The Angry Headteacher of Bluecoat School
The incident occurred in the Autumn of 1987 when I was working in the offices of the Warrington Cooperative Society above the old Co-op Hall in Winwick Road (now the site of Lookers Vauxhall, directly opposite the Tesco Superstore). Although it spooked me at the time, I convinced myself there was a logical explanation and put it down to a colleague fooling around. However, information has subsequently come to light that makes me wonder if perhaps more sinister forces weren't at work.
SECURING THE BUILDING
One of my jobs at the Co-op was to secure the building at the end of the day so that the cleaners, who left later than everyone else, only had to lock the main front doors.
I was making my way through the building when I heard someone yell my name. It was a distant voice but very loud, as if someone was angry with me. Everybody knew me as Andy, but this voice was calling me by my full name, Andrew, plus my surname.
"Yes?" I shouted back, trying to act as if I wasn't too concerned. There was no reply. I backtracked to the only place in the building where I knew a colleague could be hiding, but no one was there. As I continued my walk through the building the voice called my name again - but this time louder. It wasn't an evil voice by any means, but it was definitely pitched to get my attention, a bit like that fella on the X-Factor who introduces the acts.
My mind whirred for a logical explanation. I glanced through the window to see if anyone was outside - again: no-one. Once more the voice shouted my name. Now I was scared, and I wasn't hanging around to see who it was.
By the time I got to back to my desk, I half expected one of my colleagues to burst into laughter, knowing they'd succeeded in giving me the heebie-jeebies. However, there wasn’t a murmur; no smirks and no indication, either then or in the days that followed, that anyone had played a trick on me.
I secured the building many times in the months that followed but never once heard the raging voice again.
I convinced myself it must have been someone playing a trick. But one thing bothered me: no one would have dared shout my name so loudly as it would have disturbed everyone working in the offices and landed them in big trouble. Also nobody, except very occasionally my mother, called me Andrew.
So what has happened of late to cast further doubt on my 'someone messing around' theory? Basically, my discovery that the site of the building was for many years the home of a centuries old charitable school known as The Bluecoat School.
The charity started life in 1665 when a man named John Allen of Westminster left a legacy to the churchwardens of his birthplace, Warrington, to apprentice ‘several’ poor boys to the ‘handicraft’ trades. With additional financial support from a host of good-hearted Warringtonians, the charity grew and in 1711 its scope was extended to provide the apprenticed children - and more besides - with a basic education.
THE BLUECOAT BOYS
The children were initially put to school in a building attached to Holy Trinity church in the centre of town where, due to the colour of their uniforms, they quickly earned the nickname 'The Bluecoat Boys'. This arrangement continued until 1782 when, thanks to a succession of new donations from benefactors who saw the school as less 'elitist' than the longer established Boteler grammar school, a new dedicated Bluecoat school was erected in Winwick Road.
By 1820, the larger Winwick Road school was in full swing educating an impressive 150 day scholars, comprising 120 boys and 30 girls, plus a number of full-time boarders.
As with most Edwardian/Victorian educational establishments, the Bluecoat School was tough on discipline and the sound of a teacher angrily shouting the name of a wayward pupil would doubtless have been a regular occurrence. Not long after moving to Winwick Road, in addition to receiving general schooling, Bluecoat children were required to spend half of each day (except Saturdays) performing industrial labour, usually weaving. If a pupil was found to misbehave or tell lies, their punishment, as well as an inevitable ear-bashing from the headmaster, was to spend the next three Saturday afternoons toiling at their looms.
Indeed, the more I think about the tone of the voice that called my name at the Co-op Hall back in 1987, the more I believe it sounded like an angry schoolteacher about to chastise somebody who had stepped out of line.
Could the voice that shouted my name that day have belonged to an angry Bluecoat headteacher from yesteryear? Was the corridor I was standing in when I heard the voice an area where naughty Bluecoat children used to hide or play truant (judging by an old plan of the site the area was definitely on the school's outer edges)? Was I myself swinging the lead on the day in question? A lot of questions remain unanswered.
I do not wish to blight the memory of any of the headteachers listed below - I have no reason to believe any of them treated their charges in a way that was out of the ordinary for the periods indicated - but maybe, just maybe (and remember I'm a sceptic when it comes to the existence of ghosts), it was the echo of one of their voices I heard that Autumn night back in 1987.
John Webster (1782-1802)
Thomas Bullock (1804-1814)
Robert Horrocks (1814-1833)
Mr Forster (1833-1852)
John Bowes (1852-1871?)
Edward Rose (tenure unknown)
Charles Weston (tenure unknown).
The site of the old Bluecoat School (now Lookers Vauxhall) in Winwick Road, Warrington. The road to the left of the garage is still called 'Bluecoat' Street.
An artist's impression of the old Bluecoat school on Winwick Road from 1782. The school was further extended in 1834 to include its own chapel and a new school-room. The chapel included a stained glass window paid for by a Mr James Edmundson, a father of one of the Bluecoat pupils.
Early beneficiaries of the Bluecoat charity were educated from 1711 in a school-room attached to the current Holy Trinity Church at Market Gate.
Below is a list of the first 30 children educated at the Bluecoat School on Winwick Road including, in brackets, the years they were born & educated to, and the trades they were subsequently entered into:-
James Morris (1768-83) - grocer
Thomas Unsworth (1769-82) - printer
William Hartley (1769-84) - unknown
William Unsworth (1770-84) - cotton weaver
John Robinson (1773-87) - printer
John Dunbobbin (1771-86) - plumber/glazier
William Richardson (1774-88) - verge maker
Moses Brown (1773-87) - tailor
John Forster (1773-87) - watch maker
Halsal Parker (1773-87) - writer
Joseph Bate (1774-88) - sailor
John Wilson (1772-86) - ship chandler
Joseph Barber (1774-88) - printer
John Hatch (1771-1786) - soap boiler
William Ross (1774-88) - sail cloth weaver
Thomas Higginson (1774-89) - watch maker
Richard Mee (1773-87) - sailor
Ralph Bailey (1772-87) - cotton weaver
William Maire (1774-88) - joiner
Robert Jackson (1774-88) - plumber/glazier
Isaac Clayton (1772-86) - sail cloth weaver
William Crank (1771-86) - grocer
Thomas Buckley (1773-87) - tailor
Robert Taylor (1774-88) - husbandry
Mary Taylor (1771-85) - housewiv'ry
Margaret Thomason (1771-85) - housewiv'ry
Margaret Massey (1773-87) - housewiv'ry
Margaret Crawford (1773-87) - housewiv'ry
Margaret Fairhurst (1774-88) - upholstery
Mary Tomlinson (1774-88) - housewiv'ry
Extracted from the school register, 1782
Another view of Bluecoat Street in 2013, this time showing its proximity to St Ann's Church. The school itself was on the near left of this picture. The discarded shopping trolley on the right indicates how close the school would have been to the new Tesco superstore.
The original benefactors of the Bluecoat Charity School, most with Warrington connections, were:
John Allen of Westminster, London (born Warrington) who gave a bond of £180 in 1665.
George Moores of High Leigh, John Birchall and John Holcroft (both Culcheth) who gave £10 in 1679.
William Turner of Parr, Thurstan Colwey of Windle and Joseph Potts of Eccleston who gave £30 in 1680.
Henry Taylor of Knowsley, Thomas Glover of Prescott, John Barrow of Hyton who gave £50 in 1681.
Samuel Hatton, Matthew Page and Peter Naylor (all Warrington) who gave £40 in 1685.
Hamblet Woods of Risley and Henry Woods of Whiston who gave £60 in 1686.
John Chorley of Warrington - who gave £50 in 1689.
The Bluecoat Charity School remained at Winwick Road until 1922 after which it moved to Preston Brook before eventually closing in 1949. The Warrington Co-operative Society took over the Winwick Road site in 1933, initially building a large bakery there before replacing it in the 1960s with a larger network of buildings comprising an entertainment hall (known as the Co-op Hall), an office block, a youth club (anyone remember the Rainbow Room or Woodcraft Folk?), garages and a butchery department. Although the school and the Co-op have long since gone, Bluecoat Street remains and can still be seen between the disused public conveniences and Vauxhall car showroom opposite St Ann’s Church, which itself is now a climbing centre.