Gary Rycroft column

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.
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As Skerton School closes this week after 80 years serving the local community, another Lancaster School is this year celebrating 150 years.

My great grandfather Tom Norbury attended Ripley in the 1880’s when it was known as Ripley Hospital, a charitable institution for orphans, or if not fully orphaned children who had at least lost their father, seen by Victorians saw as the vital bread winner in the family.

He and his brother were sent there by their mother after their father died, leaving her with numerous other children to feed.

Ripley Hospital was founded by Mrs Julia Ripley in memory of her husband Thomas, who was a native of Lancaster and became a “Merchant Prince” in Liverpool.

Before his death Thomas cherished the desire to benefit his native town by setting up a charity.

He made a Will to this effect but then received legal advice that the proposed gift would be useless by an old law known as the Statute of Mortmain, which was framed to prevent property passing in death to charity to the detriment of legal heirs.

Thomas had a legal heir namely Julia, so he made a new Will leaving all to her and then promptly died in 1852. In her widowhood Julia set about bringing her husband’s charitable wishes to fruition. However, not long after a legal challenge intervened.

Thomas’ nieces filed claim in Court to say the gift to Julia was void because Thomas had left Julia a letter of instruction which amounted to a secret trust to found a charity in contravention of the Mortmain Act.

There was indeed a letter, but Julia said it had not been made known to her. The claim by the nieces failed and it is said that when the result of the case became known in Lancaster church bells were rung in jubilation.

Julia carried on with setting up the charity and “hospital” and the Opening Ceremony took place on November 3, 1864 after which there were numerous celebratory dinners, illuminations and a torch light procession on an extensive scale. I hope this year’s “Light Up Lancaster” event in November marks the anniversary somehow.