How it began...
Several centuries ago, a young John Percyvale set out from Macclesfield to make his fortune. Like Dick Whittington, he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, acquiring a knighthood, a rich wife, powerful friends and a spell as Lord Mayor of London.
At the end of his life, his thoughts turned to immortality: he would endow a chantry school in his home town, where there were ‘copyous plenty of Children … and vertue right fewe Techers and scolemaisters’, and the scholars would pray daily for his soul. The school was established in the Savage Chapel of Macclesfield Parish Church shortly after Sir John’s death, with William Bridges as the first schoolmaster-priest. The year was 1502.
...and nearly ended
In 1547, when the school was a mere 45 years old, its fate hung by a thread. It had survived Henry VIII’s reign, only to be threatened by the Duke of Northumberland’s closure of chantries under Edward VI. But it had influential allies. Edmund Sutton, nephew of one of Sir John’s old cronies, convinced the Duke of the need for a school. Re-founded under a new charter, it rose again in 1552 as ‘the free Grammar School of King Edward VI’. It was endowed with former monastic lands in Chester (the monks having been less fortunate under Henry VIII) and its new home was School Bank, behind the Parish Church. There it remained until 1748.
Birch and bard
The school’s silver seal, used from 1552 until the 1970s, shows a master armed with a birch rod and the ominous motto Non nisi malis terrori (only the bad have something to fear). Let’s hope, for the pupils’ sakes, that the masters weren’t too heavy-handed, especially since they tended to stay in office for decades. Just two, John Brownswerde and William Legh, between them notched up 70 years, spanning the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and the first five years of Charles I. Brownswerde was famous as a classical scholar and poet, styled ‘first of poets, chief among grammarians, flower of pedagogues’. It’s even rumoured that he taught the young Shakespeare in Stratford upon Avon before coming north.
The first part of the 17th century was a time of quiet prosperity and growth for the school but, inevitably, it was torn by bitterly divided loyalties in the Civil War. A former pupil, Sir Thomas Aston, seized Macclesfield for the King, provoking parliamentarians to attack and occupy the town in 1643. A school governor, Colonel Legh of Adlington, then arrived post-haste with royalist forces, only to be confronted by the father of two boys in the school, Colonel Mainwaring, who ‘did dryve him hence and hee disgysed in a Soldyer’s habit escaped.’ When the war was over, it was another former pupil, John Bradshaw, who presided over the Parliamentary Court which tried Charles I and ordered his execution in 1649.
Throughout the Protectorate and the Restoration, the school continued to flourish. A particularly distinguished master was appointed in 1674: Thomas Brancker, a gifted linguist and scientist who studied chemistry under Robert Boyle. By the start of the 18th century, however, a long, acrimonious and occasionally violent feud among the governors had caused the school’s reputation to plummet. Matters grew still worse when a drunken master was indicted for murder in 1716. As part of the long, slow drive to recovery, the governors bought Sir Peter Davenport’s house in King Edward Street (a house which had been commandeered by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745) and the school moved there in 1748. School Bank was sold to a local button merchant for £120.
In the 1770s the governors (their feud long over) realised that the narrow classical curriculum imposed by the Charter of Edward VI was something of a straitjacket. A Private Act was applied for and obtained in 1774, allowing the appointment of masters to teach ‘Writing, Arithmetic, Geography, Navigation, Mathematics, the modern languages and other branches of literature and education’. It was an astute move and the school prospered. John Vernon (left), who went to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, was a pupil at this period. By 1802, under Dr Davies, there were six classes, with 72 boarders accommodated two or three to a bed. Parents who wished their son to have a bed to himself had to pay an extra two guineas for the privilege.
Francis Newbold, brought in as master in 1828, introduced his own, idiosyncratic form of entrance test: ‘Boys are not considered eligible … who are unable to write a sentence from The Spectator, dictated by the Master, without gross orthographical errors.’ The school’s main bias remained classical, despite the 1774 Act. In response to the growing demand for education with a more commercial and technical slant, the governors decided to build a Modern School, to run in tandem with the Grammar School. School land in Chester was sold to raise funds and the Modern School, on the corner of Bridge Street and Great King Street, opened in 1844. A decade later, the Grammar School moved to its third and present home in Cumberland Street.
Merger and war
One of the first pupils on the new Cumberland Street site was Darwin Wilmot, who later, despite notoriously poor diplomatic skills, became a successful headmaster of the school: ‘Of the tact which smoothes the way for schoolmasters who have to deal with the fond parents of day boys he displayed incredibly little.’ His successor, Francis Evans, oversaw a long wished-for merger of the Grammar and Modern Schools and a corresponding mushrooming of buildings and playing fields. Within two years, Europe was in the grip of the First World War. Many old boys and masters from the school joined up and over 70 died, including Capt T C Gibbs (left) who taught languages. They are recorded on the school’s memorial tablet.
War and peace
It was under TT Shaw (perhaps the school’s most legendary headmaster and certainly the first to be a member of the HMC) that the school first became known as The King’s School. TT held the reins for 33 years and is still recalled with awed affection. Under him, too, the school, direct-grant since 1926, also became a public school. The Second World War, which brought the deaths of over 40 old boys and masters, also brought 500 evacuees from Stretford. TT and the school coped with it all. By the time he retired in 1966, the school’s success and popularity had led to serious overcrowding. His successor, Alan Cooper, masterminded a major development programme and saw King’s continue from strength to strength.
After 484 years of boys only education, girls were introduced in 1986. Initially, girls were admitted to just the Sixth Form,
but it proved unstoppable. Adrian Silcock took over as Headmaster in 1987 and a range of initiatives followed. A brand new Girls’ Division and a newly co-educational Junior Division were established in transformed premises at the old Macclesfield High School; they were so successful that an Infant Department followed soon afterwards. Under the Headship of Dr Stephen Coyne, there were many more developments including the opening of a new £2.5 million Sixth Form Centre in Autumn 2007.
In 2002, on the 500th anniversary of the founding of King’s, the school received the ultimate seal of approval: a visit from HM the Queen herself. To mark the momentous occasion, a Quincentenary Bursary Scheme (QBS) was established to help provide assisted places for local pupils. Over the last 10 years, it has assisted around 50 pupils to attend King’s Sixth Form.
100 years of girls’ education at Fence Avenue
Over one hundred years ago, Macclesfield High School for Girls moved to brand new premises on Fence Avenue. The official opening in February 1909 marked the start of eight flourishing decades for the school but, sadly, in 1990 it was forced to close. The site lay empty and neglected for two years until the King’s School bought it for its new Girls’ Division, breathing fresh life into the buildings and grounds.
To celebrate 100 years of Girls’ Education at Fence Avenue, a special Founders’ Day ceremony was held on 13th February 2009 with guest speaker Ann Widdecombe MP, and on 27th March the Girls’ Division hosted an Open Afternoon for former High School pupils. The fascinating history of Macclesfield High School for Girls was on display in an exhibition at the public library for a fortnight in February 2009.
100 years of girls’ education at Fence Avenue