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Some Famous Old Grammar School


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The term "Grammar School" goes back very far into the past, and is so directly associated with the development of our national history that a history of England could be written from the history of the fortunes of the schools themselves. More than that, the idea of the grammar school can be traced long before the coming of the Romans to Britain, as a Roman institution in Rome and its provinces, and further back even than the Roman Empire, to Greece and its civilization. There is, therefore, a real though not always an obvious continuity in the spread of Roman and Greek civilization, through their own schools, under their own government, and-in Britain as an inheritance from the Roman Conquest.

The introduction of the grammar school into Britain was due to the Roman Conquest, not directly, but indirectly. It was not the Roman state organization of schools which was brought into this country; but nearly two centuries after the withdrawal of the Roman legions, S. Augustine, about a.d. 597, came over and established his Christian mission centres. Christianity had developed elsewhere in the Empire the bishops' diocesan schools, and probably from the first, or soon after, a diocesan grammar school was established in Kent, and by the time of the coming of Theodore of Tarsus in a.d. 668 other similar schools had been established in England.

Alcuin was the great organizer of cathedral grammar schools in England, in Anglo-Saxon times. These were probably of the type of the household-schools of the bishops for the children of their friends and neighbours, and included promising boys of poor parents. The first time the term "grammar school" appears in English seems to be in 1387, in John of Trevisa's translation from Ralph Higden's "Polychronicon."

In 1439 we meet with the very interesting fact that William Byngham erected a commodious mansion called "God's House," in Cambridge, for the training of teachers for grammar schools throughout the country. He states that east of the way between Hampton and Coventry and on to Ripon, "seventy schools had fallen into desuetude" because of the scarcity of Masters of Grammar. We must bear in mind that at this time there was no standardised English. Dialects were very distinctive from each other. Many schoolmasters knew very little English which could be understood elsewhere than in their own locality, and they could not explain the diversities of phrases between the English and the Latin tongues. Everything, accordingly, had to be explained in Latin. Therefore masters and taught had to acquire sufficient oral skill in Latin to understand it as a spoken language.

Logically, therefore, it was necessary to know Latin grammatically, and the name "Grammar School" emphasised that need. But grammatical Latin was not a mere scholastic "mystery" of the guilds of teachers. It was the most practical of all medieval subjects of instruction-for after boys had left the grammar schools it was Latin which was used conversationally by the churchmen, statesmen and academic scholars, and all officials. Further, the medieval grammar schools had to supply a sufficient number of men "for Church and State," and all civil occupations also required a working knowledge of Latin necessary for future pursuits.

The monasteries had their schools, with the main object of instructing the novices in training for monastic service. So, too, the cathedrals had their schools, and in the later Middle Ages with these may be included the schools connected with collegiate churches (e.g. the grammar school of Winchester College and that of Eton College).

It should be remembered that the term "college" belongs to a corporation of canons, fellows, secular priests or clerks belonging to a collegiate church, just as much to a collegiate church (or chapel) inside a university. The colleges at Beverley, Chester, Crediton, Ripon, Shrewsbury, Southwell, Stafford, Tamworth, Warwick, Wimborne, go back beyond Domesday Book. Thus at Stratford-on-Avon there was a college (Trinity College) which maintained a song-school master only, the grammar school being established by the Guild of the Holy Cross. But Jesus College, Rotherham, was a collegiate church (founded by Archbishop Rotherham in 1484) which had three schoolmasters, one for grammar, one for song (or music) and one for writing. So with the College of S. Andrew at Acaster there was a free school of grammar, and also free schools of song and writing. In the far-distant Kirkoswald in Cumberland was a college with two schoolmasters. Mr. A. F. Leach gives a list of over thirty collegiate churches, most of which had a grammar school. The cathedral and the college grammar school thus were a very important factor in the provision of higher education for clerks and officials, ecclesiastical and lay.

Other grammar schools were founded by guilds, such as the grammar school, mentioned above, at Stratford-on-Avon. As colleges in connexion with churches were, we might say, guilds of secular priests or clerks, so guilds generally were associations or corporations of people with some common object The aims were most varied. But in some form or other they required the sanction of the Church. Of the guilds whose property was confiscated at the dissolution of the monasteries (and other endowed institutions) 33 guilds were included, and of these, 28 kept grammar schools. Thus at Ashburton, in Derbyshire, S. Lawrence's Guild, with its grammar school, dates back to 1314, although the Schools Inquiry Commission gives the date 1593.

The Trinity Guild, atWisbech in Cambridgeshire, was founded in the second year of Richard II by persons, all of them clerks. The priest was to keep a grammar school and truly to teach "so many as doth or will repair to him." This school substantially has continued to the present. Besides other similar guild schools were the craft guilds of London and Shrewsbury, and the drapers of Shrewsbury, who kept a grammar school.

Besides the monastic, cathedral, collegiate and guild grammar schools, we have still to mention the chantry schools. A chantry school was one connected with a church in charge of a priest, who combined the double office of singing masses for the founder of the chantry and usually of teaching reading and grammar. In 1348 was founded the earliest known of this type of chantry priest, that which afterwards developed into the Wotton-under-Edge grammar school of Lady Margaret (Berkeley). Thus the first known lay founder of a chantry grammar school was a woman.

There were also hospital schools of ancient origin. The last known instance is that of Christ's Hospital, 1553, but this is a Post-Reformation foundation.

We can mark the great dividing line between the old medieval grammar schools and the Renaissance (and modern grammar schools) by the re-foundation of St. Paul's School, by Dean Colet. The insistence on Latin grammar was continued, but a quite new emphasis was laid upon the reading of the old classical authors, Latin and Greek. The introduction of printing in the latter half of the fifteenth century began to make possible the multiplication of the texts of classical authors for school use. The consequence was that from this date onwards the special task of the grammar schools was that of studying the literatures of Rome and Greece (for which purpose the study of grammar was held to be a necessary preliminary preparation).

Grammar schools became dedicated to the study of classical literature, as containing the noblest literary form and the most vital subject-matter of the past, and grammar, instead of monopolising attention, however important, became, in the minds of thoughtful schoolmasters, subsidiary. It must not be supposed that the old Roman grammaticus was always neglectful of the teaching of literature, but it is obvious that the invention of printing made the reading of authors incomparably a more practicable aim than had been possible to carry out in the Middle Ages.

What, then, do we find in the records of the individual grammar schools since the Reformation? In so many of them we find that they were the training ground of our greatest Englishmen. Milton, who at one time kept a private "grammar school," was as a boy of fifteen at St. Paul's School under the well-known Alexander Gill.

Isaac newton was at twelve years of age a pupil in the Grantham Grammar School, and rose to the highest position in the school. He left Grantham Grammar School for Trinity College, Cambridge. The mathematical genius of Newton obscures his literary studies. But his linguistic background of grammar or school learning was a distinct asset in his scriptural and theological studies, on which he set no little store.

On the classical acquirements which Shakespeare was likely to gain at Stratford - on -Avon Grammar School, much has been written. Whatever view is taken, there can be no doubt that in London the dramatist found himself in an atmosphere of scholars and thinkers, brought up on the grammar school learning as understood by Dean Colet and his successors.

The institution of grammar schools, both in the Middle Ages and in post-reformation times, opened the door through which children of the poor and the middle classes became clerics, lawyers, civil servants, bishops; and, still more, helped to develop farmers, yeomen, tradesmen and the "middle classes" of each district.

The penetrative effect of the English grammar schools can be illustrated by the schoolmasters attracted to the work of teaching and by the varied careers of pupils, academic, professional; in trade and in commerce. Take, for instance, a typical school like that of Lichfield Grammar School. At Lichfield the cathedral of S. Chad in all probability had an early grammar school connected with it. One of two monastic houses, in the town, had a school for novices. There is note of a master of grammar in connexion with S. John's Hospital in 1440. The continuity of the grammar school through the centuries is typified by the fact that the boys of the grammar school used to go daily to prayers to the hospital chapel till about 1892.

The first "Master of Grammar" after the Statutes of Bishop Smythe (1495) for the Hospital of S. John was Robert Whittington, an old pupil of the hospital school. He had studied under the famous schoolmaster John Stanbridge, at Magdalen College School. Whittington wrote important Latin grammars (copies of which to-day fetch very high prices), in which kind of work his great rival was William Lily, whose famous "Brevissima Institutio" became the royally authorised Latin grammar for all English schools. The three grammarians-Stanbridge, Whittington and Lily-form an apostolic succession of English grammarians in the transition from medieval to modern grammar school, Stanbridge at Oxford, Whittington in the country school, and Lily at Colet's London school of St. Paul's.

The interest of the old grammar schools in Roman and Greek history has stimulated a succession of local historians and inquiries into local antiquities. Lichfield Grammar School can claim the noteworthy name of Elias Ashmole.

A less known pupil of Lichfield Grammar School followed in his footsteps, Gregory King, who accompanied the celebrated William Dugdale on his visitations. Dugdale also came from a country grammar school, that of Coventry. King, we are told, had been taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew at school. William Wollaston was a schoolboy at Lichfield Grammar School. After a Cambridge career, for a time he was a schoolmaster at Birmingham Grammar School. The school bore the name of King Edward VI. It was endowed by him with the possessions of the Guild of the Holy Cross. It has in recent times been reconstituted, and consists of seven schools.

The golden age of Lichfield Grammar School (most of the old grammar schools, country schools as well as those of large cities, have had at least "one golden age" of afterwards distinguished pupils in their careers) was that associated with the school years in it of Addison and Samuel Johnson. Joseph Addison was the son of Lancelot Addison (the father was educated at Appleby Grammar School, Westmorland), Dean of Lichfield. Addison was at the grammar school some twenty-odd years, before Johnson.

The Rev. John Hunter was the headmaster in Samuel Johnson's time, an odd mixture of the pedant and sportsman, who forgave any offence to a boy who would tell him where to find a covey of partridges. Hunter was sometimes very severe, and of him Johnson says: "My master whipt me well. Without this I should have done nothing. With every stroke of the birch came the words, 'And this I do to save you from the gallows.'"

Almost all grammar schools claim great names. Thame Grammar School had on its roll John Hampden; Barnstaple Grammar School had Bishop Jewel, Gay the poet, Aaron Hill; Basingstoke, Joseph and. Thomas Warton, Gilbert White; at Audlem Grammar School, Bishop Heber; at Aylesbury, John Wilkes; at Bath Grammar School, William Prynne, Sir Bartle-Frere; at Bolton Grammar School, Robert Ains-worth, the lexicographer; at Bridgwater Grammar School, Admiral Blake; at Canterbury King's School, Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood; Dr. Donne, dean of S. Paul's; at Norwich Grammar School, Nelson; at Huntingdon, Oliver Cromwell; at Heversham (Westmorland), Dr. Whewell; at Blandford (Dorset), John Aubrey, the antiquary; at Hawkshead, William Wordsworth.


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Pictures for Some Famous Old Grammar School

JUDD FOUNDATION AT TONBRIDGE: A GUILD SCHOOL AT BASINGSTOKE, AND THE SCHOOLS AT MIDHURST AND SAFFRON WALDEN
JUDD FOUNDATION AT TONBRIDGE: A GUILD SCHOOL AT BASINGSTOKE, AND THE SCHOOLS AT MIDHURST AND SAFFRON WALDEN >>>>
GRAMMAR SCHOOLS AT THAME, STEYNING AND NEWPORT: GRANTHAM, SCHOOL OF SIR ISAAC NEWTON
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NORWICH GRAMMAR SCHOOL THAT WAS ONCE A CHAPEL, AND THE OLD SCHOOL AT HUNTINGDON
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ROGER ASCHAM AND LADY JANE GREY
ROGER ASCHAM AND LADY JANE GREY >>>>
THE STATUE OF DEAN COLET AT ST. PAUL'S SCHOOL
THE STATUE OF DEAN COLET AT ST. PAUL'S SCHOOL >>>>
SHAKESPEARE'S SCHOOL AT STRATFORD-ON-AVON, AND THE GUILDFORD GRAMMAR SCHOOL
SHAKESPEARE'S SCHOOL AT STRATFORD-ON-AVON, AND THE GUILDFORD GRAMMAR SCHOOL >>>>
THE MODERN GRAMMAR SCHOOL AT BEDFORD: A DESCENDANT OF THE HARPUR FOUNDATION
THE MODERN GRAMMAR SCHOOL AT BEDFORD: A DESCENDANT OF THE HARPUR FOUNDATION >>>>

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