Bentham Grammar School

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In 1726 William Collingwood left money to endow a Grammar School and twelve alms houses.  A further bequest of property at Mewith to the Rector of Bentham provided £10 p.a. to pay for a school master. The Grammar School was built in 1736 on School Hill on the site now occupied by the town library.

The 1870 Education Act compelled the authorities to provide universal elementary education for all and the act, together with the opportunity to purchase the Moonsacre site in 1878 for £1160, prompted the school to move to new premises.  The School Hill site was maintained as a lower school for some time.

Probably the most significant figure during the Moonsacre period was George Percy Gill (1920-1937) who with his German wife Mathilde introduced a new spirit into the school. Mathilde played a major part in catering at the school and she was also a fine swimmer who taught many people in Bentham to swim. It is said she conducted her swimming lessons in the River Wenning at 6.00 a.m.  The lessons were held variously at Camp Hole, near the Wenning Oak, at Winder Wheel and in the ‘cut’, the millrace that fed the turbines at Ford Ayton Silk Mill.

The curriculum underwent a radical overhaul and the site was expanded to include a science laboratory, Hardy Hall, a dining room and new dormitories.  Hardy Hall was named after the Revd. Theodore Bayley Hardy. He was Headmaster from 1907 until 1913 before moving to become the Vicar of Hutton Roof. He joined the ranks as Chaplain Hardy during the First World War and for his gallantry he was awarded the V.C., D.S.O. and M.C.  He died in October 1918 barely a month before the armistice.

The earliest school badge appeared when the school was located at Moonsacre.  In those days it was simply a lozenge with a crescent and the date of the school’s foundation (1726).  The crescent had a dual meaning referring to both ‘Moonsacre’ and the bends in the River Wenning.  The badge was formalised during in the 1950s when the school moved to Low Bentham.  The two wavy lines represent the confluence of the River Wenning and Eskerbeck and the motto ‘Surgam’ meaning ‘I shall arise’.

Another very significant Headmaster was John Le P. Webb (1946-1967). It was during his headship, and partly due to the demands of the 1944 Butler Education Act, that the school moved to the Old Rectory in Low Bentham on 23rd March 1948.  The new site provided more spacious accommodation and provided the opportunity to develop and expand.  The pupils constructed workshops and three classrooms themselves.  The school retained its independent status and by 1956 it had 305 pupils.  In 1962 there was further construction of additional classrooms and finally a large sports hall.  Sadly, as time passed the numbers dwindled and the school closed in July 2002.  The site was then purchased by Sedbergh School and used as their Junior Department until December 2008.  It was ultimately sold to The Witherslack Group and Cedar House School is now the occupant of this fine Grade 2 Norman Shaw building.