Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School is an independent boarding and day school for boys in Tonbridge, Kent, England, founded in 1553 by Sir Andrew Judde (sometimes spelled Judd). It is a member of the Eton Group and has close links with the Worshipful Company of Skinners, one of the oldest London livery companies. It is a public school in the British sense of the term.

There are currently around 800 boys in the school, aged between 13 and 18. The school occupies a site of 150 acres (607,000 m²) on the edge of Tonbridge, and is largely self-contained, though the boarding and day houses are spread through the town. Since its foundation the school has been rebuilt twice on the original site. For the academic year 2015/16, Tonbridge charges full boarders up to £12,096 per term and £9,072 per term for day pupils, making it the 4th and 6th most expensive HMC boarding and day school respectively.[1][2]

The headmaster is James Priory who began his tenure at the school in 2018.

The school is one of only a very few of the ancient public schools not to have turned co-educational, and there are no plans for this to happen.

Tonbridge School
Tonbridge School Logo
High Street

, ,

Coordinates51°12′00″N 0°16′35″E / 51.2000°N 0.2765°ECoordinates: 51°12′00″N 0°16′35″E / 51.2000°N 0.2765°E
TypePublic school
Independent day and boarding
MottoLatin: Deus Dat Incrementum
(God Giveth the Increase)
FounderSir Andrew Judde
Department for Education URN118959 Tables
HeadmasterJames Priory
Age13 to 18
Enrolmentc. 800
Houses7 boarding, 5 day
Colour(s)Black, white and maroon               
PublicationThe Tonbridgian
Former pupilsOld Tonbridgians



The school was founded in 1553 by Andrew Judde, being granted its royal charter by Edward VI. The first headmaster was the Revd John Proctor, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. From 1553 until his death in 1558, Judde was the sole governor of the school, and, at some time, he framed the statutes that were to govern it for the next 270 years. On Judde's death, the school was passed to the Skinners' Company, after a dispute with Judde's business partner Henry Fisher.

For the next hundred years few details of the school survive apart from rare records in the Skinners' Company books. Headmaster Proctor died in 1558, and was succeeded by a series of headmasters, usually clergy and always classical scholars. They included the Revd William Hatch (1587–1615), the first Old Tonbridgian headmaster. According to the Skinners' records, the Revd Michael Jenkins (1615–24) was appointed because "he was the only one who turned up". During his time as headmaster, the school received a series of generous endowments from Thomas Smythe, the first governor of the East India Company and son of Andrew Judde's daughter Alice.[3]

Second hundred years

Tonbridge School 2008
A section of the old school building

Very little written material relating to the school over the next century survives. Numbers fluctuated between 40 and 90, and the school obtained a new refectory and a new library. However, from 1680 numbers declined, and for a few years the examiners reported that there were no candidates fit for university study. In 1714, the Reverend Richard Spencer, of King's College, Cambridge, was made headmaster. He was an immediate success and very popular, and by 1721 numbers had risen to over seventy. The governors raised Spencer's salary to 30 guineas, and several of his pupils went on to successful careers. These included a future Lord Mayor of London, a vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, and George Austen, father of Jane Austen.

The first Old Tonbridgian dinner was held on 8 June 1744. The year before this, however, Spencer had resigned, and the headmastership was bestowed upon the Reverend James Cawthorn. Cawthorn persuaded the governors to build a new library at the south end of the school in 1760, and it survives today as the headmaster's house and the Skinners' Library. In 1765, the townspeople of Tonbridge asked the question of free education, and governors' legal team decided that the parishioners' children, provided they could write competently and read Latin and English perfectly, had the right to learn at the school paying only the sixpence entry fee.

In 1772, classical scholar Vicesimus Knox was made headmaster, but he reigned for a mere six years. During his tenure, numbers dropped to only seventeen. His son and namesake, Vicesimus Knox, was to take his father's place in 1779. School numbers under the young Knox rose to 85, and pupils began to arrive from all over England and also from abroad.[4]

19th century

Knox retired in 1812, and was succeeded by his younger son, Thomas. The period of Knox's headmastership was one of national economic and political change, but at the school the greatest change was to be the increasing importance of cricket. John Abercrombie was to become the school's first cricket blue (for Cambridge) in 1839. In 1818, a nationwide commission visited Tonbridge to investigate on behalf of the reforming government. Over the next few years, a new scheme for the school was prepared and approved by the Lord Chancellor. New buildings were agreed upon by the governors, and a new dining room and dormitories were built. The school also bought the Georgian building on the High Street to the north of the new junior school, and it was renamed Judde House. This was the school's second boarding house, with the original buildings serving to house boys of the larger School House. In 1826, the governors bought the field which now contains the Head cricket ground, and the patches to the north and south of it, later to be called the Upper and Lower Hundreds. In 1838, Knox took the decision to level the Head, a considerable project, using labour and earth from the new railway workings in the town. The labourers often engaged in fights with the boys, as they were lodged nearby. The Head became the focal point of the school and was regarded as one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the south of England. Thomas Knox died shortly after the completion of his cricket pitch, in 1834, whilst preparing to preach in the parish church. His death brought to an end the 71-year reign of the Knox family.[5]

World wars

Tonbridge lost a great many former pupils in both world wars; 415 Old Tonbridgians and three masters died in the Great War, and a further 301 OTs died in the line of duty between 1939–1945.

Post-war years

Lawrence Waddy took over as headmaster in 1949. The Tonbridge he inherited was still a largely Victorian institution; fagging and ritual caning were still in place, and sport was considered more important than academia. Over the next 40 years personal fagging was abolished (ending in 1965), and the intellectual life of the school was revitalised (particularly under the Headmastership of Michael McCrum). McCrum, headmaster from 1962–70, abolished the right of senior boys to administer corporal punishment, taking over for himself the pleasure of administering routine canings. First year socials were set up with nearby girls' schools such as Benenden School and Roedean School. Boaters (known at the school as "barges"), straw hats worn by boys, were no longer compulsory uniform after a major town-gown fight in the 1970s. By the 1990s the school was larger, richer and more prominent than ever. The headmaster until 2005 was Martin Hammond.

In 2005 the school was one of fifty leading independent schools found guilty of running an illegal price-fixing cartel, exposed by The Times, which had allowed them to drive up fees for thousands of parents.[6] Each school was required to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and all agreed to make ex-gratia payments totalling three million pounds into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared.[7] Jean Scott, the head of the Independent Schools Council, said that independent schools had always been exempt from anti-cartel rules applied to business, were following a long-established procedure in sharing the information with each other, and that they were unaware of the change to the law (on which they had not been consulted). She wrote to John Vickers, the OFT director-general, saying, "They are not a group of businessmen meeting behind closed doors to fix the price of their products to the disadvantage of the consumer. They are schools that have quite openly continued to follow a long-established practice because they were unaware that the law had changed."[8]


There are twelve houses at Tonbridge School; seven boarding, and five day houses. Each house has its own house colours. The houses, in order of foundation:[9]

School House Boarding Black and blue
Judd House Boarding Magenta and black
Park House Boarding White, purple
Hill Side Boarding Red and black
Parkside Boarding Yellow and amphibione
Ferox Hall Boarding Orange and yellow
Manor House Boarding Green and red
Welldon House Day Light and dark blue
Smythe House Day Chocolate and Cerise
Whitworth Day Green and white
Cowdrey House Day Purple and green
Oakeshott House Day Scarlet and Gold

Each house contains approximately 65 pupils. The names are all drawn from the location of the house itself (e.g. Park House, Parkside House, School House (originally located in the main school building) and Hill Side), or are names of benefactors, headmasters and others who have left their mark on the school over the years (e.g. Smythe House, named after Sir Thomas Smythe (see also Smythe Library), Judd House, named after the founder of the school, Whitworth and Welldon, both named after headmasters of the school, and Cowdrey House, named after Colin Cowdrey, arguably the most famous Tonbridge alumnus). The only exceptions are Ferox Hall, which takes its name from the Latin for ferocious, and Manor House which was named by a former housemaster.[9]


The Chapel, Tonbridge School - - 1391290
Tonbridge school chapel as seen from the West looking across The Head

The Chapel of St Augustine of Canterbury occupies a central position in the school next to the old buildings and Orchard Centre. The chapel is collegiate in layout with twelve blocks of pews and seats corresponding to the respective Houses.[10] The focal point of the chapel is the fine stone high altar and there are two pulpits, one each on the north and south sides of the chapel. The narthex or outer lobby of the chapel is also the school war memorial. In addition the names of all Old Tonbridgians who lost their lives in the first or second world wars are displayed in stone or ironwork. In September 1988 it was severely damaged by fire with almost all objects in the building being destroyed except a 15th century stone sculpture. Restoration took seven years to complete and the chapel was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Rochester in October 1995.[11]


The school has produced a number of international rugby players throughout the history of rugby union. In 1871, in the first ever international rugby match, Tonbridge was represented by two players, J.E. Bentley and J.H. Luscombe. These players were also members of a team called the Gipsies Football Club, a London-based rugby football club for Old Tonbrigians founded in 1868. This club produced four other internationals including England captain Francis Luscombe, and was also one of the founding members of the Rugby Football Union.[12]

Tonbridge alumni who have gone on to represent the England cricket team include Kenneth Hutchings, Colin Cowdrey, Roger Prideaux, Chris Cowdrey, Richard Ellison and Ed Smith.[13] All six also played for Kent County Cricket Club and there is a long association between the school and Kent with a number of other Old Tonbridgians playing first-class cricket for the county side.[13] Former Kent professionals who have coached the school cricket team include Alan Dixon, whom Richard Ellison credits for developing his swing bowling abilities, and John Knott.


The school has a fine musical tradition, with around half the boys having regular music lessons and over 80 achieving grade 7 or above. There are roughly 12 music scholarships awarded every year too.[14] Tonbridge is also a "Steinway School".[15] meaning over 90% of pianos are designed or built by Steinway & Sons.

The school chapel holds regular concerts for the various orchestras, including a large symphony orchestra for the most accomplished players, conducted by the director of music. The chapel is also home to an internationally respected 4-manual tracker action pipe organ with 67 speaking stops, built by Marcussen & Søn in 1995.[16]

Head of school

The head of school, i.e. the head Praeposter, is allowed to graze his sheep on the Head (the 1st XI cricket pitch) which is next to the main buildings.[17] He is also allowed to grow a beard and historically was permitted to carry a sword.[17] In the past only praepostors were allowed to wear coloured shirts (as opposed to plain white) and have brown shoes.[17]

Recent headmasters

  • J. E. Priory 2018 -
  • T. H. P. Haynes 2005–2018
  • J. M. Hammond 1990–2005
  • C. H. D. Everett 1975–1989
  • R. M. Ogilvie 1970–1975
  • M. McCrum 1962–1970
  • The Revd L. H. Waddy 1949–1962
  • E. E. A. Whitworth 1939–1949
  • H. N. P. Sloman 1922–1939
  • C. Lowry 1907–1922
  • The Revd C.C.Tancock 1898–1907
  • The Revd J. Wood 1890–1898
  • The Revd T.B. Rowe 1875–1890
  • The Revd J.I. Welldon 1843–1875

Notable staff

Notable Old Tonbridgians

Former pupils are known at the school as Old Tonbridgians (OTs) and can join an organisation called the Old Tonbridgians' Society.

See also


  1. ^ "Boarding fees per term (£)" (PDF). 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  2. ^ "Termly fees (£)" (PDF). 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  3. ^ Orchard, Barry. A Look at the Head and the Fifty: A History of Tonbridge School. James & James. pp. 6–14.
  4. ^ Orchard, Barry. A Look at the Head and the Fifty. James & James. pp. 14–22.
  5. ^ Orchard, Barry. A Look at the Head and the Fifty. James & James. pp. 21–29.
  6. ^ Halpin, Tony (10 November 2005). "Independent schools face huge fines over cartel to fix fees". The Times. London.
  7. ^ "OFT names further trustees as part of the independent schools settlement" (Press release). Office of Fair Trading. 21 December 2006. Archived from the original on 2 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Private schools send papers to fee-fixing inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. London. 1 March 2004. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
  9. ^ a b "Boarding Houses - Tonbridge School". Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  10. ^ "The Chapel - Tonbridge School". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Chapel - Tonbridge School". Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  12. ^ Marshall, Francis; et al. (1892). Football; the Rugby Union game. London: Cassell. OCLC 13422741.
  13. ^ a b Tonbridge cricket history, Tonbridge School.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c "Country Life's top independent schools". 14 February 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  18. ^ "Tim Haynes – New Headmaster from September 2005". 7 September 2004.
  19. ^ "Sport's lessons for life". 11 October 2012.
  20. ^ "The score so far". Times Educational Supplement. 11 May 2008.
  21. ^ 'Dr. H. C. Stewart: Music at Oxford' (Obituary). The Times, Wednesday 17 June 1942 (Issue 49,264); p. 7
  22. ^ School development Archived 8 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Boarding Houses – Ferox Hall

Further reading

  • Hoole, G.P. (1985). A Tonbridge miscellany. Tonbridge School. OCLC 19671527.
  • Orchard, Barry (1991). A Look at the Head and the Fifty. London: James & James. ISBN 978-0-907383-25-3.
  • Rivington, Septimus (1898). The history of Tonbridge School from its foundation in 1553 to the present date. London: Rivingtons. OCLC 18236326.
  • Somervell, D.C. (1947). A history of Tonbridge School. London: Faber & Faber. OCLC 11852252.
  • Hughes-Hughes, W O (1886). The Register of Tonbridge School from 1820 to 1886. Tonbridge: Hughes-Hughes.

External links

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