Willaston School

  • Reference
      GB 133 UCC/5/2
  • Dates of Creation
  • Physical Description
      0.5 lm. 4 boxes. Many of the photographs are in poor condition.

Scope and Content

A collection of photographs, documents and prospectuses relating to Willaston School in Cheshire. Included are many loose photographs, several photograph albums, legal documents and reports as well as several printed booklets relating to the founding of the school.

Administrative / Biographical History

Willaston School is located in Nantwich, Cheshire. It was founded with money left by Philip Barker, a local tanner in the town who owned an estate known as 'The Grove' near Nantwich. When Barker died in 1898 he left instruction as to how the school should be set up as well as leaving The Grove estate as a site for the playing fields and grounds. Particularly he specified that "attention be paid to the boys being suitably instructed in the history of the growth of religious and rational theological thought and opinion in England and generally in religious subjects and that they be encouraged in sobriety, intelligence, earnestness and piety and especially in modes and by teachers free from the obligations of prescribed creeds or tests of religious beliefs…". Under the terms of the will no-one was to be appointed as a governor of the school unless he was a trustee of Manchester College, Oxford, and approved by the committee of that college. Unitarianism was the only denomination which fulfilled the criteria of Barker's will but he never used the name 'Unitarian' and Willaston School was always held out as non-denominational. However, it seems that Barker intended the school to provide candidates for the Unitarian ministry. The foundation stone was laid by Sir John T. Brunner on 28th September 1899. The school opened on 27th September 1900 with only 22 boys, increasing to 32 by 1905 though the numbers never reached above 70. The first headmaster was Guy Lewis, M.A. who remained so until June 1906. He was succeeded by Henry Lang Jones, who came from a Unitarian family and remained in his position until 1932. In 1909 new buildings were added including new classrooms and new space for a school museum. In 1924 the Memorial Hall was opened dedicated to the memory of those who had died in WW1 as well as a swimming bath. The hall was also converted into a chapel. There was a decline in pupil numbers in the 1930s owing to the economic slump and it was suggested by the governors that the school should have a new headmaster. Therefore Hector Beaumont Jacks, M.A. succeeded Lang Jones in 1932 and remained headmaster until the closing of the school in 1937. The school had continued to suffer from lack of funding and shortage of pupils and was eventually sold to a Roman Catholic body for use as a school for delinquents and was renamed St Joseph's College.


The collection is divided into photographic material (further divided into loose photographs and albums), prospectuses (also contained here is an ordinance survey map), official documents and printed booklets.

Acquisition Information

The photographs came via Tim Stibbs, the Principal of Dalton Ellis Hall. Other items in the collection were from the library of the Unitarian College, Manchester.


Archivist's Note

The cataloguing of the Willaston School material was undertaken by Catherine Priest.

Custodial History

The photographs were found at Dalton Ellis Hall, the Manchester University hall of residence. They were tranferred to the John Rylands Library by the Principal of the Hall in 2006. Owing to the Unitarian roots of the school, the photographs were added to the Unitarian College Collection. Other items in the Unitarian College Collection relating to the school were amalgamated with the photographs to make up the collection.


Kenneth Gill Smith, 'Willaston School (Nantwich)', Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society, vol. 15:4 (1974), pp. 130-136.