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Blue Coat For All

The Blue Coat School was extremely proud to receive a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to undertake its innovative music and social project, called Blue Coat For All, focused on the restoration of our historic pipe organ.

The Blue Coat For All project successfully restored the school’s rare, museum quality 1874-5-built Father Willis organ with its £180,600 National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. Now sounding as good as new and fully functional again, the organ was unveiled at a special Celebratory Concert in January 2020, exactly a year after the project was launched. With its revived rich, Victorian ‘voice’ ideal for choral accompaniment, it will become the heart of regular public concerts for the first time in the recently refurbished Shirley Hall, the school assembly hall. The project also included forming a 55-member Community Choir to perform at the Celebratory Concert, digitally cataloguing the School Archive (making it publicly accessible on a new dedicated website which will be launched in Spring 2021), developing a community outreach initiative with local primary and specialist schools, plus an Oral History programme to record Old Blues’ school memories (shared with National Museums Liverpool).

A spin-off project has been the creation of the new Blue Coat School Organ Scholarship, which was launched by two scholars in 2019 and funded via YOST, the Young Organ Scholars’ Trust, thanks to sponsorship by a Liverpool businessman. It is planned to make places annually available on this five-year course and eventually open the scholarship to applicants from other schools.

Our Pipe Up fundraising appeal to create a Blue Coat For All legacy through the new Blue Coat School Organ Scholarship and to maintain the restored organ raised more than £15,000 by sponsorship of its 1,224 pipes.

Blue Coat Heritage Brochure: The First 300 Years

An insight into our fascinating 300 year history can now be found in one place. Highlights from our new heritage brochure include a pen portrait of Blue Coat’s Founder Bryan Blundell*, the School’s evacuation to Anglesey during the Second World War, as well as photographs documenting Blue Coat School life during the nineteen and twentieth centuries.

To view our new heritage brochure, please click here.

*Following on from a review about how we talk about our history, particularly our Founder Bryan Blundell, we are about to embark on a student-led project to ensure that we talk about our history in a more open and transparent way.

Community Choir 

The new Blue Coat School Community Choir was formed as part of Blue Coat For All with two main aims: a community outreach scheme which would also utilise the restored Father Willis organ and secondly participating in the Celebratory Concert to unveil the organ to the public.

In total 83 members signed up to the choir, which far exceeded the initial goal of 30 people to make it feasible. The choir was led by Old Blue and Director of Music at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Dr Chris McElroy who ably demonstrated his expertise in bringing out the best in people. The accompanists were the outstanding Blue Coat music student Daniel Greenway (now Liverpool Cathedral Organ Scholar) and Old Blue Tim Harvey.

The emphasis was as much on enthusiasm as musical ability and the choir attracted a wide range of ages and abilities, who thoroughly enjoyed its social aspect. A regular weekly attendance of at least 50-plus members ensured that the choir was in great voice for its contribution to the Celebratory Concert, in January 2020, when it joined forces with the School Senior Choir.

The joint choirs, numbering 120 voices, book-ended the concert with terrific performances, opening with Parry and Blakes’s Jerusalem and closinging with a rousing rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, conducted by Dr McElroy and accompanied by Daniel Greenway.

The Community Choir exceeded its contribution to the Blue Coat For All project’s outreach brief, to encourage wider engagement with the School and share opportunities with the wider public.

Oral History

The Oral History project has been a ground-breaking outreach event which has recorded for the first time the reminiscences, memories, thoughts and feelings of Old Blues dating from the 1920s to the 1980s.

During this period the school has undergone an enormous transformation from being the Blue Coat Hospital, aimed at giving education, bed and board to poor or orphaned boys and girls, through to the present high-powered academic state grammar Blue Coat School that it is today.

This period described by Old Blue participants encompassed the School’s evolution through wartime evacuation to Beaumaris, Anglesey, change into an all-boys’ school, bringing in day pupils, abandoning its dormitory status after nearly 280 years, reintroducing girls into the Sixth Form in 1989 and then readmitting girls back into all years from 2002 The roll has risen from a few hundred students in the late 1940s to nearly 1,200 in 2020.

Without these recordings, made with the help of professional oral historian Christine Gibbons and in association with National Museums Liverpool (NML), the Old Blues’ very personal reflections on Blue Coat School’s ambience and impact would have been lost forever.

Initially, in the summer of 2019 we welcomed back around 30 Old Blues to join us at a series of reminiscence sessions encouraging Old Blues to share their memories of their time at the School with our current students. Then a further 20 Old Blues from all over the UK, who were unable to attend the sessions, were interviewed by telephone.

The recordings are a priceless and very candid insight into the School at various times and will be made accessible to the public on the new dedicated Blue Coat School Archive website and through NML, in 2021.

Organ Restoration

Blue Coat School’s rare and historic 1875-built Father Willis pipe organ starred in a Celebratory Concert at Shirley Hall in January 2020 to mark its return after a restoration lasting 10 months. A dominant fixture for 113 years in the school’s assembly hall, the organ was dismantled in February 2019 by the original builders, Henry Willis & Sons, and taken to its workshops in Islington, Liverpool, for a complete restoration.

The organ’s rarity is a combination of its high-quality construction and design, plus the fact it has never been rebuilt to fit some musical fashion during its 145-year lifespan. The organ was originally installed in the old city centre school buildings (now Bluecoat arts centre) and was brought to the new school premises when it relocated in 1906.

Six staff from Henry Willis & Sons – the company which built the organ 145 years ago – arrived at the School and during three days in February 2019 the 1,224 pipes and nearly 9,000 other parts were unscrewed, unhinged, undone and uploaded into vans. Reinstallation began in the 2019 autumn term. Tuning and ‘settlement’ took several months as its various component materials – wood, leather and metal – reacclimatised to Shirley Hall’s atmosphere.

David Wyld, managing director of Henry Willis & Sons, said: “The restoration went well. This is a high-quality instrument which has now regained its authentic Victorian voice. We’ve put the organ back into a state so when it’s restored again in 50 years’ time people will think it’s never been changed.”

Mr Wyld said an inscription was found on the bellows dated 1875. This contradicts the organ’s memorial brass plaque which reads: In loving remembrance of James Hardy Macrae, Easter Day, April 5, 1874. He said: “This means the organ is probably a year younger than we thought, as the plaque could date from when the Macrae family ordered the organ for the School. This could be a lucky find as our surviving letter books date from 1875 and could give us further information on the organ’s history.”

For the first time in decades, the organ’s original, rich Victorian voice once again sounds as intended by its designer by Henry Willis I and is especially suited to accompanying choirs. The Celebratory Concert in January 2020 featured the internationally renowned organist Prof Ian Tracey (who was taught on this organ), the new Blue Coat School Community Choir and the School Senior Choir. Plans involve a much higher profile for the organ with a series of public concerts for the first time. Also, external choral societies and music groups will be welcomed to use the organ for their rehearsals and concerts.

To maximise the organ’s new lease of life and create an appropriate legacy, the Blue Coat Organ Scholarship was launched with two students embarking on the five-year course of tuition, sponsored by a Liverpool businessman via the Young Organ Scholars’ Trust. This will create a national impact as the scholarship is in partnership with the two Liverpool cathedrals and also uses the School Chapel Walker 1906 organ, making it unsurpassed anywhere else in the UK. It will also make an impact nationally by addressing the chronic shortage of organists and also encouraging female students to enter what is a male-dominated sector of music.

Our Blue Coat For All Supporters

Our thanks go to everyone who has generously supported our Blue Coat For All project, including:

  • National Lottery Heritage Fund
  • EMI Music Sound Foundation
  • The Hilda and Doris Farmer Trust
  • Margaret Wethered Charitable Trust
  • The Pilgrim Trust
  • The Rushworth Trust

To find out more about Blue Coat For All and how you can get involved please contact us at