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St. Bees School

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Summary:In 1583, Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury obtained a Letter Patent from Queen Elizabeth to found a 'Free Grammar School' at St. Bees.
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St. Bees School

In 1583, Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury obtained a Letter Patent fro m Queen Elizabeth to found a 'Free Grammar School' at St. Bees. The term 'Free' did not mean that no charge was to be made for the education but that the School was free fro m ecclesiastical jurisdiction or supervision.

Grindal, born circa 1519, came fro m Hensingham, a local hamlet near Whitehaven and probably received his only education at the School kept by the monks of St. Bees Priory. He entered Cambridge as an undergraduate and attended three colleges in succession, the last being Pembroke Hall, of which he later was elected Master. It is certain that, after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1535, there was little opportunity for formal education in this locality and a principal ground in the Archbishop's petition to the Queen was that 'Cowpland (now known at Copeland, the area around and including St. Bees) is the ignorantest part in religion and most oppressed of covetous landlords of any part of this realm to my knowledge'.

Building started in 1587, much of the stone probably being taken fro m the ruins of the monastery, and comprised a two storey block, the lower floor being the school room and the upper containing the master's quarters and a room for the Governors. This building, now of three storeys, was incorporated in Foundation House in 1840 and forms the North side of the Quadrangle where the original door-way can still be seen. The School room is now the dining hall and above is the Sixth Form Centre.

The usual grammar school education was provided and a fairly steady stream of scholars proceeded to successful careers via the Universities, particularly Pembroke Hall and the Queens College, Oxford which was founded for the particular benefit of the natives of Cumberland and Westmorland.

The principal part of the School's endowment was the Lordship of the Manor of Kirkby Becoc (approximately the modern parishes of St. Bees and Sandwith) but in the mid-seventeenth century the Governors, for reasons now unknown, alienated nearly all the land on 999 year leases at pepper-corn rents. Much more seriously, in 1742 they leased to Sir James Lowther all their mines and collieries for 868 years. Sir James, a major land-owner in the County and a clever entrepreneur, was responsible for much of the mining development and the lay-out of Whitehaven and was clearly a forceful character. Both he and his agent were Governors of the School and presumably the others were afraid to oppose so influential a person. Many years passed before this scandal came to public notice, resulting in a long series of legal suits in the Chancery Court. Eventually in 1827 the Court awarded substantial restitution and the execution of a new lease with Sir James's successors on realistic terms.

With this capital and the royalties which continued to flow until after the Great War, the Governors embarked on a programme of expansion which eventually produced much of the fabric as it stands today and changed the character fro m an old day grammar school to a mainly boarding school with a 'modern' curriculum. Left: (The Old Library - Click to enlarge)

The first step was the expansion in 1840 of the original building into what is now the greater part of Foundation House. There followed over the next 70 years the building of School House, the purchase of Grindal House (originally the Station Hotel), the original science laboratories (now Art only), the library, chapel, gymnasium, swimming bath (one of the first covered pools in the country), an extra wing on Foundation, the fives courts, pavilion and first proper playing fields. Below: (The Swimming Pool - Click to enlarge)

Numbers increased in line with these developments with a particularly rapid expansion during the headmastership of Cannon Sawyer (1903 – 16) in whose final year there were three hundred and fifty boys fro m all parts of the world on the register. Several other properties in the village were acquired or leased to accommodate this influx, but several of these were not entirely satisfactory and, once the War ended, it was decided that numbers must be reduced as the capital to extend the educational facilities was not available.

The inter-war period was overshadowed by the economic depression, which hit West Cumberland earlier and more severely than many parts of the country and the school was particularly affected by the closure of the coal mines in 1931. The only significant additions were more playing fields, the hard tennis courts and the construction of the golf course by the boys, under the guidance and inspiration of Mr. (later Canon) J.S. Boulter, an Assistant Master 1913 – 38 and thereafter Headmaster until 1946. Although the academic and sporting record continued to be a source of pride, numbers fell, retrenchment was the order of the day and in 1938 the threat of closure was averted only by the prompt and generous response of the Old St Beghians' Club, which raised sufficient funds to guarantee continuance for seven years. With this guarantee, the management of the School was revised, with increased representation of Old Boys on the Governing Body and some modification of the links with the County Education Authority. The numbers began to rise almost immediately but little could be achieved during the war years and the surplus accommodation and some of the facilities were shared with Mill Hill School, which was evacuated to St. Bees. After the war numbers rapidly returned to normal; little of the guarantee was needed and the Fund continues to provide regular assistance to the School.

In the years since 1945 the extremely generous support of Old Boys, Parents and Friends together with royalties fro m the anhydrite mined by Marchon Ltd at Kells have made possible a steady expansion of the academic and sporting facilities and the modernisation of the residential accommodation. First came the Hall, a memorial to Old Boys who lost their lives in the War and this was followed by the science and classroom block, assisted by a grant fro m the Industrial Fund for the Development of Science in Schools. The last decade saw the modernisation of all the boarding houses including the new wing for the Housemaster of School House and the expansion of Eaglesfield on its conversion into the Junior House.

The seventies started with the acquisition of Abbots Court Hotel and its conversion into an Upper Sixth Form House and subsequently it has become the junior boys Boarding House. In 1976 the School became co-educational.

The last thirty years have seen the building of a purpose build Sports Hall (1988); the opening of the Whitelaw Building (1992) as an I.T. Centre, language laboratory and conference suite; the creation of an International Centre (1997) as the School has increased its numbers of overseas pupils; and in 2000 the opening of the Fox Music Centre in Barony House.

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St. Bees School:In 1583, Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury obtained a Letter Patent from Queen Elizabeth to found a 'Free Grammar School' at St. Bees.

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