The William Foote School

A Short History and School-day Reminiscences

Compiled by
Pearl Reynolds 1999



It is very important that this short history of the William Foote Memorial school should be written. I am grateful to Mrs Pearl Reynolds for undertaking the work involved. I am also grateful to those who shared their school-day memories with her and to those who supplied photographs.

The William Foote School served the children of the area as their school from 1908-1965, when the property was handed back to Seymour Street Methodist Church.
As a school the building gave invaluable service to generations of children. That service continued to be given through its use as a Church Hall. Still it is in use almost every night of the week, serving people of all ages. No doubt those with happy memories of the William Foote School will be sad to see it go. Yet, I have no doubt that many will be glad to know that it will be replaced with a modem suite of halls which will serve our Church and the people of the area. I can think of no better way to begin a New Millennium.

As the William Foote School passes into history, a new and exciting phase of our history will begin in a suite of halls much more suited to the great number of activities in which our Church is involved. Your support in this marvellous new venture will be greatly appreciated
We are grateful to God for all that has been achieved in the William Foote School. We look forward in faith to what God will do through new halls better suited to today's needs.

Kenneth Best Superintendent Minister March 1999


Mainly through the efforts of the Rev Dr Hollingsworth, Superintendent Minister of the Lisburn Circuit, Seymour Street National School also known as "Seymour Street Methodist" was opened in July 1886 and was held in the hall below the Church. The first headmaster was Mr James Henry LL.D., B.L.. The school went from strength to strength and by the end of the first year there were three assistant teachers and the following spring a fourth assistant teacher and also several monitors were required In July 1897 Dr Henry resigned to join the legal profession and was succeeded by Mr Alex S. Mayes.

The school was held in very high regard, as at that time it covered an unusually extensive course of instruction, including languages and science.

This was a great attraction for a large number of senior students, who from time to time gained valuable entrance scholarships in open competition to Campbell College, Methodist College, MacArthur Hall, Victoria High School, and Belfast Technical Preparatory School; Pupil-teacherships in Model Schools; Scholarships in Training; Post Office and Boy Clerk appointments, thus gaining desirable public appointments of the time.

More than 1,600 were enrolled since the school was opened, an average of about 83 pupils per year. The highest recorded attendance was 240 children.

Now the hall beneath the Church was inadequate for the needs of both teachers and pupils and only a new school could solve the problem, the cost of which caused the leaders much anxious thought, but, through a very generous action, the William Foote Memorial School was enabled to be brought into being.

Who was William Foote?

The Lisburn Standard dated 2nd October 1895 gives an insight into the life and death of this faithful member of Seymour Street Methodist Church as follows:

"Mr William Foote, one of the oldest inhabitants of Lisburn, passed away, after a brief illness, on Sunday morning last. Up to a short time ago he enjoyed  his usual health, but some days since he contracted a cold, which settled on his lungs, causing congestion. In the absence of Dr St George, his medical advisor, Dr Mackenzie J.P was called in and did everything he could for the patient, but medical aid was unavailing and Mr Foote passed away at the time stated. The deceased, like his father before him, was a native of Lisburn. More than half a century ago he commenced business in Bridge Street as a family grocer and was much esteemed for his probity and urbanity. He was a devoted member of the Methodist Church and took a deep interest in its many schemes of usefulness. He was a liberal contributor to its many funds. Mr Foote also subscribed liberally to many philanthropic movements. We have been informed that his last walk up the town was taken to procure a cheque, which was forwarded to Dr Barnardo of London, the world renowned friend of the waifs and strays in the large cities and towns of the United Kingdom. The deceased did not take much to do with local political affairs, but he was a sound Unionist and his vote could always be counted upon for the return of candidates who were in favour of supporting the integrity of the empire. The deceased never married. One of his sisters kept house for him, looking after his comfort in every way. Another sister is the devoted wife of Mr Archibald McAfee, one of the most respected members of the community"

The Funeral

The remains of Mr Foote were on Wednesday morning (after a short service in the house conducted by the Rev Caleb S Laird) removed for interment in the borough cemetery. The handsome oak coffin contained the following inscription:

William Foote
Died the 25th September 1897
Aged 83

(Among the Chief mourners was Mr Archibald McAffee and the cortege, which was most representative, included many well-known clergy and doctors as well as a large number of the most influential members of the community including Mr John D Barbour D.L.)

"Arrived at the cemetery, the coffin was taken out of the hearse, and carried to the "narrow house", where a solemn service was conducted by Rev Mr Laird and Rev R E Sherwood. The latter Rev gentleman, having read a portion of the burial service, also read a part of the resurrection chapter, 15th of 1st Corinthians. The hymn, "O God our help in ages past" (a great favourite with the deceased), having been sung, Rev Caleb S Laird read the conclusion of the service, and delivered an impressive address, in which he referred to the many excellent traits in the character of the deceased, and pointed out that he relied alone for salvation on the atonement. Mr Laird concluded by pronouncing the benediction."

Mrs Archibald McAfee

Mrs Archibald McAfee was a sister of Mr William Foote. It appears that she was the last surviving member of the Foote family which had a long and faithful association not only with Seymour Street congregation but indeed with the Market Street Preaching house of previous times.
Mrs McAfee made a generous gift of �1,500 to build the school in memory of her brother - the school to be known as "The William Foote Memorial School".

Extracts from the Lisburn Standard dated 7th September 1907 read as follows:

(Please note that where the Latin word (sic) follows the word "schools" it is used to indicate that the original copy is being faithfully reproduced even though incorrect, as there was only one school opened and the stone panel in the central gable bears the inscription "William Foote Memorial School").

"The new schools (sic) will occupy the fine site at the rear of the Methodist Church, and will have a frontage of 100 feet to Wesley Street, the rear will exceed 100 feet, as a considerable portion of the manse garden will be taken in. There will be accommodation in the schools (sic) for 250 pupils, according to the most recent requirements of the National Board of Education - ten square feet per pupil being provided."

"The building contract has been placed with Mr James McNally, of Lisburn, who will carry out the contract from the plans and under the supervision of Mr St John Phillips, A.R.I.B.A., architect."

Laying the Foundation Stone

"Tuesday last was a day of special importance to the members of the Methodist Communion in Lisburn. Not only was the Belfast Synod held here, but the highly interesting function - interesting in no merely passing sense to all who wish the advancement of education amongst us - was then performed of laying the foundation stone of the fine new schools (sic), proposed to be built by Mrs McAfee as a memorial to her late brother, Mr William Foote........ Mrs McAfee, needless to say, is a lady who has always been held in very high esteem in Lisburn for her charitable, amiable and benevolent attributes...... Her munificence is highly appreciated by the people of Lisburn generally, irrespective of class or creed, but in particular, of course, by the Methodist clergy and congregations in the Lisburn Circuit, and, indeed, of the Belfast Synod, who were present at the ceremony on Tuesday which took place in the playground of the present commodious and popular Methodist National Schools (sic) in Seymour Street. In the unavoidable absence of the esteemed donor, through indifferent health - which was sincerely felt to be the cause of much regret - the laying of the stone was gracefully performed by Mrs Egan, the esteemed wife of the Rev Alexander Egan, minister of the Seymour Street Church."

Opening Ceremony

At last the dream of opening the new Schools (sic) was realised and quotations taken from The Lisburn Standard, Saturday April 18, 1908 give an insight into the events of this historic day.

"The important and interesting event of opening the very fine schools (sic) which have been erected out ofthe munificence ofMrs McAfee in connection with the Methodist Church in Lisburn, took place on Wednesday afternoon, at the close of a meeting which was addressed by several important speakers on the education question, in the old school room. The formal ceremonial of opening and declaring the schools (sic) open was performed by Mrs Harold Barbour, with her accustomed grace and beneficence, and all the attendant circumstances were a happy augury for the future of the schools (sic), and indeed for the advancement of education in Lisburn. The school, in which successive generations of scholars had been prepared for their part in life, was tastefully decorated for the occasion, on which the work so long carried on there was about to be transferred to the more commodious new suite of classrooms in the very fine building adjoining; and perhaps the largest, most influential and representative assembly that had ever met there was present to participate in and add distinction to the very important event....."

Writing of the structure of the schools (sic) the Lisburn Standard continues. "The buildings are of brick, with stone dressings to barges, parapets and gables.
The stone panel in the central gable bears the inscription - `William Foote Memorial Schools' (sic). A private porch or teachers' entrance, is placed near the front, the pupils having entrances by doors from the playgrounds. Separate entrances are provided for boys and girls..... Five classrooms accommodate the pupils graded from seniors to infants. (One room is fitted as a science room, with a proper demonstration bench and laboratory sink, in the girls' department a cooking class may be held. Ample book presses are provided in each room and a museum case is placed in the science room. Three of the rooms have galleries of easy gradient to give each pupil a full view of the demonstration boards."
The committee decided to adopt open fireplaces for the heating of the rooms.

"The Rev Alexander Egan, minister of the Methodist Church, occupied the chair and in his opening address said - "Ladies and Gentlemen, I think the occasion that draws us together in this schoolroom this afternoon is as pleasant a one as ever unites a company in a public meeting. We are met to spend a few moments in a room where for over 21 years the work of education has been successfully carried on, to listen to some well-known experts in education, speaking on the great subject of education, and then to pass to the new schools (sic), which will be opened for as by Mrs Harold Barbour. I regret very much that Mrs McAfee, the generous giver of the new schools (sic), is unable to be with us this afternoon on account of the inevitable infirmities of old age. She desires me to express her gladness and gratitude in this meeting at the consummation today of a long cherished desire in her heart to help the children of her native town."

Mr Egan also remarked that Mrs McAfee, in order to carry out her plan to build the school, had selected three representatives from the Methodist Church to act as a building committee - himself, Dr Jefferson and Mr Thompson Allen.

Other speakers on this occasion were Rev Dr Evans, a commissioner of Irish Education, Rev G R Wedgwood, Chairman of Belfast Methodist Synod, Professor A C Dixon FRS., Queen's College, Belfast, and Mr J E Pelan, Chairman of the Urban Council.

Mrs Barbour declared the school open and was presented with a silver key, in a case, by Miss Marjory Green as a souvenir of the occasion. Mrs Barbour also apologised for the unavoidable absence of Mr Harold Barbour.

Sadly Mrs Archibald McAfee died a few months later in August 1908 at the age of 86 and it is said that the boys of the William Foote Memorial School attended her funeral and that this was one of the last local funerals to have a four-horse hearse. Mrs McAfee was a member of the Presbyterian Church - probably since her marriage.

The school grew in numbers and academic achievement - a credit to the memory of the name it bore.

Following the 1923 Education Act the Regional Education Committees took over accountability for the former National Schools. At this time The William Foote Memorial School was handed over and became the responsibility of the Lisburn and Belfast Regional Education Committee and was now known as The William Foote Public Elementary School.