1600 - Grammar School

Among the earliest schools of which records exist are the grammar schools. Almost all had a strong connection with the church. Pupils would have been drawn from families of professionals, merchants, and even minor gentry. This school in Huntingdon – where Oliver Cromwell and Samuel Pepys were once pupils – had a comparatively spacious single room, a high ceiling and large windows at each side. Classes were still taught here in 1939. Now the Cromwell Museum, it looks more 'medieval' today than at any time in its history, the result of an enthusiastic - if somewhat inaccurate - restoration dating from 1878. Why were they called grammar schools?

The Grammar School in Huntingdon was originally the great hall of the Hospital of St John the Baptist, founded c 1160. In 1565 it was converted to house the school. Churches and other foundations such as almshouses and hospitals often supported schools where Latin grammar was taught. Latin was important because it was the language used in services and in many official and professional callings and knowledge of its grammar was as essential as computer skills are today. Sf there was no ecclesiastical benefactor, the burgesses and guilds - or even a philanthropically minded individual - might be prepared to pay a master's salary and provide premises where the sons of the better-off might be educated from about the age of seven to their early teens. Girls, if they received any education at all, would normally be taught at home by a tutor. Throughout the medieval period, schoolchildren would generally be taught together irrespective of age. Until Caxton pioneered cheap printing, teaching was mostly oral and learning by rote was the norm. The model grammar-school teacher of Cromwell's day was held to be a man 'of sound religion, of a grave behaviour, of a sober and honest conversation, no tippler nor haunter of alehouses, no puffer of tobacco; above all apt to teach and severe in his government'. Number work was practically ignored in these schools and even teaching boys how to write was held to be beneath the dignity of the grammar-school master, so it was normally taught by an itinerant 'writing teacher' or an after-hours tutor. Physical punishment, justified by Biblical authority, was an accepted practice. Eight hours a day studying the classics in an intimidating atmosphere would hardly have encouraged a spirit of enquiry among pupils. Some local grammar schools nevertheless acquired such a reputation for excellence that they began to attract a steady stream of paying pupils from other parts of the country - thus was born the English public school tradition.



1810 - Sunday School