Royal Grammar School


Rooted in tradition

Rooted in tradition

Yesterday was one of those days when we call a brief half from the onward rush of school life and remember our traditions. Our Year 8,9 and 10 students were all doing school exams, a number of Lower Sixth students were also around, between AS papers and lessons continuing in their linear subjects.

Exams are arguably all about looking back, they generally assess what has been learnt over the preceding year or two (though the real idea is that students apply what they have learnt to present and future challenges). Most of the time, by contrast, education is concerned with looking forward to the bright futures of our ambitious and talented students.

But yesterday we paused to welcome Newcastle's new Lord Mayor. By tradition (when diaries allow!) the first act of the incoming Lord Mayor is to visit the Royal Grammar School. This tradition goes back centuries (no one know quite how many) to the time when the RGS schoolroom in the ancient Virgin Mary Hospital (now buried under Stephenson's railway sheds behind Central Station) was used for the Mayor-making. We believe that the ceremonial mace was placed on the ancient table that still adorns the stage in the Main Hall, predating this building by two centuries or more.

In recognition of that long tradition, the Lord Mayor still comes to the school as the first engagement in office.

There was an added element of history yesterday. This year sees the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the creation of the Mayoralty in Newcastle. King John is not remembered as the 'good King'! His excesses were curtailed to some extent by Magna Carta (don't get me started on that, because there are various interpretations of that document's role, too!) But one undoubted good he did was to give the city of Newcastle a Mayor.

This school bears the city's name: our full title is The Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School. You can see that on the original 1906 wrought-iron gates outside the former front entrance with its pillared portico. We are proud of that name, and of our link with the Lord Mayoralty over the centuries.

The new Lord Mayor, Councillor Hazel Stephenson, performed her duties with aplomb and great charm. Despite the incessant drizzle, she inspected our cadet force's Honour Guard which paraded to greet her. Then she entered the Main Hall and spoke to the school - not forgetting the vital tradition of asking me to grant a day's holiday, to be known as the Lord Mayor's Holiday. I graciously acceded to the request, as I always do: we'll make use of that day off in early December to gather our strength for the last gasp of that long autumn term!

After that brief ceremony, Councillor Stephenson met a few senior prefects and talk animatedly about her role as Councillor, as last year's Sheriff and now as Lord Mayor. The visit was a delight, and as she left we wished the First Citizen and her Consort a happy year in office.

It's the kind of tradition that makes RGS what it is. I wrote at the start that education is all about looking to the future: but wiser people than I have said over the years that we need to understand where we come from, and to appreciate the foundations of the vantage point from which we scan the future. Connections and customs like that of the Lord Mayor's visit help us to do precisely that. What a pleasure and a privilege to be part of perpetuating such a great, ancient and continuing tradition.

Happy half-term to all!

Bernard Trafford