Bishop Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

Price’s School 300th Anniversary Service
May 22 2022
Ss Peter and Paul's Church, Fareham

Eccles 44: 1-15; I Cor 13

I am immensely grateful for the honour and privilege of preaching on this extraordinary anniversary. The last time we, or some of us, were gathered to celebrate William Price and his legacy was when we commemorated in 2008 the centenary of the refounding of Price’s School on its new site on Uplands, moving from the School’s original site on West Street. On that occasion I recall a walk organised from the West Street site.

So let me just dive in at the middle of the story, and then I’ll return to the beginning. In 1870 the Education Act established the principle of universal elementary education; in 1880 it became compulsory. The 1891 Education Act abolished all fees for elementary education. So the necessity of private free education, which Price’s School had been providing in a one room school building on West Street, was diminished, and Price’s School, or Price’s Charity School would not be able to survive in that form.

In 1893 agreement was reached to provide a school of “more advanced instruction for the benefit of boys who have passed through the standards of an elementary school”, thus turning Price’s from school for boys and girls into a boys’ secondary school.

The first Price’s closed in 1901. A new site was found on the Uplands Estate and the buildings for the new school completed in January 1908 at the cost of £8,385 which included £2500 for 10 acres of land. And to fund this the Local Authority had to be involved, which ended Price’s School independence. Although William Price’s intentions were preserved in the provision of 20 free places.

I start there because it brings us to the site and for some of us the actual buildings that we remember. When I arrived in 1965 the Old School House was still standing, and I have painful memories of trying to purchase apples from the tuck shop on the ground floor, dispensed, from this 11 year old’s point of view, with a peculiar level of aggression by the prefects, some of whom I suspect are sitting here today. I still shudder at the memory. And there was geography and John Chaffey on the top floors, and attempts at French with Tony Jay in the middle.

That building was torn down and replaced during my seven years at the school with a modern building, of which I only recall geography and John Chaffey on the top floor. The fact that I went on to university to read geography may explain the selectivity of what I recall.

Of course the school changed twice again after that. In 1975 it changed into a sixth-form college, and finally turned into Fareham College in 1984, at which point the name Price's School ceased to exist.

Which means by my sums that the youngest you could be to have benefitted from an education at Price’s in its last manifestation is 54. That brings into sharp relief the significance of this event, recognising that not many of us will be around for the 350th, and we will need to be creative in identifying intervening anniversaries to celebrate before then.

But the real significance of this event is that even after the school has been closed for nearly 40 years, the legacy of the education we received, the shaping of who we are as human beings, and the continuing work of the Charity, is something that is profoundly worth celebrating.

And it is profoundly worth celebrating because of one man. William Price had been left £10 by father to complete his apprenticeship – which must have had something to do with timber – and from that he went on to amass a substantial fortune as a timber merchant.

In 1721 he made his last will and testament, leaving £200 to erect a charity school which at its heart would be teaching children to read the English Bible and instruction in the doctrines and principles of the Church of England.

He left a considerable amount of his land and property to the minister and church wardens of this church – the parish church of Fareham – to support the work of the school from rent and profits. His own house was to be converted into the new school with accommodation for the master – the site on West Street.

Most importantly, the school was to be for 30 poor boys and girls of Fareham, providing them with a free elementary education.

Why did William Price do this? He had no children, and knew that he had received a great deal through the success of his timber business. And he lived at a time when for many with means, there was a deep sense of responsibility to provide for those without.

That motivation came from faith, from his Christian faith, and we need not beat about the bush about that. Price’s, a Christian school, was established by William Price’s Christian conviction of the need to care for the poor. Christ did not come to be served but to serve, we read in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke – so fundamental a principle of both Christ’s life and the life of his followers that it is there in each of those three Gospels. And that is what motivated William Price to act in the way he did.

Let us now praise famous men, we heard in our first reading from Ecclesiasticus, and so that indeed is what we are doing in celebrating the extraordinary legacy of William Price.

But of course, his conviction, his faith, his actions, were then embodied by others who came after him, and we praise them too, because without them we and innumerable others would not be the people we have become, or lived the lives we are living.

As an undoubtedly Christian School, Price’s throughout its history has been served by outstanding Christian heads – Stephen Bradley from 1908, George Ashton – whom a number of us had the privilege to know, as well as his daughter Anne, serving from 1934, Eric Poyner from 1959 to 1979 and then Peter Watkins until 1984, and we learned with sadness that Peter has recently died.

Each of these famous men instilled and maintained an ethos in the school, inhabited and developed by all the staff, that shaped us, a Christian ethos rooted in a call to serve. We were given an underlying sense that life was about more than what I did for myself – there was a greater, far greater dimension that was the reality in which all our lives are placed.

Whether we are Christian or not, that quality of faith is in some way part of us because of Price’s. The nature of the community that was Price’s, despite my experience of the tuck shop prefects, was fundamentally one of respect, of service, and, dare I say of love – of that practical love that looked out for one another, didn’t demean others, and genuinely cared. I remember some quite remarkable acts of generosity and care with boys looking out for someone in need, and doing so without fanfare. As we heard in our second reading, love is patient, kind, not envious or boastful, or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way and is not irritable or resentful. That is the love we learned, were shaped in, at Price’s.

And of course it was not perfect, by no means, but we somehow knew, we learned what good is, so when it went awry we recognised it wasn’t quite as it should be.

William Price’s gift of a school at the centre of which was the teaching of Christian faith was the start of this.

As a community we learned about ourselves and other people. We learned about how to get along, How to handle differences between us. How to be respectful of those we didn’t like. How, in Eric Poyner’s words, we were to be like a family. It may be trite, but there is a depth of truth to this – that gives us common ground together, and a grounding for our lives.

William Price’s creation of a school – a community of 20 or 30 pupils of different ages, learning together in one school room, was the start of this.

And service was at the heart of this. We can attach “long” as a prefix and it would only tell half the story. The dedication of staff through very long and committed service to us pupils, to the standards we achieved and the life of the school is astounding. The tenures of the heads is one example. And there are plenty of others, famous men to many of us. Tim Foster came to teach French in the early 1930s. Tom Hilton arrived in 1935. Howard Jones and Royds Jones just after the War. And we can think of many others – Eric Smith, John Chaffey, Cyril Briscoe, and of course John Cole ,Price’s boy and man! This length of dedicated service is one aspect of the sense of service we soaked up, wittingly or not.

But it was clearly service too – for others, lives lived for others, given for others, and that example of dedicated self-giving service has affected us all. I am sure if we look at our friends and we look at our own lives, that quality would be there. I imagine if we went round telling stories of the pandemic there would be stories of grief and anguish, and also stories of immense generosity and sacrifice for the sake of others, and we could trace those back too to William Price’s legacy.

William Price’s gift for provision of free education for the poor was the start of this. We are part of this Price’s community, living on beyond the buildings, in the Charity as it continues its work for the young people of Fareham, and in us and all who have studied, taught and been part of Price’s School. We have received through William Price’s and so many who served his school, such great examples of service, and we are probably, even unknowingly, living our lives in that same fashion.

And we have come together in this church, William Price’s church, to celebrate the faith that was and is the basis of it all.

I thank God for all Price’s has given me and each one of us; I thank God for William Price.