King’s heritage is amongst the richest and most fascinating of any school in England. It can be traced back to the year 1022 when monks were in residence at the Abbey of St. Peter in Gloucester – the forerunner of Gloucester Cathedral.
Benedictine monks are in residence at the Abbey and, in line with their renowned commitment to literature and reading, are likely to have put in place the beginnings of a formal education system, establishing a learning tradition on the same site that is currently approaching an incredible 1000 years.
Our first written evidence of education at Gloucester Abbey is when William the Conqueror appoints his chaplain, Serlo, as its new Abbot, charged with reviving the ailing Abbey’s fortunes. When he arrives, Serlo finds eight ‘Children of the Cloister’ learning Liturgy, Calligraphy, Latin, and Elementary Sciences.
The Benedictine-run School builds a considerable reputation and is attended by the young Gerald of Wales – later to become an ambitious churchman, writer and academic. He later refers fondly to his Latin tutor as ‘that most learned scholar Master Haimo’ and declares the Abbey to be ‘the most influential centre of learning in the West of England’.
The School is now well established and when King Richard II, aged just 11, holds his first parliament in Gloucester, the crowds cause the Abbey’s monks to eat in the School House. The School begins to meet in the undercroft of the Parliament Room. Little Cloister House, nearby, contains one of the world’s oldest classrooms – still in use today.
Henry VIII, aided by his chief enforcer, Thomas Cromwell, closes the Abbey of St Peter as part of his harsh ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’. But Henry values education and in its place he establishes the Cathedral and a prestigious new ‘College School’ expected to meet the highest Tudor standards. Opening in the Abbey’s former library, the School’s first recorded Headmaster is Robert Aufield.
Puritan Civil War victor, Oliver Cromwell, considers demolishing the Cathedral in favour of simpler places of worship. However, the City Council lobbies Parliament, arguing that the College School must not be lost. Parliament agrees and Cromwell seals an Act giving the Cathedral and College to the City. The School can be said to have ‘saved’ the Cathedral.
The highly regarded scholar, Maurice Wheeler, is appointed Headmaster and introduces a host of reforms. He starts the School Library, fully integrates Choristers into the life of the School, encourages physical exercise for ‘brain clearing’, and instigates ‘The Combat of the Pen’ – a writing contest still carried on by today’s Sixth Formers. Now one of England’s leading schools, the flourishing institution of 100 boys aged five to 16 becomes known as The King’s School.
John Stafford Smith becomes a pupil at King’s. Twenty years later, as a renowned composer and musicologist, he writes a tune which, with the poetic words of Francis Scott Key, becomes ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ – the national anthem of the United States of America. Other notable pupils of this period include John Moore, a future Archbishop of Canterbury; and Robert Raikes, creator of Britain’s Sunday School movement.
Ivor Gurney joins the King’s School as a Chorister. He later wins recognition for the powerful poetry and musical compositions he creates in the trenches of the First World War. His close friend and fellow pupil at King’s, F.W. Harvey, also sees active service on the Western Front and subsequently becomes known as ‘The Laureate of Gloucestershire’ with nearly 400 published poems to his name.
Pat David is appointed as the new Headmaster and oversees many changes including a steady expansion of pupil numbers – growing from 300 to 500 by the time he retires. 1969 is also a year of firsts when Neil Armstrong becomes the first man on the moon and the first ever girls are admitted to King’s Junior School. By 1972 there are girls in the Sixth Form, and in 1985 the School becomes fully co-educational.
Harry Potter, JK Rowling’s magical hero and literary phenomenon, comes to King’s when the Cathedral is chosen as one of the locations for the filming of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. The beautiful fan-vaulted Cloisters and other parts of the Cathedral are transformed into Hogwart’s School and many King’s pupils appear as extras. Director, Chris Columbus, returns to shoot three more Harry Potter movies – all blockbusters.
In the year that the Summer Olympics comes to London for the third time, Olympic Rowing Gold Medallist, Anna Watkins MBE, gives pupils an inspiring talk in the Cathedral before officially opening the new King’s Sports Hall at Archdeacon Meadow. Pupils from across the School enjoy the state-of-the-art facility for PE and games including badminton, hockey, cricket and netball.
King’s celebrates the 475th anniversary if its foundation. The School continues capital development plans and opens the Ivor Gurney Hall for the Performing Arts. The hall originally housed the entire school when it was built in 1849. Named after notable former pupil, Ivor Gurney, the facility has an awe-inspiring technicolour vaulted ceiling and provides a dedicated space for the arts.