In a dusty corner of the music department storeroom there lies a battered old instrument case. Inside, is a rather splendid Boosey and Hawkes wooden flute dating from the mid-1930s. Attached to the mouthpiece is a little silver badge that records that the flute was a gift from Lieutenant-Colonel Porritt to the 4/5th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.
Austin Townsend Porritt was born in Bury in 1876. He was the son of the Lancashire textile manufacturer Richard Porritt. The Porritts were an enormously wealthy and influential family and their legacy is still felt in the town of Ramsbottom, for in 1928 they donated Nuttall Park for the enjoyment of the local population. Austin Towsend Porritt attended Rossall School from 1885 until 1891. The 1891 census records his presence as a pupil here. Upon leaving school, Austin joined the family business and he also became a territorial officer, serving in the Lancashire regiment. After the outbreak of the First World War, he was tasked with raising the 2/5th East Lancashire Regiment which was sent to France. The men whom he recruited were lacking in experience and Austin worked extremely hard to get them into shape. He was afforded the privilege of accompanying the battalion to France but he did not stay for long because he was invalided home before the end of 1917. At the end of the war, he was to observe that, ‘my dear old battalion is now extinct and the N.C.O.s and the men are scattered amongst the other battalions of the East Lancashire Regiment.’
In 1932, Austin was appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire and he became Honorary Colonel of the 4/5th Battalion of the East Lancs Regiment. Austin’s son Richard attended Marlborough College before going up to Cambridge in 1929. Richard was elected MP for Heywood and Radcliffe in 1935 at the age of just twenty four. Tragedy struck when Richard was killed during the retreat towards Dunkirk in June 1940. Not only was he one of the youngest MPs in the House of Commons, but he was also the first serving MP to be killed during the Second World War – although his death was swiftly followed by that of his fellow MP Ronald Cartland (the brother of the prolific romantic novelist and Princess Diana’s future step-grandmother, Barbara Cartland).
Austin Townsend Porritt lived on until 1956. He was a leading light in the civic, military, ceremonial and industrial life of the county of Lancashire. He is remembered with great affection in Cumbria and was a generous benefactor to the town of Grange-Over-Sands where for a number of years he served as chairman of the council. Both his wife and his only son predeceased him. When he died, he left over a million pounds (the equivalent of over £23 million at today’s worth) and a third of this was given directly to Rossall. Porritt Hall is named after him. He bequeathed Yewbarrow Lodge and its surrounding land to the people of Grange and the gardens are still enjoyed by visitors and townsfolk to this day.
The flute bequeathed by Austin to the 4/5th Battalion found its way to Rossall at some point in time. It is of little monetary value but it is in fine working condition and provides a tangible link with the past. Boosey and Hawkes mass produced instruments like this during the 1930s but it is reasonably rare to find one in as good condition as this one. Of course, this instrument was made to be played and it would be wonderful for it to enjoy a new lease of life rather than simply gathering dust in the music storeroom.
Rossall has benefitted from the extraordinary generosity of many benefactors throughout its history. Austin Townsend Porritt’s long life provides an outstanding example of service. Throughout his life, he served, king, country, county and, of course, his beloved alma mater. The wars of the twentieth century exacted a terrible toll upon his family and the men he recruited to fight in the 2nd Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. At the end of his life, the bequests that he made served to enrich the lives of many people in Lancashire and Cumbria. His surviving letters suggest that he was a man of immense kindness and he deserves to be remembered as one of Rossall’s finest sons.
Headmaster of Rossall School