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Silcoates School Wrenthorpe

Silcoates celebrates its bicentenary in 2020


Silcoates, the Independent School located in Wrenthorpe, Wakefield, will celebrate its bicentenary in 2020. Philip Rowe, Headmaster, looks back at how the school’s rich and varied history has shaped the school of today, as well as giving a flavour of how Silcoates will celebrate this historic event.

Any anniversary is a significant event, but, when that celebration is to mark 200 years, it is not only a fantastic achievement, but also an incredibly special occasion.

Which is why Silcoates School, Wakefield, intends to mark its bicentenary with an array of events, reflecting on the school’s rich and varied history and how this shapes the school that Silcoates now is. Today, Silcoates is a thriving co-educational school which educates children from the ages of 3 to 18.  Set in a stunning 52 acre site in Wrenthorpe, on the outskirts of Wakefield, Silcoates aims to provide an all-round education in which each and every pupil has the opportunity to develop the skills, qualities and aptitude they require to live a full, productive and happy life. How did it all start?

Humble Beginnings

Silcoates opened its doors as The Yorkshire Dissenters Grammar School in 1820.  The school was founded by a handful of Congregationalists or ‘non-conformists’. Their ethos was very much about embracing diversity and ensuring resilience or an ‘indomitable spirit’ in their pupils. Modelled on a school in Lewisham of a similar nature, the Congregationalists decided that there was a place for a similar school in the North. Their principal aim was to provide schooling and boarding provision for their sons whilst carrying out missionary work and spreading the Congregationalist message abroad. The initial years were not without problems! In the short space of ten years the school was forced to close. However, it re-opened and with Silcoates Hall, a building which is still in existence, being leased to the school, in 1842 the school finally began to pay its way. An example of the ‘indomitable spirit’ of Silcoates which still exists today.

Forged from Fire

1871 saw a new and enlarged Silcoates opened, now with a grand total of 50 pupils! Success and prosperity seemed to be within sight. Disaster struck in the Easter holidays of 1904 however, when virtually the whole school was destroyed by fire.  Demonstrating once again the Silcoates ‘indomitable spirit’, the Headmaster, John Arthur Younge, refused to give up.  He simply relocated Silcoates.  Firstly to a small hotel in Harrogate and then, more bizarrely, to a house at Saltburn by the Sea, which was then part of North Yorkshire. These temporary arrangements could not last and, after raising the necessary funding, Silcoates opened its doors again in October 1908, with dormitory accommodation for 100 boys.  New buildings included laboratories, music rooms, a gymnasium, an assembly hall, a dining hall and a kitchen.  Later, an outdoor swimming pool (in Yorkshire!) was added.  The only part of the original building to survive the fire was the Headmaster’s house, which is still in use today as the school reception building. In essence, Silcoates was ‘re-born’ and this ethos was captured in the school motto ‘clarior ex ignibus’ or ‘a light forged in fire’.

Success and Societal Changes

From this point, Silcoates went from strength to strength.  A series of inspirational and dedicated Headmasters, many of them ‘Old Silcoatians’ themselves, continued to nurture and develop the school.  Additional facilities were added, such as the tennis courts and the cricket field.  Wilfred Rhodes, the Yorkshire and English cricketer, at the age of 71, inaugurated the field by bowling the first over! What was never lost, though, was both the Silcoates ‘resilience’ and the nurturing approach towards the pupils. Headmasters such as Mr Spencer and Mr Evans were ‘husband and wife’ teams who preserved the family spirit and atmosphere of Silcoates. Indeed today, past pupils still talk fondly about the ‘family feel’ of Silcoates, with highlights being the diverse menu on offer in the dining hall and Mrs Ong’s famous tuck shop! However, albeit slowly, changes in line with those taking place in society were afoot. From 1976 girls were admitted to the sixth form and by 1980 girls were representing the school at sport. From a school perspective, in 1995, Silcoates made the controversial decision to end boarding after 170 years and become truly co-educational, providing the blueprint for the school as it stands today.

Past Pupils 

The ethos of Silcoates, both past and present, is that every pupil reaches and has the potential to exceed their own personal potential.  But also, that Silcoates focuses on the needs of the individual pupil so that they can be nurtured and guided through this growth. In summary, Silcoates seeks to instil the ‘indomitable spirit’ in each and every pupil in line with the ethos of the founding fathers.

And some past pupils, or ‘Old Silcoatians’ as they are fondly known, have gone on to great success in their chosen field.  Notable alumni include Sir William Peel, Governor of Hong Kong, and William Thomas Stead, journalist and author (who was also a victim of the Titanic disaster).  Success though, as you would expect, takes many forms and there are innumerable past pupils who have gone on to  have varied and fulfilling careers across sport, politics, professions and the arts to name but a few.

Celebrating 2020

Certainly there is a lot to celebrate for Silcoates in 2020 as the school marks its bicentenary. Aware of the rich and varied history of the school and the contributions of past pupils, parents and staff, Silcoates will be kicking off celebrations by inviting those who have had involvement in the school to re-connect with Silcoates via the school’s digital alumni platform, Silcoates Connect. Planned for launch in the Autumn of 2019, Silcoates Connect will allow re-engagement with Silcoates, providing the school with the opportunity to communicate bicentenary updates, school and event information.  It is also hoped that Silcoates Connect will provide past pupils with the opportunity to reconnect on a personal level to re-ignite old friendships.


The bicentenary Celebration weekend will be the main focus of the 2020 celebrations. Scheduled for May 2020, plans are afoot for a Silcoates ‘Through the Ages’ exhibition, which is currently being expertly and meticulously curated by the Silcoates Archivist.  The weekend will also feature a celebratory ball, the culmination of which will be a fantastic firework display. Added to this, June 2020 will see the Silcoates Garden Party and Fun Day, which will include a barbecue, fun family events and games. There will also be an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ style ‘Ask the Expert’ event in which the School Archivist will be on hand to answer questions on any Silcoates memorabilia which people may wish to bring along.

Looking to the Future

Certainly, 2020 is set to be an exciting year for Silcoates School.  The ethos remains firmly entrenched in the ‘indomitable spirit’ of the founding fathers and the belief that each and every child can be nurtured to achieve their full potential.

Silcoates is very much looking forward to its bicentenary year, and hopes that pupils and friends past and present will be able to celebrate this important event with them.

For further information, please contact

the Admissions Department on - 01924 885245

Silcoates School Wrenthorpe, Wakefield WF2 0PD