Pocklington School

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William Wilberforce 250: A celebration of his life

Pupil dressed in period clothing stands at lectern in All Saints' Church Pocklington

Pupils and staff at Pocklington School were honoured to take part in a special event to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of former pupil, William Wilberforce (1771-1776), to the town of Pocklington. The event was organised jointly by the Friends of All Saints’ Church Pocklington, Pocklington School and the Pocklington Local History Group.

William Wilberforce came to Pocklington as a 12-year old boy in November 1771. He spent the next five years living with the Pocklington School headmaster, the Rev Kingsman Baskett and his family, in the schoolhouse on West Green. It is clear from his childhood writings that he was already developing an abhorrence of slavery by his early teens. From Pocklington, William Wilberforce went on to head not just the anti-slavery movement, but also to play a leading role in over 40 other good causes. He was a founder of the RSPCA, and campaigned for schools and hospitals to be free. He supported the building of canals, pressed for better conditions for child chimney sweeps and better pay for church curates.

The event, held in All Saints’ Church Pocklington, which Wilberforce attended regularly during his years in the town, focused on his life in Pocklington in the 1770s. The programme included a talk about Wilberforce and his time at Pocklington School by history group chairman and former pupil, Phil Gilbank (67-74), and a reading by current Pocklington School Lower Sixth pupil, Henry Hudson. Henry dressed in character to read an essay Wilberforce wrote aged 14 in 1774, in which he says: "How he is shocked by viewing one part of the world, seemingly made only to furnish slaves for the other."

To celebrate Wilberforce’s love of poetry and singing, guests heard readings from the Vicar of Pocklington, Rev Jake Belder, Pocklington School Deputy Head (Pastoral), Martin Davies, the School's Director of External Relations, Sheena McNamee, and Pocklington Town Crier, Geoff Sheasby. The programme included a recital of poetry from 'The Pocklington Poet', William Hickington, who overlapped with Wilberforce in Pocklington, and wrote about life in the town in the 1760s and 1770s. The Pocklington Celebration Singers provided choral entertainment and there was a small exhibition about Wilberforce and his local links.

Toby Seth, Pocklington School Headmaster commented: "We are proud of our long-standing association with William Wilberforce and to this day continue to support this strong stance against inequality, racism and discrimination in all its forms. Our Foundation Values of Courage, Truth and Trust are emblematic of this approach and we are delighted to have been able to be involved in celebrating his incredible contribution to history."

Photo: Pocklington School Lower Sixth pupil, Henry Hudson, reading one of William Wilberforce's schoolboy essays