Felsted School celebrates a 450-year legacy

PUBLISHED: 12:09 27 May 2014




Founded in an era when William Shakespeare was first penning his plays, Felsted School has a history and legacy that has brought so much to life in Essex. Here Sophy Aitken explores this history and the plans to celebrate its 450th anniversary

Not many schools can boast 450 years of teaching excellence, but this year Essex’s own Felsted School will join the likes of Eton among the handful of illustrious institutions that can claim this historic milestone. Older than America, Great Britain, the vote, Mozart, Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Spanish Armada and the same age as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, Felsted School has an unrivalled heritage and today continues to flourish as a leading co-educational Independent School, rated 100% excellent by the Independent Schools Inspectorate in 2013.

Felsted School was founded by one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, Richard Lord Riche. This link with royalty has been maintained over the years and was marked by a visit from the Queen Mother for the school’s 400th anniversary, a visit by Princess Anne to open the Lord Riche Hall in 1989 and even Old Felstedian Marcus Setchell delivering the latest member of the royal family, Prince George, in 2013.

At the peak of his career Richard Lord Riche had been Lord Chancellor under King Edward VI and it was in 1564 that he founded Felsted School. The school, originally a grammar school housed in the centre of the village in a converted Guild Hall, is now a thriving co-educational boarding and day school for pupils aged four to 18, set in a stunning 80-acre rural site.

From a handful of pupils in 1564, the school has grown exponentially and now boasts nearly 1,000 students. A number of contemporary boarding options meet the needs of today’s modern family, with most students boarding either three, five or seven nights in the senior school, to take full advantage of all that is on offer at the school.

Felsted Grammar School was not in existence long before its educational reputation was fully established. Under the fifth schoolmaster, Revd Martin Holbeach (1627 to 1649), the school educated Richard Cromwell, future Head of State, and produced a steady stream of brilliant scholars to light up the groves of academe. John Wallis and Isaac Barrow were to become respectively Savilian Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and Regius Professor of Greek (as well as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics) at Cambridge; a double distinction few schools in the land could have matched. The stellar successes of Felsted’s alumni continued under Revd Christopher Glascock (1650-1690), himself a worthy product of the school he came to lead.

By the early years of the 19th century, 
a new era in education had begun to dawn. Thomas Arnold’s reforms of the curriculum and ethos at Rugby School ushered in the public boarding school revolution of the Victorian age. Under Revd WS Grignon, new buildings were erected and numbers considerably expanded. With the development of the railways too, Felsted’s accessibility to a broader clientele was assured. By the turn of the 20th century, with Revd Frank Stephenson (1906-1933) at the helm, Felsted’s credentials as a leading boarding school were fully established.

After two world wars, which included an exile of nearly five years in Herefordshire for both the senior and junior schools (1940-1945), the traditional public school mintmark was a somewhat tarnished concept. It was the ground-breaking decision taken by headmaster Tony Eggleston (1968-1983) to admit girls into the Sixth Form in 1970 which began the process by which modern Felsted School has been reformed. Under Dr Mike Walker, appointed in 2008, the school’s horizons have been further widened, with admission to membership of the world-wide organisation of Round 
Square Schools in 2010.

The 450th celebrations mark the triumphant opening of a new chapter in the long and distinguished history of Lord Riche’s ancient charitable foundations, as Dr Walker explains: ‘In our 450th year, we are drawing even closer as an extended community and continuing to re-define ourselves as a place of exceptional achievement, but most importantly as a school which develops young people of exceptional character. Our community is underpinned by a common set of values: compassion, care and service to others. We have accomplished great things as a school, but it is not what we have accomplished that matters in the end. It is instead who our young people are; their values and a will to make a genuine difference and to help others. It is their attributes that exemplify all that is amazing about this community.’

Rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and ‘Excellent’ in all aspects by the Independent Schools Inspectorate 2013, Felsted School offers pupils a wealth of co-curricular opportunities while still maintaining top academic success year on year in both the International Baccalaureate Diploma and A Levels.

Academic achievements of this calibre validate Felsted’s position in the top 10% of all schools nationally in both 2012 and 2013 for Value Added – in simple terms pupils are more likely to improve their academic performance at Felsted than at 90% of other schools, either state or independent in the UK.

National achievement is not limited to the classroom, as Felsted holds a reputation for sporting success on a national scale. Recent top achievements include Felsted School teams being crowned national U13 netball champions, national finalists at six levels across hockey and netball, plus Essex champions across all core sports. Last year Felsted made history again by being the first school ever to take two age groups to the National Daily Mail Vase School Rugby finals, held at Twickenham.

Felsted is also building an international reputation for the recently launched Felsted Diploma, harnessing all the 
great aspects of Felsted’s co-curricular programme. The diploma allows students in all year groups to select a programme of activities that is specially geared to their individual requirements, ensuring the right balance between breadth of opportunity and specialising in areas where each student’s enjoyment, potential and ability are the greatest. n

Marking 450 years

Celebrations of this incredible and historic landmark began in March, with a Service of Celebration at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The Tour de France will be whizzing through Felsted School on July 7 and later in the year will see the grand opening of Follyfield House, a new girls’ boarding house which will include the bronze award-winning Felsted garden from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013.

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