Wall of names finally reveals its story

The mystery of the names  – inscribed on the side wall of the old and derelict school building in Bath’s Broad Street – has finally been solved.

It was built in 1754 to house King Edward’s School and was in use through to  1990 when the last of the pupils still based there left to  join their already relocated colleagues in a move to the school’s new 14 acre North Road site.

Since then the Grade 11• listed property in the city centre has remained empty. Sold for development – plans to turn it into an hotel or pub/restaurant have so far come to nothing.

Recently, I was in the car park behind York Buildings and could see the side of the old school wall above the boundary wall of the parking lot.

Quite a few names are carved into the side wall.

Etched into its surface – in very neat carved writing – are the names of various people and a range of early 20th century dates alongside them.

I wondered if these were former pupils at the school and hoped someone would read the piece l published and confirm – one way or the other.

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The names of former pupils at the old King Edward’s School.

Imagine my delight when l heard from two gentlemen – with a real interest in local history and a strong connection with the school. Dr John Wroughton is a former headmaster at KES and Mark Rutherford a former Chairman of the School’s Governors.

Former headmaster Dr John Wroughton (L) and Mark Rutherford, Former Chairman of KES Governors (R) outside the old school building in Broad Street.

Between them they have come up with a fascinating account of life before, during and after the First World War.

John told me: ‘ You have uncovered a fascinating piece of the school’s history…. During the period in question (1900-1920) the school (in Broad Street)  numbered around 160 boys. This included a very small Sixth Form, out of which one or two progressed each year to university.

It is highly probable that the privilege of inscribing your name on the wall was restricted by the headmaster – Mr E.W.Symons – to Sixth Form leavers. These would be boys who had distinguished themselves. They – or their parents -would then pay either the caretaker or a craftsman from outside to undertake the task.’

A closer look at some of the names carved into the Bath stone.

John and Mark then brought these names to life for me. The ten inscribed names on my images apparently went on to distinguished careers –  P.Dalzell became a surgeon, J.E.S.Read a BBC radio engineer, H.Cooper became a teacher, K.M.Waite was an electrical engineer, M.T.Shackell a farmer, K.W.Calvert a surveyor and M.J.Huntley went into hospital management for which he was awarded the MBE. Four of these had previously made it to university.

‘By then, however, six of the boys had endured the agony of fighting on the front in the First World War. King Edward’s had been one of the first schools in the country to form an Officer Training Corps during the Boer War in 1900 with half the school enrolled as members – including the six mentioned above.’

The side wall of the old school building.

John told me that this helped to account for the fact that no fewer that 560 Old Edwardians served in the war – 74 of who were killed in action.

‘The six boys who had inscribed their names, however, all survived although three were badly wounded – namely W.F.Darke (awarded a MC at Gallipoli), S.F.Simpkin ( who also gained a MC for bravery in France) and M.J.Huntley (on the front line in France).’

‘There is quite a bit more detail on all these boys. but we have extracted what we feel is the most interesting.’

Dr John Wroughton and Mark Rutherford. The gentlemen who have solved the ‘names’ mystery!

Gentlemen. Thank you for that.

Meanwhile, the building remains on the ‘Heritage at Risk Register’ – though repair work to the roof has at least reduced the risk to the property.

kes old school
The old King Edward’s School building.

What future for it? And for the reminder of those lives etched in stone?

Incidentally, King Edward’s School was not alone in chiselling the names of high achievers on a wall. There is apparently a similar tradition at Eton and at Winchester College.

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