Percival's Pioneering Spirit

Three threads in Percival's liberal radicalism have had a permanent effect on the shaping of Clifton. The first was his attitude to his pupils. In his memorandum to his assistant masters appear these surprising words:

It is of great importance to the life of the school that there should be as little as possible of a barrier between masters and boys; that our relations with them should be not so much professional as those of friends...

These were liberal sentiments indeed for a school catering for Victorian parents.

Lionel Cohen

The second permanent legacy of Percival's time was the decision to found a Jewish house. The origins of Polack's House were linked with the moves to obtain the College's Royal Charter. Percival sought the help of Lionel Cohen, MP, whom he had got to know when Cohen spent his Whitsun holidays in Bristol. Cohen agreed to help steer a private bill through Parliament, but at the same time encouraged Percival to open a house for Jewish boys at Clifton. He backed the proposal by promising to find sponsors to pay the fees of up to eight Jewish boys, if the house failed to fill all its beds. The future Polack's House opened in 1878 under Mr Heymann, and for more than a century the House has provided Jewish boys with a boarding school education in a great public school - without separating them from the cultural environment and religious observances of a Jewish home. From 1890 to 1979 the House was presided over by four members of the Polack family: Joseph (1890-1923), Albert (1923-1949), Philip (1949-1964) and Ernest (1964-1979) (pictured below). It is a remarkable record.

Four generations: Philip, Ernest and Albert Polack with the portrait of Joseph

During those years, Polack's House has educated sons of many of the best-known families in Anglo-Jewry. One such family, the Waley-Cohens, not only provided a father and son whose service on the College Council spanned (between them) half a century, but also presented Polack's with the building they occupied in Percival Road. The House's synagogue was added in 1973.

A third thread in Clifton's liberal-radical tradition had been the emphasis given to the teaching of science. Read more on the Science at Clifton page.

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