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Staff & Student History

The most notable student of the school in the first two decades was James Harold Wilson (1927-32 at Royds Hall).

He was born at a 3 bedroom terrace house – 4 Warneford Road, Cowlersley (up for sale 80 years on for £34,000) but a year later moved to nearby Western Road.

When he was seven, after he had an operation for appendicitis, his father, Herbert, took him off on his motorbike and sidecar to London. Harold, flat-capped and skinny stood on Ramsay Macdonald’s door step at No.10 Downing Street – a foretaste of the future.

Kathleen (Makin) Dyson, who was four years younger, played with him at his home – she was the bride to his groom. She observed that he had a cherubic face but was round shouldered.

Even when only aged 9 he talked to his class at New Street Council School, Milnsbridge about his first trip with his mother to Australia to visit a relative and kept meticulous notes in a diary. He also enjoyed watching Huddersfield Town when he was a lad. 

In 1927 he went to Royds Hall School and benefited from the generosity of the West Riding as well as from coming from a comfortably well-off family. On a third year form photo he was one of only 3 out of 17 boys who had the Royds Hall Blazer. The rest wore crumpled jackets. Seven wore open-necked shirts (a heinous offence nowadays where, despite public belief to the contrary, standards of uniform are much higher).

Freda (Winter) Barker corresponded with Wilson after he’d retired. He remembered as she did, that they took a duster and a tin of polish to school. Every Friday afternoon, during the form period, they had to clean and polish their desks. He noted that, “I am afraid one was judged by the shine!”

He won a competition for the Yorkshire Evening Post for “My Hero.” As he was a keen member of the Milnsbridge Scouts and later became a King’s Scout he chose Baden Powell as his subject. The prize was 5/- (25p).

Harry Cliffe remembered Wilson was top in Latin, French and History and was always in the top three in class and that he was very interested in the political leaders of his day. John Bradbury (the present Head’s uncle) commented that Harold was “A big swot” and that “He worked a lot harder than most of us. Yet Jessie Hadfield was by far the brightest in the class. He tried very hard at sport but was not outstanding.” Barbara (Palmer) Cartmell says, “He had an outstandingly good brain and seemed to leave the rest of the class behind in almost every subject.”

Joe Sykes’s main claim to fame was that he gave the younger house member, Harold, “the biggest telling-off that he had ever received at the school. I told him a few home truths about his pathetic display as goalkeeper in an inter-house soccer match.” Gym was done in short trousers with braces and shirts with rolled-up sleeves – no changing or showering!

Harold wrote twice in the school magazine – once of his experience of the school choir and also of another trip to Australia – to the Kalgoorlie gold mines. He appeared in several school plays. Mr Newton commented that, “He was a very good mixer, he loved argument and conversation, was very well liked all round, was in the debating society and was always well behaved.” He always thought Wilson would go in for the Arts. Raymond Gledhill said that Harold “intended to enter the Diplomatic Corps or the Consulate Service.” When asked what this could lead to, Harold replied, “One day I might be Prime Minister.” Wilson in 1966 recalled writing an essay at school in which he imagined himself as Chancellor of the Exchequer – imposing a tax on gramophone records (not that he had any). Frank Collins travelled to school each day with him in Harold’s father’s Austin 7, later changed to fibre-bodied Jowett (rare to have a car in those days). Mr. Wilson would drop us off in Lowergate and we walked the remaining distance to school. He was a good talker – never short of a subject but usually football or politics. In those days he was strongly Liberal (he came from a Liberal family) and although I never developed anything like his enthusiasm for politics he may have had some influence in causing me to become a lifelong Liberal myself. I remember my mother asking what he would be like to be in later life when he visited us once and out it came pat – “I’m going to be a Prime Minister”

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Harold went camping with the Scouts in Holland where he practiced some Esperanto he had learned. At another camp, near Honley, when he was 14 he bought a bottle of milk from a nearby farm. A few days later he and his friend were rushed to Meltham Isolation Hospital – victims of typhoid fever. He was very ill indeed and at one stage it was thought he would die but recovered. His grandfather remarked to Harold’s father, “Herbert, that lad’s been spared for summat.”

In 1932, he passed his School Certificate and matriculated with three distinctions. His father had lost his job in the depression as Works Chemist in charge of the Dyes Department at Huddersfield’s L.B. Holliday & Co but he eventually found work in the Wirral so Harold transferred to the Grammar School there and later to Oxford University where he had a brilliant academic career and became a lecturer.

From 1941-44 he was Director of Statistics in the Ministry of Fuel, in 1945 he was assistant to Sir William Beveridge in outlining plans for the Welfare State. He also became Labour MP for Ormskirk and became Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Works followed by Secretary of Overseas Trade. He became the youngest cabinet minister since 1806 in 1947 when he was President of the Board Trade from which he resigned in 1951 over health cuts. After Gaitskell’s death in 1963 he was elected Labour Leader. In 1964 he became Prime Minister and this continued after the 1966 election. In 1970, Labour was beaten but in February and October 1974 Labour won both elections and again he was Prime Minister. In 1976 he suddenly resigned and was knighted. He stayed in the Commons until 1983 when he was created Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. He died in 1995.

In 1995, the Glaxo and Wellcome companies merged to form the largest pharmaceutical firm in the world. Glaxo’s Chief Executive Sir Richard Sykes overlooked the amalgamation and is now head of the new ‘empire’.

His beginnings were in the Colne Valley where some of his family still live in Slaithwaite. He was the youngest of three and his father was a carpenter. His secondary education was at Royds Hall where his academic achievements were not at all auspicious. In 1959 he scraped through a couple of GCEs (English Literature and Physics) at O’Level. No one could have possibly predicted what was to follow.

He went on work in the pathology laboratories at the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (in its original home that is now the ‘Tech’). His interest in science was aroused and he took up his part time studies in that area with enthusiasm. So much so that he went on to the University of London and gained a first class degree in microbiology. He moved to Bristol University to get a Ph.D. His scholarship had some funding from Glaxo. He then crossed the Atlantic to work with an American firm for ten years. In 1986 he rejoined Glaxo’s number two in research. A year later he became a member of the Board. His move from science to marketing proved an easy one. By 1993 he was at the top of the company at the age of 50.

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