The Victorian School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon


A History of the boarding school at Stratford,
by Leslie Watkins

Jolyffe House boarders and staff, 1927 Jolyffe House boarders and staff, 1927

We shall probably never know who was the first boarder at the school; whether it was Master West, of Alscot Park, who lived with the Rev Joseph Greene during his headmastership and concerning whom we have such a wealth of correspondence between the headmaster and the Hon James West covering the years 1749 to 1764, or whether others had previously been accommodated in the school in a similar way.

The report of the Schools Inquiry Commission of 1867 makes it clear that there were no boarders at the school at that time, but the new scheme of 1876 which followed as a result of that inquiry provided that in future the school should have boarders if the governors thought fit, and brought this development a step nearer by providing an official residence for the headmaster in 1877. This house, opposite New Place Gardens in Chapel Lane, had been used as a private school by Mr Warrilow since he had vacated his previous room, which was the southern half of Big School, in 1845, and it was now enlarged and became School House. Soon after this the headmaster encountered opposition in the form of a landlady in Old Town who advertised rooms for boys in her house, presumably at a lower figure than the headmaster's, but although the governors took a serious view of this development they felt that they could do no more than set up a visiting committee to ensure that her accommodation was satisfactory.

The idea of boarders was not quickly accepted, and even a year after the Rev R S de C Laffan had come (admittedly a year of great trade depression) the school could still muster no more than two official boarders. Then the tide began to turn in its favour, the following year there were six, then eleven, and by 1892 there were twenty boarders and six resident assistant masters in School House, and the headmaster had suggested the purchase of the Old Vicarage to make room for more. Then the tide began to ebb again, and in his last report to the governors in 1895 Laffan had to admit with regret a decrease, particularly in the number of boarders and attributable to a serious and general depression of incomes; and to make matters worse, when he went to Cheltenham College as headmaster a good number of the boarders followed him there.

The Rev E J W Houghton tackled his work courageously from a bad start, and in spite of a necessary increase in boarding fees the numbers slowly began to mount again. A new study block was built at the back of School House in 1888 when every dormitory was full, and the following year the headmaster built the new dining hall at his own expense and was able to report that there were now thirty-three boarders out of a total strength of ninety-one in the school.

When he left the school in 1902 Houghton took a number of the boarders with him to Canterbury (this seems to have been a feature of headmasters' movements in those days) and so passed on to the Rev Cornwell Robertson the problem that he had himself inherited. Even so, the boarding side soon gained in popularity again, the old dining hall was fitted up as a reading and recreation room and became the headquarters of the school Debating, Scientific and Photographic Societies and the Chess Club, and eyes were again turned towards the Old Vicarage; by 1904 the School House was full once more. Then again, slowly, the boarders drifted away, and when the Rev A C Knight came in 1914 there were practically none at all,

Cecil Knight was the right person at the right time, who saw his opportunities and took them. He brought thirteen boarders with him from Wolverley, where he had been a housemaster, and aided perhaps by the outbreak of the war and the movement of families from the cities he watched his boarding department grow until in three years there were thirty-two boys in School House and further accommodation was needed. In 1917 the Old Brewery House was taken on for a year to hold a dozen boarders. The limits of accommodation here were soon reached, and in 1919 the Old Vicarage was taken as an overflow boarding-house. In the same year a lease was taken out on a large house, Avondene, in Warwick Road, which was re-named Jolyffe House after one of our early benefactors, and Mr Willoughby Smallwood (who had followed Cecil Knight from Wolverly in 1915) took this over as another boarding house; and 17 and 18, Church Street, were purchased as a hostel for masters and a sanatorium for boarders. By the following year all the available accommodation was again filled and the governors, looking further afield, leased Trinity College from Miss Marie Corelli; in addition to providing the school with dormitories and studies for more boarders this building supplied three badly-needed classrooms, a Masters' Common Room, and rooms for resident masters.

About this time it was found necessary to increase considerably the boarding fees. It is easy to be wise after the event, but the policy of spreading a comparatively small number of boarders over four houses must have resulted in quite impossible overhead expenses, and a bolder policy of building or adapting a much larger house would probably have saved the school from the misfortune that was soon to come. The increase in fees produced no immediate marked effect. For two or three years the school was crowded to capacity, Trinity College (which had been re-named Trinity House) was bought with a view to future extension, and in 1925 there were seventy-nine boarders.

It was then that fortune turned, and the numbers began to fall away. In the first place quite a large proportion of the boarders came from homes that were not very distant, and the improving road services began to bring them within reach as day boys. Apart from this, the country was unsettled for a few years before it was enveloped in the disastrous economic blizzard of 1931, and by that time all the boarders had departed from the Old Vicarage and a purchaser for Trinity House was being sought. Only the School House and Jolyffe House remained. Jolyffe House was closed in 1933, and with the death of Mrs Knight in 1936, after a long illness, the fate of School House was sealed. It closed down finally in the summer of 1938.

By the next term had come the international scare which resulted in the panic movement of children from the cities again, and within another year the war had brought the mass evacuation to the country, and no doubt all the boarding accommodation we could have provided might have been filled over and over again; but the door had been closed, the key turned in the lock, and it was too late.

From The Story of Shakespeare's School 1854-1953 by Leslie Watkins
(Stratford-upon-Avon: Herald Press and Edward Fox & Sons, 1953)

Related articles

Joe Stephens -
Memories of a boarder 1925-1934

Brian Walker -
Memories of a boarder 1931-1939

Lilian Bowen, maid and cook at School House in the 1930s


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