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Chronology of Towcester Grammar School


DateEvent Related to Towcester Grammar School / Sponne School
1430The datestone on the present building reads "Founded 1430 Rebuilt 1927" The school existed as such in the Chantry House as per instructions in the will of Archdeacon William Sponne and was run by the trust until 1867.
1691The first school uniform? A benefactor to the school, William Perry, gave a piece of land in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster, for the teaching of two poor boys in the parish of Towcester and for providing them with orange coloured coats and green caps, once in two years, at the discretion of the Churchwardens. (Ref 1).
1738The school was educating 21 boys of Towcester and one of Greens Norton.
1825An inspection by Lord Brougham's Commission found 22 boys at the school receiving elementary education in reading, writing and arithmetic, and in Latin "if they wished for it" [which they did not]. It was a grammar school and was "conducted in a manner satisfactory to the inhabitants".
1850The Factory Act restricted all women and young people to no more than ten-and-a-half hours work a day. From the 1850s, Britain was the leading industrial power in the world. Superseding the early dominance of textiles, railway, construction, iron- and steel-working soon gave new impetus to the British economy.
1866The inspection by the Endowed Schools Inquiry Commission reported that the "..Grammar School at Towcester is, to speak plainly, in an utterly bad and valueless state". Shortly afterwards the school was closed down.
1867Plans were drawn up for a new school to be built by the police station. No action was taken on the plans and the school closed down indefinitely. During closure 'the trustees paid for the "charity boys" to be educated in Towcester Commercial School, first under John Steane and then (1881) under Dr W. T. Knight'.
1869Endowed Schools Act. This resulted from the work of the Taunton Commission (1864-1868) which found that there were many towns without secondary schools. The commission recommended the establishment of rate-aided [paid for by local taxes] secondary schools which were established under the Act. This act provided for genuine mass education on a scale not seen before. The State became more interventionist and encouraged voluntary action assisted by local authorities. Elected school boards were permitted to levy money for fees and given powers to enforce attendance of most children below the age of thirteen. By 1874, over 5,000 new schools had been founded. (Ref 5).
1887' a new scheme under the Endowed Schools act of 1869 was approved by Queen Victoria. The Chantry house was surveyed and found to be in need of rebuilding.' The building was sold and local residents provided money for a new school. Principal benefactors were: Duke of Grafton, Sir Thomas G. Fermor Hesketh, Bart M.P., Lord Southampton & Thomas Ridgway Esq (each gave £100). Other local businessmen and the like gave smaller sums. (Ref 1). The Feoffees asked the architect to prepare plans for a school for 80 boys, and a headmasters house.
1890Prior to the re opening of the school in a new site with a new headmaster there were some 'aspersions' made by Dr Knight about the conduct of the governors of the school and their hiring of a new headmaster. This led to an open letter 'to the ratepayers of Towcester' by one of the governors, R. W. Watkins that included a copy of an address given to the successful applicant by the college he was leaving. Dr Knight was trying to get on the governing board despite having a conflict of interest.
1890The school reopened with 33 boys and new buildings costing £1050 built on the Brackley Road. The headmaster was Mr John Wetherell M.A. formally of Liverpool College. He was head until 1920.
1892The first county council payment of £30 per annum was made and a photograph of the whole school was taken.
1902The Balfour Education Act created Local Education Authorities which took over responsibility for board (elementary) schools and for grammar school funding. Endowed schools were grant-aided by LEAs while municipal and county secondary schools were maintained by LEAs. (The difference relates to the Articles of Governance.)
1908Mr Andrew Gibbs was appointed as assistant to Mr Wetherell and stayed at the school for 36 years (1908-1944)
1913County council took full responsibility for the school.
1914Work started on building the Council Secondary School nearby. (Ref 3).
1918The Fisher Education Act made secondary education compulsory up to the age of fourteen. Secondary education became a state responsibility. Under this Act, many endowed secondary schools sought to become central schools or secondary schools. I assume that girls were admitted to Towcester Grammar School/Sponne School as a result of this act.
1920Mr Wetherell tendered his resignation and retired on 1st February. He died a few weeks later.
1920P.G.F.Clark head (1920 - 1954). His proposal that the school colours should be blue and red and the Archdeacon Sponne's crest should be adopted as the school badge was rejected by the County Council on the grounds of the cost of the legal fees. (Ref 1)
1920Girls were allowed in the school for the first time. There were 42 boys and 40 girls.
1922There were 128 pupils. A full inspection by the Board of Education said the school "has made a good beginning and should do well".
1923The original buildings were destroyed by fire on 12th December 1923.
1926Mr P.G.F.Clark, the head master, founded the "Old Towcesterian's Association" which still flourishes today, with Rugby football, Cricket, Hockey and Tennis.
1928The replacement building, still in use today, was officially opened on Wednesday 18th January 1928 by Sir A.R. de Capell Brooke, Bart., Chairman of Northamptonshire County Council. It was designed to accommodate 220 children a quarter of whom were admitted free, the rest paying fees of £4 10s 0d per term.
1944The Butler Education Act established the tri-partite system of secondary education: grammar schools, secondary moderns and technical high schools.
1947School leaving age was raised to fifteen. Following problems with the tripartite system (the technical high schools never really succeeded) the Labour government (I assume the one in the 1960s) sought proposals to move to a comprehensive system. However, this was done on a regional basis and as a result there are still some LEAs with grammar schools.
1955Mr D.A.Beacock head (August 1954 - April 1960). (Ref 9).
1955Towcester Grammar School Parents Association founded.
1956Mr Beacock changed the school uniform from navy gymslips to grey skirts and pinafore dresses and he also changed the style of the hats.
1957Plessey Caswell provides an annual grant for the furtherance of scientific education in the school.
1960Jack Searle head (1960 - Easter 1969). He wrote a history of the school (Ref 1).
1964The school has 400 pupils.
1968Towcester Grammar School and the Council Secondary School merged to form Sponne School. (Ref 8).
1969John Mayes head (September 1969 - 1991).
1972School leaving age raised to sixteen.
1980The school has 1050 pupils.
1988The Education Reform Act introduced the National Curriculum, league tables and OFSTED to replace the HMI (Her Majesty's Inspectors). This Act was billed at the time as the most comprehensive Education Act since Butler.
1991Ian Brown head (1991 - 2003).
19931993-1995 Major building work physically joined the former secondary school with the former grammar school and provided a new staff room and office area.
1999Sponne School became a designated Technology College (Ref 8).
2004Jamie Clarke head (September 2004 - present).
2010The school has 1200 pupils, around 80 teachers and 70 support staff. (Ref 8).
2011March - Sponne school becomes an Academy
2011September - Sponne School becomes a College of Science and Mathematics.
This chronology was originally by Dee Wetherell. Information on the education acts was contributed by Elizabeth Hoadley-Maidment. Additional research was by David Wilcock.

  1. "A History of Towcester Grammar School" by Jack R. Searle (1964). A photocopy is currently (2004) in Towcester Library. The booklet includes a list of headmasters from 1448, and lists of assistant teachers. The list of headmasters is also given in Ref 6.
  2. Victoria County Histories, 1906, Vol 2 p225-229. 'under Mr John Wetherell the school is doing useful work, and considering the scanty population of the place, now well below 1000, is as full as can be expected with 33 boys.'
  3. Article in the Chronicle and Echo 22nd July 1980 'a school down the centuries' more >>
  4. Towcester Grammar School prospectus (pre 1908) with John Wetherell's name on and the fact that he was the author of 'Exercises on Dr Morris' English Grammar' in MacMillan's literature primers. Contents include a list of governors, a brief history of the school, the aims.
  5. Source: bbc.co.uk
  6. "The Chantry House, Towcester" Booklet. No author, no date, no ISBN and no publisher. Printed by Archway Press, Kettering. In Towcester Library.
  7. Towcestrian Magazine, 1955.
  8. The Sponne school website accessed in March 2010. http://www.sponneschool.northants.sch.uk/about-the-school/
  9. "Staff Register, Towcester Grammar School" (of staff who started between September 1920 and January 1958). This register has been supplied by the Board of Education, and must be furnished for their information or for that of their Inspectors when required.
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