BENTHAM Grammar School closes its doors for the last time today, ending its 300-year history.

Despite a battle by furious parents to save the public school, today's final bell marks the end of an era.

Founded in 1726, the school originally stood in High Bentham before moving to the former boarding house, Moonsacre, now a private residence. In the 1940s it moved to its current site in Low Bentham, a former vicarage.

Education will continue on the site from September, when the school is reborn as Sedbergh Junior School, catering for 200 pupils aged from three to 13.

Sedbergh, whose former pupils include ex-England rugby captain Will Carling, plans to invest heavily in the site and will be carrying out major refurbishment works over the summer.

Teachers and pupils have strived to remain positive throughout the final term and rallied at the weekend to give Bentham a fitting send-off.

Guy Northern, who took over the headship in March, said: "We had an excellent reunion of pupils, staff, both past and present, and friends of the school. It was a very happy occasion and a lot of friendships were resurrected. It was a positive final note.

"On Sunday a cricket match was played between present staff and pupils and former pupils, which was only decided on the last over in favour of the former pupils.

"The events of the weekend generated a lot of warmth which will be remembered for years. I would like to thank all parents, pupils and staff for their genuine support in the last few months."

Former pupils were delighted to discover three teachers, Jack Warbrick, Bill Stockdale and Dave Allison, were still on the staff.

The trio are known as the 100 club as they have a century of service between them.

Mr Northern said: "The pupils have been very disappointed and sad that they have got to move on, but are taking it positively. We have spent a lot of time helping them find new schools and colleges. We have also been helping our 26 members of staff, both full and part-time, find new positions."

In March, dwindling numbers and the resignation of headteacher Ruth Colman undermined the viability of the school.

Governors approached Sedbergh Public School, which was looking to expand, who agreed to take over the site.

Speaking earlier this year Paul Wallace-Woodroffe, Sedergh's marketing director, said: "It is good news for Bentham and good news for the village because without it the fear was it could have become a building site. The younger pupils will benefit from larger classes and will benefit from having more people to play sport.

"Not that long ago our junior school was in Kirkby Lonsdale and Bentham is still close enough to Sedbergh to keep strong links. We hope we can protect the local economy in terms of catering and support staff."

All Bentham's junior pupils have been offered places at the new school, but senior school pupils had to apply for places and be interviewed. Similarly, existing junior teachers who wished to join Sedbergh were taken on, but senior school teachers had to apply for posts.

A degree of bitterness and anger rancours at Bentham over the way the close-down and takeover was done.

Mr Stockdale, one of the 100 club who has 32 years' service teaching PE and history, said: "When the news broke it was clear that there was already a deal struck and that was what they wanted to happen.

"Given more time it is absolutely clear that there was money and expertise available to save Bentham School. We regret the fact that nobody seemed to say, what can we do about the debt? There was one deal behind closed doors and that was that."

Mr Warbrick added: "At speech day last September, the governors announced publicly that the school had a 'small working surplus'. By March they said this had become a debt of around £300,000, which was probably not insurmountable when you look at the assets of the school, had we been given more time."

Mr Allison, French and PE teacher for 32 years, said he felt that trust in the school had been betrayed by the deal.