‘In the Beginning was ……’: Christmas Day Post

newcastle church high school-winter

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope this Christmas Day is both restful and joyous for you and your families.  I have just returned from Midnight Holy Communion at my church, St John’s, Hebburn, and the focus on the importance of beginnings and words and truth prompted me to compose this little post the moment I got home.  The Christmas reading, which shares the words of St John the Evangelist, has always been one of my favourite Bible passages.  The opening words of this Gospel never fail to resonate and in the King James Bible Version they read even more beautifully, I think:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 

We know of the dedication stone, still there to the left of the main entrance of Newcastle High School for Girls, but how many people really know about the beginnings of our school or who Archdeacon Emery actually was?  Because he was important.  To Newcastle High School, to The Church Schools Company and to the Church of England as a whole.  The opening line of his Wikipedia entry sums him up as follows: ‘The Ven William Emery,  MA (1825-1910) was an Anglican priest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who has been labelled the ‘father’ of Church Congress’.    Present at the first meeting of the Church Congress in 1861, he was appointed permanent Secretary in 1869 and by 1907 had been present at every one of the first 47 Congresses.  A more detailed summary of Canon Emery’s life can be found via Wikisource (Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 Supplement). It ends this way: ‘He was also instrumental in founding the Church Schools Company for the promotion of the religious secondary education of the middle classes (of which he was chairman 1883-1903)’. 

The Jubilee history records: ‘It was not until 1883 that the … Company was formed.  In that year a suggestion from the Central Committee of Diocesan Conferences led to a meeting on the 17th of April, 1883, under the chairmanship of Archdeacon Emery of Ely.’  It also tells us Canon Emery came to Newcastle on September 26th, 1900, for ‘the most notable prizegiving during this period, and indeed one of the most interesting in the history of the school.’   This occasion was special in a number of ways: ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury [Frederick Temple], who was in Newcastle for a Church Congress, addressed the school.  Mrs Temple gave away the prizes, the Chairman was Archdeacon Emery of Ely, the Chairman of the Company, who had laid the foundation stone of the school and girls from Durham, Sunderland and York High Schools were also present to represent the Company’s schools in the neighbourhood. ‘   

Canon William Emery, a founder of The Church Schools Company.
Archdeacon William Emery, a founder of The Church Schools Company.

The Church Schools Company was created specifically with the aim of founding High Schools for Girls. Its Manifesto, drawn up in 1883, clearly states the Company’s main objective, a purpose which distinguished them from the Girls Public Day School Trust, set up ten years earlier in 1872 (both companies were London based): ‘To secure the …. co-operation of all …. who acknowledge the duty of giving definite religious instruction as an essential part of Education.’  In her ‘History of The Church Schools Company 1883 – 1958’ , Enid Moberly Bell offered these thoughts about the beginnings of the Company and its founders: ‘Canon Emery of Ely, Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury, Canon Gregory of St Paul’s, Canon Cromwell, Canon Daniel and Lord Clinton remain little more than names to us.  The records of the Company reveal to some extent the manner of men they were, but they were not, in a worldly sense, great men.  They left no mark in the annals of the Church or of the nation but they were content to work in obscurity, not sparing themselves in the service of their generation and of those who followed.  Their epitaph is written in the Book of Ecclesiasticus: “And some there be that have no memorial who have perished as though they had never been …. and their children after them; but these were merciful men, and their righteousness is not forgotten.”

But unlike Ms Moberly, we know William Emery did actually leave a permanent ‘mark’ on the world, the day he travelled north to Newcastle whilst still an Archdeacon to lay the dedication stone in the side door (the Girls’ Door was its original position) of Newcastle High School.  The words on this stone are the beginning of our story.

Newcastle Church High School Newcastle high School
In the beginning, this stone was laid by the south side door.


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