This year Portsmouth Grammar School is celebrating the 85th anniversary of the opening of the Senior School on its current High Street site at Old Portsmouth.
Though the school dates back to the 1750s, it was not until 1926 that the grand and imposing building in High Street was acquired by the school.
Home secretary Sir William Joynson-Hicks formally opened the school on October 13, 1927, amid great celebrations and rousing cheers from pupils.
Recently his grandson, Lord Brentford, presented the school with the ceremonial key used on the day.
During his visit to Portsmouth, Sir William was also granted the Freedom of the City for his help in enabling the town to gain city status the previous year.
The acquisition of the former officers’ barracks was a milestone in the school’s long history and the key represents a symbolic unlocking of the potential of the school, realised by headmaster Canon Barton in 1927 and built on ever since by successive heads.
When Barton joined the school in 1926 he found that the ‘old school’ (now the Upper Juniors close to Cambridge Road roundabout), which had been purpose-built in 1879 for 250 boys, was ‘dirty and overcrowded with 525 boys’.
News that the War Office was willing to sell the derelict officers’ block of Cambridge Barracks, plus a large part of the parade ground and playing fields at Hilsea, was announced at the Old Portmuthians’ Annual Dinner following the receipt of a telegram.
‘There are times when the large thing is the only thing you can afford to do. This is a large thing. Great cities and little minds go ill together. Nothing large is done without sacrifice.’
Barton’s words inspired the fundraisers. An appeal raised £18,000 which, with a donation by wealthy shipping magnate Sir Heath Harrison, enabled the school to purchase and convert the building. Barton acknowledged that the project would not have been possible without the help of the chairman of the governors, and Portsmouth’s first lord mayor, Frank Privett.
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