Anyone entering the stump of the old Cooke Lane from Low Street might well be perplexed – if they happen to look up at the buildings on the left – by a large, arched, sandy-coloured plaque, one storey up. Without binoculars it is difficult to read, but it is the foundation stone of the ‘Free School of Kighley (sic) endowed by John Drake, Gentleman. 1715.’
Drake was the landlord of either ‘The Lord Rodney’ or ‘The King’s Arms’ – more likely the latter, a fine old building which was pulled down in the late nineteen-fifties, one of the few Keighley pubs I ever drank in under-age! Whichever it was, being on Church Green, it put Drake well within reach of the long-serving Rector of Keighley, Miles Gale, a very orthodox if ‘enterprising’ Anglican clergyman.
Gale had been instrumental in the foundation of an earlier free Grammar School, in 1684, which had been endowed by Jonas Tonson, and had recommended its first schoolmaster, William Wade, to the Archdeacon of York, as a fit person to teach the children of the burghers of Keighley. Tonson’s school thus pre-dated Drake’s by some thirty years. It is not known how long that school lasted nor its precise location, but there is evidence – dating from September 1702 – which strongly suggests that it was along the Oakworth Road, no more than two miles from the centre of town, and therefore not very far from where Tonson lived, at Exley Head.
That same evidence, which reports information provided by Gale, also confirms that Tonson would ‘settle the whole of his estate upon it at death.’ In fact, Tonson outlived Drake by some six years, dying in 1719 at the age of 73. In his will he did, in fact, make provision for an assistant schoolmaster or usher, and earlier, in 1713, he had been named in Drake’s will, along with Miles Gale and five others, as an executor of the will, and one of the trustees of the school.
Drake’s will stipulated that his endowment should be used to ensure ‘the maintenance of a sufficient, unmarried and qualified schoolmaster for teaching of Children resideing and dwelling within the said Towne and parish of Kighley in the English, Lattin and Greek tongues... ‘
There is, however, some mystery surrounding these endowments. The earliest one (1684) seems to have provided both a building (still there in 1702) and a schoolmaster, so why, one wonders, did Miles Gale in his unpublished “History of the Free School in Keighley” state, in relation to Drake’s endowment:
‘The Town of Kighley having no school nor any encouragement for promoting humane learning, whereby for want of knowledge some were seduced by the vile sect of the Quakers, and others by that wicked crew of the Anabaptists, to follow false ways of worship, it being taken in consideration by John Drake an Inkeeper at the Church Gate, he was resolved to break the Ice in that unknown passage to the Land of Knowledge, hoping that others would follow his example, and not be afraid to venture themselves and vessels when he led the way...’
- expressly denying the existence of Tonson’s school? Had Gale and Tonson quarrelled? Was Tonson perhaps a ‘vile’ Quaker or a ‘wicked’ Anabaptist? Drake’s will had spoken of a schoolmaster only, there had been no mention of a building, and yet the foundation stone still exists! But was the school ever built or was Drake’s endowment – or re-endowment –simply filtered into Tonson’s existing school?
Tonson’s continuing close association with the ‘ffree Grammer Schoole’ suggests that that is at least a possibility. And yet, Gale claims that a few days before Drake’s death he had taken some sketches of a design for a building to the latter who had wholly approved them. The extant documentation leaves us in no doubt that Gale was determined to be a prime mover in establishing a school in Keighley, and very likely manipulated Drake – who was not an educated man – into making his bequest. Indeed, Gale’s actions and statements over a long period of time do suggest that he was something less than honest in his dealings. That he lived longer than either Drake or Tonson ensured that he was able to present his own version of events at will, and that he figured prominently in the saga of the establishment of a grammar school in Keighley.
Sixty or so years ago, when Keighley Boys Grammar School held its annual Founders’ Day event – usually in the Parish Church – if we thought at all about the men we were celebrating I’m sure we never imagined them to be anything other than a trio of philanthropic buddies from way back when. The evidence suggests that this was hardly the case, and yet, muddle though it was, the grammar school was established and passing through a variety of different forms, as Church or State required, still has an heir at Oakbank, the School that in the mid nineteen-sixties inherited the traditions of the former KBGS. 1715 was the year in which the first free grammar school was founded, or re-founded (we may never know the full story).