Berkhamsted School is an independent school in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. The present school was formed in 1997 by the amalgamation of the original Berkhamsted Grammar School, founded in 1541 by John Incent, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, Berkhamsted School for Girls, established in 1888, and Berkhamsted Preparatory School. The new merged school was initially called Berkhamsted Collegiate School, but reverted to Berkhamsted School in 2008. In 2011 Berkhamsted School merged with Heatherton House School, a girls' preparatory school in Amersham, to form the Berkhamsted Schools Group. The Group acquired Haresfoot School in Berkhamsted and its on site day nursery in 2012, which became Berkhamsted Pre-Preparatory School for children aged three to seven, and Berkhamsted Day Nursery.
Berkhamsted School is a "diamond school" in which pupils are taught coeducationally in the Pre-Prep School, Prep School and Sixth Form, but independently in the traditional Senior years, between the ages of 11 and 16. The school has four main sites: the Pre-Prep School, the Prep School, the Castle Street Campus and Kings Road Campus (the latter two being the original boys' and girls' schools respectively).
The School is noted for its distinctive collegiate and pastoral structure, a varied sporting, outdoor education and cultural co-curricular programme and participation in the life of the local community. Mr Richard Backhouse, previously principal of Monkton Combe School, became Principal of the School in January 2016.
|Motto||virtus laudata crescit (Latin for "greatness increases with praise") |
festina lente (Latin for "hurry slowly")
|Religious affiliation(s)||Anglican Church of England|
|Established||1997 (as presently constituted) 1541 (founded by Dean Incent)|
|Department for Education URN||117604 Tables|
|Principal||Mr Richard Backhouse MA (Cantab)|
|Age||3 to 18|
|Houses||Adders, Ashby, Bees, Burgh, Churchill, Cox's, Fry's, Greenes, Hawks, Holme, Loxwood, Nash, New Stede, Old Stede, Reeves, Russell, School, Spencer, St George's, St David's, Stephenson, Swifts, Tilman, Wolstenholme|
|Colour(s)||Blue, Red and White|
|Former Pupils||Old Berkhamstedians|
|Last Inspected||2017 ()|
All Berkhamsted pupils belong to a House throughout their time at the School. Each House is run by a House-master supported by several house tutors. Together they are responsible for providing pastoral support for their pupils and serve as the primary link between parents and the School. Houses are both physical environments and communities, each forming a distinct entity within the larger organisation of the School itself. Pupils attend their house for morning and afternoon registration, to play games throughout the day, and for the majority of the administration which governs their time at the School. They also participate in School events on behalf of their House.
That at least three of the eight Senior Boys' Houses appear to be named after various fauna was not always intentional. When Swifts and Bees were formed in 1897, they were to be called 'A' and 'B' respectively, but the former's first House Master considered this dull, naming his House 'Swifts'. 'Bees' is thus phonetic. 'Adders' may be wholly fortuitous; 'Reeves' and 'Hawks', now 6th Form Houses, add to the confusion. Richard Reeve was the School's first Headmaster; Hawks was named by the apparent "fauna tradition" in 1933.
High Clergy of the 16th century frequently distinguished themselves by their furthering of the educational establishment and, in this respect, Berkhamsted owes much to John Incent. In 1523, he called upon the Brethren of the local Brotherhood of St John the Baptist to divert the funds they had hitherto donated to the monastic hospital (which had closed) to the Brotherhood House, about which little is known. In 1541, however, Incent applied to the King, Henry VIII, in pursuit of a licence "to purchase £40 in land by the year," and was successful. Although Incent was Berkhamsted's most famous descendant, it is considered an act of great piety that he chose to found a School outside what had become his Sphere of Influence.
By 1544, Berkhamsted School's first building, now known as 'Old Hall' was complete, later to be described by William Camden as "the only structure in Berkhamsted worth a second glance." The formal opening is recorded in the Ancient Documents:
When the building of the said Schoole was thus finished, the Deane sent for the chiefe men of the Towne into the Schoole, where he kneeling downe, gave thanks to Almighty God, which had given him life to see the perfection of that work, which both he, the towne and the country had beene about for the space of 20 years as is manifest by the pmisses. First he read his licence. Then he called for Richd Reeve, and placed him in the seate there made for the Schoolemr. and so did ordaine, make and pnounce him to be the first Master of the said Schoole and after that tooke him by the hand and did give him and his successors for ever possession of the lodgings appteining to that office. In like manner he placed John Audley to be Usher , and John East to be Chaplen. This done he did give possession by his deed bearing date the 23 of March in the 36 yeare of Henry the 8 to the said Richd Reeve John Audley and John East and their successours for ever, of all the land to the sd Schoole then appointed, which are expressed pticularly in an act of pliamt. made 2 & 3 Ed 6. Finally the Deane began TE DEUM LAUDAMUS which being finished with certaine other praiers and ceremonies, the whole Companie did there drink together and so depted.
Yet the legal foundation was not nearly so sound. When Incent died some 18 months later, his entire wealth (over £330) became the King's, his documents stating that Berkhamsted's founder, a highly educated lawyer, had died intestate. The authenticity of this claim is rightly questioned: shortly after Incent's death, a complaint was made to the King "by some evill persons that the Deane had laid to the Schoole more revenues than his licence [£40 annually] did permitt him." Furthermore, Henry VIII stood to gain £196 and "a front of pearls" from the Dean's estate. However, there had been no formal incorporation of the School, and records suggest that Incent had spent much time since the opening preparing, but not realising, legal protection. An investigation into the claims that his annual endowment had been exceeded was commissioned and undertaken by John Waterhouse, a favourite not only of the King, but also a confidant of Incent, who had been present at the Opening. His choice of Commissioner suggests the Foundation still had Royal approval, something that had allowed the School to survive the first attack against it. The most enduring legacy of the Foundation nonetheless remains the building itself, "strong and fair".
Incent's death, which itself had created a threat to the School, was followed by that of Henry VIII in January 1547. The Chantries Act 1546, which could have jeopardised the post of Chaplain at Berkhamsted, was replaced by new legislation, and the Foundation was declared "unperfect". A Foundation Act was introduced in parliament to settle the various claims to the Incent estate, but only those concerning the most immediate relatives of John. Thus claims to land of the School's endowment in Sparkford near Winchester were made and tried, resulting in significant loss to the School.
An additional threat came when Edward VI, acting on advice, re-established the School under his own name. In reality, there was both initial benefit and ultimate disadvantage in this. Richard Reeve, the first Headmaster, held strict Protestant views, and was dismissed by the Bishop of Lincoln, acting upon Queen Mary's instructions, in 1555. He was replaced by William Barker, who no doubt offered an alternative religious policy, for he himself was removed when Elizabeth gained the throne.
William Saltmarsh enjoyed a longer Headmastership than either Reeve or Barker. The latter had appointed Leonard Stepney as Usher, but he lost his post in 1571 on charges of harbouring a Catholic priest. His successor, John Bristowe, had a still more colourful end, murdered gruesomely in 1597 by a local yeoman. Although this would no doubt have caused Saltmarsh concern, this was otherwise a most successful period in the history of Berkhamsted School. Pupil numbers continued to increase, and a handful of Berkhamstedians, as they would become known, achieved notoriety.
By 1616, some years after Saltmarsh's death, it was written
Scholae Ludimagister cum 33 annos eidem praefuisset amplam pecuniam testamento suo moriens legavit reficiendis his aedibus
Quite why the building (by which it is meant Old Hall) had fallen into disrepair under an otherwise successful Headmaster is uncertain, but through his donation Saltmarsh had decisively added himself to Berkhamsted's list of benefactors.
All available evidence, of which there is admittedly little, suggests that the Hunt years were also successful ones for the School. His period in the office probably witnessed greater stability in the School than in his personal life – he was married as many as four times – and there was praise for his leadership, a former pupil recording "much reverence and affect" for Hunt. It also appears that he took as active a part in the life of Berkhamsted as had become and remains a tradition, serving as overseer for the poor and Bailiff as well as contributing to church funds. He died in office, aged 70, in 1636.
There were two hereditary Headmasterships in the history of Berkhamsted School, neither of which was successful. The first was that of Henry Hunt, a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, who died within six months of succeeding his father; the second was to come in the 19th century. Hunt's successor, William Pitkin, was not quite the academic of former Berkhamsted days. Yet he was clearly a prominent member of local society, having served as Member of Parliament for Berkhamsted, and whose descendants included a member of the U.S. Supreme Court and Oliver Wolcott, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. In England, however, the political environment began to take its toll on Berkhamsted.
Berkhamsted, situated along a route between London and the battlefields of the English Civil War, became the subject of Parliamentary action to preserve the town. Pitkin's death is recorded in the parish register of Fleet Street, London in September 1643; in his history, Williams suggests Pitkin may have visited London in an attempt to obtain protection for the School, instead dying of the Plague. He was succeeded by Timothy Taylor, until then Usher, but the conditions of the period deny history any formal details, except that his death in 1648 was probably also a result of Plague. Ogle (1648–1651/2) witnessed local controversy resulting from the Civil War and it was likely that the School's seemingly relentless decline had begun in earnest by the time of his tenure, with student numbers falling from 80 to under 10 over three decades.
Such was the confusion of the period that it is uncertain whether Peter Berkenhead ever even served as Headmaster, although the weight of evidence suggests that he did (however insignificantly). This series of less distinguished office-holders is no doubt attributable in part to the Civil War; further, since the value of money had for so long been falling, the annual pay, having been set at the Foundation, was insufficient for such a post by the end of the 17th century.
Thomas Fossan, a friend of Samuel Pepys, petitioned the King for the Berkhamsted job in December 1662. His motive in doing so is unclear, himself recognising that "by reason of its small salary" it was not highly sought, but mostly since, having realised his ambition, Fossan so neglected his duties. Indeed, such was the strength of feeling judges against Fossan that the very same people who had recommended him in 1662 wrote to the authorities six years later in the name of "the trust imposed in [them] by the founders of the schoole" that the Headmaster be removed. When the charges were put to him (that both he and his Usher had spent much time away from the School, that the boys' knowledge of grammar was minimal and that the townspeople had taken to lodging the scholars in light of the School's failure so to do), Fossan replied that "he cared not whether he had any scholars or not, for the fewer he had the less trouble he should have." His forced resignation followed shortly after.
It is some indication of the extent of Berkhamsted's degeneration under Fossan that his successor, Edmund Newboult, was recommended by the Bishop of Hereford as "of parts sufficient for so mean a school," an endorsement described as "comically unenthusiastic". The most prominent historical source on Newboult remains a reply he made to an educational researcher some years into his tenure, noting that "Ye Statues of ye Schoole were made in ye time of popery, therefore not observed." During his 17 years of office, Newboult does appear to have provided a solid educational environment at Berkhamsted, at least relatively speaking, something continued under his successor, Thomas Wren. In his wake came John Theed, member of a prosperous Buckinghamshire family, and Berkhamsted's longest serving Headmaster. Indeed, throughout the 18th century, there were to be only four occupants of the post, an age not only of stability but stagnation. Nonetheless, the three inspections carried out during the three years found no cause for concern, and in their record is revealed the first reference to curriculum content, the boys having been examined on Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Theed was the School's second pluralist (it is no inspiration that the first was Fossan): his obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine recorded him as Vicar of Marsworth and made no mention of his Berkhamsted role – some suggest this is characteristic of an insouciant, unambitious approach to the School. A similar charge could not be made against Evan Price. Having served as Usher for 16 of Theed's less proactive years, Price had become accustomed to the day-to-day running of the School. On Theed's death in 1734, his succession, still the jurisdiction of the Sovereign, brought Price to the Headmastership, despite his not having attended university and his flamboyant record – as curate of Bovingdon, he had been involved in an "unseemly brawl" during a burial he was officiating.
The School contains the oldest Cadet Force in the country (Berkhamsted Combined Cadet Force).
Three Old Berkhamstedians have won the Victoria Cross:
Between the School's opening in 1544 and the formation of the Collegiate School in 1997, there were 30 Headmasters, whose average length of service was 15 years.
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