The Illustrated London News, Nov. 9, 1861
The West Buckland Archive was set up in 1998, and, as teacher, writer, and historian, Berwick Coates seemed an apt choice to run it.
Over the years, he has scoured the school to put together a fascinating collection of records which have accumulated over the 150 years of the school's history – books, photographs, governors' minutes, balance sheets, reports, confirmation lists, school magazines, old pupils' gatherings, celebrity visits, irate letters, architects' drawings, cups, caps, bats, blazers - anything which may give off a whiff of the past. They have been found in dusty cupboards, the backs of drawers, a ship's luggage trunk, old boys' lofts, a games pavilion, even a few (quite literally) underneath the floorboards.
He works to bring order and purpose to this collection, by making its contents available to anybody who wishes to inquire, and by making people aware of it. He places bulletins on the Archive corner of the notice-board - a regular dose of anecdote, curiosity, gossip, wonder, or scandal. He gives a talk every term at morning assembly. He has delivered many lectures around North Devon. Some of his discoveries are reported in the local press. He has appeared on national television. He has published three books about the school.
He is a devoted believer in the value of the past, provided of course it is kept in perspective:
Staff & Monitors, 1881
'You cannot get away from the past any more than you can pretend that your parents didn't exist. We must all learn the links between the past and the present. Luckily, most of us want to know how we started, what made us. It helps us to make sense of our lives, and to face what is in front of us. As President Chirac said at the commemoration of D-Day in 2004, "There is no future without remembrance."
'Of course the present and the future matter very much. We want our pupils to look ahead, to take the world by storm, to reach up to the stars. But they also need to know where they come from.
The past and the Archive represent the school's roots. Without roots, nothing grows.'
Berwick Coates holds a Cambridge MA degree in History, and has been at various times an Army officer, a writer, an artist, a lecturer, a careers adviser, a games coach, and a teacher of History, English, General Studies, Latin and Swahili. He has published eight books.