Giant Places:
Wrekin College

The economic boom that followed the coming of the railways to Wellington in 1849 created a new class of wealthy suburban dwellers with upwardly mobile aspirations. By the end of the 1800s, the town had more state schools than any other place in Shropshire but the desire to create a private institution led to the creation of a new foundation that would add a new chapter to the local cultural legacy.

A Constitutional

Wellington College was founded in 1880 (the name change to Wrekin took place in the early 1920s) when local headmaster John Bayley left his job at Constitution Hill Board School to establish a private foundation just round the corner in Albert Road. Bayley, who began with just five pupils, and a pair of semi-detached houses, was heavily supported in his endeavour by the town’s burgeoning mercantile classes. Consequently, and within just a few decades, he was able to develop most of the campus we see today. Bayley was the son of a mining engineer and began his career as a pupil-teacher, so perhaps it was unsurprising that — in terms of Wellington’s cultural legacy — the pathway to success for the school’s first notable ex-student had much in common with his own.

Wrekin Collage
Where it all began: the birthplace of Wrekin College in Albert Road, Wellington
Constitution Hill Board School
The former Constitution Hill Board School

Mutual Improvements

By the 1920s Doctor Samuel Parkes Cadman was carving out an impressive dual-career as one of the world’s leading congregational ministers and a pioneering radio broadcaster. At the height of his fame, the theologian and writer was speaking directly to millions of Americans everyday but his success was a far cry from his humble origins as an east Shropshire mineworker. While he was among Bayley’s star pupils at Constitution Hill, he was not among the quintet that followed him to the new school but, nevertheless, their paths would cross again. Bayley was a passionate advocate for further education and Cadman’s passage through theological college would be funded by his former headmaster. It seems Cadman did not forget his roots either, and returned to the newly-named Wrekin in 1928, where he talked in the Chapel and “spoke to his audience as though everyone there was his intimate friend” according to longstanding college teacher and biographer BCW Johnson.

Ice Cold In Wellington

Wrekin’s contribution to Wellington’s cultural legacy took a decided theatrical turn in the mid-1920s when Harry Andrews attended the institution. One of the leading character actors of his generation, he was perhaps best known for his portrayal of Sergeant major Tom Pugh in the classic war movie Ice Cold In Alex (1958) but was rarely out of work during a four-decade long career. In all, he appeared in some eighty films, including 55 Days in Peking, Moby Dick and Superman. He would not be the last major acting talent to pass through the college either, the alumni of which also include James Faulkner, who attended between 1961 and ’66 and took part in every school play during that time.  His film and television credits include I Claudius, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Game of Thrones. Neither Andrews’ nor Faulkner’s pathway to success was distinguished by great academic success, a trait shared by another Wrekin student who would make an even bigger impression on the world stage

Wrekin College main building
The main building at Wrekin College

And Now For The Wrekin I Hate

Brian Epstein arrived on campus in 1948 for a two-year stay that was notable for culminating in his transition from full-time education to working in the Liverpool-based family business — a career path that would eventually lead him to become a music impresario and manager of The Beatles. Epstein had passed through at least half a dozen private faculties before reaching Shropshire, and documented the process in his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise, as “one by one” the great public schools of England turned him down! Finally, his father was able to secure him a place at Wrekin “a well-known public school with a reputation for producing executives and successful leaders of one kind or another.”

Brian Epstein at Wrekin
Brian Epstein at Wrekin (seventh from the right, top row)

While he would reflect positively on his time there in later years, his diary entries paint a largely unhappy picture; “I didn’t like it nor it me”! However, his Wrekin years did uncover a talent for acting (Epstein would later study briefly at RADA) and art, leading him to the epiphany that he should become a dress designer. Sadly, for Epstein, his parents disagreed and in September 1950 he took his place at their Walton furniture and musical instrument store. The final word should perhaps go, once again to BCW Johnson, who observed “there was nothing very outstanding about Brian but I always thought he was a very shrewd boy.”

To read more about Brian Epstein’s time at Wrekin, click here, and for a profile of the life of S Parkes Cadman follow this link