top of page

1503/4: School founding date and other Tudor schools

Cuckfield Grammar School was one of many grammar schools being set up in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Some of these were established by City liverymen who knew each other, and no doubt discussed and compared their own education projects. They probably debated ways of ensuring that their endowments had the best chance of providing a lasting memorial to themselves, benefit the local community and paying for the prayers for the founders' souls in perpetuity.

Foundation of Cuckfield Grammar School

Cuckfield Grammar School was the *124th to be set up in the country. The earliest dates back to 1066, notable early examples include Chichester which dates back to 1075 and Eton founded in 1442.

Cuckfield's foundation date is variously given as 1504, 1512, 1516 and 1521. It certainly isn't the latter as Flower's will, dated 1521, confirms that 'for certeine years past at his cost and charge caused a fre Gramer Scole to be maintained and kept at Cukfelde.'

The wording suggests that at the time of the will writing Flower couldn't recall the exact date - maybe he was in terminal decline at the time. In an article about Cuckfield Grammar School written 3 January 1922 in the Mid Sussex Times by William Herrington the village headmaster he put it this way,: 'Shall we say “five” and make the date of commencement of the school 1516?'

Some historians have adopted nine years preceding 1521 - believing that had it been further back he would have written 'about - or more than - a decade ago'. The school's 500th anniversary was celebrated in December 2012.

The most logical founding date

 But the most logical date to me is 1503/4, the years of Flower's office as Master of Merchant Taylors' livery company. We know from his gift of a silver cup that he was extraordinarily wealthy at this time. It was the perfect opportunity to build his credibility, set an example to other merchants and encourage them to buy into education and chantry donations - so they too could secure their place in the hereafter. Historian Joan Ward in 'Education in Cuckfield' (published 1981) shares this date as the most likely.

We have established that Flower was in close touch with Henry Vll and his state officials. Henry was a very shrewd sovereign, and during his 24 year reign skilfully managed the Crown's finances.

He directed the rebuilding of a broken nation after the Wars of the Roses (1455-87) by strengthening the country's trade and industry. This was largely based on using the wealth and entrepreneurship of the merchants, encouraging them to invest in education and charitable work and lifting the burden of the poor, sick and elderly.

William Herrington in his 1922 article on Cuckfield School summed up the progress of the nation's recovery at the time:

'When he (Henry Vll) came to power, England was, and always had been, a second-rate power - over-awed by France and dictated to by Spain. Before he fell England was in the very forefront of European affairs, and both France and Spain desired alliance with her. Today, in the 20th century, there is - excluding the King - no one in the whole British Empire (not even the little wizard from Wales[Lloyd George]) that has the power that Wolsey possessed and used when Edmund Flower started education in Cuckfield, in the second decade of the sixteenth century.'

Other grammar schools founded at these times

Here are some other grammar schools formed around the same time and are still running today:

1382 Winchester College founded by William of Wykeham

1432 Sevenoaks Grammar School founded by Sir William Sevenoaks, a grocer of London, and served as Mayor of London in 1418, died July 1432

1440 Eton College was set up by Henry Vl for 70 poor boys, known as King’s Scholars, to be housed and educated at Eton free of charge.

1487/8 Stockport Grammar School Sir Edmund Shaa, a goldsmith and once Lord Mayor of the City of London endowed by his will

1502 Macclesfield Grammar School Sir was founded by John Percyvale, a former Lord Mayor of London, a member of Merchant Taylors' company, had founded

1509 St Paul’s School by the Thames in London founded in 1509 founded by John Colet, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. Colet's father was Sir Henry Colet, twice Lord Mayor of London and a member of the Mercer's company.

1509 The Royal Grammar School, Guildford founded posthumously by Robert Beckingham, a freeman of London and a member of the Grocer’s Company

1508* Wolverhampton Grammar School endowed by Sir Stephen Jenyns of Merchant Taylors'

1512 Lewes Old Grammar School established in the will of Agnes Morley, widow of John [Ashdown], Prior of Lewes.

1515 Houghton Regis, Luton, Bedfordshire was founded by William Dyve a mercer (a merchant who trades in cloth)

1532 Horsham School, West Sussex founded by Richard Collyer who was also a mercer.

1539 The Crypt School, Gloucester founded in 1539 by Joan Cooke with money inherited from her husband John a wealthy brewer and mercer and mayor of Gloucester.

*[Victoria County History says 1508, Wolv' school says 1512, their school charter dated Sept 1511]

Let's look more closely at three of these:

Macclesfield Grammar School Sir John Percyvale, was a former Master of Merchant Taylors (1485) 10 years before Flower became a Warden of the company. Sir John was Lord Mayor of London (1498) a year before Flower became Warden a second time. So they will have known each other.

Wolverhampton Grammar School Sir Stephen Jenyns (bn c1450) - was probably about the same age as Flower - was master of Merchant Taylors in 1489, was a wool merchant, became a sheriff of London in 1498 (Merchant Taylor’s advanced him £26 13s 4d. towards his expenses), and was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1508. Again a very close association with Flower who we know ‘exported cloth through the Port of London with Stephen Jenyns' in January 1506.

Houghton Regis is near Dunstable, Bedfordshire. William Dyer, probably a decade younger, was not a Merchant Taylor, but was in the closely allied profession of mercer. Mercers were merchants and exporters of wool and importers of velvet, silk and other luxurious fabrics. Flower is likely to have known most of the main fabric merchants in the trade.

The funding of the school was by chantry endowment:

‘a very rich chantry bequest in Houghton Regis, made by William Dyve, citizen and mercer of London, consisting of lands and tenements of the yearly value of £20 12s. 2d.’ … ‘The chaplain received a pension of £6 for his chanting, and a further £1 6s 8d. for teaching six poor children. Dyve put the lands of the endowment in the hands of trustees for a period of ninety-nine years …’

In Conclusion

Henry VII realised the importance of education in maintaining order and stability in his realm. Before his reign was over in 1509, he had succeeded in promoting education without burdening its citizens or nation's finances.

Before his reign access to education at the time was largely limited to the nobility and the wealthy classes but Cuckfield Grammar School was set up, as were others, for the education of poor scholars with free access to education.

*Cuckfield Grammar School was 124th to be set up in the country - this is according to the 'English Schools at the Reformation' [details belwo] - which is a chronological list of schools operating with chantry certificates (or other validation warrants) in 1894. Some from the list have long since ceased to exist.


Education in England in the Middle Ages, by Parry, Albert William, 1874-1950, P234

Export of cloth: P159

The Merchant Taylors' Company of London 1486-1493: Court Minutes (The Merchant Taylors' Company of London: Court Minutes) edited by Matthew Davies.

English Schools at the Reformation, 1546-8 by Arthur F Leach, l\LA.., F .S.A., 1896. Comprehensive chronological school list included.

'The story of Cuckfield's historic Church Schools' by the Headmaster William Herrington, Mid Sussex Times 3 January 1922.

'The School 500 Anniversary book' - 500 years of history 1512-2012, by Jo Roche and Emma Cameron (former pupils and then mums at the school) published privately on Photobox in Decembe 2012.

Edmund Flower's will (11 July 1521) wording (in full) and Cuckfield grammar school's foundation date:

 ‘ citizen and marchaunt tailor,' of London, says: ‘I for certeine years past at my costs and charge have caused a free Gramer Scole to be mainteined and kepte at Cukfelde for the erudicion and lernyng of pore scolers thedur resortyng to the honour of God in that behalf.'

From 'The History of the Parish of Cuckfield', Rev James Hughes Cooper, 1912. Includes a translation of Edmund Flower's will.

Illustration Grammar School. Stratford-on-Avon. In Church Street stands King Edward's Grammar School, where the boy Shakespeare was educated; the school buildings adjoin the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The Grammar School was founded in 1482 by Thomas Jolliffee, a Stratford man, and refounded by the King in 1553. Wikimedia public domain image..

Contributed and researched by Malcolm Davison.


bottom of page