Local historians Ann and Ted Lightbown open their schoolbook to share a little-known link between Blackpool’s early educational heritage and a group of town centre buildings, which are in the process of being demolished
The wry remark that “nostalgia is not what it used to be” may have some truth to it in relation to the old buildings at the corner of Adelaide and Coronation streets, which are now being demolished.
Many people will have memories of evenings at the Galleon Bar there. Some will recall its house band featuring Teddy Korvo on piano and Brian Schultz on drums – it was a favourite haunt of showbiz types.
However, go back a century and, although the properties were then essentially the same, by contrast the sight of them would have stirred memories of schooldays for quite a number of Blackpool’s male residents.
In the early 1860s the Rev J H Sharples opened a private school for boys, called Chalgrove Academy, in Adelaide Street at the corner of Coronation Street.
The premises comprised a three-storey house with accommodation for 25 boarders, a schoolroom for 80 pupils, and a playground to the west.
Unfortunately, only an unprepossessing photograph of the rear of the school is known to exist, with washing on the line and a dog.
Sharples was the headmaster of Heversham Grammar School, near Milnthorpe, Cumbria, a position he held until 1872, so why he wanted to build a school in Blackpool remains a mystery.
In Victorian times, Blackpool had many small private schools, usually single sex, with pupils coming from all over Lancashire and sometimes further afield.
Robert Bamber was one of the school’s first teachers. He had previously been running a school in Chapel Street, which had a small farm attached, but when his lease expired, he moved to Chalgrove Academy in 1864.
R B Mather, a Blackpool architect, publican and mayor in 1898, could remember that when old Mr Bamber was going to thrash a lad he sent another one out to buy a cane.
He recalled that on one occasion, Bamber gave one lad such a thrashing that it put him in bed for three or four days, and that he also had a trick of throwing a heavy ruler if someone was talking, sometimes cutting boys’ heads open.
In December 1867, a Mr Greaves was advertising that he had taken over the school, but in 1871 Charles Pakes, a young curate of Christ Church, now the site of the Job Centre, Queen Street, became master, and changed its name to Collegiate School.
By 1876 he was joined by Ebenezer Leigh, who had been running a school at Delph, Saddleworth, and Leigh took over the school when the Rev Pakes became vicar of Copp Church, Great Eccleston.
“Daddy” Leigh, as he was known to his pupils, ran Collegiate School until his retirement from teaching in 1887. He became a councillor for Talbot ward and was on several education committees. Latterly he settled in Poulton, but the school building remained under his ownership.
The school was then run by Thomas Sankey, a married man with three children, who had been teaching in Oxfordshire. A keen sportsman, it was Sankey who, in 1893, brought the Australian cricket team to play at the new Athletic Grounds, now the site of the present Blackpool Cricket Club, both of which he was instrumental in founding.
In 1893, Sankey bought a large semi-detached house further up Adelaide Street called Frogmore and moved the school there, changing its name to the Blackpool Grammar School.
It later expanded into the house next door and both premises are now the Comrades Club.
Ebenezer Leigh sold the old Collegiate School building to John Hall, a Blackpool councillor, auctioneer and property speculator, who converted the school into shops. On the site of the playground he erected a red brick building with three shops below, two of which became the Galleon.
The one on the corner of Tower Street was latterly the Lowery Cafe and, if you want to indulge in nostalgia, take a look at it on Google Street View, where it can be seen on a sunny day with its door open and people sat outside. Perhaps this indicates that Street View is already becoming a significant historical resource!
These buildings will soon be no more. If they were considered part of our heritage, they are no longer, depending on your interpretation of the word’s meaning.
As long as there are people alive who remember them, they may well be the subject of nostalgia, but after that they will be just a small part of our local history.