Morant Bay High at 50 and Mr Winston Clarke
THIS is a story about a place, a man and a school. The place is Morant Bay, the site of the Bogle 1865 uprising. It was on a Sunday that I went to interview Mr Winston Clarke. This "little man" played a Spartan role in the founding of Morant Bay High School in January 1961. St Thomas was the last parish to have got a high school. I waited for Mr Clarke at his Poinciana Avenue residence in Lyssons. He arrived shortly afterwards in a taxi from Port Morant where he attended the Methodist church from he was a little boy. As he began to speak, I observed that the history of Mr Clarke was also the history of modern Morant Bay -- a situation where biography and history intersects.
Mr Clarke spoke about his experience in school and work in Morant Bay; how he used to pay a small fee to teachers at the primary school for lessons for first and second year exams. And his work experience at McPherson Brothers, a major distribution business located in Morant Bay, with branches in other parts of the parish. He provided a well-needed history of the major ports in Morant Bay and the shipping of sugar and bananas from that town up to 1951. He noted the devastation wreaked by a 1951 storm on the parish's productive capacity. His history of the place reflects a wealth-generating port town with a network of associated businesses. There was indeed a major private sector base in that parish that comprised very wealthy people. During his working hours he had lunch at Mrs Owens' (a Trinidadian) restaurant and it was there that he began to think seriously about a high school for St Thomas.
He described the scenario: there were many female office workers who ate at the restaurant. They worked at the many offices in Morant Bay but very few of them were from the parish. There were many offices in the town that were associated with the thriving entrepreneurial activity of those days. According to Mr Clarke, this was about the very early 1950s. He took his idea to Mr Jehoida McPherson (JLP) for West St Thomas and the minister of education. Mr Clarke proposed to him, after the opening of the new hospital at Lyssons, to use his influence to convert the old hospital building in Morant Bay into a high school. Failing to use his influence to make the dream come true led Mr Clarke to use a new approach. He was a member of the Methodist Synod and between 1955 and 1958 his observations and experience led him to propose a special Synod at the Coke Hall Methodist to deal with this matter.
Mr Clarke observed and participated in activities that led to the Methodist church taking over Excelsior High School at the request of Mr Powell. About two years after another high school in Brown's Town fell into financial troubles, the leadership called on the Methodists for takeover. The school later became known as York Castle High School. It was against this background that Mr Clarke approached the Methodist Synod to start a high school in St Thomas, and the Rev Father Hugh Sherlock approved the idea and the plans were put in place. As the foundation plans were being worked on, according to Mr Clarke, the Rev Samuels from the Baptist Church in Morant Bay hurried with a formation of a St Thomas High School in Yallahs. It was short-lived. The request was made to Mr Florizel Glasspole who sent a representative to a meeting at Baker's Hall. The team from St Thomas was Clarke, Isaac Matalon, Sydney Ross and PM McCalla who met Mr Ross Murray, a representative from the ministry.
Prior to this, the group paid £2000 for several acres of land at Roselle as a proposed site for the school. At the meeting with Mr Ross Murray, they were informed that Roselle was not an ideal site and that they had a few days to find a new site. Mr Clarke mentioned that on the day after the meeting with Ross Murray, in a meeting at the PC Bank, adding Mr Fagan from Airy Castle, Mr Claude Llewelyn and Ms Lelieth Drummond, they negotiated with the Methodists for seven to eight acres of land. This involved negotiating with the Rev John Steel for the manse as the building to start the school. Alternative plans were made for a new manse and by January 1961 Morant Bay High School was opened on the first day with 61 students. On the second day there was another student, making the total to 62. According to Mr Clarke, the one building served as classroom, office, library and bathroom.
Mr Clarke provided a colourful history on the selection of the first principal Mr Middleton, a Welshman, who was a vice-principal from Clarendon College. Mr Middleton saw to the development of this institution from birth to 'adolescence'. He was succeeded by Mr Stanlie Parkins, a son of St Thomas who continued the tradition and took Morant Bay High School (MBHS) to its 'mature' stage. Mr Parkins played a monumental role in the development of secondary education in St Thomas. After leaving MBHS, he went to establish St Thomas Technical. I salute MBHS at 50 and the work of Mr Winston Clarke who had the vision and worked actively with others to make it real. Both men have played a monumental role in the development of education in that parish.