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How did it all start?

During the last quarter of the 19th century the population of Portsmouth was 150,000 – about 60% of today’s population. It was, however, cramped into an area covering about one eighth of the modern City. It was a poor town with many employed in the Dockyard at an average wage of 25/- a week – albeit that the cost of living was low. Children were educated at the Board Schools at a cost of 2d a week with a leaving age of 10 (11 in 1893 and 12 in 1899). Education beyond the elementary stage was greatly in demand for it appeared to offer the desired technical and scientific training that was sought. At that time the only schools that could offer this extended schooling were the private schools and with fees of up to £12 a year (Portsmouth Grammar and High Schools for Girls) this was beyond the means of many.

The provision of a Higher Grade school had been first suggested in 1873 but the Portsmouth School Board, not being enthusiastic, did the usual thing that bureaucrats do in those circumstances and set up a Committee!! But the need became more insistent as the years past including from employers’ representatives and in 1884 the Chamber of Commerce set up its own Committee. In 1887 the Committee was re-appointed under the chairmanship of the Rev E.P.Grant MA. Prospective premises were found at the corner of Edinburgh and Commercial roads and an approach was made to the Secretary of State for War to acquire it. Unfortunately, it was decided to sell the site by auction (the rival contenders for the site being a public market) and, as a result the opportunity was lost.

However, it was not long before alternative temporary accommodation was found above a shop belonging to Alderman W Pink in Mile End (see Section on Buildings for more details).

On 7th September 1888 the Evening News broke the news of the plan to open a Higher Grade School. The teaching staff would comprise a Headmaster (at a salary of £200-250) and two assistants one at £120-£150 and the other at £90-£110. Just 6 weeks later Mr Walker was appointed as the first Headmaster and, in the event, he had three assistants – Messrs Outlaw (joy for the boys with a name like that to conjure with!!), Eastwood and Jolliffe. On November 3rd an advertisement appeared in the Hampshire Telegraph notifying the intention to open the new school just 9 days later.

However, the advent of the school was not met enthusiastically in all quarters. Before the school had even opened its doors there were protests from private and denominational schools that boys from their establishments were to be allowed to apply to the new school. Opposition came from some of the Board School teachers who objected to their best pupils being taken away from them and Mr W.J.Tuck was the chief representative of those who were concerned about the expense to the ratepayers (he continued to be a thorn in the side of the school as long as the Higher Grade School existed with continual belittling of its achievements, attempts to block its development and even to terminate its existence). The opposition flared up into attacks on the school and the Headmaster but fortunately there were men of vision who kept faith in the possibilities; importantly, too, the Chamber of Commerce, working men’s organisations and the local press loyally supported it.

At the end of the first year the school had made a profit – albeit due to some dubious accounting practices!!

Early success made a "dockyard class" possible as early as September 1889 – to the annoyance of supporters of private schools. Competition for places to the dockyard entry list was keen and special coaching was provided by the private school; in 1890 there were 300 entrants for24 vacancies – the Higher Grade School gaining 4 of these from 14 entrants, a very creditable performance for the new school. A year later two boys (H.P. Basil and P. Owen) were the first to gain entry to the Civil Service and ten boys gained dockyard places; by 1894 this had risen to 32 out of 72 vacancies.

In 1890 amid plans to construct a new building for the school the indefatigable Mr Tuck threatened the continued existence of the school – a move that very nearly saw Mr Walker’s departure. Mr Tuck drawing upon a minute from the Department of S cience and Art which withdrew grants to schools receiving public aid motioned to the School Management Committee that as the source of income for the school had been lost a manual training establishment should be erected in place of the proposed building. Despite the offending regulation having been rescinded Mr Tuck refused to withdraw his motion and became offensive to Mr Walker. Not surprisingly, Mr Walker was gravely offended by this and other attacks on his integrity and complained to the Board who gave him an assurance of their support; in the meantime he had applied for another post in Gateshead (and been short listed for it) but having been given the assurance of the Board’s support and with the strong support of parents he stayed on. Nevertheless, the ill feeling continued through most of the 1890s with Mr Tuck seemingly taking every opportunity to attack both the school and Mr Walker personally.

In 1903 Higher Grade Schools had been declared illegal based upon the Local Government Board Auditor’s contention that rates had been spent improperly in educating children in such schools!! As a temporary measure the Board of Education, set up in 1899, established a system of Higher Elementary Schools. And in June 1903 the School Board had to hand over its functions to the Education Committee of the Town Hall.

In September 1903 Mr Walker announced his intention to resign (despite being only in his early 40s) and left in December of that year. Certainly, without his fortitude in establishing the school in such trying circumstances there must have been a question as to its survival. The school certainly owed a huge debt to him.

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