J.R. Eccles (1919-1935)

eccles_thumbOne of two men persuaded by Howson to join the emerging ‘new’ School in September 1900, Eccles went on to become a devoted deputy and eventually his successor.

Similarly a straight-talking northerner, he also had liberal and scientific leanings. A bachelor like Howson, he devoted his life to Gresham’s with almost monastic devotion, continuing Howson’s traditions and philosophy. Boys were encouraged to read widely and to study on their own, and the Howson Memorial Library was opened in 1933 to assist them.

Corporal punishment had been rare in Howson’s time, but ceased under Eccles, although being sent to the headmaster was still a terrifying prospect. Obsessed with punctuality and tidiness, particularly picking up litter, he was sometimes the target of boys’ rather unkind humour for his eccentricities. He actively sought bright pupils from distinguished backgrounds, and the 1920s were marked by two such pupils, W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten.

In January 1934 a large gathering of 260 ex-pupils, colleagues and governors celebrated Eccles’100 terms at Gresham’s. A leather-bound illuminated address containing the names of 600 OGs was presented to him along with an embossed silver bowl as tokens of the great respect in which he was held. Sadly, later in that year he was forced to retire due to exhaustion. Eccles’ obituary noted that some had found his ‘innate Puritanism’ rather irksome, yet “none could question his absolute sincerity.”