Mr Poskitt was Headmaster of the Boys’ Division for 33 years and in many ways the architect of the modern School. Both in a literal sense, in that his determination saw the long hiatus in construction through to the eventual completion of its buildings, and because his blueprint for its future is still discernible today.
Richard Poskitt grew up in London, and from Kilburn Grammar School won a Scholarship to Downing College, Cambridge, where he read both parts of the History Tripos. He taught first at Colchester Royal Grammar School and then came north, to Manchester Grammar School.
“I well remember my first sight of him, a towering figure with an impressive bearing which, even at 32, gave him an air of authority and a hint of what he was to become, a great headmaster. From the very first it was clear that he was a man with a dream, an ambitious and lively vision of how he wanted his school to grow and the kind of boys he would like it to turn out into the world, boys who would develop their potential, intellectually and socially, who would be sensitive to the needs of the day, who would accept responsibility and make a positive and vital contribution to the community.” Bernard Harrison (Staff 1929-1971), Obituary, The Boltonian, 1983
Moving to Bolton School, he led the Boys’ Division through challenging times – the depression of the 1930s, the Second World War – while maintaining rigorous academic standards and staying in close touch with the daily life of the School. His Deputy, Mr Brookes, recalled on Richard Poskitt’s retirement in 1966 “new social activities, often joint with the Girls’ Division, increasing co-operation with parents, the active encouragement of camping – both school and Scouts – by his presence and full participation, his careful interest in each boy, however awkward a problem some of them set; all this soon marked him out as the great headmaster into which he was growing.”
A former pupil added: “the Headmaster … proved eminently successful in reconciling the best features of what already existed with the needs of progress. He inherited a great School of long and worthy traditions, but probably few would deny that much of the nineteenth century still hung about it, as it did about the town of Bolton itself at that time. A new impetus was required, not only in pushing forward the rebuilding programme, but also remoulding the life and work of the School in line with the needs of a changing society.”
Richard Poskitt believed in the power of high educational standards to help lift an entire community. He himself was active locally in a number of formative institutions and initiatives: the Bolton Branch of the Historical Association; the BBC North Region’s adult education programme, the Fifty-One Society; the Bolton Lads and Girls Club.
His Masters and pupils alike recalled an exceptional teacher and a man of enormous energy and vitality, who maintained discipline effortlessly while being at pains to listen and to be fair to all. Richard Poskitt was keen to find and encourage the talents and interests of each boy. He maintained a deep interest and pride in their lives and careers long after they had left school, keeping up a voluminous correspondence and providing a powerful stimulus to the continuance and development of the OBA. “He praised the Scholarship winner, but he always showed a genuine interest in the boy who found satisfaction in music or sport, Scouting … or fell-walking, dramatics or sailing.” (The Boltonian, 1966).
Richard Poskitt was a great enthusiast, and a great conversationalist. One boy remembered fire-watching during a wartime alert: “he was enthusiastically expounding his thoughts on the “new wing”, whilst the remainder of us were wondering if even the existing buildings would be standing in the morning! Another memory is using a two-man saw with him at a forestry camp and simultaneously debating whether or not the school numbers could be doubled without the quality deteriorating.”
During his tenure the School did indeed grow both in size and reputation, and became one of the country’s leading Direct Grant schools. The syllabus and educational facilities as a whole broadened. The Sixth Form expanded and connections with Oxford, Cambridge and other universities grew and strengthened.
Richard Poskitt was awarded the CBE in the 1962 New Year’s Honours List, and the announcement was greeted by spontaneous applause from the boys at the first Assembly of the year. The last word goes to one of his Captains: “Even the rebels amongst us had to admit that although headmasters as such were a bad idea our own Headmaster was the great exception that proved the rule.”