Barry Band: Blackpool’s real Dick Whittington who built a resort school

The School managers at Bispham Endowed CofE School
The School managers at Bispham Endowed CofE School
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Turning pages of local history can produce a bingo moment. For example, discovering that Bispham had its own Dick Whittington.

Dick Higginson may not have had a cat, but he did go to London and made his fortune, becoming an alderman.

Staff at Bispham Endowed CofE School

Staff at Bispham Endowed CofE School

He never forgot his early years in the little Fylde Coast hamlet and his money endowed a school that continues to this day.

It is Bispham Endowed C of E School and it was a booklet published in 1957 that caught my interest.

I was having a cuppa with Barry Brigden, a pupil at the school in the 1940s, who became head of English at Bispham’s Montgomery School.

He put the booklet on the table and said: “You may be interested in this.”

Bispham Endowed School, by air in 2011

Bispham Endowed School, by air in 2011

The eight-page A5 booklet was issued by the Bispham Endowed governors to attract financial support, to continue the school’s endowed status as a new building was being planned (it opened in 1962).

The booklet – which was printed by The Evening Gazette – states: “Historians tell us there was a school in Bispham as long ago as 1621, just 19 years after the name Blackpool first appeared in the Bispham Parish Registers.

“It is not known when that school was founded but it was, of course, the Mother of all the Blackpool schools.”

The story continued that Richard Higginson was baptised on April 1, 1603, at Bispham Parish Church.

“He left Bispham and went to live in London, where he made a fortune and became a City Alderman.

“When he died in 1659, he left an annual sum of £30 to be applied as £20 for a schoolmaster and £10 for ‘an usher’ for the children of Bispham,” the booklet states.

A puzzling thing about the school shield, on the cover, is the date of 1650.

Was that when Richard Higginson built a new school for the village? The booklet doesn’t explain.

However, the date fits with events in the Cromwell Rebellion of the 1640s, when Richard Higginson bought two city inns, the Black Lion and the Golden Bull, which the Cromwellians had confiscated from the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The sum of the two rents became the Bispham school’s £30 annual endowment.

But later events put the endowment at risk.

A year after Richard’s death in 1659, the monarchy was restored and the Dean of St Paul’s reclaimed the pubs.

They burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Richard Higginson’s widow, Elizabeth, wanted to ensure her husband’s intentions were carried out and gave £200 to the school’s trustees “for the purchase of rents, or lands, for the maintenance of a schoolmaster.”

The money was loaned at interest until, in 1692, £200 was used to buy 14 acres of land in Layton.

The plots are described in the booklet as the Great Hey, the Pasture the Boon Low Side and the Little Field.

Those are the bones of the early years of Bispham Endowed C of E School, whose history saw several moves over the centuries before the present building opened in Bispham Road in 1962.

Maybe a local historian out there can add to the story?

But today’s kids might think the best bit is about Dick Higginson, who was Bispham’s very own Dick Whittington.

The pantomime of that name is the only one to be based on a real life!