ARCHBISHOP HOLGATE SCHOOL (c.1957) film no: 2208

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This film documents different aspects of school life at Arch Bishop Holgate School, many of which take place outside of the classroom.  The film shows both the serious, and not so serious, school activities such as making models, participating in sporting events, and sliding on ice.

Title – Do you lie awake and count sheep? 

A man is sitting up in bed.

Title – Or do you read comics?

A boy in his pyjamas is reading a Buffalo Bill comic.

Title – Try going to sleep!  Do you want to look like this?’ (Pointing to a picture of a teacher)  Who does!

The boys on the athletics field practicing and competing in track and field events.  Following this is a short sequence of a house Rugby match with parents watching.  At the end of the game, the players pose for the camera.    

Title – Winter sports

The boys, along with one of the teachers, line up in the school playground and slide one after the other on the ice.  First they are timid, but then the confidence grows until they dance and spin on the ice.  The boys are clearly enjoying themselves ahdn having fun sliding on the ice. 

Title – Model Aeroplane contest

In a classroom, school pupils and teachers admire a display of model aeroplanes which are hung from the ceiling.

Title – The model railway

A train goes around a model railway in a model village.

Title – On the river

Some boys are out on boats on the River Ouse in York, and they make their way through the city centre.  Several teams of coxed four row past, as well as a coxed eight.  Some boys go out in their swimming costumes on what looks like an old bed frame acting as a raft.  Finally the film ends with a hockey match.

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This is one of seven films deposited with the YFA by Robert Milligan made of Archbishop Holgate School. The other films were all made duing an eleven year period: 1951, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1962.  They all feature the school students at the time. They all cover aspects of school activities, including students performing in pantomimes, putting on a mock fashion show, school camping trips and visits to France, and making their own films. The film from 1956 has the future Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson, larking about at a piano.  The school also features in a 1969 film when they perform as part of the Mystery Plays of that year. Robert Milligan was a French teacher and Housemaster who made the films and ran a small cinema at the school putting on film shows of his 9.5 mm films. He was known as being eccentric, nicknamed after his namesake ‘Spike’, and noted for his sideboards. 
The school was founded in the reign of King Henry the Eighth, in 1546, as York's cathedral school. In the same year its founder, the then Archbishop of York Robert Holgate, also founded two other schools in Yorkshire, at his birthplace of Hemsworth in the West Riding, and in Old Malton, the forerunner of Malton Grammar School. 

This was a time of major upheaval, after Henry broke from Rome, declaring himself to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England in 1534. Holgate became Archbishop of York in 1545, the first Protestant Archbishop of York, and the first to be married (aged 68), to prove his conversion – only to dissolve the marriage when the Catholic Mary came to the throne in 1553. This latter did not save him from being stripped of his post for having broken the vow of celibacy, and sent to the Tower. Yet despite the Protestant context of the founding of the school (leading to the translation of the Bible into English), Holgate still maintained the old tradition of requiring his headmasters to know two of the original Biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, and of course Latin, to which it was translated by Jerome in the fifth century AD. Coincidently, presumably, 1546 was the same year that the Catholic Church’s Council of Trent pronounced its definitive version of the Bible canon.  Upon his death in 1555 Holgate was still able to leave money to endow a hospital in Hemsworth, near Wakefield.

This film predates the 1936 Education Act, which finally implemented parts of the Hadow Report of 1928, creating Secondary education, and the more modern grammar school. Grammar schools themselves go back, in one form or another, to when the Romans were in England, with, as their name suggests, an over-riding emphasis on classical languages.  But well before the advent of the 11 plus exam, the school itself had built up a good reputation, taking in children from all three surrounding Ridings, many of them boarders. 

In 1858 the then Holgate's Free School  moved from Ogleforth and joined with Yeoman’s School to set up at Lord Mayors Walk, at what is now the old part of York St John University.  It was set up as a Model School, under the auspices of York and Ripon Training College – see the Context for Ripon Training College (1955). The School moved from here in 1963 to its present location on the Hull Road in Heslington, next to the new University of York which was established in the same year.  

One of the outstanding features of the film are the marvellous images of boys sliding on ice in the school playground – see also Boys Sliding (1900). One of the common complaints of the time of writing (in the winter of 2009/2010), is what is seen by many as a 'cotton-wool culture': a far too severe view of health and safety in relation to children’s play. Recently there have been stories of schools banning games such as skipping, conkers, hopscotch, British bulldog and climbing trees. The law simply states that each school must undertake risk assessments for school activities, and that the school has a duty of care, indeed a responsibility for the health and safety of its students. It is up to each school to implement this as it sees fit, with the courts the final arbitrators. Yet one wonders if many schools today would allow this apparently unrestrained and gleeful sliding on ice, with the teachers joining in! Helene Guldberg, quoting David Yearly (from Jones, 2007), points out the importance of risk taking for children in learning how to judge risk as adults, but notes the numbers that are killed through accidents (p. 61) – the Child Accident Prevention Trust states that 139,200 children were injured in school or nursery playgrounds in 2002.
Another interesting facet of the film is the boating.  During the Victorian era both grammar and public schools become centres for sports. There was a developing idea of sport, especially team sports, improving moral character – with Matthew Arnold leading the way at Rugby School, and branching out into the later movement of muscular Christianity.  Racing in rowing boats on rivers in England goes back to the watermen who raced on the Thames, becoming popular in the eighteenth century with, as customary, betting on the winner.  The oldest annually contested event in the British sporting calendar, and oldest rowing contest in the world, dating back to 1715, is Doggett's Coat & Badge racefour and half miles long from "The Swan" at London Bridge to "The Swan" at Chelsea. But like most similar sports, this required time and money and so it was in the universities and grammar, or public, schools that these sports thrived. The Monarch Boat Club of Eton College and the Isis Club of Westminster School were both in existence in the 1790s. The elite nature of the sport was reinforced by rules such as thiose upheld by the Henley regaatta Committee which excluded anyone, ‘who is a mechanic, artisan ot labourer, or engaged in menial activity’ (Mandell, p. 153).
Another school in York that took advantage of being near the River Ouse to have their own boat houses is St Peter’s School, as can be seen in another film held with the YFA by Billy Ibberson from 1959, which also shows school students rowing on the river.
In 1985 the school ceased to be a grammar school, becoming plain Archbishop Holgate's School, a mixed comprehensive. It is a Voluntary Aided school, run by a Board of Governors, which until 2004 had the Archbishop of York as its chair.   More recently, an Ofsted report of 2007 described Archbishop Holgate as "an outstanding school".  In September 2009 the school opened a new £4m sixth form building, The Learning Centre.  The school is keen to maintain its Christian tradition, with an “aim to create a school community in which pupils are known and cared for as individuals”.

All the films made by Robert Millington indicate that pupils at the school were given reign to express themselves – especially on the stage. It is unclear whether this has anything to do with the school acquiring the nickname ‘the Archies’ sometime in the early 1950s. Given its encouragement of theatricality, it is perhaps not surprising that some former pupils went into acting – such as Peter Woodthorpe who was the voice of Gollum in the 1978 animated film version of the Lord of the Rings.    Judging by an online noticeboard (see References) past pupils seem to hold the school in affection – which of course is not always the case! 


H C Barnard, A History of English Education from 1760, 2nd edition, University of London Press, 1961.
Helene Guldberg, Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, Routledge, 2009
Digby Jones, Cotton Wool Kids: releasing the potential of kids to take risks and innovate, HTI, Coventry, 2007.
Richard Mandell, Sport: A Cultural History, Columbia University Press, 1984.



Watching the films brought back memories of mt time at "Archies" especially the Sports Field activities. One of the access points to the field was through a rickety set of old iron gates off Asylum Lane. These are still in situ,for how much longer I know not. I was at "Archies" from 1953 until 1957.

Wed, 2013-04-24 14:11

Firstly, how great it is that these films have been made available to the public. As regards the Archbishop Holgates film. This was taken in 1957 and I suggest that the 1938 one will be 1958 as I think Spike would be too young to have taken a film then. For background the first person in the film is Rodney Mayes, the music teacher and Boarding House Master as was Spike. Rodney was an inspirational teacher who out of approx. 500 pupils he produced a 120 strong choir and a 65 strong Orchestra which annually performed in the Minster and thr Roundtree Theatre.

Talking with other people that are in the film, in this film there are clips from 1955, 1957 and 1959.

Brian Abell is the second image on the film and about 10 years ago he retired as the Vicar of Masham, North Yorks.

Incidentally, I am the one who enters the Model Aeroplane contest from the left rear at the start of the clip, thumbs in pockets; and the school was referred to as just "Archies" not "The Archies"
Below I said about Brian Abell, but he was not a master but (See link below) that was a member of the Boarding House (Only about 30 pupils boarded in the then 500 pupil school). As you state many of us look back at the Lord Mayor's Walk years of Archies with affection. There was not just one but many inspirational teachers to who we all owe a lot.

See this site set up by a few old Boarders several years ago, which has a number of photos (there is a link to this in the References section of the Context).

Regards AHGS 1953-8

Mon, 2010-03-08 10:39

I have just come across your film of Archbishop Holgate's School. I was at the school from 1954 to 1961. Keep up the good work.

Fri, 2010-03-05 11:34

This film is 1957 not 1932 as orginally labelled (I am in it and was not born until 1942!) The name of the well loved master who made the film was Robert Milligan (hence the nickname "Spike"). A terrific site and kudoes to the YFA for putting these on line. I can see that I will be spending far too much time going through all the films.

Fri, 2010-03-05 10:50

I was delighted to look through the sequences of the Archbishop (all one word) Holgate's films, I appear in several of the shots. Mr Milligan was, indeed, a teacher of French and Assistant Housemaster for the Boarders, the Headmaster being the Housemaster. The rugby pictures will have been a House Match in 1957 or so, the slide in the yard was in the winter of 1955/6, the hockey would be at the end of the hockey season of 1959/60 and was a Staff vs. The '39 Club. I played in goal for the '39 Club, a Club open only to boys in the 5th year and above with various other sections, Badminton, Dancing (very popular as young ladies from Queen Anne's GS were invited to attend), Cycling and so on.

The rowing Fours were all boys out of the same class that I was in, Alan Robertshaw, Michael Easton, Martin Rotheram and Alan Coles. They were an extremely successful team and won their class in just about every regatta they entered.

The films have produced a very great deal of interest amongst the Old Boys that I have contact with and my family who find it difficult to believe that their dad was running about a rugby field covered in mud, sliding on ice with a scarf wrapped around my head in Mumps fashion and then keeping out goals in the hockey. I brought one of our English teachers, Mr Berryman, down in the "D" on his shoulder in that match and he said that many months later he still felt the injury in his arm. Oops There was a penalty bully in front of goal awarded for that and I must admit to using Gamesmanship against Mr Walker who took the penalty for the Staff. I beat him. He became the next-but-one Headmaster. Are the two linked?

Did I mention that the 3 ladies and the child were not parents of the rugby players but one was the Headmaster's wife, Mrs Hodgson with her small daughter Sally, one was Matron, Miss Sellars on the left and I believe the other lady was the school cook at the time, we had several. The jolly lady on the slide was, I think, one of the school cleaners and not, as my family have suggested, an innocent passer-by on her way home with her shopping and being commandeered to slide.

I've enjoyed a lot of other clips in the rest of the oeuvre but where is Redcar?

Keep up the good work, it's most enjoyable.

Fri, 2010-03-05 09:06

This film was 1957 not 1932 as orginally labelled (I am in it and was not born until 1942!) The name of the well loved master who made the film was Robert Milligan (hence the nickname "Spike"). A terrific site and kudoes to the YFA for putting these on line. I can see that I will be spending far too much time going through all the films.

Fri, 2010-03-05 10:50

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