Walking With Ancestors
From the modest surroundings of two semi-detached houses in Albert Road, John Bayley established a small private school in 1880 that is better known today as Wrekin College. Bayley, the son of a Lancashire mine worker, began his career as a pupil teacher in Cheshire and, despite his own lack of formal qualifications, gained a national reputation as an educationalist and was eventually knighted.
John Bayley’s association with Wellington began in 1877 when he was appointed head of the Wellington National (Boys) School on Constitution Hill. Conditions at the institution appear to have been far from ideal and, in his annual report to the Inspector of Schools, Bayley was quick to draw attention to the problems of overcrowding and the generally inadequate fabric of the buildings he, his fellow teachers and pupils were forced to work in. Despite the obvious drawbacks of having to educate children in an environment that, Bayley declared, would ‘answer admirably to the purpose of a prison’, the Constitution Hill School eventually reaped the rewards of his meticulous eye for detail and good discipline to achieve results that won respect and admiration throughout the district. Seemingly, this was not enough for the ambitious schoolmaster, who tendered his resignation to Wellington School Board in January 1880 to open a new foundation all of his own.
By the late 19th Century, Wellington’s reputation as a prosperous centre of commerce and agriculture was second only in Shropshire to the county town of Shrewsbury and proved hugely important to the success of Bayley’s new venture. After he handed in his resignation at Constitution Hill, an attempt was made to retain his services as a general manager of all the Board’s schools in the area but Bayley refused the offer. Among his reasons for doing so, he cited the encouragement he had received from a number of the town’s increasingly wealthy residents to found a new educational establishment as a decisive factor in his decision.
Apart from providing him with potential pupils, the families who had gained most from the area’s rapid commercial growth also proved to be an important source of funds in enabling the physical growth of Bayley’s enterprise, much of which was completed by 1913. Among his most important benefactors was the Bridge Road timber merchant and Wellington School Board member Richard Groom of Dothill Park. He provided funds, in the form of a mortgage, for Bayley to acquire land to complete his building programme, a large area of which had belonged to the Lilleshall Estate, a fact commemorated in the name Sutherland Avenue, one of several roads running through the college grounds.
Ice Cold In Wellington!
When Wellington College opened for business in March 1880 it did so with just five pupils, all of whom were educated in Bayley’s own home and a rented property next door. Yet through sheer conviction and force of character Bayley achieved great success, creating a college that bore the stamp of his own personal values and experiences as a teacher and which, by the time of its sale in 1921 (when it became known as Wrekin College) educated over 200 pupils.
Since its foundation, many well known figures have walked the hallowed halls of Bayley’s college. Pop impresario Brian Epstein, who discovered and managed The Beatles, was a student between 1949 and 1950 and included a picture of the Bayley House team he represented in his autobiography . The character actor Harry Andrews studied at Wrekin from 1925 to 1927 and, in a highly accomplished career encompassing over 100 film roles, his credits included 55 Days At Peking, Moby Dick and Superman. However, he is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Sgt. Major Tom Pugh in the wartime classic Ice Cold in Alex (1958).