Passmore Edwards originally offered the peiople of Helston a Free Library but they said that they would rather have a Science & Arts School.
The schools, built on a commanding site, were publicly opened by Passmore Edwards in May 1899. The Mayor- Mr. E A Pengilly- members of the Corporation, mayors from Cornish towns, freemasons and members of Friendly Societies, ministers of religion, magistrates and others joined in a procession from the Town Hall to the new Science and Art Schools, in honor of the event. After the formal function of opening the institution, and at a luncheon which followed, presided over by the Mayor,
Mr. R G Rows, JP, moved the following resolution:- “That this meeting expresses it high appreciation of the generous assistance which Mr. Passmore Edwards has given to science and art teaching in the county of Cornwall, and rejoices that Helston has been included in the list of places receiving his benefactions. It assures him that the Science and Art Schools which he has erected in this borough is already serving an important purpose to its inhabitants and promises to be of great and permanent value.”
He, Mr. Rows, was glad to tell them that the building was erected on a freehold site which had been generously conveyed to the Corporation in trust for technical education purposes. In many parts of Cornwall, the institutions erected by Mr. Edwards were sources of sweetness and light to the people of their respective neighborhoods. The Hospital and the home illustrated his care for the bodies of the people, whilst the Free Library and the technical Institution demonstrated his care for their minds. Whenever he had planted technical schools, his laudable acts had been followed by a quickened interest in the subjects taught.
Canon Tyact, in seconding the vote, said that the institutions Mr. Edwards had founded would ever keep his memory green in Cornwall.
Mr. Passmore Edwards said that he was pleased that he had responded to the wishes of the people of Helston by erecting in the town Science and Art Schools, because the building in the broadest sense was public property. It was somewhat remarkable that Liskeard was the only town in Cornwall, and as far as he knew, in the kingdom, that had accepted and adopted and taken under its control a hospital as municipal property, and now the Corporation of Helston had followed suit by accepting and adopting Science and Art Schools, and thereby contracted an obligation to maintain them for the public advantage. By so doing, Liskeard and Helston had presented illustrations of civic wisdom and courage. If corporate authorities in all parts of the country used the powers they possess, by owning and controlling gas and water works, tramways, public libraries, schools for primary and technical instruction, and for providing improved dwellings for workers, local patriotism would be developed and strengthened and the general community benefited. It was a healthy sign of the times to see Helston, with its four thousand population, so far away from the great centres of political and industrial activity and the great towns which were supposed to particularly throb with national life, exhibit so much civic interest in technical education and so cheerfully fall in with the trend of the times, a fact for which they had particularly to thank their eloquent and eminent fellow-townsman, Mr. R G Rows.
From “Passmore Institutions, Founding and Opening Ceremonies, by J J McDonald, 1900”.The Helston Corporation responded to Passmore Edwards’ offer of a Free Library by asking for an Arts & Science school instead. He readily agreed and a part of the garden of the former Helston Grammar School was acquired freehold from Captain Rogers of Penrose, on the payment of one shilling a year. Edwards offered to pay the £1,600 construction costs but, as usual, expected the community to pay £300 for the furnishings and fittings. He even suggested where the Corporation might go to secure donations, mentioning Lord Robartes and John Williams of Scorrier.
Although there are four foundation stones set into the front of the school, they are not engraved, as there was no ceremony to lay a foundation stone. And although the date 1897 is displayed above the door, it was 12 May 1899, more than 12 months after the school was completed, that Edwards visited Helston to formally open it. It was his first, and probably his only visit to the town, James Hicks, the architect, having made the necessary arrangements with the Town Council.
As was the Cornish fashion, the Mayor – Mr E A Pengilly, members of the Corporation, mayors from other Cornish towns, freemasons and members of Friendly Societies, ministers of religion, magistrates and many other worthies joined in the procession from the Town Hall to the new Science and Art Schools. Presented with an engraved silver key Edwards declared the school open, saying that if the key typified the school’s beauty and utility then it would answer its purpose.
With the formal opening of the school completed the party withdrew for a luncheon, and the customary speeches and toasts. In response to a vote of thanks Passmore Edwards said that he had been pleased to erect a Science and Art School in Helston, because ‘the building in the broadest sense was public property’. Liskeard was the only town in Cornwall, and as far as he knew in the country, to take under its control a hospital as municipal property, and now the Corporation of Helston followed with the Science and Art Schools; accepting an obligation to maintain them out of public funds. This, he said, was a step in the right direction for true socialism. This he called Corporation Socialism and ‘the more they had of it the better’.
Though he declared himself a loyal member of the Liberal Party, he did not use the word ‘radical’, in later life he moved towards the new socialist movement. He supported the trades unions, subscribed towards supporting industrial action, promoting the new socialists such as Kier Hardie, who he praised for his honesty and resolution, and funding Independent Labour Party Candidates, though there is no evidence that he joined the ILP.
The festivities at Helston continued into the evening with seventy ladies and gentlemen sitting down to dinner at the Angel Hotel. During the dinner Edwin Durning Lawrence, Liberal Unionist MP for Truro, who presented the schools with a lecture table for the Technical School and two scholarships for the Art School, spoke about Parliament and the House of Lords. On hearing Lawrence say that the House of Lords had always been filled with great artists, like Lord Leighton, great poets, like Tennyson, and great men of science, like Lord Kelvin, Edwards replied that these were exceptions, showing his general dislike of those that populated what he called the ‘House of Landlords‘. When Lawrence continued in his praise of the present Government, Edwards interrupted him to ask whether this was an electioneering speech. ‘No Sir’, said Lawrence. ‘Well I object to it’ replied Edwards. Lawrence, trying to recover his position, said that he had perhaps been led astray by talking as he did. He only desired to say that he would always do what he could for Cornwall. He supported the Government because he thought it was doing the best for the country. Edwards was not to be won over. Desiring not to throw a note of discord into such a gathering, he said that he was ‘a Party man’, a strong party man, but he had never, in any speech he had made on any similar occasion showed to which party he belonged. They should remember that they were all assembled as Cornishmen, as Englishmen and as citizens of the British Empire, rather than to show any proclivity to one side or the other. Although this was met with applause, the West Briton commented the following week that the harmony of the evening had been sadly disturbed by Edwards’ rebuke and that ‘opinions will differ as to whether he had been justified in his action‘. Certainly Lawrence did not seem to be too upset by the occurrence as the following week, when speaking at the Royal Institute for Cornwall meeting in Truro, he spoke of them being near a great educational building, the new Technical school, founded by a man who was not yet a styled saint but had built these great establishments in many parts of the country. He referred, of course, to Passmore Edwards.
The Helston School was soon over taken by amendments to the education acts and, taken over by the County Council, it was enlarged in about 1904 and again 10 years later to form a County secondary school, remaining in use until the 1970s.
Following the closure of the school in the 1970s the original Passmore Edwards building and the adjacent secondary school was for many years used as the home of the Helston Community Centre.
Whilst not an Arts & Science School, the Community Centre met Passmore Edwards’ original aims in that it was Helston Adult Education’s prime daytime venue for classes in Helston with up to 15 adult classes taking place every week. In addition many local organisations made good use of the building. A children’s preschool was located there for 30 years and a ballet school with over 180 pupils held classes there, six days a week, for 15 years. The arts were also represented by the use made by amateur dramatic groups from across West Cornwall and it is even used as rehearsal space for the internationally famous Flora Day celebrations.
In 2008 the Community Groups were told that the building was to be sold by the Town Council and they were given notice to quit. The reason given was that the original conveyance of the land to the Corporation was for Technical Education purposes and, according to the present Trustees, the Helston Town Council, require that one third of the present building is used for “Science” purposes. Since, they said, they could not find a way around this obstacle they were not prepared to renew the lease to the Community Association but proposed selling the building and with the money raised, build a replacement community centre at some time in the future.
The local community groups, faced with being turned out of their beloved community centre contested the Council’s decisions and took legal action. Whilst the matter was still in Court the Helston Town Council offered to sell the building to the Community Association but funds were not available to them.
The building was eventually sold to the The Cornubian Arts & Science Trust ( CAST ), an educational charity established in 2012 and the Trustees raised sufficient funds to carry out urgent repairs so that the building could be brought back to like. Since then a major grant of £499,000 has been received from the Arts Council England. The building is now used as artists studios and performance spaces and there is a very welcoming cafe.