The King’s School has a proud history which forms the bedrock of the current modern, dynamic school. The School was founded in 1541 by King Henry VIII following the dissolution of St Werburgh’s Abbey, which became Chester Cathedral. The School was housed in the former Monastic Refectory for most of the next 400 years until 1869. The School was variously called “The Free School” and “The Grammar School”. It was not known as The King’s School until the mid-19th century when it was referred to as the “Grammar School or King Henry VIII”. Dedicated school buildings were opened by Gladstone in 1876 adjoining the North West corner of the Cathedral. We celebrate this history with a cathedral service every term and continue to have strong links with the Cathedral.
From the late 19th to early 20th century, the school ran a Boarding House under the charge of one of the masters. By 1911, the governors had acquired new premises at Arnold House, Walpole Street, which became the Junior School and school boarding house. The latter was closed in 1931 due to the lack of pupils wishing to board.
During the Great War, games sessions were replaced by military training. A Cadet Corps was founded in 1916, and shooting practice took place every day of the week.
The inter-war years saw the arrival of typewriters, the installation of electricity in 1922, a telephone exchange and new tuck shop. Major changes became necessary during the Second World War. Parts of the Cathedral were adapted as air raid shelters, whilst some of the playing fields were ploughed up and used to produce crops. Pupils contributed towards the war effort in many ways; helping out on local farms, collecting scrap metal and training as First Aid workers.
As pupil numbers rose during the 1940s, The King’s School took over part of the former Bluecoat School buildings on Upper Northgate Street. By the early 1950s, a 999 year lease had been secured with the Eaton Estate for the current 33 acre site on Wrexham Road on the outskirts of the city. Designing the buildings started in 1956, and in 1960 the whole school moved to the new site. The royal connection continued when the school was opened by Her Majesty The Queen Mother. Further building extensions, including a sixth form centre and sports hall, were subsequently opened by HRH Princess Margaret in 1989.
In recent years, the school has further developed. The first girls joined King’s in the Sixth Form in 1998 and by 2003 King’s had moved fully to co-education welcoming girls from 7 to 18 years of age. We now have over 35% girls in the school. In 2015, Willow Lodge, the King’s first Infant School, opened.
King’s continues to invest in its facilities. In the last 10 years, King’s facilities have either expanded or improved with building development in excess of £15m.
The collection contains original documents dating back to the late 18th century. It also includes hundreds of photographs from the 1870s onwards. Silver cups, medals, school uniform and other artefacts are also held. There is a complete collection of issues of the school magazine, which started publication in 1885. Our school registers list names of pupils dating back to 1541. Clerk to the Governors’ collections contain cash books, ledgers, boarding house books, architectural plans and drawings. Press cuttings from local newspapers detailing school events, developments and former pupil’s successes and achievements have been incorporated into scrap books.
The earliest records mentioning the school and its foundation are stored in the National Archives and in the Chester Cathedral Archives held in the Cheshire and Chester Record Office. A brief summary of the most important resources elsewhere has been compiled.
Students and teaching staff use the archives for assemblies, research for history field trips, school magazine articles and other related work. We are currently working on the “King’s Walk” exhibition ready for the School’s 475 year anniversary.
The catalogue can be accessed at http://kingschester.web-archives.net/