A Short History


1824—Leeds Mechanics' Institute established.
1845—The Mathematical and Commercial School established (now Leeds Modern School).
1854—The Ladies Educational Institution established (now Lawnswood High School).
1889—New building of Leeds Boys Modern School and Leeds Technical School opened by Sir James Kitson.
1897—Name of the Institution altered to 'The Leeds Institute of Science, Art, and Literature' with 'Leeds Boys Modern School' as one of its departments.
1906—Authority of the School transferred to the Education Committee of Leeds City Council.
1931—Move to new buildings at Lawnswood.


Mr. S. Twist
Dr. W. F. Bedford
Mr. J.W. White
Mr. D. B. D'Arcy
Mr. H. E. Kincaid
Mr. J. K. Dall
Mr. T. Horsman
Mr. A. Barker
Dr. W.H. Barber
Dr. G. F. Morton
Mr. F. Holland

In the Annual Report of the Leeds Mechanics' Institution and Literary Society, presented on the 22nd January 1845, the Committee, after referring to the formation of new evening classes in Commercial Subjects, went on to say: 'Should success attend this change, your committee would strongly recommend to their successors the subject of forming day classes . . .' Their successors soon decided to act on this recommendation and the first pupils were admitted on July 14th of that year. What was to become Leeds Modern was born.

When the Day School was begun in 1845 the first master was Mr. Twist, who had been in charge of some Mathematical and Commercial Evening classes. The School opened on July 14th and by September 15th the numbers had so increased that it was found necessary to appoint an assistant master. At the close of the Xmas term the School numbered 72 pupils, and on December 21st Mr. Edward Baines had examined the scholars and was satisfied with his findings. At the end of the school's first year the Annual Report of the Institute stated: 'On looking back at the proceedings of the past year no part of their labour gives your committee more satisfaction than the establishment of the day school'. By December 1846, numbers stood at 139.

Doctor Bedford arrived amid hard times for the country as a whole, and numbers fell, but by 1849 they had risen again to 124. Doctor Bedford's era was to be one of prosperity for the School; he introduced the employment of specialist masters, each of whom taught his strongest subject throughout the school—and every Saturday morning an examination was given! Quarterly reports to parents were also introduced at this time.

Messrs. White, D'Arcy and Kincaid came—and went—in quick succession, some three years covering their total careers in the school. Nor did it fare much better with Mr. Dall, who only managed two years as head, and it was not until the arrival of Mr. Horsman in 1861 that things began to improve. In his first year numbers rose from 94 to 138, and then, in another year to 164, reaching 188 by the end of 1863. The 'Schools Enquiry' reported in 1867, and of the Leeds Mechanics Institute School, Sir Joshua Fitch said: 'The School is one of the best I have ever examined and is in a highly satisfactory condition'. It is significant that in the same document he said: 'It is well known that the name Mechanics does not fairly represent the social position of the persons who avail themselves of such institutions. It is more the intelligent shopkeepers, clerks, warehousemen, and travellers of a great town like Leeds, who compose the Mechanics Institute. If is for the children of this class that the Committee has made ample provision in their day school'.

During 1869 the numbers were still growing, being nearly 300; by 1871 it was necessary to annexe another classroom capable of accommodating 120 pupils; and in 1872 the Committee report that 'no previous year has closed with the retrospect so satisfactory'; Her Majesty's Inspector, Mr. J. R. Mozley expressed surprise in 1876 that the standard of Mathematics was so high; he had been impressed with the high standard of the work in general; this high standard was reflected in an ever-increasing number of successes of pupils, most notably at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Parents and the Committee had not particularly liked Mr. Horsman's policy of coaching the cleverest boys for places at Public Schools, and, this together with other points of difference, led to his resignation in 1884.

Mr. Alfred Barker succeeded him as head and set out immediately to retain his best boys at least until the age of matriculation, and to encourage them to win scholarships to the Yorkshire College. The result was that for some years boys from the school headed the lists in the results in that College's examinations. At his instigation too the name of the school was changed from Leeds Mechanics Institute School to 'Leeds Boys' Modern School' and in January 1889 the buildings in Rossington Street were opened and were used by the school for forty years. Mr. Barker did great work for the Modern School and other developments of his time included the procuring of a cricket ground and the forming of a swimming club. He was appointed to the Headship of Askes School in 1890.

Doctor Barber became head in January 1891 and continued until August of 1920. The School motto 'Fortem posce animum' ('Pray for a brave heart'— taken from Juvenal) was chosen by Doctor Barber in 1891 and 1894 saw the end of the first fifty years of the School's existence. In their report for 1894 the Committee pointed out the progress made since 1845 and this claim to success was well borne out by the reports of the Royal Commission on secondary education, which visited the School in 1895. One of the most able members was Michael Sadler, later Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University. The Assistant Commissioner in his report spoke highly of the ideals and work of the school and placed it high among the few large secondary schools in the Riding. He said: 'The discipline is good and the school gives a general impression of briskness and efficiency'. The Jubilee was celebrated by the building of a gymnasium, and over one thousand Old Modernians were invited to a Conversazione as a social reunion; some months before the Old Boys' Union was founded.

The report of the Board of Education Inspectors in 1901 declared: 'At present the Boys' School is the most important secondary school in Leeds. Literary subjects appear to be well taught, especially in the upper forms'.

Doctor Barber influenced the School profoundly in many directions, and introduced many innovations. 'Owlet' itself was founded in 1905; the Guild of Help was instituted in 1914, as were the Scout Troop and the Cadet Corps; the first School Camp was held in 1910 and a trek camping expedition took place through the Dales in 1916. In 1920 Doctor Barber retired after giving over thirty years service to the School.

His successor was Doctor G. F. Morton who came to Leeds with a great reputation from Katherine, Lady Berkeley's Grammar School, Wotton-under-Edge. He was attracted by the character of the Leeds Modern School, whose aim was the education of the whole boy; a school that remained a pioneer school and aimed at giving the boy an education as broad and generous as life itself. Under his headship the School sought to educate in leadership and in initiative, fostered in the school of adventure and adaptability. The adventure hikes loom large in the history of the School at this time and the Scout Troop thrived, but other innovations are worthy of note. The School Dramatic Society dates from 1923 and the Orchestra from 1922. The Parents Association first constituted itself in 1932 and has done invaluable work for the School ever since. A not inconsiderable feature of Doctor Morton's era is the long list of famous visitors, who, through his invitation, came to the School; names include Prince George, Duke of Kent; the Earl of Harewood; Albert Schweitzer; the Archbishop of York; Frank Smythe; Bernard Newman; C. R. Attlee; R. A. Butler; Lord Rowallan and Lord Eustace Percy.

In 1931 the School moved to its present premises at Lawnswood; on that occasion 'Owlet' printed the following:

'I wandered through the old building in Rossington Street. The place was dark and silent, under a pall of soot-laden smog, but memory soon re-peopled it with images of the past. Through opened classroom doors filed long lines of boys, filling corridors and stairs. In fancy I heard their footsteps, thundering low along dim corridors, and rattling down stone steps to the covered playground ...

The vision passed—slowly I made my way along the corridor, peeping into a class-room now and then, but there was little of inspiration in the dingy walls and dusty deserted desks. I stopped before the War Memorial, awaiting removal to the new building . . . Down the stairs past the sad-looking cloakroom into the street I went. The school building looked very old, and I reflected that, like a discarded suit, it was bereft of everything which gave it life and form.

So I turned my back upon the old building . . . and made my long ascent to the pure atmosphere of Weetwood, where the handsome new building stands, exactly upon the 400 feet contour line. Looking through a first-floor window, my eye travelled over green fields and trees to a line of hills. A Form 2 boy stood beside me. 'What do you see over there?' I asked him. Quickly his answer came. 'The Pennine Hills, sir'. I started. He saw the Pennines, and I for a moment had allowed my gaze to dwell on bricks and mortar.

We have entered into possession of our 'promised land'; be it ours always to look to the everlasting hills. Achievements in Rossington Street were truly remarkable; surely they will be still more wonderful at Weetwood'.

The Yorkshire Evening Post described it as 'the last word in secondary schools'.

Doctor Morton retired shortly after the passing of the 1944 Education Act, and was succeeded by Mr. F. Holland, the latest, and the last of the School's heads. The School expanded in every way during his Headship; it grew not only in terms of an increased number of boys, but physically in the acquisition of new buildings—most notably the new Sixth Form Building, so pleasant to look at and to be in, which has given Sixth-formers working conditions unequalled in the city; but most important the School seemed to grow intellectually too; the scholarship boards in the School Hall bear witness to a flowering of scholarship unrivalled in the School's history. It appeared to be his philosophy that the School should never, under any circumstances, stand still. Innovations and experiments abounded; the Language Laboratory; new subjects added to the curriculum; new methods of teaching subjects; new methods of examining (in the English 'Project 2'); the School Council; a vastly diversified system of Physical Education—the list is endless. For over twenty years Leeds Modern School was an exciting place to be, for boys and staff alike—and Leeds, Yorkshire and England knew it. Mr. Holland was invited to attend many conferences, and to be on many committees, and finally, was honoured, as few headmasters of State day schools have been, by being invited to join the Headmasters' Conference. It was fitting somehow, but also sadly ironic, that the School's finest Headmaster should be its last.


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