There are so many American movies where former high school students return for a 5th or 10th anniversary event – but we don’t have this sort of tradition in Britain. Imagine my surprise then when I was invited to return to the secondary school which I left in 1966 – an amazing 46 years ago.
At that time, Xaverian College in Manchester was a Roman Catholic, single-sex, direct grant grammar school. I attended from 1959-1966 and, in the last year, I was the School Captain. Here I obtained nine ‘O’ Levels and four ‘A’ Levels before going on to university.
This year the staff and students, both current and former, are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the college. The Xaverian Brothers – the Catholic order who ran the school – first came to England in 1848 to teach at St. Marie’s parish school in Bury. Two years later, they moved to Granby Row in Manchester and began teaching in the crypt of the church. In 1862, the Brothers were asked to take charge of the Manchester Catholic Collegiate Institute.
In 1907, permission was given for the Brothers to relocate to new accommodation in Victoria Park in Rusholme in south Manchester where the school has remained ever since and where I walked each day from my home in Fallowfield. The Manchester Catholic Collegiate Institute was renamed Xaverian College. In 1977, the grammar school was changed into a Sixth Form College and it is now co-educational and reflects the ethnic diversity of the city. The trusteeship of the College was transferred from the Xaverian Brothers to Salford Diocese in 2001.
This weekend, I went up from London to Manchester to attend a special mass and reception to mark the foundation of Xaverian College one and half centuries ago. It was a weird experience returning to the site of my secondary school after four and a half decades. There are now twice as many buidlings and three times as many students and the range of ‘A’ Levels on offer is vastly greater than in my day. The room where the refreshments were served used to be the gym and the former music room now houses a Costa cafe.
But the afternoon was a very pleasant experience to which I owe particular thanks to Tony Knowles who invited me.
Tony arrived at the school in 1965 when I was the School Captain and he still remembers my speech at the college’s Speech Day at the Free Trade Hall (now demolished). He returned to the school as an economics teacher and is now the Vice-Principal. Tony showed me round some of the college and gave me a packet of personal mementos including the full examination results of my class in 1963 when I was top of the class.
The highlight of my visit was an opportunity to meet my former headmaster Brother Cyril. He appointed me School Captian and I used to visit him often in his study where he was noted for his intimidating reticence. I thought that he was old at the time, but I now realise that he was only 40 or so. Today he is aged 87 and lives in retirement with the American Xaverian Brothers just outside Boston.
It was a delight to sit with him and have a little chat. He told me: “You were a very good public speaker … I thought that you would go into politics”. He wasn’t far wrong: I still do public speaking (I’m addressing an Ofwat conference tomorrow) and, early in my career, I worked for the Parliamentary Labour Party and a Labour Government for six years and contested two General Elections.
Roger (64) with Brother Cyril (87)