Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Ex-pupil and teacher writes history of school

A DEBATE about when Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning was founded has finally been settled.

A DEBATE about when Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning was founded has finally been settled.

Some have argued it was in 1646, when Richard Aldworth made a bequest to build a school to teach 20 “children of honest poore men”, while others say it was in 1660, when the school actually opened its doors.

Now Peter van Went, the school’s archivist, has settled on the latter date, saying: “I believe a school isn’t a school until the pupils are there.”

Mr van Went, a Blue Coat alumnus and the former head of history, has written a book about the history of the school called Truth Conquers All, a translation of the school motto, “Veritas omnia vincit”.

He says the motto “reflects something of the school’s character and tradition and the fact that integrity, a sense of pride and hard work are central to its survival and success”.

The book tells how Blue Coat has gone through wars and monarchs and two previous locations before settling at Holme Park, Sonning Lane, in January 1947.

In 1970, the school admitted the first girl, Kathy Bodley Scott, into its sixth form but it wasn’t until 1987 that girls were recruited regularly.

In 2011, it was decided to close the boarding house as more families were choosing to send their children to day schools.

Mr van Went had been preparing to write a school history for some time. “I’ve been scribbling things down for years but the serious writing of this particular volume came in 2011,” he says.

His primary source of information about the school’s early history was corporation diaries kept in the Berkshire Record Office. He had access to an unpublished book by an Old Blue, the late Harold Burgess MBE, which gave a detailed administrative and financial perspective on the school from its origins until the Sixties.

“He was the real pioneer,” says Mr van Went. “It is only right and proper to pay tribute to him.”

He also had access to a substantial body of photographs, many sent to him by former pupils, as well as the records of previous headmasters, including Bernard Inge, who was “a meticulous recorder of events”. He also credits former pupil Edwards Hicks as his inspiration.

Current headmaster Michael Windsor, who invited him to write the book three years ago, says: “There is no one better qualified than Peter, a long-term resident of Sonning, an Old Blue and a teacher whose long career was dedicated to the nurture of pupils at Blue Coat, to write the school’s history.

“He places the development of the school clearly in its historical context and he brings to life the challenges and vicissitudes that were perhaps inevitable for a school founded as the English Civil War erupted. Peter really brings the story of Blue Coat to life and it’s wonderful to read about so many colourful personalities from the past who have made the school the place it is today.”

l Truth Conquers All is available from the school on 0118 944 1005 or from Amazon.

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