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Building of the Month - July 2007

Tate School, Wygram Place, TOWNPARKS (Saint John's) Td., Wexford, County Wexford

Tate School, Wexford 01 - Reprsentative View 

Figure 1: A view of Tate School the "charity school" bequeated by William Tate (d. 1795/6), a Wexford-born Jamaican sugar plantation owner.  Belatedly erected to a design by Sanham Symes (1807-94), at that time Architect to the Bank of Ireland (appointed 1854), the school shows many qualities in common with his contemporary banks in Arklow (1868), County Wicklow, and Enniscorthy (1878-80), including a construction in vibrant red rick supplied by Courtown Brick and Tile Works with contrasting silver-grey granite dressings

The legacy of purpose-built schools in Wexford dates back to the first years of the nineteenth century.  Writing in 1837 Samuel Lewis makes reference to a host of such schools, a number of which survive in recognisable form today: the Diocesan School for the See of Ferns (1800) in Spa Well Road, repurposed as two houses in the later nineteenth century; the Poor School (1809); Saint Peter's College (1818) in Summerhill Road; the Parochial Free School (1824) supported by the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity, now also in residential use and largely hidden from public view behind a high wall in Patrick's Square; and an Infants' School (1830).

William Tate (d. 1795/6), a Wexford-born Jamaican sugar plantation owner, had his will drawn up in 1792.  A codicil added in 1794 stated that the sale of two plantations and a house was to achieve no less than £10,000 and that that capital was to be invested in a "charity school" in Wexford for as many pupils as could be admitted; girls were to be admitted on the same terms as boys.  In a personal statement of religious tolerance, Tate also stipulated that any child of any religious persuasion should be considered eligible for admittance.  In fact, parents were to be given the option to withdraw their child from any and all religious instruction.  A further codicil, however, bequeathed grazing rights for the lifetime of some named tenants and it was therefore not until 1859 that the Court of Chancery could make an order to execute the will.

A dispute quickly ensued as arguments were made that Catholic students had recently benefited from the National School system but that comparable facilities for Protestant children were lacking.  As the Board of Governors was composed primarily of Church of Ireland representatives – the Archdeacon of Ferns, the rector, two churchwardens – it was decreed that the school would permit Protestant pupils only.  A further order by the Court of Chancery in 1863 dictating that the school be run as a boarding and day school for mature male pupils only quashed the second of Tate's two explicit stipulations.

A site bordering Windmill Hill having been purchased from George Waldron, plans for the new school were obtained from Sandham Symes (1807-94) of Dublin, at that time Architect to the Bank of Ireland (appointed 1854).  Begun in 1864, and completed in 1866 at a cost of £1,650, the school was opened in 1867.  Leftover capital was lodged with the Commissioners of Donations and Charitable Bequests, a government agency, the interest accrued to be assigned to general expenses, maintenance, and the master's salary.  The interest did not grow, however, setting in motion a tale of financial mismanagement that was to dog the school for its entire existence.

A "charity school" deemed impractical, fees for day students were introduced although boarding students continued to be tutored for free.  A charter in 1893, however, proposed to increase revenue through four different avenues: Tate's bequest; donations from government agencies; a list of subscribers; and fees from boarding students.  The last was not pursued.  Girls were admitted only in 1909 when student numbers began to dwindle but by 1923 the school's finances were such that the number of free boarders had been reduced from four to one.  In 1942, when the roll totalled just fifteen students and the then-serving headmaster resigned, the idea was first mooted by two of the governors to close the school.

In the interim, an arrangement was made with the Corporation to lease the lawns in front of the school for use as a landfill for rubble and town refuse: too little of the former and too much of the latter soon resulted in a foul smelling quagmire.  Later still the lawns were leased to an amusements company: the funfair, however, was loud, continued on after midnight, and affected the sleep of what little boarders remained at the school.

Fundraising was deemed necessary in 1943 as, without it, it was estimated the school would soon be beyond saving.  Aware that many of the townspeople made an uncorroborated connection between William Tate and Tate and Lyle, the renowned sugar company, the governors made a request for corporate sponsorship.  The request was refused.

A slight upturn in numbers meant that the roll book in 1946 totalled thirty pupils: yet, at least forty were needed to make the school viable.  In a double feat of desperation, the governors not only considered reopening as a coeducational primary boarding school – Tate's original intention – but also issued a prospectus describing the facilities in terms akin to a modern resort:

The building was designed and built from its foundations as a school.  No part of it is an adaption of another edifice.  Its accommodation is therefore suited to its purpose, and the lay-out is admirable.  The rooms are commodious, the ceilings lofty, the lighting generous, and the ventilation good…  The school is situated on a rising ground behind the Town, with a delightful prospect over the Harbour and Bay, and [has] every advantage of the sea and land breezes.  The choice of many pleasant walks is at the door…

The promotional campaign proving unsuccessful a decision was made in 1949 to close the school.  A proposal to repurpose the school as apartments proving too costly the site was offered for sale to the Corporation, then contemplating a new town hall in Redmond Place.  Yet, in a recurring pattern, it was not until 1957 that further legal wrangles were cleared to accommodate the sale.  Sold by Wexford Town Council to the Courts Services in 2007 a proposal to redevelop the grounds as the new Wexford Courthouse has thus far met with disapproval from local residents conscious of the importance of the school in the architectural heritage of the town.

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