Courtesy of his daughter, Kathryn Girvin, Harry Eccles worked at Balshaw's as a teacher from 1964-1970.
Harry Eccles was born in Blackburn in the 1930s and grew up in the rural area of Wilpshire. His life was transformed aged eleven, when he gained a place at the local grammar school, (Queen Elizabeth’s) and he then went on to achieve academic success at Oxford University. He became a dedicated teacher and devoted his energies throughout his life to improving the lives of thousands of young people and their families through his work in education; first as a teacher then as a headteacher.
Having consistently done well from his first day at the grammar school, coming top in most subjects, Harry was initially destined to study maths and science at Cambridge. However, he was then struck down by tuberculosis of the hip bone at the end of his third year and had to be admitted to the large orthopaedic hospital at Wrightington with the prospect of having to remain bed-bound for up to five years (if he survived!). Harry initially had to put all thoughts of a university education to one side, but he continued to read and study what he could while strapped to his bedframe for 18 months unable to move. During this difficult time, he learned about the importance of human kindness and developed patience and resilience.
Miraculously, thanks to the start of the national health service and the availability of new drugs, his life was saved, and after the slow and painful process of learning to stand and walk again, he was able to leave hospital at the end of two years. He had lost his right hip joint, the bones of which had had to be fused – the only surgical option available at that time. This left him with one leg significantly shorter than the other and a life-long limp. Harry eventually returned to school, where he had missed the fourth and fifth forms and so had to go directly into the sixth.
Encouraged by his form teacher, he was still determined to apply for a place at Oxford, despite having missed so much schooling. Much to his delight and gratitude, he was successful, being also awarded the state scholarship which made it all possible. He then studied Modern Languages – French, Spanish and Portuguese, and after his degree, completed his PGCE to go into teaching.
Harry had met his wife Margaret at a dance at King Georges Hall in Blackburn in 1953. He wrote that she was a bonny girl with bright eyes and a lovely smile, but most importantly “she actually lived on the way home” and as a result he ended up walking her home.
Margaret and Harry wrote to one another two or three times every week during Harry’s time at Exeter College, Oxford. They became engaged during the 1955 Commemoration Ball, on a bench in the college garden overlooking the Radcliffe Camera, which has been a focus of regular pilgrimages with their children and grandchildren over the years.
They married in 1958 and lived in Oxford while Harry completed his PGCE. Harry’s tutor, Harold Loukes, did much to shape Harry’s views on teaching, starting his lectures by making it clear what really mattered was the love you had for the pupils. If that was not central to your thinking, there was no point becoming a teacher. This was in accordance with the biblical text 1 Corinthians 12:31 which had always been significant in Harry’s life, but which became a guiding principle; “if I have no love I am nothing”.
Harry’s first teaching post was at Wallasey Grammar School, and he quickly realised he had found what he wanted to do in life. Harry and Margaret settled in Wallasey and had their three children. It was a very happy time although there was anxiety when their youngest child was born with a severe learning disability.
Harry soon started developing his own educational philosophy and teaching ideas. In 1964, he was delighted to move on to Balshaw’s Grammar School, Leyland, to be head of department (Modern Languages). Harry was appointed as deputy headteacher at Ashton High School, Preston, in 1970 and subsequently became headteacher there for 21 years.
Harry believed in teaching with understanding and kindness and was the first headteacher in Preston to stop the use of corporal punishment. He created a special award “For kindness” as he believed it was something to aspire to and something that everyone could achieve whatever their circumstances.
He believed a school should be at the heart of its community and he was always a passionate advocate for the school and its pupils. Harry made a point of knowing all his pupils and their families by name and, having an amazing memory, remembered them all with fondness until the end.
When Harry died, aged 84, twenty-five years after he retired, there was an outpouring of affection for him from former pupils and colleagues which would have amazed but also delighted him; to know he had not been forgotten but indeed had been appreciated far more than he knew or expected.