Steyning Grammar School (1614 - 1968)

In mediaeval times there was a variety of possible sources of a basic education in reading, writing, spelling and figuring. Among these were the petty schools for which the teacher had to be licensed by the Bishop. No documentary evidence has been found for Steyning before the end of the 16th Century, but in 1584 Leonard Mychell was licensed to teach little boys. He was succeeded in 1587 by James Pellatt, who was followed in 1588 by John Myller and, finally in 1609 by John Geffery.

It seems quite likely that William Holland supported this petty school, for in 1614 John Geffery became the first schoolmaster of the free Grammar School which he endowed. Its ordinances may well have been modelled on those of the well-established Prebendal school in Chichester, with which William Holland would have been familiar, having served three terms as Mayor of Chichester.

He gave Brotherhood Hall and its grounds as the school building, play area and land from which the schoolmaster might help support himself and the school was endowed with the income from the Manor of Testers. With this, the eleven trustees had to keep the building in repair and pay the schoolmaster. Brotherhood Hall was originally a merchant Guild Hall related to the cloth industry, it was probably an open hall on one floor. The timbers of this marvelous building have been tree ring dated and date back to around 1461. The building housing the original Grammar School was formally the Guild Hall of the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity.

Although both English and Latin were taught, the senior forms had to talk Latin at all times. High standards of behaviour were insisted upon and the number of pupils restricted to 50, with only six, at most, being boarded in the schoolmaster’s house. Certainly in later years and probably then, boys were boarded with families in the town as well.

Between 1614 and 1753 seven schoolmasters held sway. In the 18th Century Grammar Schools were in decline, schoolmasters often neglected their duties, and so did trustees. Repairs to the buildings were not done and the schoolmaster often left to his own devices. This became the case in Steyning when in the charge of John Morgan, who was appointed in 1778. A bitter struggle ensued, culminating in parishioners bringing a Chancery case which reinvigorated the trustees. A further battle followed with Morgan's nephew, John Evans, who had stepped into his uncle’s shoes, and who refused workmen employed by the trustees access to the building. Once again parishioners complained, driving the trustees to attack Evans through his pocket. In December 1838 they told him that since so few scholars now attended the school, his salary would be cut by 67%, backdated to Michaelmas! Even then, special permission had to be sought from the Bishop to force an entry, since Evans had locked the building and taken the key. By April 1839 a new schoolmaster, George Airey, was appointed.

George Airey transformed the fortunes of the school by bringing a nucleus of promising students from other areas and the younger sons of titled gentry and civil servants. He was thoroughly involved in local affairs and was much loved and respected by the people of Steyning, and remained schoolmaster until 1877.

Following Airey’s successful years as School Master, the Reverend A Harre was chosen to fill his position. During this time the boys wore mortarboard caps and short Eton Jackets for Church on Sundays. The Fees at the time were £8 a year and many leading families in the neighbourhood sent their sons to the school.

In 1908 whilst Reverend E. Lea was Headmaster the Brewer’s Arms was acquired and became the school library. The first new school buildings were completed in 1910 which included a woodwork room, and in 1913 Dormer House and gardens were purchased. By 1921 with the advent of the railway making access easy from the surrounding area, the number of students had risen to 133.

By the time Reverend Attenborough succeeded as Headmaster in 1924 there was a much more relaxed attitude to education, allowing a greater variety of subjects. Holland Cottage and Chatfields were both purchased in 1935, and by the outbreak of the Second World War there were 150 boys in the school.

In 1944 John Scragg was appointed Headmaster and shortly after all tuition fees were discontinued, although it was still a selective Grammar School for boys who passed the ’11 Plus’. In 1952 for the first time there were more than 300 boys with 42 sixth formers. In 1964 a new boarding house was opened and is now named after its first and much loved housemaster E. F. Bennett.

With John Evans at the helm, in 1968 the comprehensive school we have today was formed, when the Grammar School amalgamated with the Secondary Modern School to form one large school.


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