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UK King James I Grammar School (Laurel and Hardy Special), Bishop Auckland - September 2016

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History

“Boys at King James had to war gorgeous uniforms of red and gold, and these were expensive… It had to be worn at all times outside school, and if we happened to pass one of the masters in the street, we had to salute him by touching the cap” (Alan Scott, former school attendee). 

In 1604, a widow named Anne Swyfte of Durham City, presented a petition to the King of England. She petitioned for the founding of a grammar school in North Auckland. The King, in his efforts to advocate royal absolutism, quickly agreed and on 12th April 1604 conferred the Royal Seal of approval, alongside a grant of £10 year to the Governors. Although the school was founded in 1604, as the funding acquired had to accumulate, the school that stands today was not built until 1864. Designed by Thomas Austin of Newcastle, the first rooms were a house and schoolroom. Further extensions were added by the same architect in 1873/4. The large two storey front block was constructed in 1897, in a Gothic Revival style using thin course of squared stone with ashlar plinth, quoins and dressings and a slate roof. The main entrance had steps leading up to a double doored entrance; a large carved stoned was positioned above this with the inscription Schola Regia ad 1605 Aucklandensis. 

In 1902, Arthur Stanley Jefferson (Laurel of Laurel and Hardy) attended King James I Grammar School. Since his parents were actors and therefore travelled a great deal, Laurel was sent to live with his grandmother for many years in the north east of England. He later moved to Glasgow and finished his education at Rutherglen Academy. It is rumoured that there is a 20th century plaque commemorating Laurel somewhere on the front of the main building. 

Currently, there are concerns among local residents and the council that the former school, which was severely damaged in an arson attack in 2007, has been left to rot. Many have argued that the council need to do more to prevent the listed building from becoming irreparable. As with any historic building though, there have been complications with several restoration projects that have been proposed. It is hoped that various fundraising activities will allow the Stan Laurel Community Building Group to take ownership of the school. However, as it is estimated to cost around £2 million to complete the project, the building continues to stand abandoned, with a metal fence, scaffolding and tarpaulin surrounding it. 

“The size of the challenge is immense, but that doesn’t mean to say it isn’t worth doing. I know how everybody feels about this building, so I say good luck to you” (Councillor Charlie Kay). 

Our Version of Events

It was late, and we already felt pretty fucked, but we’d been putting off having a look at King James I Grammar School for a long time. Now, stood outside the front gates we realised precisely why we’d been putting this place off for so long. It looks just as fucked as us. Nevertheless, as the legendary Laurel attended the school, we wanted to be able to say we’d walked along the same corridors as he had. Waiting until the coast was clear, one by one we hopped the fences surrounding the rotting building. From there it wasn’t difficult to find a way inside; anyone taking a look from the outside will see why.

Inside, the building looked even worse. We walked, tentatively, across the first room, after realising that most of the floorboards were so decayed they crumbled beneath our feet. It was mainly decomposing carpet that constituted the floor now. With each step a bittersweet stench stung our nostrils; strangely nostalgic and repellent at the same time, the odour hung heavily throughout the room. Further into the school, it was obvious that the entire structure was in a sorry looking state and, other than peeling wallpaper, crumbling fireplaces and stained toilets, there was very little by way of visual stimuli. None of this mattered though. After all, it is likely Arthur Stanley Jefferson had walked through these very rooms. 

Determined to reach the top floor, we continued with our slow pace. None of us suddenly fancied plummeting through the floor. Thankfully, the stairs, which were caked in years of grime and shit, were made of stone and concrete, so they seemed much more durable than anything else we’d seen so far. Step by step, we ascended to the uppermost floor of the school. There was no doubt about it, this was clearly where the fire had been back in 2007. A large metal support structure filled the entire room, and above we could see a large white tarp, clearly covering a gaping hole were a slate titled roof should have been. Fearing this floor more than the others we’d encountered, we decided to stick to the sides of the room as we made our way across. There was no real reason why we needed to wander around up here, but since Laurel had been here it seemed worth it. With the sound of Dance of the Cuckoos ringing in our ears, we thought we’d take a chance, doing a dance, because, well, I’m a cuckoo and you’re a cuckoo. Laa-laa-laa-laa-la la. And, now all the folks have gone wild, it’s time to bring this report to an end. 

As with all explores, an extraordinary amount of courage, or perhaps it was impatience, blanketed us. Needless to say, it took a fraction of the time to get back out. The taste of the fresh night air smelled good against our nostrils as we stepped back onto the cracked, chewing gum coated, pavement of Bishop Auckland. A couple of scummy looking chavs wandered past, stopping only to ask if we had a light. We didn’t, so they continued on their way, but not before Mayhem shouted after them, “Nice trackies, bruv, they match your trainers.” And with that, oh what a howdy-do. It is because two funny chaps taught them all something new?

Explored with Ford Mayhem and Rizla Rider. 
 

King James I Grammar School

 

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King James Postcard

 

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Laurel of Laurel and Hardy

 

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Few of those are a little bit over processed for my liking, calm down on the sliders. ;)  

 

Looks like an interesting building, if a little trashed. 

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