L. Glynn followed him to York, so appreciative was his father of `Da's' qualities. But this venture failed as well. As one sympathetic observer said : "W. D. Braithwaite died of a broken heart".
To his pupils, `Da's' troubles with the Society of Friends were of no importance. Many of them owed a lot to him -William L. Glynn, Arnold Marsh, and John and Norah Dougles, to name the most obvious. They recognised his weaknesses as school-children unerringly do. It was not right of him, they knew, to call them `little spuds' and compare them with `howling mobs of Yorkshire miners', or to single out Quaker children (who very properly benefited from rebates on fees) and address them as `you twenty pounders'. But, wiser than their quarrelsome elders, they knew that this inability to control his tongue, though part of the whole man, was not the essential man. Da was interested in them ; whatever his shortcomings, he wanted them to do well. Like his predecessor, he cared about the things of the mind. So even while they laughed at him, they gave him respect and affection. Norah Douglas recalls
William Glyn, recalling that another of `Da's' offences in Quaker eyes was to favour Home Rule, speaks highly of his `genuine appreciation of Ireland' which stemmed from his experience as a junior master in Newtown in 1877 under the renowned Edward Garnett, whom he greatly admired. He had, says William Glynn, `an infectious capacity for enjoyment which came out in Scripture and other classes'.
C. F. Spenser Smith, an assistant master under 'Da', wrote wisely of him in the 1945 magazine
That is well said, although it is perhaps most fitting to leave him, as
remembered by one of his pupils, rushing excitedly up and down on Sports
Day, calling out encouragements and accidentally hitting his own daughter
with the stick he was waving to encourage the competitors. 'Da' may have had
his weaknesses but he loved and served the school well. Verv many of his
pupils have recorded their debt to his deep interest in them and in the
simple, good things of life. Perhaps there is no better epitaph for any
John G. Ridges
His successor, John Ridges, was a very different kind of man and Head. He carne to Lisburn with impressive paper qualifications and experience - a Cambridge classicist, five vears Headmaster of Taunton School followed by eleven years Headship at Leighton Park. He had strong Quaker connections, not least through his wife who was the very able and purposeful sister of Rendel Harris. He had a strong influence with some Governors and it was said that it was chiefly the Richardsons who had him appointed. It did seem odd, though, that he had left the well-known Taunton for the then less known Leighton Park, and Leighton Park for the then almost unknown Friends School Lisburn.
Any schoolmaster, it hardly needs saying, should like young people and be able to influence them for good. But a Headmaster needs more attributes. He should have an interest in the purposes schools serve and the directions they take. He of all people in the school must know what he wants and how to get it. In a small school, he needs also to be a good organiser, though in the post-Second World War schools of a thousand or more pupils, the organising is often done by the Deputy Head. In brief, John Ridges was a good man who had a great gift for getting young girls and boys to enjoy themselves ; and they sensed from his way of life that he valued forthright honesty and Christian values in general, if such a description is not too vague. To say this is high praise and perhaps, in the things that ultimately matter, it is praise enough. But it is not enough for a Headmaster, and it was not enough for John Ridges, particularly at this juncture in the school's history when, after the First World War, Friends School urgently needed leadership and large vision.
John Ridges was a small man who wore gold-rimmed glasses. His immense energy found expression in his quick walk and love of physical exercise of every kind. He was perhaps one of the last of the eccentrics. He was often seen, for example, running or trotting to and from Lisburn ; and if he wanted to give quite trivial instructions to, say, the most recently appointed maid or handyman he was quite likely to sprint in order to give them. He had a deep slow voice and would waken the boys on bright summer mornings by saying `Does any young gentleman want a dip on this cold frosty morning ?' Games were his great love. He often played them with the pupils, quite unaware of how much he frightened them in the football field by charging straight at them in his enthusiasm. He devoted much time to tending the cricket wicket which greatly improved as a consequence. Not infrequently his class went neglected while he mowed the school lawns. He would lend the school mower to Lisburn Golf Club of which he was a prominent member.
The pupils understood him very well ; they liked him enormously even though
they could see that he had no interest in organisation - indeed, he left
much of that kind of dull work to his wife and James Woolman, who would
today be called his Second Master. One of the teachers, E. M. Standing, was
often furious with the way his Headmaster used to plan, or not plan things,
but he used to say that for all that, he would come out of John Ridges'
study laughing, because he was such a pleasant and witty fellow. The pupils
felt much the same way. There was a famous occasion, repeated by many an Old
Scholar, when the Head was showing visitors round the school and threw open
the door of a room with the words : `This is the class which I should be
teaching', only to find no-one in sight -they had all hidden in a large
cupboard. There was no malice in the jape, only fun. For he introduced many
popular innovations- such as the House system (Gough and Radley) which
greatly increased the enjoyment of school games, the wire netting round the
tennis courts, and the pruning of the magnificent lime trees on the avenue
between the front door of the main building and the cottage. It was also in
his day (1914) that
the name Friends School officially replaced that of Ulster Provincial
School. As he had nothing pompous in his make-up and was a thorough
gentleman, he was listened to willingly in Sunday Meeting, and in Evening
Meeting when his love of literature was often evident. And his wife, Blanche
O. Ridges, often made small changes in the boarding routine, always with a
view to making school more like home. Both, as we have seen, gave service
beyond praise in the terrible flu epidemic of 1918 and suffered the great
grief of seeing their own daughter die. John G. Ridges retired in 1921, and,
happily, had many full years of life left. In 1936 he paid his last visit to
Lisburn, wandering over the school fields and through the buildings, and
calling on many old friends in the town and neighbourhood. They and all who
knew him on Prospect Hill were saddened by his death in 1938. He and his
wife had been a part of their school and they owed them both much.
C. F. Spencer-Smith
There could hardly have been a more difficult time than September 1921 to become Headmaster of a school in Ulster. The Irish Settlement of 1921-21 had given the North, as part of its distinctive political and social way of life, its own Ministry of Education, which set about establishing the pattern of secondary schools with which we have become familiar. It had the help of such now legendary names as Bingham of Dungannon Royal, Foster of Belfast Royal Academy, Harper of Lurgan College and Henderson of Methodist College, Belfast, all of whom, with others, worked with Bonaparte Wyse the Permanent Secretary and his assistant, Houston, to build up grammar schools (as they really were) worthy of the Province. Who was to be Head at Lisburn to guide the school in such difficult times, and to maintain its own Quaker distinctiveness, while ensuring that it played its part in the new educational developments in the Province ? Once again the Governors turned to England, this time to C. F. SpencerSmith.
He was not without experience in Ulster, however, for after teaching in Bootham School, he had come to Lisburn in 1902 and taught for two years under W. D. Braithwaite. He thus knew well enough of the special problems of the school, quite apart from those likely to stem from Lloyd George's Government of Ireland Act. He had left Lisburn long before W.D. was dismissed, but he had witnessed at first hand the Quaker tensions which had for so long and so unfailingly bedevilled the life of the school. This no doubt was why he agreed to come from the vigorous Headship of Bevan Lean at Sidcot only if given a five-year guarantee. It is clear in retrospect that he was unwise to accept the position, but he can hardly be blamed for having done so. He had already undertaken responsible work at Sidcot where he ran a very successful camp for poor boys from Bristol ; and no doubt he had that amount of ambition which in part prompts Headmasters to seek their eminence. Nor can he have failed to sense the challenge of John Ridges' retiring speech, with its emphasis on the "simplicity, truthfulness, honour and hard work" which marked the Society of Friends and its schools in Ulster. To lead that school was no light matter, and he was in many ways, and not in his own eyes only, well equipped to do so. What, then, went wrong ? For his Headship, like that of W. D. Braithwaite, ended in his dismissal.
He had, inevitably, to struggle from the first with divided and sometimes unsympathetic Governors, and with general Quaker interference. Yet Joseph Radley before him had overcome these just as John Douglas was to do after him, and it seems that Spencer-Smith's main troubles lay elsewhere - with his own and his wife's inability to weld the teaching and boarding staff into a happy community strong enough to be untroubled by the relatively far-off Quaker battles which were always liable to be centred round the school.
It had been the Governors' intention not to allow the Headmaster's wife to take any part in the running of the school, but mysteriously the school solicitor altered the agreement, and Mrs. Spencer-Smith was given considerable boarding responsibility. The daughter of Bishop Lightfoot, she was a lady of great ability and authority, whose strong influence was resented by several teachers, especially the older ones, one of whom, Miss Budd, resigned as a consequence. Spencer-Smith, recalled one of his pupils (M. I. Lesley Parke) years later, "had a great regard for his wife's learning and used to say how much superior her knowledge was to his". It was not perhaps a wise admission, though it may have been true. From this distance in time, it certainly seems that his wife, though in many ways impressive, was often lacking in tact, and possibly, by her very strength of character, spurred him on to unwise courses of action. The Governors must have thought so, for at the end of the first five-year period, they drastically curtailed her responsibilities. But the pupils knew nothing of such things. To them, Ethel Spencer-Smith was what they expected the Head's wife to be : a little formidable perhaps because she carried herself well and had an air of distinction, but basically kind and encouraging.
Spencer-Smith, meanwhile, had tried to introduce more modern methods into
the school syllabus and timetable. At the time, the particular fashion in
schools was the Dalton plan. It has reappeared on a number of occasions
during the last fifty years as project work, as mixed ability teaching and
as open-plan teaching, and consisted in brief of replacing formal lessons by
free learning in which pupils found their own levels and achievements.
Unfortunately, the teaching staff as a whole strongly opposed it, as James
Woolman made clear on their behalf. The Head remained adamant, though after
eight difficult weeks he abandoned the scheme. A little later, in December
1923, six teachers resigned.
From this unhappy start Spencer-Smith never recovered. Both inside and outside the school, things became increasingly unhappy, as the teaching staff were disunited and the Governors and Quarterly Meeting thoroughly alarmed. As with W. D. Braithwaite, a small incident led to a final disagreement with Governors and dismissal.
The particular issue was of little importance, as the Ministry recognised in its later review of events. For Spencer-Smith appealed against the Governors to the Province's Ministry of Education. On 7th of May 1929 a deputation of Grammar School Headmasters went to the Ministry in support of Spencer-Smith ; a month later the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the school's governors also went. Both they and the Headmasters were asked to submit their cases in writing. They did so and an enquiry was held at the Ministry over two full days early in November 1929. Each party had legal advice, the Governors that of William H. Brownlee, a Belfast Friend. The findings of the proceedings were never made public, and perhaps it is best to leave the final comment to Dr. Garrett, the Chief Inspector in charge of the enquiry : it had, he said, proved a very difficult two days as there had been continual friction ; it was clear that Spencer-Smith "had completely lost the confidence of the Board of Management", though the Minister could assume that "the dismissal was not malicious but the result of a feeling that he was bad for the school. . . . The dismissal was reasonably justified but the faults were by no means all on the side of C. F. Spencer-Smith whose teaching ability was not questioned and who deserves a good deal of sympathy".
It could all have been so different. Here is how one of his pupils remembers him
`Say what you like', said Denis Barritt, the son of Spencer-Smith's Chairman of Governors, `his English teaching got me a scholarship to Bootham'. Or, again, here is M. I. Lesley Parke:
J. Arnold Benington always says that he owed a great deal to Spencer-Smith's
kindness. Interviewed by him in the same drawing-room where he inspected the
Juniors' letters, Arnold found himself facing the window that looks onto the
lawn and superb beech tree in front of the main door -
Presently a sparrow-hawk swooped into my line of sight and lifted a blackbird that had been feeding on the lawn near the sundial. I fear my attention wandered and it was perhaps 10-15 seconds before I came back to earth and realised that the imposing-looking Headmaster sitting opposite me was looking at me with a rather quizzical expression. Obviously some kind of reply or remark was expected of me, but to save my life, (or job) I could not remember what had been the last subject of conversation. So I apologised and attempted to explain. I had little hope that he would understand for at that stage in my life (24 years of age) I had met very few people who thought that wildly zealous naturalists were anything but rather queer folk.
But I had misjudged Spencer-Smith and he smiled tolerantly and very kindly, and said that he admired enthusiasm such as mine : it was exactly what he was looking for in a teacher and I had got myself the job !
Or, again, here is another testimony to a perhaps unsuspected side of Spencer-Smith ; once again Arnold Benington tells the tale :
It is pleasant to report that Spencer-Smith had a very good last term at Lisburn. There was at one time some doubt about holding Old Scholars' Day, but the Head was keen that the usual school routine should continue. So the 42nd annual meeting of Old Scholars took place at the start of the summer term when, as W. H. Lamb announced from the chair, the customary grey hairs and bald heads were surrounded by many young faces. The reports were presented, there was fellowship and fun, and Spencer-Smith as host said
-`prolonged applause', noted the Lisburn Standard, in its lengthy account of the occasion.
Sports Day, too, was a success. `Rain fell throughout the afternoon, but enthusiasm was not damped. . . . Mrs. Barritt was unable to be present, and the cups were gracefully handed over by Mrs. Foster, wife of the Headmaster of Royal Academy. . . . Mr. Foster, in the course of a few remarks, paid a warm tribute to Mr. C. SpencerSmith, who he said, was the most popular man in the Headmasters' Association. (Applause.) Mr. Harper (Lurgan College) also spoke'. This account, too, is from the Lisbarn Standard.
Just before the end of term Spencer-Smith was honoured by parents, pupils and friends in the Temperance Institute in Lisburn. Many day scholars were there on a Saturday evening to hear the Rev. R. W. Hamilton, D.D., speak from the chair of his friend's `intellectual and teaching attainments which, along with his sterling Christian character, had greatly influenced those at the school during his headship'. In reply Spencer-Smith acknowledged what "a great honour it was to him to know that his work had been appreciated by those eminently qualified to judge".
A few days later, he wrote to John and Norah Douglas a letter dated 30th June, 1945, the greater part of which was
In view of the unhappiness of much of Spencer-Smith's Headship, these words
of praise of his successor are splendidly honest, the words of a sensitive
and generous spirit. They prompt us to reflect, as we perhaps always should
when confronted by unrealised intentions, on the sense of waste that
accomplishes the failure of what might have been rich fulfilment. Yet who
knows ? So imperfect are human beings that it may ultimately be that, to
quote the words which Chaucer gives the erring Cressida, `the intent is
The possibility o f Closure
The financial record of the school during these thirty years is interesting, and recurrent deficits often placed the Headmasters in difficulties about which staff and pupils were usually blissfully ignorant. At the start of W. D. Braithwaite's headship, when there were no signs of impending trouble, the Committee bravely followed an expansionist policy. From 1899 to 1909 the new bathroom wing and enlarged Science laboratory, along with other less important improvements, were paid for by £1,329 of invested capital and £1,339 of donations and revenue. After that, no further important capital expenditure took place until the 1930's and then mainly on the day school. Indeed, the boarding departments had to wait until the 1970's for major renovation and rebuilding.
It was in 1909 that the first signs of crisis clearly appeared with the drop in boarding numbers to fifty-seven (they had been seventy-three in 1907) and a deficit of £262 ; a year later, when W. D. Braithwaite retired, the school debt had grown to £680, a burden which handicapped John Ridges from the first. For the departure of 'Da' split the Society so that numbers fell to an alarming thirty-six, and in 1911 a further £463 was lost. This loss of over £1,000 in two years swallowed the £925 of the `debt extinction' fund which the Committee set up. For the next five years things improved, until in 1915 the deficit was a mere £1 and in 1916 income at last exceeded expenditure. But the recovery was achieved only by rigid economies and by the postponement of necessary work.
It was now, in 1917, that in response to widespread Quaker discussion about education, Ireland Yearly Meeting appointed a Committee to consider the whole question of the nation's four Quaker schools. Made up of twenty-nine names honoured throughout the Society and helped by the `professional inspection of Charles R. J. Tipper, Director of Education for Westmorland, and Mary F. Hartley, Headmistress of Ackworth', it presented its report to the Yearly Meeting of the following year, 1918. It was a model of common sense and clear expression. The Committee's recognition that `the Friends of the first two centuries attached more importance to Quaker education than we do now', enabled it to avoid adopting impressive but unhelpful postures as it addressed itself realistically to problems which still perplex the Society in both England and Ireland.
The four schools were Brookfield, Mountmellick, Newtown, and Ulster Provincial. Between them, the Committee noted in its factual way, they had room for 236 boarders ; in fact, they totalled 229 pupils of whom eighty-six had Quaker parents. Of the thirty-five resident staff, seventeen were Friends. And things were equally unsatisfactory financially, for over the previous five years the schools had lost just over £1,000 between them, or about £55 each a year-'not much, but when it is remembered that more than half the children are non-Friends . . . the position is not satisfactory'.
As these words reveal, the Committee's over-riding interest was in the schools' relationships with their parent Society. Educationally, there was much to commend in all four ; Quakerwise, there were serious drawbacks
All of these combined to make them schools which provided a cheap rather
than a Quaker education. This was, in the Committee's view, highly
unsatisfactory : Quaker schools should be Quaker, efficient, and open
equally to the children of all Friends, whatever their circumstances.
We can, it reported, see only three possibilities before us
These clear and thoughtful words deal with basic issues which are still unresolved amongst Friends. Even more, for example, than in 1918, the Lisburn school of the 1970's caters mainly for non-Friends. So for that matter do the English Quaker schools. And many Quakers ask themselves if it is right that so much of the Society's time and energy should be spent in this way. It is a constantly recurring theme of the correspondence columns of the Quaker weekly magazine, `The Friend', as well of many Monthly and General Meetings, and for some reason it often produces ill-temper and hasty utterances. The report of the Education Reconstruction Committee avoids all such pitfalls ; it is a splendid piece of work which shows Irish Quakerism at its best.
For all that, its recommendations were not accepted, nor could they have
been at that particular time in Irish history, at least as far as Ulster
Provincial School was concerned. It was struggling, it was true, and there
had been, and was soon to be again, talk of closing it. But no-one envisaged
its replacement by a school for 120 Quaker pupils `near Dublin, with easy
access to open country', which is what the Reconstruction Committee
suggested. Any school worth the name boasts past and present scholars, staff
and others who feel greatly bound up in its existence and traditions, and
who would fight hard against its closure. And so in Ulster the strong sense
of attachment to the Provincial School was too great to allow it to die in
this way. For though Quaker tension and disagreement are a continuing part
of the school's story, they are less important than the loyalty and
affection it has inspired. Indeed, in a strange way, the tension was, and
is, closely allied to the loyalty. Men get most excited about the things
they most care for, and the school had been too long part of the distinctive
Quaker life in Ulster to allow it to be laid down in favour of an idea,
however persuasively presented. `The least disputable statement which can be
made about the distinctiveness of Ulster from the rest of Ireland is that it
had always existed', A. T. Q. Stewart has said, and it is perhaps applicable
to Ulster Quakerism, too. In any event, the fierce pride of the Ulsterman
had been yet further intensified by the 1914-18 War, and especially by the
magnificent sacrifice of the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of the
Somme. It did not matter that the terrible losses were militarily and
politically futile. They were a fact, a part of the story that has made
Ulster what it is. `I am not an Ulsterman', wrote the already sympathetic
Capt. W. B. Spender, in celebrated words, `but yesterday, the 1st July, as I
followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman
than anything else in the world'.
So when, in accordance with Yearly Meeting's request, Ulster Quarterly Meeting met on a Monday morning, 28th October 1918, to discuss the Reconstruction Committee's proposal, it passed the following minute
There is something very typical about the choice of words -`a strong feeling against . . .' and `not prepared at present to give its consent . . .' A matter for regret, some may think, sensing the craggy assertiveness of Ulster life ? Perhaps. But a matter, too, for pride. What we have built, the Quarterly Meeting was saying, we hold, unless we ourselves come to feel otherwise. And as `altering circumstances' were soon to include Partition, it is difficult to guess what would have happened had Ulster Friends agreed to the change.
The debate had begun against a background of improved finances at Lisburn ; it ended amid the difficulties of war-time inflation and the fearful 'flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919. Again the school was in debt; and by the end of the school year 1920-21, the loss was a shattering £1,024. And again, the possibility of closure was discussed, but a number of individuals guaranteed £500 a year for five years to ensure that C. F. Spencer-Smith would not come to a dying school. The trouble was that annual expenditure continued to rise, the £4,000 of 1918 becoming £7,300 by 1923 - an annual requirement beyond the wildest imaginings of John Hancock and his executors. Yet, ironically, from this low point, the school's finances steadily improved even as the disagreements between the Committee and Spencer-Smith deepened. In the report for 1927/28 the school actually paid to the bursary fund a rent which had been previously remitted and there are even references to the need for a new kitchen, an enlarged hall and electric light. This confidence had two main causes : better enrolments and increases in payments from £300 to £1,300 by the Ministry of Education. And, in fact, when Spencer-Smith left in 1929, there was once more a surplus in the school account. Although it was not at first realised, from this time on financial worries grew far less serious. In common with Grammar Schools throughout the United Kingdom, Friends School, Lisburn, had embarked on an expansion which was to continue until well after the end of the Second World War.
They were difficult years for Governors. There were still twenty-four of them, a large number to be an effective executive committee, and they inherited some unhelpful attitudes from their predecessors, at times no doubt adding unwisdom of their own. But in one supremely important way they have left all lovers of the school in their debt : they had the faith to go on. Their chairman, Ronald Barritt, helped sometimes by the much younger Aubrey Harding, were tireless in their efforts to enrol new pupils ; they turned out on cold wet nights to visit distant Friends' homes where they had heard of possible boarders. William H. Turtle, Chairman before Ronald Barritt and always splendidly firm in his faith in the school's future, strongly and successfully opposed a movement to sell the field between Ardmore and the new classroom block (then a hockey, now a rugby pitch). And the suggestion to run boarding department for girls only was not seriously envisaged for all Winifred G. Squire's understandable and eloquent statement of her case. In spite of countless difficulties, the Committee of Governors remained faithful to the spirit of John Hancock's will - a school for boys and girls. We remain in their debt.
But scholars of those days who look back on them do not recall that kind of thing, all-important though it was. Instead, they see the school going about its work much as schools do, and as they get older there come into their memories isolated scenes which for them give the flavour of far-off days on Prospect Hill : Da Braithwaite hobbling about on crutches after his accident ; Joseph Marsh and Edwin Squire, weighty and prosperous-looking Committee members dressed in broadcloth, walking about the grounds discussing (though few knew it) whether the school should continue to keep pigs in the palatial building behind the dining-room ; John M. Douglas of the top class working as usual in the library, his head propped on his hand ; Dorothy Green `whose broad brow, keen intellectual eye and winsome ways promised a distinguished career tragically cut short by the Lough Neagh disaster of 1904'; the Hallowe'en parties of earlier days, always ending with the Grand Old Duke of York ; fruit-picking at Richhill (`or was it satisfying ourselves from the strawberry beds ?') during the First World War ; a long-forgotten teacher, Mr. Sinclair, at the school for only one year but with an enthusiasm so intense that at least one pupil remembered it for the rest of his life ; Willie Conn, either walking round with his friend William Glynn or drawing his much-admired cartoons ; new pupils discussing the reputations of teachers they had yet to meet ("Miss Squire is bad but Miss Sinton is far worse") ; two girls whose long hair had been plaited together by the small boy in the desk behind ; the dining-room with Miss Patterson wriggling back into her chair and the wraith-like Miss Hunter balanced precariously on the edge of hers ; the deaf and dumb laundress, a great friend of the girls, who always seemed to works in clouds of steam ; Tommy Maine in one of his furious rages ; and the small, plain, almost insignificant-looking James Woolman with his prominent Adam's apple, blowing his tuning whistle at Morning Collect or singing the Major General in "The Pirates of Penzance", or ending all school concerts by singing `Ah lucky Jim, how I envy him '. Quiet but respected by everyone because he was always fair.
But perhaps on these years before, during and after World War I, Arnold Marsh can have the last word. He is writing of the opening year of the century but also of a way of looking at a school which can never altogether die