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Writer AN Wilson tells how a school newspaper stopped Rugby estate’s demolition

Author recalls role of The Meteor in the campaign to save Bloomsbury school buildings

04 May, 2017 — By Steve Barnett

AN Wilson with deputy mayor Richard Cotton

AUTHOR A N Wilson has revealed how, when he was a schoolboy, he stopped an idyllic estate in Bloomsbury worth millions of pounds from “being demolished” and turned into flats.

The Camden Town-based writer was among the special guests who gathered in Rugby Street on Friday to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the funding of his alma mater, Rugby School in Warwickshire. The event saw the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for Lawrence Sheriff, a grocer who, upon his death, left £50 to build a school in Rugby, and the eight acres of land in Bloomsbury.

Those eight acres are now known as the Rugby estate, and comprise much of Lambs Conduit Street, Rugby Street and part of Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury.

An old Rugbeian, Mr Wilson took to the stage to reveal how, as “a boiling little communist”, he played a key role in saving his school’s estate. “I’m so ancient that I can remember Her Majesty the Queen coming to Rugby School 50 years ago when I was the editor of the school newspaper, The Meteor,” he recalled. “There was a headline the next day in the Daily Express which said , ‘Schoolboy Red’ – that’s me – ‘Wrecks Queen’s Visit’. It was because I had written a leader that public schools should be abolished, and that the school should be handed over to the state.”

He added: “The next edition of The Meteor had a real scoop, which was that the school governors, (unlike the chairman of the governors today, Lucinda Holmes, who we are lucky enough to have with us today), was a complete bloody idiot and wanted to sell this estate.”

Rugby School drum corps played as part of the celebrations

Mr Wilson added: “What would have happened to it is it would, of course, have been demolished and all these wonderful terraces would have been demolished and turned into blocks of flats. They were going to spend the money in the usual stupid way, which committees always do when they spend money, i.e. waste it. Luckily, one of the governors leaked it to the school newspaper, and we leaked it to the national press and we managed to stop the selling of this wonderful estate.”

A crowd gathered in Rugby Street to see the plaque unveiled

Mr Wilson also got the chance to play a sideways pass to Camden’s deputy mayor, Councillor Richard Cotton, as part of The Global Pass, an Olympic Torch-style journey in which a rugby ball is passed by Rugbeians in as many different countries as possible as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations. Rents from the properties within the Rugby Estate go towards funding children from the borough to attend Rugby School.

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