I’ve known for a long time that my dad missed a lifetime opportunity in 1926 at the age of twelve when he was awarded a scholarship to King Edward VII Grammar School, which had a reputation as the best place in Sheffield to gain an education.
King Ted’s, as people called it (and still do), was at the time a fee-paying school where there were social expectations alongside academic opportunities.
My dad’s parents felt compelled to turn the scholarship down because they simply couldn’t afford the incidentals such as uniform and fares and needed their sons and daughters to start work at the then school-leaving age of fourteen.
In addition, it was the year of the General Strike and they had five children, with a sixth on the way, and there was no telling which of them might pass scholarships in future. My granddad was a boilerman in the coke ovens at Tinsley Park, so their finances were precarious.
All this was simply family history of purely personal interest until I came across an obituary for Bill Moore (1911-2008), a celebrated figure in left-wing politics in Yorkshire and beyond, who was said to be the first Attercliffe boy to win a free scholarship to grammar school: https://grahamstevenson.me.uk/2008/09/19/bill-moore.
This set me thinking. King Edward’s was founded in 1905. If it took seventeen years for a lad from any of the numerous elementary schools in the Lower Don Valley to gain a free grammar-school education, perhaps my dad might have been the second.
I checked the Education Committee minutes and without looking further back than 1920 I discovered that Bill Moore was by no means the first Attercliffe lad to go to King Ted’s. Between eleven and twenty scholarships were awarded each year from 1920 to 1926, mostly to pupils from schools on the prosperous west side of the city.
In 1921 William Wild, aged 12 years 3 months, left my alma mater, Huntsman’s Gardens Council School, for King Edward’s on a Close Entrance Scholarship. His father was a brass foundry manager, so could no doubt afford the tram fare, yet the family lived on Brinsworth Street, two minutes’ walk from Huntsman’s Gardens, in the very heart of the industrial East End – by no means a leafy affluent suburb.
By the time Bill Moore was eligible in the summer of 1923 the system had changed and under his birth name, Enos Leslie Moore, he was awarded a Free Scholarship, “tenable for the period of school life and covering free tuition, the provision of all school amenities and the use, but not the gift, of books” along with a maintenance grant.
He stayed at King Edward’s until 1930 when he won a further scholarship to study history at Oriel College, Oxford. In 1935, after graduation he joined the Communist Party and engaged in left-wing politics for the rest of his long life.
Bill Moore’s story gives me a perspective of the magnitude of my dad’s loss, and explains why he and my mother were so keen for me to have the opportunity that had been denied them.
For that I have always been profoundly grateful.