Posted on 25/08/2017
Back to School Letter, William McCrea Archive, c.1921
With the start of September fast approaching, bringing with it the beginning of the new academic year, the familiar feeling of returning to school is upon us. While many school children will be enjoying the last couple of weeks of freedom, their parents will instead be stocking up on stationary, school supplies, and new uniforms. This month’s item comes from our William H. McCrea collection; a ‘back to school’ letter from the early twenties.
Sir William Hunter McCrea F.R.S. (1904-1999), a renowned mathematician, physicist and astronomer, was Professor of Mathematics at Royal Holloway College from 1944-1966. Although born in Dublin, McCrea moved to Chesterfield, Derbyshire before the age of three. Here, he attended Chesterfield Grammar School, an all-boys school founded in 1594, which sadly closed in 1991 after nearly 400 years.
The above letter from Chesterfield Grammar School was written to the parents of its pupils and addresses the costs for the new school year, as well as the strict academic dress code, such as ‘black or very dark socks’ and ‘black, not brown’ boots. The boys were also required to wear ‘grey or white flannels WITH A TIE and the School blazer during the Summer.’ The meticulous school policy is also articulated in the final sentences of the letter; ‘Parents are asked not to allow their sons to buy books direct from other boys. It is a fruitful source of dishonesty.’ Although not dated, the letter is believed to be from 1921, when A.C. Bescoby began his headmastership. McCrea would’ve been around the age of sixteen during this time.
McCrea continued his association with the school long after he left, predominately through his involvement with the Old Cestrefeldian Society as an Old Boy, and later as President of the society in 1991. The society aims to link both Old Boys and Masters through its annual reunions, and to preserve historical items relating to the school. The Old Cestrefeldian Society still runs today and offers educational assistance to young people in the Chesterfield area, while continuing to reconnect alumni of the Chesterfield Grammar School.
Sir William H. McCrea died in 1999 in Lewes, Sussex, at the age of ninety-four. He performed a major role in British astronomy, achieving many accolades in the field, such as election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1952 and the award of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1976. McCrea also received a knighthood in 1985.
Lisa Clark, Archives Volunteer