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Bootham School

School buildings on Bootham. No.47 by John Carr is central.

Bootham School was first proposed in 1818 by the Quaker William Tuke.  Initially the school occupied a house new Walmgate, owned by The Retreat.  In 1846 the school was moved to its present location on Bootham.  (Incidentally, the school occupies a house - no.47 - built in 1753 by the famous York architect John Carr).

The second headmaster (or ‘superintendent’) was John Ford, who in the course of 37 years did much to shape the character of the school. He instituted a tolerant, positive, and open educational system. Instead of corporal punishment there were ‘columns’, a system of punishment that comprised a copying out exercise, which opened with the words ‘abrogate, absolute, adamant, admiral’ – and this system is still used today, with a completely different set of commonly misspelt words.

Although Bootham did not set out to cultivate a progressive image, it offered an inclusive approach, which valued leisure time pursuits and the development of the whole individual, as well as scholarly achievement: this approach was in advance of the education offered by other public schools of the time. The school’s history echoes the history of York, and many families, such as the Rowntrees, have played a key part across the generations, as have other important Quaker families from elsewhere, such as the Cadburys and Clarks (of chocolate and shoe fame!).

Bootham had the first School Natural History Society in the country, which gained an outstanding reputation and shared its scientific findings with other schools and academic bodies. It also published its own journals that covered the areas of Astronomy, Botany, Geology, Ornithology etc. The Society had a strong tradition in photography and film, producing a range of fascinating early footage and photographic records that document the development of the school well into the twentieth century. The school’s achievements in art, woodwork and handcrafts have led a number of scholars to make careers in these areas; Joseph Southall, Stanley Webb Davies, Austin Wright, and Mark Lancaster are just four of a long list of Bootham artists.

Another watercolorist was Silvanus Phillips Thompson, who was also a renowned physicist and teacher at Bootham; he is celebrated by a blue plaque on the front of Bootham.

The school took its share of the upheavals of the twentieth century. Many Old Scholars served in the wars, some in the Friends Ambulance Unit, and some were Conscientious Objectors. In 1939 the school was evacuated briefly to Ampleforth College while the buildings at Bootham were prepared for conversion into a hospital.  

In the post-war period the school has grown in size and stature. In 1979, it adopted a co-educational system and admitted girls who have since contributed hugely to the modern character of the school.

Although Bootham is a complete part of the mainstream independent system today, nevertheless it retains many of its founding Quaker principles, which include the pursuit of learning through science, progressive and reforming ideas, a respect for the individual, creativity and independent thought, and a responsible social conscience.


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