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Boumphrey Lecture Series - Inaugural Lecture on Prep History, with Ian Boumphrey

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31 January 2018

On 19th January, the children of Years 5 and 6 gathered together for the first of the new Prep Lectures.

Governor, Ian Boumphrey, came to speak to the children about the history of Prep and to pass on his vast amount of knowledge and passion for the School.

As well as being a Governor at the School, Mr Boumphrey is also a member of the Archives Department, which meets on a Monday morning to collate information on the School’s history.

As a past student of the School, Mr Boumphrey had brought his own black and red Prep cap and scarf along with him to wear, but conceded that they were now a bit too small for him before starting his talk. 

The children were then asked a question: Prep has been a part of Birkenhead School for over 128 years now and the audience was asked if, during that time, there had been 6, 10 or 16 Headteachers? They all stood to make their guess and were surprised to find that there had been just six Headteachers in that time, Miss Cox, Miss Bendall, Mrs Coggan, Mr Franklin, Mrs Skelly and now, Mr FitzHerbert.

To set the context, Mr Boumphrey gave some history about the whole School; founded in 1860, originally on Park Road North and backing on to Birkenhead Park, Birkenhead School moved to its current site in 1871, with the Chapel being built in 1883. At the start, there were 150 students attending the School, aged between 10 and 18 years of age and in 1878, students started boarding, with dormitories located in, what is now, part of the music school.

Due to demand, in 1889, the Prep School opened, with 16 students, quickly rising to 30 in 1890, following the addition of another classroom, and lessons were taught to three classes.

Mr Boumphrey showed photographs throughout his talk, including one in which he featured, showing the School as it was then and comparing it to today. A photo taken in 1903 showed the Prep Gym from the top of the slope, which is now where the Ashcroft Steps are situated.

Another interesting photo showed how the Prep Hall had been bisected to allow for more classrooms, with Mr Boumphrey pointing out that there was no corridor, as there is today, and access along the bottom floor was via the classrooms.

The fascinating photographs also highlighted the changes in the uniform over the years, with an image from 1909 showing School caps and a uniform that resembled a sailor’s outfit.

Moving on to 1910, Mr Boumphrey referenced a photograph in the cricket pavilion (and one also in Bushell Hall) of Sandy Irvine, who had joined the School, aged eight, leaving at 16 years of age. Some of the children had recognised the photo and were able to talk about how Sandy Irvine had gone on to climb Mount Everest, along with George Mallory, unfortunately, with neither returning from the trip.

Today’s Prep audience were keen to see the photograph of the first School trip to a football match against a school in West Kirby. The students had travelled via horse and cart, which had taken them two hours, they had also had to get out and walk for part of the journey, at Black Horse Hill, in order to lighten the load for the horses to get up the hill. Once they arrived at the school, they saw that their football pitch was on quite a steep slope, meaning that their goalkeeper couldn’t actually see the other goal from where he was standing. This resulted in a final score of 6-0 to the West Kirby school, as they had been quite used to their unusual pitch.

Mr Boumphrey talked to his attentive audience about the School’s role during the First and Second World Wars and how, in 1914, the School was utilised by an Officers’ Training Corps (OTC), showing photographs of the officer cadets in their training uniforms and of sandbags around the windows of buildings in 1940, to protect from any shattered glass. The children heard how Birkenhead School had been very fortunate during the war, only incurring a relatively small amount of damage; a few windows in the Chapel and also in Overdale were damaged, as was part of the Chapel’s entrance.

Moving on to the more modern photos of the School, the children saw images of the 150th anniversary of the School, when HRH The Earl of Wessex opened Prep’s ‘Wessex Wing’ in celebration. Mr Boumphrey then went on to show the recent photos of the beautiful Outdoor Classroom and the new terrace, where children have the option of sitting around the picnic tables during their break and lunchtimes.

When asking the children if they had any questions following the talk, Mr Boumphrey was met by many raised arms, all eager to find out even more information about their School. There were questions about the School’s motto, ‘Blessed are the Pure in Heart’ and the School’s uniform, which had included kilts between 1900 and 1914. Mr Boumphrey then showed the children where they could find out more information, in the 1989 book about the School that was written in honour of the 100th anniversary.

At the end of the lecture, Mr FitzHerbert thanked Mr Boumphrey for his interesting and insightful talk and announced the wonderful news, that the Prep Lectures would be named The Boumphrey Lecture Series, due to Ian Boumphrey giving the inaugural lecture and as he is such an advocate of Birkenhead School.

The first lecture of the Boumphrey Lecture Series was a huge success and all of the children in Prep are eagerly awaiting the next one.