King Edward VI Grammar School Chelmsford

Our History

DJBET电竞菠菜人 The following text is an extract from Anthony Tuckwell's book 'That honourable and gentlemanlike House', a history of King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, 1551-2001. Anthony Tuckwell was Headmaster of KEGS from 1984 to 1999.

On March 24th 1551 a royal warrant of Edward VI established a free grammar school in Chelmsford for the education, in the Anglican religion and classical languages, of the boys of the manor of Chelmsford and the hamlet of Moulsham. The school was housed from 1551 to 1627 in part of an old friary between the modern Friars Walk and New London Road, just to the south of the River Can in Moulsham. It was to be financed from the rents of former chantry lands with which it was endowed. Its position is recorded on John Walker's 1591 map of Chelmsford.

The endowments were entrusted to the care of three knights, Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Henry Tyrrell and Sir William Petre and their descendants, plus Thomas Mildmay, Walter's elder brother. The Petre connection was interrupted in 1678 when Lord William Petre became an innocent victim of the Popish Plot and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Petre name re-appeared again towards the start of the nineteenth century. The Tyrrell name also disappeared for a while although the family connection was sustained for some of the gap by a Comyns son-in-law. Mildmays and Tyrrells were still there in 1873 when the governing bodies of all endowed grammar schools were reformed. Archdeacon Mildmay's death in 1878 ended an unbroken Mildmay connection of 327 years.

The impecunious Tudor endowments comprised a farm on the coast near Tilbury, which suffered considerable losses through erosion and flooding, other farms at Hatfield Peverel and Southminster and cottages at Great Baddow. The governors retained these until well into the twentieth century, the last property being sold in 1957. The poverty of these endowments explains why the school became a state school rather than staying independent. In the end state education was the making of the modern KEGS.  

For 450 years the school has provided education on an almost continuous basis. But by its tercentenary in 1851 it was on the point of collapse and closed temporarily from 1853 to 1856. The exclusively classical curriculum, entirely suitable as a preparation for the entry of an occasional boy to Oxford and Cambridge universities, but not for much else, would have been very familiar to the Tudor schoolboy. It was unattractive to Victorian townspeople who wanted their sons educated for entry into business, farm management or a profession.

In company with most of the old endowed Tudor schools Chelmsford's grammar school was confined by the rigidity of its original statutes, a small governing body who rarely got together in one meeting and the conservatism of the priestly schoolmasters who, by and large, liked things as they were and would, in any case, receive a salary from the endowments even if pupil numbers dropped.

For those who wanted curriculum modernisation the cost of getting the original statutes changed by private act of parliament was prohibitive. A school like Manchester Grammar School could, in the eighteenth century, set up classes teaching modern subjects side by side with the classical endowment as it had wealthy benefactors to stump up the additional capital.

Small market towns like Chelmsford generally could not aspire to such riches. To take a chance and use the income from the original endowments to finance modem subjects could lead to an expensive legal challenge in the Court of Chancery and the ruination of the school and its governors. Government intervention was needed. It came in the 1860s with a royal commission that produced highly critical reports on the state of education in the old endowed schools.

The Endowed Schools Act of 1869 loosened the classical stranglehold and governing bodies were expanded so that they became more representative of ' the local population. The new governors were not afraid to assert authority over their headmasters but also felt the pressure from townspeople during some quite vitriolic campaigns for the election of parish representatives to the governing body. A broadened curriculum saw the tentative appearance of science and modem languages much to the relief of frustrated townspeople. In 1871 the law was further changed so that grammar school masters no longer had to be Anglican priests licensed by their bishop. At the opening of the twentieth century the 1902 Education Act forbade religious instruction in the Anglican doctrine, a move welcomed by a sizeable non-conformist population in Chelmsford. The school, for the first time, also became answerable to rigorous inspection by His Majesty's Inspectors. Their first full inspection came with stunning impact in 1907 with subsequent inspections in 1913, 1922, 1930, 1939, 1955 and 1989. The new Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) then took over the role and inspected the school in 1996. The 1989 and 1996 inspection reports were public documents whereas preceding reports were confidential to the governors and headmaster. There was also a full National Audit Office inspection in 1994.

From the last quarter of the nineteenth century the public examination system influenced the curriculum in the upper forms but, by and large, left professional freedom as to what was taught lower down. In the last decade of the twentieth century central government reversed the situation. The National Curriculum now determines what is taught from the bottom up with tight control over the whole learning process through detailed programmes of study, frequent inspection and testing, annual examination league tables, school target setting and benchmarking against similar schools, and performance management of teachers linked, to a degree, to pay. There was centralisation of a different sort under the Tudors and Stuarts when what was taught by priests in schools and in the Anglican pulpit was tightly controlled by the monarch through the bishops and the printing press to fend off Roman Catholic enemies abroad and Puritan extremists at home, although their aim was static conformity not the current quest for continuously measurable academic improvement.

Until 1856 pupils paid fees. Rent from lands with which the school had been endowed paid only for the cost of lessons in Latin and religion, not for any other subjects, books, materials, furniture or heat. All these were subject to a charge. Masters could make but a limited living from the pupils admitted on the income received from the endowment that was eroded in value by inflation. They therefore supplemented their income by taking in boarders or working as priests, at best in the local parish church, at worst in some more distant church, which would lead to absence from the classroom.

From 1856 a few pupils earned whole or part remission of tuition fees from foundation scholarships, awarded by the governors for excellent academic performance. The first free place county council pupils entered the school in 1893 on technical scholarships. Then, as state education developed in the twentieth century, the law gradually required the admission of free place pupils financed by the county from the rates - 12'/2% of the intake in 1909 and 25% in 1931. In 1932 the county took control of all admissions but parents were means-tested to see whether they should pay whole or part fees. In 1944 fees were abolished and secondary education became free at the point of delivery. 425 years of boarding finished in July 1976, but was immediately followed by a new venture, the first girl to join the sixth form in September 1976.

As the school became more and more part of a twentieth century state system of education so numbers rose. Between 1856 and 1885 pupil numbers varied little from what they had been back in the 1550s, ranging between forty and seventy-five, taught by a master (or chief master as he became known in the mid-eighteenth century and headmaster from 1856), an usher (re-titled undermaster in 1830), and a few teachers brought in occasionally for peripheral subjects like drawing and French which appeared from about 1860 on. As soon as the hugely influential Frank Rogers became headmaster in 1885 numbers soared to 115 in 1886, peaking at 156 in 1905. When the county council became involved in the provision of secondary education after 1902 numbers rose further, to 260 in 1918, 300 in 1921 and 450 in 1935. These figures included about sixty boys in the preparatory school, more commonly known as the junior school, which had opened in 1896, moved into a separate building, Westfield House, in 1924, and closed in 1948 when state schools could no longer charge fees. It is at this point that the school became exclusively a secondary school. Numbers subsided to just under 400 in the late 1940s with the closure of the junior school and the decline in the sixth form during the Second World War. But the baby bulge that came with post-war demobilisation hit secondary education in 1955 when the school's two-form intake was increased to three and numbers rocketed up to 600. Numbers rose to 700 in 1961, going down to 650 in 1977, stayed between 640 and 706 during the 1980s, rose to 750 in a four-form intake in 1996 once grant-maintained status, achieved in 1992, freed the school from local authority admissions restrictions, and to just over 830 in 2000. 

Alongside the rise in numbers a constant theme throughout the last 120 years has been the inadequacy of the building accommodation. After 275 years in the unhealthy one room schoolhouse in Duke Street, the site now occupied by county hall, the school moved in 1892 to the larger site and new buildings on Broomfield Road with a capacity of 150 pupils. This temporarily relieved the problem but numbers wishing to enter the school soon filled the classrooms and were swollen by the large increase in the birth-rate which followed the end of the First World War. By the 1930s the school was very overcrowded. Essential extensions were ultimately built in 1937 having been seriously delayed by the economic ravages of the great depression of the early 1930s. Without them the evacuated Tottenham Grammar School could not have been accommodated in 1939-1940. But a second post-war bulge in the birth rate, which hit secondary schools in the mid-1950s, renewed the pressures. The 1962-1963 extensions were welcome, but, again, were hugely delayed by national economic circumstances and the county council's difficulty in building the number of new schools required to keep pace with Essex's burgeoning population. At one stage in the 1960s it is said that a new county council school was being opened every three weeks. For several years prior to the new extension KEGS was a split site school. Sixth form classes were hived off to the Rectory Lane Youth Club (now the YMCA) and the Technical College (now Anglia Polytechnic University) in Victoria Road South. The first year were resident at the disused Friars Infants School in Moulsham Street, just south of the stone bridge (the site is now subsumed by Parkway). Pressure on accommodation still exists. The new technology block opened in 1994 helped but the funding mechanism in operation since 1990, driven by pupil numbers, makes it necessary to control staff costs while maximising pupil numbers if requisite facilities for KEGS very able pupils are to be provided. The £l million KEGS450 appeal for new buildings launched in 1998 has reached a successful conclusion and will, it is hoped, end this ongoing congestion.

Nor, until 1977, did there ever seem to be adequate playing fields. The small green space on the Broomfield Road site behind the main Victorian building was plagued by poor drainage and proved inadequate for games. Until Newfields was acquired in 1914, a quarter of a mile away, adjacent to the County High School for Girls, pitches were begged and borrowed around the town. When Westfield, actually adjacent to the main school, was added in 1924 the problem seemed to have been resolved but increased pupil numbers soon cancelled out the apparent gain. The County High School was even worse off. They had virtually no playing fields of their own. Newfields would be ideal for them. A deal was struck in 1976 inspired by the generosity of old boy Harold Bedford, chairman of the foundation governors, who purchased and gave to the school the current site at Partridge Green next to Broomfield Hospital, three and a half miles north of the school. With this benefaction and the proceeds of the sale of Newfields to the county council for use by the County High School, the Bedford Playing Fields and its associated buildings came into being.

Throughout all its 450 years the school has also been part of the history of its times. What did the boys make of the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the execution of Charles I, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the coming of the railways? These events certainly left a mark on Chelmsford and Essex and would have had some impact on pupils' lives. In more recent times the Leonidas window commemorating those who gave their lives in the Boer War (pictured on the front cover of this book), the Roll of Honour commemorating the dead of two world wars, and the Old Chelmsfordians' headquarters at Lawford Lane, set up as a memorial to those of their number who died in the second world war, are testament to the courage of many young men not long out of the classroom. They must have had their brave antecedents in previous centuries.

The last century has seen the school at its strongest. Frank Rogers' headship from 1885 to 1909 saw the school emerge from educational mediocrity into an institution with a growing local and national reputation. The house system, army cadets, cadet band, The Chelmsfordian, sport, drama, debating, music and a wide range of other activities came to life through his vision and energy. But the school was dogged by financial difficulties as a result of the 1892 move to Broomfield Road and Frank Rogers' vision was impatient of financial restraint. It is unfortunate that from the mid-1890s on major disagreements with the governors led to a controversial and graceless end to his tenure of office.

The years of war and economic depression from 1914 to the mid-1950s were testing times for all publicly funded organisations. But such matters bother adults much more than boys. The Chelmsfordian magazine abounds with exuberant high spirits. From the 1960s to the present day the school's educational reputation has continued to soar. In 1981 it was named by The Sunday Times as the most successful state school as measured by Oxbridge open awards and in 1998 by the Financial Times as the most successful state school at GCE advanced level in the period 1993-1998. Government financial restructuring of the education service, forcing local authorities to give most of their money to schools rather than wasting it on top-heavy bureaucracies, and the end to high inflation which had dogged the economy from the 1960s onwards, meant that the decade from 1990 on was the most affluent the school had ever experienced. It is now as close to solving its long-standing buildings' problems as it is ever likely to get.

It is a proud story to tell. It is not a story of unremitting success. There have been times of great difficulty. But, for the most part, it is a story of persistence and belief by people associated with the school throughout its history. Without them it could not have become what it is today.