Steyning Grammar School



Steyning Grammar School 1614-1968

In mediaeval times there was a variety of possible sources of a basic education in reading, writing, spelling and figuring. Among these were the petty schools for which the teacher had to be licensed by the Bishop. No documentary evidence has been found for Steyning before the end of the 16th Century, but in 1584 Leonard Mychell was licensed to teach little boys. He was succeeded in 1587 by James Pellatt, who was followed in 1588 by John Myller and, finally in 1609 by John Geffery.

It seems quite likely that William Holland supported this petty school, for in 1614 John Geffery became the first schoolmaster of the free Grammar School which he endowed. Its ordinances may well have been modelled on those of the well-established Prebendal school in Chichester, with which William Holland would have been familiar, having served three terms as Mayor of Chichester.

He gave Brotherhood Hall and its grounds as the school building, play area and land from which the schoolmaster might help support himself and the school was endowed with the income from the Manor of Testers. With this, the eleven trustees had to keep the building in repair and pay the schoolmaster.

Although both English and Latin were taught, the senior forms had to talk Latin at all times. High standards of behaviour were insisted upon and the number of pupils restricted to 50, with only six, at most, being boarded in the schoolmaster’s house. Certainly in later years and probably then, boys were boarded with families in the town as well.

Between 1614 and 1753 seven schoolmasters held sway. In the 18th Century Grammar Schools were in decline, schoolmasters often neglected their duties, and so did trustees. Repairs to the buildings were not done and the schoolmaster often left to his own devices. This became the case in Steyning when in the charge of John Morgan, who was appointed in 1778. A bitter struggle ensued, culminating in parishioners bringing a Chancery case which reinvigorated the trustees. A further battle followed with Morgan’s nephew, John Evans, who had stepped into his uncle’s shoes, and who refused workmen employed by the trustees access to the building. Once again parishioners complained, driving the trustees to attack Evans through his pocket. In December 1838 they told him that since so few scholars now attended the school, his salary would be cut by 67%, backdated to Michaelmas! Even then, special permission had to be sought from the Bishop to force an entry, since Evans had locked the building and taken the key. By April 1839 a new schoolmaster, George Airey, was appointed.



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