West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History



Readers of the Digest Magazine may be interested in a copy of the King's School Song that I recently came across, printed on the back of a Speech Day programme that had somehow survived in my loft at home.

The programme, no doubt, owes its survival to the fact that the event was held in December 1951, which was the year in which I took my GCE 'O' Level examination, and was presented with the form prize.

Speech Days were normally held at the Alexandra Cinema and were one of the high points of the school year. Prizes were always books and were presented by the visiting speaker. Each book was signed by the Headmaster, then Mr. J.D. Lean, and had the School Crest blocked in gold-leaf on the front cover. My prize that year was "Locomotives of Sir Nigel Gresley" and I still have it on my shelves.

Finding this copy of the school song reminded me of Mollie Garbett's letter in the March 2007 issue of the Pontefract Digest magazine in which she refers to the High School Song. Her teaching career ran along roughly parallel lines to mine in that we both returned to teach in the schools we had attended as pupils, and eventually became Heads of Department.

I found it a bit odd to return to my old school and see things from the other side of the teacher's desk. Although things had started to change when I went back to the King's School, much of the formality I had known as a boy still remained. Most of the older teachers (though masters rather than teachers was the preferred word) still addressed one another by surname; only younger members of staff used Christian names. Mr. Lovett , for example, would address me as Cookson, but I would address him as Mr. Lovett. There was nothing discourteous or patronising in this but it did mean that among the staff at that time, various modes of address were appropriate, depending on age and seniority.

Although I was now a colleague of many who once taught me, I have to say that the "Old Sweats" as they self-deprecatingly called themselves, were very kind, helpful and supportive as I learned the ropes. When talking with older members of the staff, some of the frankness of views that emerged was surprising.

This brings me to the School Song, written by Frank Forrest and set to music by Eric Holden. The song was written during my time there as a boy and Frank Forrest, who had been my Form-Master in 1949, was on the English staff at that time. I have painful memories of studying "Macbeth" under Mr. Forrest with those seemingly interminable references to Holinshed's Chronicles. I am ashamed to say that I had little or no appreciation of Shakespeare at that time in my life and English Literature was not one of my strong suits. But I digress.
Although school songs may have lasted well in Public Schools, I think they had a short life in most other schools. They seemed appropriate up to the early post-war years and had good, stirring singable tunes, but were often let down by the words which, as Mollie Garbett says, were sometimes considered jingoistic and judged to be little better than doggerel.

This was certainly the view of many of the staff at King's who were a little embarrassed by it. I don't recall when the song eventually dropped out of use but I doubt that it lasted out the 1950's.

I find myself rather ambivalent about this. Why do some feel the need to sneer at expressions of lofty ideals of friendship, fairness, courage and service? And what do we expect from a school song in terms of literary excellence? When all is said and done, such a song is to be sung by school pupils and should be comprehensible to them. Perhaps it is the constraints imposed on this kind of composition that make it almost impossible to avoid banality.

However, my purpose in writing is not to discuss the merits or faults of school songs, but simply to put before readers of the Digest Magazine a copy of the King's School Song that was sung by thousands of boys for a few years during the 1950's. I do not know if the tune survives in written form but I can still remember it and probably some other Old Boys will too.

Peter Cookson.

Pontefract King's School Song

Also by Peter Cookson:

Pontefract, Normanton and Castleford Tramway


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