Inspiring minds since 1707

Inspiring minds since 1707

The Headmaster has been researching our history recently and has discovered a fascinating past…

Our pupils are surrounded and inspired by a stunning and historical setting every day. The School has a long and fascinating history and today incorporates four schools, plus a convent, in one. It was founded in 1707 by Thomas Thynne (1640 – 1714), who had been created 1st Viscount Weymouth in 1682, to educate the sons of his Longleat estate workers.  In 1789, the 3rd Viscount Weymouth was created the 1st Marquess of Bath. The close links between the School and Longleat are embodied in the Wren Doorway to School House, the original 1707 school building. The doorway is believed to have been designed as the main entrance to Longleat House by Sir Christopher Wren, who was born locally, in 1663 on the occasion of the visit by King Charles II and Queen Catherine. It was then moved to the new school in, or soon after, 1705. The School’s crest remains the arms of the Thynne family.

The foundation of the School was strongly supported by Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells between 1685 – 1691, and regarded also by the School as a central figure in the School’s foundation. He had been at Oxford with Thynne; after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he refused to swear allegiance to the new monarch, William III (William of Orange) because he felt legally bound by his oath to the previous monarch, James II. As a result he was deprived of his benefice. In sympathy he was invited to live at Longleat, where he remained until his death in 1711. He was a strong influence on Lord Weymouth and encouraged him to charitable and benevolent works. His chair, which is Tudor (1485 – 1603) and was presented by him to the School, now sits in the Headmaster’s office. On the back is graffiti – in the form of carved pupils’ names and dates – from the 1820s.

Over the course of the centuries that followed, the School became known as Lord Weymouth’s Grammar School, ‘Grammar’ because the teaching focused on Greek and Latin grammar.  The word was dropped from the name only in the mid-1950s. Thomas Arnold, the historian and great educational reformer was a pupil at the School from 1803 – 1807. He was later headmaster of Rugby School from 1828 – 1841. Another interesting pupil was Freddie Bartholomew (1924 – 1992), the Hollywood film star of the 1930s and 40s. According to Wikipedia, by the age of five he was a popular Warminster celebrity, the ‘boy wonder elocutionist’, reciting poems, prose, and selections from various plays, including Shakespeare.

The present-day school also incorporates a ‘National School’ dating from 1815. The National Society for Promoting Religious Education was established in 1811 with the aim of providing an elementary education, in accordance with the teachings of the Church of England, to the children of the poor. The building is now the Deputy Headmaster’s house.

St Boniface Missionary College was founded in 1860 by the Vicar of Warminster, James Erasmus Philipps. During his incumbency he also established St Denys Convent and St Monica’s School for girls (1874), run by the Sisters of the Convent of St Denys. The college closed for the duration of World War II (it was used by the Military) and when it reopened in 1948 it was in a different guise, associated with King’s College, London as a post-graduate centre for missionary work. It closed for good in 1969 and the buildings have been leased to Warminster School ever since. St Boniface is now a boarding house for boys and is one of the School’s most striking pieces of architecture, comprising Georgian, neo-Jacobean and neo-Gothic styles.

Although St Boniface also houses the School’s chapel, it is small, and so the whole school gathers three times a week in the neighbouring Minster Church of St Denys. It is here that the School has a stained-glass window as a memorial to those pupils who died in the First World War. Charles Alcock, headmaster of the School from 1864 – 1895, is buried in the graveyard. St Denys is the oldest church in Warminster and stands near the site of the original Saxon church, dating from the early 10th century. It was extensively rebuilt in the 11th, 15th and 19th centuries.

The School remained single-sex until 1973, when Lord Weymouth’s School amalgamated with St Monica’s, which stood on the site of the current Prep School. Thereafter, the School became known as Warminster School. Since 1996 the St Denys Convent has been a boys’ boarding house.

Also of historic importance is the fives court, one of the oldest in the country. Fives is an English sport believed to derive from the same origins as many racquet sports. It is believed to have been built around 1780. The origins of the court probably link the School to Winchester College and it is likely that Lord Weymouth masters who had taught there brought their game with them. As part of the tercentenary celebrations in 2007, pupils once again played on this historic court.

One other interesting piece of history at the School, now on display in a Sixth Form classroom, is a series of paintings – a little odd and apparently inspired by fairy tales – that were created during the Second World War by locally imprisoned Italian PoWs as decoration around the stage of the School’s Assembly Hall theatre (now the Sixth Form Centre).

Finally, in the centre of the School, behind School House, is the well, the School’s original 18th century water source, rediscovered only in the 1950s.

Warminster School pupils appreciate the sense of history that shapes their environment and school ethos. Mark Mortimer, agrees: “Our staff and pupils are fortunate to be working and learning in such an impressive and historic setting. As a school, we are very proud of our unique history and traditions but we are also forward-thinking and ambitious, and lucky to have many modern, purpose-built facilities. Old and new are wonderfully juxtaposed here; at the same time, we are also fortunate to be situated in a beautiful part of England.”