‘In the Beginning’ (Part 2), Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury, Founding Father: New Year Post

Homage to Church High’s Past (then Present): Sarah Timney

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year’s words await another voice./And to make an end is to make a beginning.”(T.S.Eliot: Little Gidding) When the merger was announced in January 2013, a return to Tankerville seemed a mile away.  A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then (some of it in storm torrents, it’s true), but here we are and, to quote the end of Canon Henry Scott Holland’s poem ‘Death is Nothing At All’, “All is well.”

Canon Henry Scott Holland’s poem ‘Death is Nothing At All’

These profoundly healing  words, which have brought solace to many suffering bereavement, were originally written as part of a sermon.  Their great power comes from the light they shed on altered physical circumstance and the spiritual life, where ends just don’t exist – or at least are just the beginning of something else.  And there’s no escaping that the end of Church High affected many like a bereavement – and still does.  I am one of those people.  ‘Life goes on,’ but it’s more complex than that.  The new beginning we shared in September 2016 has been helpful.  Looking at things from the slant of a co-existing past and present might be pushing it for some, I know, but it has helped me.  I still see the old faces and hear the old voices within those walls.  Odder again, even older voices from the deeper past are now surfacing as I read more and more widely for this blog.  Sometimes I have taken ‘wrong turns,’ but usually that has led me to a book or name I’d not have found otherwise.

Wrong Turn: Canon Henry Scott Holland.

What kind of wrong turns, you may ask?  Well, like reading up on the ‘wrong’ Canon Holland for a start!  For at the very beginning of our story the voice we need to tune in to is not that of Canon Henry Scott Holland (despite being connected with St Pauls and knowing one of Gladstone’s daughters, the relevance of which will become clear to you later), but that of Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury.

Our man: Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury.

It would have been nice if one of our founding fathers had written those beautiful words (which is probably what beguiled me) but as I read more and more about Canon Henry’s wit and ‘puckish charm’, something wasn’t ringing true.  Dare I say it?  He didn’t sound ‘very Church High.’  Which is because, of course, he wasn’t!  Quizzically, I returned to Enid Moberly Bell’s book and the penny finally dropped.  Something else I had known all along but had forgotten that I knew.

The Jubilee Book mentions Canon Holland twice, the first reference making clear just how integral he was to the founding of Newcastle High School: ‘Early in 1884 the Company received a request from Newcastle that they should establish a school there and intimating that sufficient financial backing would be forthcoming.  In March, two representatives of the Council, Canon Holland and Canon Gregory, visited Newcastle to report on the proposal and their account was such that at a meeting on May 29th, 1884, the Council of The Church Schools Company resolved “that it is desirable to establish a High School for Girls at Newcastle”.’  We learn in the second reference that Canon Holland returned to Newcastle on Wednesday, January 21st 1885 when the school was formally opened under the name of The Newcastle High School: ‘The proceedings began with a service in Jesmond Parish Church …… 

Jesmond Parish Church from Jesmond Road in the early 1900s, looking west. Newcastle High School’s first site was on the left, in the far distance, a little way further down the road.

‘…. and then after the service a meeting was held in the school.  There Canon Holland, who had come as the representative of the Company, said that he thought that the Newcastle school stood first in interest of all the Company’s schools, for it was founded on what was already a good school.  He emphasised that no rivalry with Gateshead was intended and promised on behalf of the Company that if the numbers increased the school should have new buildings.’  The meeting Canon Holland attended was, of course, held on the original site, in the building on Jesmond Road which had previously been Miss Hewison’s school.

Jesmond Road in the early 1900s looking east: Newcastle High would have occupied the buildings in the far distance.

Florence MacKenzie ends her section of the Jubilee Book with a glorious quotation, most apt for a New Year post: ‘The future comes from behind over our heads.’  Her point was that the School, ‘secure in what lies behind, can turn in equal faith and hope to the coming .. years.’  She couldn’t have dreamed at the time how true this would literally turn out to be, with the building becoming Newcastle High School for a second time in September 2016.  In the same way, the future of the new school on Tankerville must surely be assured based on the past history of the founders of the original school.  For Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury not only played a key role in the story of girls independent schools in this country,  he also served as Chaplain to none other than HM Queen Victoria herself and as Hon. Chaplain to her heir, HM King Edward VII.  Who could have imagined that?  To use a very modern phrase, in the hands of Francis James Holland we were clearly in a very ‘safe pair of hands’ indeed!

A young Francis James Holland (front) pictured with his elder brother in 1845.

Francis Holland’s Wikipedia biography also tells us that c 1880 he ‘established a trust fund for two independent schools in London.’  To this day, these schools still survive in the vicinity of Sloane Square and Regent’s Park, London, as the Francis Holland School, boasting a highly impressive list of distinguished Alumnae.  The Church Schools Company history explains that the Committee used these two schools as one of their guiding precedents, the other being the Girls Public Day School Trust: ‘One of its members, Francis Holland, priest-in-charge of what was then known as the Quebec Chapel, … had already ventured in this field.  He had been moved to do this by his wife [Mary Sybilla Lyall], who deplored the fact that the Church, which had played so large a part in elementary education, was content to leave the higher branches to undenominational bodies [GPDST].  The Hollands had many neighbours and friends with children of school age, who encouraged Francis Holland to found a school for their children…. When the founder became Canon of Canterbury and left London, he still kept his interest in the schools, coming up to London every week to teach in them.  In 1883 he gladly joined the Committee promoting the new company, and all his experience was at its service, but he did not incorporate his schools in the new company’.  They remained as The Francis Holland Schools Trust.

The Regent Park School has a wonderful motto: ‘That our daughters may be as the polished corners of the Temple.’

So what would Canon Holland say to us now as we enter 2017?  Well, ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ is the final inscription on his gravestone.  If he felt this so strongly at the very end of his life, surely that might not be a bad place for us to start.  It’s strange that it often takes the end of something to lead you to want to understand its beginnings.  Ends/beginnings, as TS Eliot wrote in ‘Little Gidding’, tend to overlap.  With this in mind, as we face this brand new year together, shall we make a pact ‘To make it count’?  And when it comes to that time (hopefully still a very long way off for us all) when the End which heralds the New Beginning draws near, can I invite everyone who shares my love of this school to ‘Meet me at the clock.’


2 thoughts on “‘In the Beginning’ (Part 2), Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury, Founding Father: New Year Post”

  1. More fascinating research, and I loved the story of the purse in the wall! May the old building continue to thrive.


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