In 1519 three eminent men who had been born in Bruton – Richard Fitzjames, Bishop of London, Sir John Fitzjames, later to become Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and Dr John Edmundes, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral – decided to establish a new school in the town.
They granted several properties to the Abbot of Bruton, William Gilbert, and directed him to build this school. Just twenty years later, in 1539, Bruton Abbey was dissolved and handed over, along with the School’s endowments, to King Henry VIII. However, after Henry’s death and in response to a petition from the people of Bruton, King Edward VI restored the School’s endowments on 1st May 1550, and by his Royal Charter, a Board of Governors was established to administer the School.
The School, although small, flourished during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Among pupils of this period were Thomas Russell, friend of Shakespeare and Executor of his Will, and, it is believed, William Dampier, explorer and buccaneer. Like other ancient schools, King’s then slumbered in the 18th Century until it was roused by the Revd JCJ Hoskyns-Abrahall, Headmaster from 1826 to 1864.
This fine scholar and, according to tradition, severe disciplinarian educated many boys to become prominent Victorians. His pupils included:
By 1900 the School was still small, with no more than sixty boys living and working in just two buildings – Old House, based on the original Schoolhouse, and New House, built in 1872, which served as the Headmaster’s House as well as a second boarding house. During the 20th Century there was a considerable expansion in the number of pupils, reaching over 300 by the 1950s, and staying at that level ever since.
This increase necessitated new buildings and improved facilities, and these were achieved thanks in no small part to the generosity of two great benefactors, James Lyon, O.B. and the 2nd Lord Blackford. Notable developments included the Memorial Buildings, opened in 1924, five more boarding houses – Priory in 1943, Lyon in 1954, Blackford in 1960, Wellesley in 1984, and Arion in 1997 – and in 1947 the Junior School moved out to Hazlegrove House, Sparkford, and in beautiful surroundings, it has grown and flourished, whilst remaining a vital part of the whole foundation. A new Dining Hall was added in 1975, the Fitzjames Theatre and Sports Hall in 1979, a Design Centre in 1990, the Hobhouse Science Centre in 1999, a new Library in 2004, and the Basil Wright Building, accommodating Reception and School Offices, in 2009. However, the most significant development of the past fifty years has been the introduction of girl pupils, beginning in 1969 when girls were welcomed into the School’s Sixth Form, and followed by full co-education from 1997.
So there has been much change since the School was founded nearly five centuries ago, and the Founders’ original avowed aim of producing ‘perfight latyn men’ has been greatly modified to suit 21st Century needs. Nevertheless, true to its traditions, the School still has close links with the town and the parish church which is used for School services, and the pupils continue to be encouraged to develop their abilities in a friendly, stable, but progressive, environment as a preparation for life in the modern world.
If you have any queries about the School’s history please email the School Archivist, Mr Andrew Leach.