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State School Builds Own Chapel

Cuttings from the Sunday Times

June 5th 1960 from John Glenister

A Grammar School Gets Its Chapel

NRB and New Chapel

L ewes Boy's Grammar School will use its chapel for the first time on Wednesday. Lewes is the first maintained school to build one. The Bishop of Chichester, Dr. Roger Wilson, is to dedicate the chapel next month

Public funds cannot be used for chapels, so the cost of this one had to be met from private pockets. But the soaring prices were always ahead of the money collected. Early ideas of economy through voluntary labour were quashed by the experts as soon as they were put into practice. Amateurs, it seems, can dig a swimming bath - as the Lewes boys had done - but not build a chapel. Yet finally, when the original estimate of £10,000 had more than doubled, there was actually enough in the fund.

Standing in the chapel, Mr. Bradshaw said to me: "With these lovely furnishings and the renovation of the organ, which is away under restoration, the total bill will approach £26,000. By the Dedication day - the chapel is for all denominations, so it is to be be dedicated, not consecrated - we shall only be about £500 short."

Late 1950's from Freddie Cosstick

State School is Building Chapel of Its Own

W e were standing in the mud looking down at some newly dug trenches. In the distance boys in blue jerseys were scrumming with gusto."And here, you see," said the headmaster, "will be the chancel."

Everyone who has read "Tom Brown's Schooldays" knows (even allowing for the romantised portrait Hughes drew of Arnold) what the school chapel meant to Rugby. But local education committees do not budget for school chapels. So when Mr. N. R. J. Bradshaw, headmaster of Lewes County Grammar School, decided to build one he knew he would have to raise the money himself.

The prospect did not daunt this quiet, courteous, grey-haired man with the glint of revolutionary ideas behind his spectacles. He believes that the public schools should continue and thrive independently, but that, given scope there is nothing they can do which State schools cannot do too. The long list of open scholarships won by his boys to Oxford and Cambridge and the old programme he keeps in his study, bought at Iffley Road when two of his boys played on the same day for their university, bear testimony to his faith.

The Voluntary Plan

One of his experiments was a voluntary scheme under which 50 boys stayed behind when school ended at 4 p.m. For the first hour they played games, browsed in the library or listened to records. Then they had an excellent tea.

" It should be remembered that to a schoolboy, tea is a substantial meal and not merely a social interlude " the headmaster commented. Then came two hours' prep, and the boys left for home at 8 p.m. It was all an immense success (though the sixth form withheld from the scheme because they thought two hours' work insufficient). The boys went home carefree their work behind them, and parents did not feel inhibited from radio or TV programmes. Above all, the headmaster felt that indefinable spirit which comes only from living together growing in his school.

Then during the war his most ambitious project took shape in his mind. In 1935 his boys had dug the foundations for their own swimming bath. Why should they not also help to build their own chapel? It would be a memorial to old boys of the school who had fallen in the war and a tangible expression of the public-school spirit he was trying to encourage. If the scheme succeeded, Lewes would be the first State school in Britain to have its own chapel.

The county architect drew up an elegant set of plans and the total cost was estimated at £10,000. To raise it, the boys built ricks on the school fields and sold them to a local corn merchant. They kept geese, rabbits and pigs. Tommy Handley and Gilbert Harding opened fetes.

After school the boys -- all volunteers -- set about the digging with a will. " I don't let them dig for more than three-quarters of an hour," says the headmaster. Then with a twinkle "they think it's for their sakes. But as a matter of fact that's all I can manage myself." For he digs with the best of them.

The Economic Factor

But the stark facts of twentieth-century economics have dogged his enterprise. Today the chapel fund stands at nearlv £12,000 -- but since 1942 building cost's have nearly trebled, and now the lowest tender for the work is £29,000.

For a dozen years, in term and out, he has raised £20 every week -- a formidable figure when one remembers that his oldest old boys are still in their thirties, so that large private donations are out of the question.

Clearly, either the remainder of the money must be found from some outside source, or the chapel scheme will have to be radically modified. One suggestion is that a combined chapel and assembly hall will have to do. That will not be the same thing, of course. But whatever happens, one can be sure that the shade of Thomas Arnold looks down benignlv on Mr. Bradshaw and his boys digging after school down into the wet Sussex earth in pursuit of something which is not budgeted for even in our enlightened Welfare State.