The King's School, Worcester

The King's School, Worcester

The King's School, Worcester (KSW) is an independent British school refounded by Henry VIII in 1541. It occupies a site by Worcester Cathedral and the River Severn.

The King's School, Worcester
Founded:7 Dec, 1541
Headmaster:Mr Tim Keyes


The King's School, Worcester, stands on the city's oldest site beside the River Severn. Occupied by the Romans, and chosen for the capital of the Hwiccii, a tributary Anglo-Saxon kingdom under the kings of Mercia, in AD 680 it became the centre of the new see of Worcester, founded by monks from St Hilda's Abbey at Whitby. A military stronghold during Alfred's reign was later replaced by a Norman castle, and though this had been almost completely destroyed by the seventeenth century, the site was again fortified to form an important part of the city's defences during the Civil War. The Norman 'Motte' was still standing to its full height until 1826. Thereafter, when it was pulled down, the county gaol stood on the land, which is now incorporated as part of the present school site.

We know little about the state of learning in Anglo-Saxon England. Bede records a school at Canterbury in 630, located in the City, outside the monastic precincts. Judging by what we know of Benedictine monasteries, in that they were closed to the outside world, it is likely the school at Worcester was located in the city also. It probably declined in the ninth century because of the sporadic Viking raids up the River Severn which forced the monks to flee for their lives. By the end of the tenth century, education revived, aided by the monastic reforms of the period, spearheaded by the Saints Dunstan, Oswald and Aethelwold, the first two of whom were Bishops of Worcester. The reforms led to a large increase in the number of Benedictine monasteries in England.

Benedictine monastery

In Worcester, it was Oswald who turned the cathedral into a Benedictine community. By 957, all the secular clergy (that is, non-monastic clergy) had either left or become regular clergy, bound by the Benedictine Rule. The novices within the monastery were watched over by a master, the Magister or Custos Scholae, who kept them in order according to the Rule which advised him as to their upbringing and welfare. It must be noted that any education of novices in grammar or Latin occurred in the city school, a document from 1265 recording the journey of monks into the town to teach at that school.

In his early years in 11th century Worcester, Wulfstan was made Magister et Custos Infantium (Master and Keeper of the Children) according to the contemporary chronicler, Florence of Worcester, and Puerorum Custos (Keeper of the Boys) according to William of Malmesbury's account. Later, as Prior, Wulstan increased the establishment of monks from twelve to fifty, and, as well as encouraging learning within the Priory, welcomed the public there, baptising, preaching, confessing and directing those who sought his counsel, among them Earl Harold.

Later, once the novices had completed their education at the monastery school (located in the city), they might go on to university. Gloucester Hall, later Worcester College, Oxford, was founded in 1291 specifically for Benedictine monks, and in that year two Worcester monks, John of Arundel and William de Grimley, went there. Subsequently, there were usually two or three sent annually from Worcester right up to the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.


There was another school also maintained by the monastery, situated in the Almonry, where the Eleemosynarius or Almoner gave food and money to the poor. The Almonry building is believed to have been built about 1321 on the site now occupied by 15, College Green. In 1397, the first mention was made of a schoolmaster's name - that of John Ekynton, who received a cloth tunic 'in return for teaching the existing poor boys in the Almonry'. In 1501, Hugh Cratford became the Magister Scholarum, and three years later it was decided he was also to teach the novices. In 1504, the Bishop, or rather the Archdeacon acting on behalf of the Bishop, ordered that Cratford should become Headmaster of the Bishop's School (later The Royal Grammar School), and that no-one else should try 'to teach grammar learning publicly in our said city of Worcester ... on pain of excommunication'. A scribbled note at the side of a page in Valor Ecclesiasticus, Thomas Cromwell's mighty survey of the monasteries in England and Wales for Henry VIII, states that the Almonry was set up by the ordinance of St Oswald and St Wulstan.


On January 16 1540, the Benedictine Monastery at Worcester was dissolved; Prior Holbeche and his 33 monks were officially dismissed and the monastery closed. However, the Bishop needed to retain Worcester Cathedral, and so a charter was drawn up whereby the lands taken from the Priory were reallocated to the new Dean and Chapter; Holbeche became the first Dean, and most of the ex- monks became Canons, including the Almoner, Hospitaller, Cellarer and Infirmarian, all of whom also retained their houses on College Green.

In Worcester, as elsewhere, the monastery as a place of learning was replaced in 1541 by a Cathedral College with a King's School in it. Under the Dean and Chapter of Major Canons was a Choir of Minor Canons and Lay Clerks, with Choristers in a Choir School. Beside them were 40 boys as King's Scholars in a separate school, which was to continue the work of the Almonry School and feed the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The King's School, Worcester, was thus founded as a rival to the established Royal Grammar School.

The Refoundation

On December 7 1541, King Henry VIII himself appointed the first Headmaster by writing to Sir Richard Rich, Chancellor of the Augmentations of the Revenues of the Crown, appointing the bringer, John Pether, 'Schoolmaster of our Collegiate Church of Worcester'. The Statutes empowered the Dean and Chapter of Worcester to make all subsequent appointments; this they did. (The School continued to be governed by the Dean and Chapter until the 1960s when the Statutes were revised.) They also chose Richard Allen to be the Usher (the position which has now become that held by the Second Master) and all the King's Scholars, quickly filling every vacancy. They were boarded and taught at the Cathedral's expense, though fee-payers could be, and were, added to the School.

chool life

King's Worcester is made up of three different schools. These are:

*King's Hawford (ages 2-11), purchased by King's in 1992, situated 4 miles north of central Worcester.
*King's St Albans (ages 7-11), formerly the Cathedral Choir School, amalgamated with King's in 1943, situated adjacent to the main school.
*King's Worcester (ages 11-18)

The year classification system at King's is somewhat different from most schools. Once in the main section of the school (ages 11-18), the classification runs as follows (Lower Fourth being equivalent to the standard Year 7, and the Fifth Form being the year in which GCSE examinations are taken):

*Lower Fourth
*Upper Fourth
*Lower Remove
*Upper Remove
*Fifth Form
*Lower Sixth
*Upper Sixth

This used to be accompanied by the following year classifications at King's St Albans (Lower First being equivalent to the standard Year 3), although these have since been dropped in favour of the standard system.

*Lower First
*Upper First
*Second Year
*Third Year

King's Hawford however has always used the standard system due to the fact that its inclusion into the King's School 'chain' has been very recent.


The Scholars had to be between nine and fifteen years of age, though ex-choristers were granted an extra year in lieu of the time they had spent being taught music. They also had to be 'poor and destitute of the help of friends', already literate (an unusual requirement at that time), 'of native genius', and with an 'inborn aptitude for learning'. Thus, the first scholars included boys from the Almonry School and the youngest novices. However, 'poor' was interpreted rather loosely by the Dean and Chapter, as perhaps it was meant to be, for others amongst the first scholars bore the surnames of well-off county gentry; 'destitute of the help of friends' seems to have indicated that they would be unable to get to university without the School's help (the same phrase was used by the founders of Eton and Winchester), for their families could not afford private tutors, but the School could give a good education. Indeed, two years after they began, in 1543, twelve went on to continue their education at university.

The King's School began its teaching in College Hall, a large and beautiful building of the twelfth century, remodelled in the fourteenth, which had previously been the monastic refectory. Here The King's School has stayed with only three short breaks: from 1636 to 1642, when the Carnary Chapel was used; from 1650 to 1651, when the School, like the Cathedral, was closed during the Civil War; and for a year during the Second World War, when the School was evacuated to North Wales.

A new phase in the School's long history began in 1971 when girls were first admitted to the Sixth Form. In 1989, the decision was taken to move to full coeducation and in 1991 the first junior girls were admitted to the Junior School and the Fourth Forms. Boarding ceased from September 1999.


Upon reaching the 'Lower Remove', pupils are assigned to one of the following houses:

*Bright - Blue tie with diagonal orange stripes
*Chappel - Blue tie with diagonal yellow stripes
*Choir - Blue tie with diagonal white stripes (half thickness, two stripes together)
*Creighton - Blue tie with diagonal pink stripes
*Hostel (discontinued in 1999, along with boarding) - Blue tie with diagonal green stripes
*Kittermaster - Blue tie with diagonal light blue & yellow stripes (half thickness, both stripes together)
*Oswald - Blue tie with two red & two white diagonal stripes (half thickness, whites together, reds separate; girls' ties have only 1 white stripe)
*School - Blue tie with diagonal light-blue stripes
*Wulstan - Blue tie with diagonal purple stripes
*Castle - Blue tie with diagonal red stripes (former boarding House - discontinued)

These ties (along with the rest of school uniform) cease to be mandatory upon reaching the sixth form. Indeed, unless sixth formers receive ties with special significance (for colours, monitorship or headship of house) it is unusual for them to wear school ties.

The houses are named for former headmasters (Saint Wulstan and Saint Oswald, former Bishops of Worcester, being regarded as former headmasters of the monastic precursor to King's), with the exceptions of the Hostel and School (both named for the buildings which housed them), and Choir House, originally the cathedral choristers' house. There is much competition between the houses in events such as sports day, cross country, football, 'The House Song Competition' and so on. For historical and geographical reasons, certain houses (notably Chappel and Creighton) have particularly intense rivalries.

Distinguished Old Vigornians

Anyone who attended the King's School is considered to be an Old Vigornian, and is entitled to the post-nominal letters "OV". Historic distinguished Old Vigornians include Edward Winslow (a Pilgrim father and governor of Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts), alchemist and spirit medium Edward Kelley, satirical poet Samuel Butler, Lord High Chancellor John Somers and actor Samuel Foote. Famous OVs from the 20th and 21st centuries include Everest pioneer and educator Sir Jack Longland, Loch Ness monster hunter Tim Dinsdale, businessman and philanthropist Lord Wolfson, writer Jonathan Raban, racing driver Derek Bell, broadcaster Chris Tarrant, comic actor Rik Mayall, Stephen Cleobury and Nicholas Cleobury — Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge and conductor of the Britten Sinfonia respectively - Conductor Jonathan Nott, Air Marshal Lord Garden, English rugby union player Luke Narraway, Richard Bacon MP and rower and Olympic gold medallist Zac Purchase.


The school has had a long and sustained rivalry with Worcester's only other co-educational private school, the Royal Grammar School, which merged with The Alice Ottley School in September 2007, to form the RGSAO (Royal Grammar School Worcester and The Alice Ottley School).


*cite book | last = Craze | first = Michael | year = 1972 | title = King's School, Worcester: 1541-1971 | publisher = Ebenezer Baylis and Son | location = Worcester
*cite web | url = | title = History of the School | work = The King's School Worcester | year = 2008 | accessdate = 2008-06-29

External links

* [ Official site]

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