Ilminster Grammar School


"The school is not dying, or even sick. It is in robust health and is about to be assassinated."

So declared the last Deputy Headmaster, W.H.Cozens, when addressing the annual dinner of the Old Ilminsterians following the final Speech Day of Ilminster Grammar School - the 15th July 1971. The above words are taken from a small booklet published by 'The Chard and Ilminster News'. It was issued as a record of the final day of Ilminster Grammar School. A more fullsome account of the School's history, 'Ilminster Grammar School 1549-1949', had been created by the (then) Headmaster, R.T.Graham, M.A. His research had been thorough and this work is authorative: he was a Latin and History Scholar and retired as Headmaster in 1968 but was a guest speaker at the final Speech Day where he revealed a revision of the book to include the remaining years to 1971. It was subsequently published by 'The Governors of Ilminster Endowed School'.

The school certainly was endowed, not the least by its teaching staff - at any one time small in number but high in stature. Although, to each new intake (into the 'Second Form' ? ), it must have seemed that they were high in number and tall in stature! It would be inappropriate to try to name them here: because, for each generation of pupils there would be the 'frightening' and the 'favourite'; and of course the generations of pupils are authenticated in the (complete) records of the Governors' meetings to extend as far back as 1549 when the school was officially founded .

Early History - from the book by R.T.Graham

In Chapter 1 of his book, Mr Graham noted there was one piece of evidence for the existence of a school in Ilminster before 1549, the date of its official charter. There was a letter, written in 1440 by a clergyman in Wareham to a merchant in Rouen which contained the sentence: "Doing you to understand that you and I were schoolfellows sometime at Ilminster, you being to board at Mose's house, the which he recommend me to you."

Also, even without the evidence of this letter, there would be good reason for supposing that an important church, with the title of "Minster", would maintain a school in connection with one of its chantries, because it was part of the duties of such a church to train boys in Latin and Religion for the service of the church, and because chantry-priests had the time, and often the learning, to act as schoolmasters.

Chapter 2 covers 'the process of foundation' and Mr Graham states 'The Patent Roll, or Grant, which records the School's foundation, written in the name of Edwatd VI, and dated in the year 1549 is a tedious and repetitous document - best summarised'. The author of this web page offers (with a certain degree of licence) the following further abstractions :

(1) "Know ye as the aforesaid Humphrey Walrond and Henry Greynfylde, tendering the virtuous education of youth in Literature and godly learning, whereby the same youth, so brought up, shall better know their duty as well to God as to the King's Majesty and for divers other honest and godly considerations,have granted to John Balch (plus 17 other Trustees) . . . . all right and title . . . . in the premises. . . . called Cross House and Battyns House."

(2) The trustees were to provide "one honest and discrete person, of good behaviour, name, fame and conversation and condition to be a schoolmaster . . . . "

(3) They shall appoint to the schoolmaster the tenement called the Cross House for his dwelling.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 deal with the founders and school events events of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. An account of one of the gentlemen who founded the school might be of interest to those boys from Chard who attended Ilminster Grammar School is :

'Riding on a mule at the head of his retinue, Walrond raided the fields of Chard and took away "sundry loads of tithe". On another occasion two members of his force were indicted at the sessions at Chard for beating some of Pollard's servants.'

As the book says: strange behaviour for such a pious churchwarden! Did this have bearing on the choice of 'House' name for the boys from Chard ? (During the latter years of the School, there were three houses : 'Wadham' - for the Ilminster boys and boarders; 'Walrond' - for the Chard boys; and 'Hanning' for those from the general rural area. Division of the School into houses gave an even greater sense of belonging - if that was required in an 'intimate' school of some 120 pupils - and led to a competitive spirit.)

Chapters 6,7 and 8 deal with the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and closely relates to English life of the period. The period spanned both the English Civil War and the Monmouth rebellion, and appointment of William Hanning as a Trustee in 1812. The book portrays a chain of subsequent events:

In 1822 the newly appointed Allen (as Headmaster), shocked because his boys were leap-frogging over the graves in the churchyard, asked that a playground be rented ..... In 1824 it is reported in the minutes that Mr Hanning has purchased a tenement near the churchyard, late Stubb's, with which he intends to endow the School as a playground.

Out of this offer seems to have grown the Hanning Exhibition Fund, the most generoius benefaction which the school had received since its foundation.

Chapters 9, 10 and 11 look in depth at particular elements of the nineteen century such as: The Endowed Schools Act, and the New Buildings. Reminiscences of Allens School indicate how the School was changing. In a (preserved) letter to the Trustees in 1839, Allen requested their support in extending the curriculum, to introduce the following :

(1) the rudiments of Hebrew to all who are desirous and capable of learning it, more especially to those intended for the church.
(2) French as an addition to the two classical languages.
(3) Elementary principles of Mathematics.
(4) Some branch of Natural Science.
(5) Some form of outdoor Physical Training.

Chapter 12 covers the period 1891-1949 and prior to this, the Headmaster had always been a clergyman. The first non-clergyman was R.J.W.Davison 1891-1913 and the book says:

"the Governors were not happy about the Boy's School at the time of his appointment, but things seem to have improved very quickly."

This chapter includes both World Wars and many Old Ilminsterians 'did their bit', although in particular, two of Mr Davison's Old Boys rose to high commands : Field Marshall Lord Harding of Petherton G.C.B, D.S.O., M.C.; and Lieutenant-General Sir Colin Callander, K.C.B., K.B.E., M.C.

Moving now well into the memories of living Old Boys the next Headmaster was L.H.Mermagen, 1913-1937, followed of course by the book's author Robert Thomson Graham. He describes his years, to 1968 in Chapter 13 where among the 'brick bats and plaudits' is a paragraph bringing strong emotion to many Old Boys :

The chief consolation of the war years was the fine record of the Old Ilminsterians in the Forces, proving the value and soundness of their training under unexpected circumstances. And the greatest blessing of all was that all our staff returned safely and nearly all of them remained here until their retirement or closure of the School.

Mr Graham added Chapter 14 as a revision and continuation of his original book and, covers a painful period of events leading to closure of the School in 1971. It has to be due to his fortitude (not to forget especially - his great sense of humour) that the final Headmaster of Ilminster Grammar School for Boys, Mr A.D.Maher, maintained the high standards set by his predecessors. (The author of this page doubts whether, when he arrived at the School in 1932, Mr.Maher 'can have seen it coming' !)

Rationalle and acknowledgements

The author of this web page has tried to give a glimpse of what was, in all probability, a typical Grammar School in rural England. Although, to those of us who attended, it was very special.

This page has almost exclusively made use of the book by Mr.R.T.Graham and if this were given as a reference in a learned paper today, it would have to be as 'Private Communication' - in that, probably, copies remaining are in the hands of individuals. We value them highly !

The author is most indebted to : his parents, for insisting (come hell or high water) he should go to Ilminster Grammar School; all those who went before, so establishing the traditions; and Mr.Graham, for being so thorough in doing and recording his research.

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