The Burton Service: 1921 – 2021
Usually at this time of year, with the Easter break on the horizon, our Schools would be readying themselves for the annual Burton Service that takes place on the final morning of term – a commemoration of the establishment of the Schools and celebration of the acknowledged founder, Thomas Burton.
Thomas Burton, a wealthy local wool merchant, set aside endowments in his will, dated 12 June 1494, to provide income for masses to be said for his soul by a chantry priest in All Saints Parish Church, Loughborough. Such priests often conducted schools and so the very first teaching to take place in our ‘school’ may well have been in the room over the south porch of the Church. Ralph Lemyington was the executor of Thomas Burton’s will and he made the creditable decision to direct excess profits from the land and property Burton had left into the School, helping it to thrive and prosper. Thus, Thomas Burton is regarded as the Founder of the Schools and Ralph Lemyngton’s foresight is recognised with the Schools adopting his shield as their own from 1553.
An early source from the archive records that the first Founder’s Day was held in 1878. The date chosen was that of 12 June, when the original deed was signed and declared the ‘day of the year we honour our Founder by showing that his goodness is neither forgotten nor unappreciated’. The format of those early Founder’s Days consisted of a special assembly followed by a half day holiday, which in later years consisted of taking the whole school to Matlock.
In 1918, George W Briggs, who had attended the School from 1891 to 1893 before winning a Scholarship to Emmanuel College Cambridge, became Rector of the Parish Church in Loughborough (now All Saints with Holy Trinity, Loughborough) and he suggested the evolution to a much grander occasion there. On the morning of Sunday 5 June 1921, the whole town was invited to join the Schools in a special service held in the ‘tastefully decorated’ Parish Church in what is acknowledged as the first Burton Service. By all accounts, there was a very impressive turn out which included many local dignitaries.
In 1923, as well as writing the School Hymn, Briggs also instigated a sense of ecumenism within the ceremony by initiating alternate venues each year – the Parish Church one year, one of the local free churches the next, with an Anglican preaching in the Free Church and a Free Churchman preaching in the Parish Church. There are records of the use of the Leicester Road Wesleyan Church and the Woodgate Baptist Church being used alongside the Parish Church, with Baxter Gate Baptist Church being included in the 1960s.
In an acknowledgment of the birthplace of the Schools, a traditional service of Holy Communion has always taken place in the early morning of the celebratory day (although more recently this has taken place the day before the Burton Service), open to the extended School community. Its popularity has waxed and waned, although in recent years it seemed to have become an important fixture on the Year 13’s calendar, followed as it is by a rather hearty breakfast back at school! Once held within the Burton Chapel itself (a side Chapel at the Parish Church, also created by Briggs), numbers have seen it spilling over and a move into the main body of the Parish Church necessary. Likewise, until 1956, parents, friends and alumni joined the schools to celebrate in the main afternoon service, before the growing Schools filled it themselves. The Burton Service was accommodated within one church until 1975 when an ‘overflow’ service had to be conducted at Emmanuel Church. These days, it takes two local churches as well as Hodson Hall, Eadon Hall and Amherst Chapel to accommodate the whole student and staff body!
Although the key components of this Founder’s Day remain constant, other traditions have come and gone. From the 1920s well into the 1950s, records specifically mention the laying of a wreath by the Head Boy and Girl at the memorial in the Burton Chapel. It seems a School’s Bell-Ringing Society was established for the 1961 Burton Service, being revived at later points in that decade to mark the occasion. And there is mention of the 1970 Burton Service taking place in the morning (rather than the usual afternoon) in order to enable the students ‘to go out on expeditions’. Another morning service facilitated an afternoon cricket match between staff and students that was hoped would become a new tradition but does not seem to have been repeated – yet!
Over the years, the Burton Service has gradually shifted forward in the school year, from a date close to 12 June, to May, and ultimately to the last day of the Easter term. In a triumph of staff organisational and management skill, students from across the schools are now seamlessly funnelled in various directions across site and the centre of Loughborough, to celebrate the occasion with their counterparts in the same year group and stage of school in five different locations. George Briggs once expressed his desire for the Burton Service to be a unifying experience and certainly this has become a very distinct date in the calendar when the Schools truly mix and gather together with one clear focus.
2020 was the first year since it began that the Burton Service was unable to take place despite logistics primed, talks written and service sheets printed. Sadly, the first lockdown beat us to the most significant School gathering of that year – Friday 27 March.
This year, rather than lose another Burton Service due to the pandemic, schools have opted to take their commemorations online, as they did for Remembrance, and share a pre-recorded Burton assembly, including some elements of the traditional Burton Service, across the Foundation during tutor time on the final day of term, Friday 26 March. This will not be the same as gathering physically with friends from across the Foundation to mark the date, but it is another first in the rich history of this event and will keep everyone connected to the tradition we treasure, until we find ourselves together once more to sing of our ‘Five Hundred Years Enduring’.