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Cleckheaton mourns loss of the old Whitcliffe Mount School

Here is history of a building that is due to be demolished

Whitcliffe Mount School, Cleckheaton

It’s a school that has become a landmark in its community ... but it will soon be gone.

Many people in Cleckheaton are unhappy at the decision to demolish the former Whitcliffe Mount School which has been replaced with a new school – especially Spen Valley Civic Society.

Its secretary Erica Amende has provided details about the school’s history to show its significance to the local community.

She said: “The Foundation Building is a fine Yorkshire stone edifice completed in 1910, similar to other grammar school buildings in West Yorkshire. Unlike other councils, which have retained their fine original buildings and incorporated them into new school buildings, Kirklees is to demolish this one shortly and give all the materials to Laing O’Rourke, the PFI contractor.

“Laing O’Rourke have almost completed the new school building at the other end of the school site so there’s no need to demolish the original building – it could have been recycled.”

 

Much of the school’s history is detailed in the book Whitcliffe Mount School by Alfred L Mowat, published in 1957 by John Siddall Ltd, Spenborough Press,

It came from two sources: a flourishing local Technical Institute in Cleckheaton and the 1902 Education Act which provided for secondary education across the country.

The education authority at that time was the West Riding County Council based in Wakefield. It decided that the Spen Valley should have one secondary school at Heckmondwike. That school was duly built and in time became Heckmondwike Grammar School.

Cleckheaton councillors and employers were furious that Cleckheaton could not have its own secondary school. Due to the number of diverse and highly skilled industries which flourished in Cleckheaton, well-educated young people were vital to its future economic success.

Whitcliffe Mount School in 1912

Five men, dubbed the ‘Cleckheaton Conspirators’, were instrumental in pushing forwards plans for a school. They were John G Mowat, George Whiteley, J Walter Wadsworth, Reginald M Grylls and Will H Clough. These people’s families have played significant roles in Cleckheaton’s history.

The Mowat family later built Cleckheaton Library in 1930. Walter Wadsworth’s son Edward became an internationally famous Vorticist (modernist) artist and invented a way to paint battleships to camouflage them. Reginald Grylls maintained his interest in local education and a middle school at Hightown was named after him.

Faced with the refusal of the county council to provide a school, these five men decided that they and Cleckheaton residents would go it alone and provide one themselves. A charitable Trust was formed which enabled the Technical Institute to pool its resources with the new school venture. The public was invited to subscribe money and raised £3,447, 11 shillings and 6 pence which together with Cleckheaton Council and other benefactors’ contributions met the cost of the school, which was £19,621, 17 shillings and 4 pence.

The first sod was cut on March 31, 1909, and the Foundation stone was laid on June 5, 1909 when a time capsule was buried underneath it.

 

The clock and its clock tower were a gift from Chair of the Governors Walter Wadsworth. The new school opened its doors to 95 pupils and 10 staff on September 15, 1910, as Cleckheaton Secondary and Technical School. A sixth form was added in 1913 and in 1928 it became Whitcliffe Mount Grammar School.

Thus Cleckheaton’s Whitcliffe Mount School is unique as being the only State school founded by the will of the people and not arising from the direct policy of an Education Authority.

In 1973 the school became comprehensive and a sports centre was added.

More recently the school lost its sixth form, was briefly a Business and Enterprise College and is now a co-ed High School catering for 11 to 16-year-olds.

As proof of its unique foundation, the charitable Trust which owns the Foundation building itself and the land on which the Foundation building stands still exists.

The new building opens its doors to pupils in September 2017.

Construction company Laing O’Rourke will demolish the Foundation Building in return for the value of its materials.

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