A graduate in Chemistry from Birmingham University, Alan Wright came to Bolton School from Newcastle Royal Grammar School, where he had been Head of Department. In 1983 he commenced what became the third longest headmastership in the School’s history, presiding over the Boys’ Division for almost two decades. Alan Wright arrived as a mould-breaker, being the first scientist in the post, and he soon demonstrated his ability to find innovative solutions to problems which, ‘during times of considerable change’, made him an outstanding Headmaster.
“…Very many pupils, teachers, parents and others with less immediate ties to Bolton School have their reasons for remembering Alan Wright’s Headmastership with gratitude and affection…” The Bugle, Spring 2013.
A key phrase in the literature for prospective Headship candidates attracted me: “Bolton School is an interdenominational Christian foundation”. I couldn’t imagine a better ethos in which to work. The last Headmaster to occupy Leverhouse, I was greeted by a warm and welcoming team of colleagues who were very supportive in what, for me, was an immense leap from being a departmental leader to headship.
The Head of my previous school told me that “buildings were the easiest part of the job to get right”, and I was immediately forced to prove it. A major campaign got underway to raise funds for a new sports hall and swimming pool, the first joint project to fulfil Lord Leverhulme’s intention that the Divisions share such facilities. The OBA applied funds raised to commemorate Richard Poskitt, who had died in 1983; and the new sports hall opened in 1986. Thanks to another fundraising drive in partnership with parents which raised £1.2 million, the old swimming pool became the Arts Centre, opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1993. Her visit was a triumph: she couldn’t be torn away from the Beech House children, the carefully planned timetable disintegrated and even the more cynical of the older boys crumbled. As a final flourish, the clock tower abseil descent and subsequent presentation to Ma’am of a box of Milk Tray made the national and international front pages.
A number of clever adaptations of space followed. The Miniature Theatre corridor was turned over entirely to technology as the IT age took hold, the Common Room on C corridor, formerly the Lecture Room, became the Drama Studio and the Undercroft was transformed into the IT Learning Centre and Sixth Form Common Room, opened by the Duchess of Gloucester in another royal visit.
I inherited the last cohort of Direct Grant pupils, and saw the Assisted Place Scheme come and go. The Scheme, together with other grants and scholarships, had meant we could be what we were intended to be: a grammar school for Bolton, open to all who qualified regardless of parental means. When APs were abolished, we were able to offer bursaries immediately, thanks to the foresight of the then Chairman of Governors, Lord Haslam, but inevitably the social and academic makeup of the School slowly changed. Coming from industry, Lord Haslam saw the School’s commercial potential. Functions helped fund bursaries, as did Patterdale and the new coach services, and of course the Nursery which opened in 1998.
Under Lord Haslam and his successor, Sir Alan Cockshaw, more significant and structured liaison with Girls’ Division developed. Informal liaison too: sixth formers were now allowed into each others’ common rooms. More illicit liaisons for some reason favoured the chemistry department steps – I don’t think anyone realised they were clearly visible from the Headmaster’s study!
As well as the many good memories there were inevitably difficult days. A major winter flood knocked out all four floors of the east wing; and I spent another long night with 300 children stranded when Bolton ground to a halt in a blizzard one evening. Of course the worst of times came with the deaths of colleagues and boys. I wanted the school to be a caring family community where all felt secure and valued, and the impact of such events drew us even closer in our shared grief.
The spiritual and pastoral dimension of the role was important to me. I maintained traditional Christian assemblies and, in an effort to create an open, welcoming atmosphere, I worked whenever possible with my door open, so boys and colleagues could drop in and talk without the rigmarole of appointments. I could also hear what the boys were talking about as they passed along B corridor and gauge the mood of the day!
Since retiring and moving to Cumbria, it has been a delight to have Old Boltonians continuing this tradition and dropping in for a chat. And it has been excellent to be still involved in matters educational as a governor (and for a decade as vice chairman) of Yarm School in the north east, a young HMC school which, under dynamic Old Boltonian leadership, has become a leading regional and national institution. This, as well as a busy lay minister position in a group of four local Cumbrian churches, together with family, garden, travel, theatre, and the Lakeland fells, keep body and mind active in a well-rounded manner, in the true tradition of Bolton School.