Sunday, 21 October 2018


St Helen's Church, Northwich, aka 'Witton Church'                                                     Photo: WTFK Collection

by Dave Roberts

Here's a sad memory from my third year at Sir John Deane's Grammar School in  Northwich. 

Founder's Day was always a big occasion for the school and every October 21st we all made our way through the streets of Northwich from the school's present site in The Crescent, off London Road,  to St Helen's church (usually known, more simply, as 'Witton Church') to celebrate the life and times of Sir John Deane.

Really, it was the school returning to its 'Witton Grammar School' roots, as the site of the original school was close to Witton churchyard.

And when I say 'made our way' I really mean that we were marched to the church in the closest we could get to 'impeccable' school uniform. 
It was impressed on us all that we were 'representing the school' on this most important day in the school calendar and warned to be on our best behaviour.

I was astonished to hear the admonitory speech we were given each year before starting out spoken almost word for word by Michael Palin in 'The Life Of Brian'. This 'representing the school' schtick must have been a standard grammar school thing all over the country. 

My recollections of the service of thanksgiving for the life of SJD and his benevolence in founding the Grammar School are lost in the mists of time.

All I can remember are the school song: 'Floret, Floruit, Floreat Wittona' and the hymn 'God is working His purpose out, as year succeeds to year'.

I must have been a part of this Founders Day service five times from 1964 to 1968, but the only one I really remember was in 1966.

After the service I went home on the North-Western Road Car Co's bus to King Street, Middlewich and switched on the TV, where the story of a horrific happening in Wales was unfolding.

It was the day of the Aberfan disaster in which 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a coal tip above the village was undermined by water seepage, turning the whole structure into a mass of slurry which slipped down the hillside engulfing the school.
Dependable, friendly old Cliff Michelmore was there on the screen telling us of the almost unspeakable horror of what had happened.

It was the second major disaster to impinge upon our young lives (the first being the Kennedy assassination three years earlier) and it was all very hard to take in.

What gave me, personally, pause for thought was that I was at the time reading Robert Llewellyn's 'How Green Was My Valley' in which something like the Aberfan disaster is explicitly forecast. 

Even now, fifty-one years later, I can't hear 'Floreat Wittona' or 'God Is Working His Purpose Out' without thinking of that dreadful day.

Illustration: WALES ON LINE

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2017

First published 4th September 2017
Re-published 21st October 2018

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