On Whit Monday, 1875, a muffled church bell was tolled to announce the death of William Thompson Sankey. The news spread quickly to almost universal mourning in Stony Stratford on this holiday because the Reverend Sankey was highly popular and respected.As Oliver Ratcliff writes in his 1900 history, “He can undoubtedly be looked upon as one of the greatest benefactors of Stony Stratford, as he made so many improvements in the town.”
He was only 46 years old and he had died the previous day, May 16th, at his parents home in Dover, so today is an anniversary of sorts. He came from a family of 8 children of whom only two got past the age of 50: an older brother who died at 51 and a sister who lived to the very respectable age of 83. However in his short and energetic life he certainly made a difference to Stony Stratford.
|Some New Street Cottages today|
|The Old School at the end of New Street, later used as Parish Rooms|
Sankey was the second son of William Sankey and Elizabeth Thompson.William Sankey senior was vicar of St James in Dover. Young William went to Oxford and followed in his father’s footsteps. The family was in comfortable middle-class circumstances but they were by no means wealthy. However, when W T Sankey arrived in Stony Stratford in 1859, recently married with a ready-made family in tow, he had money to spend and the ambition to spend it.
I suspect that she had some influence on their decisions. For example, on their arrival in Stony Stratford they rented Wolverton House until the new vicarage was built, possibly because Wolverton House was the only house in the district grand enough to accommodate Mrs Sankey and her family in the style to which they were accustomed. They can be found in the 1861 census with her four children from her previous marriage, her new child with Sankey and four household servants – a lifestyle quite beyond the average small town vicar.
|Drawing of the school frontage in 1864|
|Mr Fegan’s Homes from the North-East|
Fegan managed to acquire the property for £4,500, about one tenth of the original cost of the building. But it was a successful operation and survived until 1961. It has been estimated that over 4,000 boys were housed there and educated in the local schools, all of them characterised by their grey flannel suits. The orphanage was a feature of Victorian Society, being the only effective way in their eyes to care for orphans. Two world wars in the 20th century may have prolonged the life of the orphanage and by the time those orphaned by WWII had passed through Fegan’s society had found other ways of providing for children who had lost their parents.
|St Anthony’s School in the 1960s|
In 1962 the buildings opened as a Roman Catholic preparatory school, known as St Anthony’s. In this guise it lasted for 10 years.
The site is now a commercial and housing development.