WITH “a brilliant assembly of ladies” looking on, the men of Richmond gathered in the Town Hall on September 27, 1850, for a solemn ceremony to open the “Tate Testimonial”, a new school building designed by one of the great railway architects of the day in a location of great drama.

Nearly 175 years later, the Tate Testimonial is facing an uncertain future, and the Richmondshire Building Preservation Trust is trying to raise £450,000 in just 12 months to bring it back to life as a community hub.

The building has recently been known as “the lower school”. It is carved into the hillside, but has a glorious grassy area and the rushing Swale in front of it. It was on that open space that on opening day in 1850, the procession, led by the mayor of Richmond, Robert Robson, and the Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend Thomas Musgrave, arrived from the Town Hall.

The Northern Echo: From 1392-ish until 1850, Richmond school was in the churchyard to the left of St Mary's. The land over the river between church and school is where the station was built in the late 1840s

FROM ABOVE: The original Richmond school – which Lewis Carroll attended for a couple of years – was to the left of St Mary's church, as in this painting by George Cuit, a school old boy. The railway station was built on the land between the school and the church on the opposite side of the Swale. 

The school had been designed by George Andrews, the York architect who worked hand-in-hand with the infamous Railway King, George Hudson. Andrews had also designed Richmond station of 1847 on the opposite bank of the Swale, and the Mercury bridge, which crossed the Swale and climbed the dale behind the new school.

The Tate Testimonial was dedicated to James Tate, the school’s former headmaster. Tate had been born in the town in 1771, and had risen to fulfil his childhood ambition of heading his own school. He was said to be “a man dripping Greek”, and he turned the school into one of the country’s leading classical institutions – it was almost on a par with Eton.

Mr Tate’s scholars regularly reached the top universities, and such was his school’s reputation that when he was a boy, Mr Musgrave, the son of a wealthy Cambridge tailor, had been sent north to attend it.

As well as dripping Greek, Mr Tate must have been dribbling Latin, because not only did he come up with Richmond School’s motto – “non nobis nascimur” (we are not born for ourselves) – but also, in 1818, he suggested the motto for the Stockton & Darlington Railway: “periculum privatum utilitas publica” (private risk for public service).

In Mr Tate’s day, the school was in St Mary’s churchyard, where it had been since its founding in about 1392. He was headmaster for 37 years and after his death in 1843, his former pupils, including the archbishop, raised the money to build the Tate Testimonial just beneath his old schoolroom.

On the opening day, “on the open space in front of the new school”, Lord Zetland, who had chaired the fundraising committee, placed the school deeds in the hands of the mayor, thus handing the building into public ownership. At the same time, the archbishop placed into the hands of the headmaster, James Tate who was the son of the man being memorialised, the keys to the new school.

“The parties now entered the school room, which was tastefully adorned with appropriate banners, evergreens etc,” reported the Darlington & Stockton Times. “About 90 were present. After the collation, several toasts were proposed and supported in most excellent speeches.”

The report concluded: “The general enjoyment may be conceived, when we consider that many met their old school fellows for the first time after an interval of some score of years.”

Since 1971, Mr Tate’s boys’ grammar school has been amalgamated with the girls’ high and the secondary modern to form the comprehensive school which has gradually grown along Darlington Road. From 1971, the Tate Testimonial building was used as the lower school with 10,000 pupils passing through its ecclesiastical-looking doors before it, too, was moved up to Darlington Road in 2011.

Now the Preservation Trust, which successfully saved Richmond Station, has received Lottery money to assist with the first phase of the project of finding a future for the Tate Testimonial. The trust is planning a series events over the summer, and is also appealing for memories of those who attended the school. It is also collecting donations – those offering £500 or more will go on a “blackboard of fame” that will hang in the building when it becomes a community hub.

For more details of how to help and donate, go to richmondshirebpt.co.uk or email info@richmondshirebpt.co.uk

Another way in which people can help is by identifying the curious creature who adorns the rooftops of the 1850 building. You would probably expect a winged griffin to be sitting up there, guarding the shield, but this appears to be more of a bear-like creature.

If you have any theories about it, either email the trust or chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk