King Edward VI School - History of the School

History of the School

Shakespeare’s School – a History

K.E.S. is a state-funded Academy Trust selective school for boys with a co-educational Sixth Form. Established by the Guild of the Holy Cross, the School can trace its origins to May 1295, when in the Register of Deacons of the Diocese of Worcester there is the record of the ordination of Richard as rector scholarum, to teach the basics of learning the alphabet, psalters, and religious rites to boys. 

The School was independently endowed by Thomas Jolyffe, a chaplain of the Guild, in June 1482. He gave to the Guild all the lands in Dodswell and Stratford; the income from them was to be used, under certain conditions, on behalf of the School.

Although the Guild of the Holy Cross survived the reign of Henry VIII, it was suppressed by his son, Edward VI.  When Royal commissioners visited Stratford in 1545 – 1546, they made note of the School in the Guildhall.  When Edward VI granted the old Guild properties to the corporate hands of the townspeople, he also granted a Royal Charter in 1553, making the Guildhall their headquarters, and assuring the future of the School.  In the 1570s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare was educated in a room in the Upper Guildhall.  In what is still known as ‘Big School’, from the age of seven Shakespeare would have been taught Latin, Rhetoric and perhaps Greek. Lessons began with prayers at six o’clock in the morning during summer, and continued until 5 o’clock in the afternoon. In winter, although boys were expected to bring their own candles, the poor light meant a shorter day lasting from seven o’clock. 

During the following four centuries, the School numbers fluctuated – in 1776, due to an outbreak of Smallpox,  there were only three boys left, whose initials are engraved on a beam in Big School. In 1811, new regulations were drawn up so that no more than twenty boys could be on the School register at the same time; if others wished to enter, they had to wait until a boy had left. Only the sons of parents living within the Borough limits were eligible. Classics, English Grammar, Reading and Spelling were taught. By the end of the 19th century the numbers had grown; the School had acquired the Guildhall; new buildings were added, boarders arrived; and K.E.S. assumed a status similar to a minor public school.

With the 1944 Education Act, fees were abolished and boarding ended.  Major building since then has provided the necessary space to accommodate an advanced curriculum of subjects for a school of 700. In September 2013 the School admitted girls to the Sixth Form for the first time. 

There have been a number of noteworthy alumni, including Rex Warneford VC, who shot down a Zeppelin in 1915; General Sir Richard Gale, commander of the airborne landings on D-Day and later Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; the poet Richard Spender; the Biblical scholar Arthur Peake; James Roe, the 2012 Olympics Gold Medal Rower; and the actor and director Tim Pigott-Smith.  The Boys of Shakespeare’s School in the First World War tells the story of those Old Edwardians killed during the First World War.

King Edward VI School – History and Alumni is a full and detailed history of the School. It was published on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23 2008. The book tells of the development of King Edward VI Grammar School through the centuries – the buildings, the masters and the boys. The story of K.E.S. reflects the turbulent history of England through 800 years of political, religious, educational, social and economic development; and it is told through the use of extensive sources and the contributions of over seventy Old Boys and Masters. There are 150 photographs plus 16 pages of colour, and amongst the 17 appendices is a list of all the staff since 1870, details of the rugby and cricket teams and rowing crews; the Roll of Honour of both World Wars, and Captains of the School.  A special appendix is the complete Alumni Roll since 1800. Bound in royal blue and bearing the old royal school crest embossed in gold on the cover, the price of the History is £20.

History of the School Buildings
The Guildhall was built in 1417 as a two-storey feast-hall for Stratford’s Guild of the Holy Cross...
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