Early Days – 1908
The school began in 1503 during the reign of Henry VIII. The chantries, places where people paid for the saying of prayers for the departed, did not provide full time work for a priest and so they were often employed as schoolmasters. The priests who served the chantries attached to St Leonard’s Church were assisted by children and those children were ordered by instruction of the Bridgnorth Court Leet in March 1503 to receive an education. This measure of responsibility assumed by the town for running the school and appointing a school master lasted until 1909.
The beginning of the endowment of the Grammar School came with the dissolution of the chantries throughout England and Wales by an Act of Parliament in 1547. £8 per year from the revenues of the now dissolved chantry at St Leonard’s was set aside for a schoolmaster to run a Grammar School there. The first named schoolmaster was Reuben Steenton in 1556.
The key benefactor who endowed the school with a rent charge of £20 yearly was Rowland Hayward a successful Bridgnorth merchant who went on to become Lord Mayor of London (twice), he was knighted and made a huge fortune. His son Sir John Hayward, an M.P. for the town also bequeathed money, £100, to the school in his will in 1635. In 1639 Sir William Whitmore of Apley Park leased to the town a new building in St Leonard’s Close which comprised of three individual dwellings. The scholars were housed in one, the schoolmaster in another and the incumbent of St Leonard’s in the third.
During this time each boy paid,
“ fourpence on admission to provide candles throughout the year and coal during the winter; he was also to provide ‘bookes for his learninge’, and at admission had to be able to read and write well enough to read his Bible and say his Catechism”.
Boys attended daily from 7 a.m.; each Sunday they went to church at St Leonard’s. There were three periods of holiday which began two weeks before Christmas, eight days before Easter and five days before Whitsun.
In between the Restoration and the Revolution attendance at the school had improved. Edward Careswell of Bobbington left money in his will to enable scholars from six Shropshire schools, one of which was the Grammar School, to have a subsidized university education at Christ Church College Oxford. The exhibitioners as they are known were to be chosen each August. The first were awarded in 1746, in 1903 the rules were changed and exhibitions could be held at any institution of tertiary education. The award is still in existence.
The beginning of the Twentieth Century
In 1888 the Local Government Act established County Councils and in 1902 A.J. Balfour’s Education Act created Education Authorities. Shropshire County Council began to exercise its duty as an Education Authority by examining provision within the county.
A 1904 report stated that the future of grammar school education lay with Bridgnorth Grammar School and not Worfield Grammar School. The schools were amalgamated. The management of the new school was given over to the County Council and 14 people were appointed to the governing body. The search for a new site began and the foundation stone for the Grammar School Building at Northgate was laid in 1908 and the school opened in 1909. It was Shropshire County Council’s first secondary school. In July 1909 there were three members of staff and ninety three boys.
The Girls’ High School
In the early 1900’s Miss Jane Williams ran a private Girls’ High School in St Leonard’s Close (a plaque to her memory is on a pillar in the church). When she left Miss Margaret Anderson was appointed to the post. As well as using the buildings formerly occupied by Miss Williams’ establishment the L.E.A. took over the tenancy of the Granary House, where the girls were also to be taught.
The school moved, along with the boys’ school, into the new premises in 1909, but the sexes were kept separate. In the 1920’s the financial climate of the times helped to force the decision to amalgamate the two schools from 1st September 1928. Rev. H.V. Dawes (the head of the boys’ school) continued as head of the joint school.
World War I
At the start of the war several members of staff enlisted and by the end of the first year some 63 Old Bridgnorthians were recorded as being in the armed forces. Since 1907 a K.S.L.I. Cadet Force had existed in the school, with the outbreak of war more students joined and in July 1915 it was noted that all boys over the age of 12 in the school belonged to the Cadet Corps.
Also recorded in the School Magazine are the names of those ‘Called to a Higher Service’; Sergeant W.P. Nevett, Private L.C. Smith, Lance Corporal Eric Burton and Lance Sergeant Guy Haselor all had lost their lives by July 1915. Old boys also wrote to the school, the following is a passage from a letter written by Lieut. W. Ormesher (a former master), he was writing from an officers’ rest camp at Mustapha Pasha –
“I sit on a camp bed with my feet on a floor of sand, alas very prolific in flies, fleas, lice and yellow and green lizards. I awake from a sleep induced by the loud bellows of bull frogs in a near by pond. I walk through the sand to the green sea, dive into waves and sea weed and return to a strange breakfast, cooked by dark complexioned folk and served by sons of Hellas, almost guiltless of English. We are at an officers’ rest camp awaiting our turn to be drafted out, it may be today, it may be tomorrow, or long delayed, but I make my prayers to the Great Ones that it be soon” (BGS Magazine v.IX no 3, July 1915)
In the very next issue of the magazine is Lieut. Ormisher’s obituary. He had died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen and was buried at sea on December 3rd. (BGS Magazine v.X no1 , December 1915).
The Inter War Years
By the wars end thirty nine old boys including three masters had lost their lives in active service, twelve had been wounded or were disabled and four were or had been prisoners of war. By 1920 a further four old boys had died as a result of the war. In December 1918 a War Memorial Fund was set up, in 1927 a War Memorial Board containing the names of the fallen was unveiled and in 1930 Rev Dawes presided over the opening of The War Memorial Library and Dining Hall.
During this time the school was reorganized and became a mixed school. Mr Joseph L. Barritt took over from Rev. Dawes as headmaster, he was always fondly known to his students as ‘Joey’. In 1931 he oversaw the replacement of gas lights by electric ones.
The 30’s was a difficult time financially, in 1934 teachers’ salaries had been cut by 5% and the school hours were changed to 8.50 – 12.30 and 1.30 – 3.20. In 1935 Cleobury College was closed and 26 students and 3 members of staff were transferred to Bridgnorth.
Miss Foxall’s Preparatory School
In August 1923 Miss Foxall was given permission to open a prep school, before this a kindergarten had been attached to the Old Girls’ High School. The prep school classes were held at the back of the Old Hall and it was understood that when students became of an age they would transfer up to the Grammar School.
With the arrival of students and staff from Cleobury room was at a premium and Miss Foxall’s school was moved to the pavilion in the grounds of the school. The remove, for 10 and 11 year olds continued to be taught at the back of the old hall. Miss Foxall was charged a nominal rent of £1 for five years, the tenancy was later extended and Miss Foxall’s Prep school remained in the pavillion until 1947 when it moved to the Baptist Church in West Castle Street.
The Second World War
In 1938 thoughts of war were on everyone’s mind and by March 1939 Sixth form boys were allowed a week off school to go and assemble gas masks. An air raid shelter was built and the top rooms above the entrance to the Old Block were used for fire watching.
From 1941 an Air Training Corps met at the school, it was open to those not attending the school as well as Grammar School boys, drill practices were held in the yard. The Flight Commander was Mr A.E. Swann assisted by Mr Jakeman, most eligible boys joined and were taught such things as Morse code, signals and Dead Reckoning Navigation. There was an Avro Cadet civil registration G-AEAR (impressed by the Government due to the war and allocated a military number 2959M) stored in a shed and most weekends were spent at Stanmore RAF Camp for training, there were also visits to Bobbington and Cosford. The school played a big part locally in the war effort, its buildings and playing fields being used not only by the ATC but also by the Women’s Junior Air Corps (WJAC), the Scouts, the Boys and Girls’ Clubs, the Fire Brigade, the Homeguard and the R.A.F.
Because of air raids a number of boys and one master from George Dixon’s Grammar school Birmingham were welcomed to Bridgnorth along with 22 official evacuees and around 50 unofficial ones. This swelled the school numbers to 369. This increase in numbers meant that local children attended school for half days only, mornings one week and afternoons the next. The rest of the time they helped in the fields planting and harvesting.
1945 – 1972
During this time the 11+ was introduced, then as now girls seemed to be better at passing exams than boys. A new buildings programme began in the late 1940’s, including a new dining hall and kitchen and a domestic science room. In 1949 it was announced that G.C.E.s would begin in 1951for students with a minimum age of 16 on 1st September that year. The following year it was announced that an A Level and a Scholarship level would also be introduced. Mr Barritt retired in 1953 and was succeeded by Mr Cragg known to his students as ‘The Rock’
During the 50’s new Chemistry and Biology laboratories were built and the school was granted voluntary controlled status by the Ministry of Education.
I n the 1960’s The Foster Memorial Institute, where woodwork classes had been taught closed down causing even more overcrowding at the school. The library moved from The Memorial Block into the main school building. Also at this time the governors were discussing the possibility of different systems of schooling:
- A straight through (comprehensive model)
- A so called Doncaster scheme, (schools for 11-16 years with some transfers at 13/14 to a selective school for 13/14 – 18 years)
The governors said they would prefer to stay as they were. However if the Education Committee decided to reorganise on comprehensive lines they would accept a straight through comprehensive model on the Grammar School site.
1973 – 1982
In 1971 Mr Frank R. Young was appointed Headmaster; the following year work began on a new Science block. This was in readiness for September 1974 which had been agreed as the commencement date for the phased development from a Grammar School of approx 500 students to a Comprehensive School of 1000 plus students.
During the first six years of Mr Young’s tenure there were many building projects including converting the playing fields to all weather surfaces and the opening of the Sports and Leisure Centre in 1976 by Princess Anne.
In 1979 a team of students swam the English Channel in a record time of thirteen hours and thirty four minutes. They were the first Salopians to do this since Captain Webb who was also the first person ever to swim the Channel. Their record still stands.
1982 – 1994
Mr Mario Cerutti was appointed headmaster and the transition was almost complete; the school had over 1000 pupils and sixty three teachers. The building programme continued and the school flourished; it was named in 1991 as being among the top ten comprehensives in Britain for the quality of its A Level results. There were many extra curricular activities; the Arts, Sport and Duke of Edinburgh Awards to name a few; the school also supported The Bridgnorth Africa Project through exchanges with the African village of Sekonge in Tanzania.
Due to a shortage of funds and falling rolls proposals were made to close both Bridgnorth schools and have one school in Oldbury Wells Lane for 11-16 year olds and no sixth form. Many opposed the changes and the proposal was defeated.
1994 – 1999
In September 1994 Mrs Gina Butler took over as Head teacher. Development of the site continued, the library was moved to the heart of the building and a new administration block was built. More computer rooms were built and the provision for sixth form was improved.
During this period the school achieved a Sportsmark Award and in July 1999 an excellent Ofsted report.
Mrs P Chapman took up the post of Head teacher in September 1999. Building projects continued including another large technology suite and expansion of the library.
It was decided that the school should seek Specialist status as a Technology College; the governors gave the go ahead for this in the spring of 2000. The school had to raise £50,000 in sponsorship. BESA (formerly the PTA) donated £10,000 and with the help of local businesses, former students and the technology Colleges Trust the target was reached in October of that year. In December 2000 the school was told it had been successful in its bid to become a Specialist Technology College.
Cedric Webster Hardwicke was a boarder at school for three years taking an active part in school plays; he left on 27thJuly 1911 to go to an Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his debut on the London stage in 1912. He kept in regular contact with the school even when touring South Africa with a Shakespearian Company, he even offered to return to Bridgnorth and help with productions.
During the First World War he served as a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps.; 1921 saw him join Birmingham Repertory Company. In 1934 he was knighted for services to the theatre, to mark the occasion pupils were given a day’s holiday and letters of congratulations were sent by the governors. In 1938 he went to America and had great success on Broadway and in Hollywood. At the end of 1940s he moved permanently to New York where he acted in and directed plays on Broadway. Cedric Hardwicke died on 6th August 1964 after a long illness.
Thomas Rowley became headmaster at Bridgnorth Grammar School in 1821 at the age of twenty four. The school thrived under his leadership. There exist many documents that testify to his great ability as a teacher of classics. He was loved by all who knew him and he and his wife were known for their hospitality and kindness. He once dived in to the River Severn to try to save a drowning boy, he inspired loyalty and there were many famous people who attended Bridgnorth during his headship including Osborne Gordon, one of the best tutors and scholars of the nineteenth century.
He retired in 1850 after twenty nine years of service. The stained glass window above the altar in St Leonard’s church was dedicated to Thomas Rowley on the occasion of his seventy ninth birthday in 1876. He died at Willey Church in 1877 aged eighty.
Cyril Washbrook’s family moved to Bridgnorth from Clitheroe in Lancashire and he started at the Grammar School in September 1927. He had been interested in cricket before he came and his apparent skill was developed while here. He played football and cricket for the school teams as well as playing in the first XI for Bridgnorth Cricket Club; he was described as having, ‘outstanding all round ability’. Washbrook left in 1933 to become a professional cricketer for Lancashire. Between 1933 and 1959 he played over 500 games for his team. He first played for England in 1937 and went on to represent his country in thirty seven test matches. Cyril always kept in touch with his old school, in 1958 he became President of The Old Students Association and in June 1991 he was awarded the C.B.E. for services to cricket. He died on 27th April 1999 following a long illness.
All of the above information is contained in:
Bridgnorth Grammar & Endowed Schools Five hundred years of change 1503 – 2003 Edited by Maureen Jones, Published by B.G.S.500th Anniversary Group