The Royal Grammar School, formerly known as the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI, was founded posthumously by Robert Beckingham, a freeman of London and a member of the Grocer’s Company.

Royal Grammar School, 2007. Image: Richard Purkiss

Royal Grammar School, 2007
Image: Richard Purkiss

In his will, dated 3 November 1509, he stated that after his wife’s death, the parishioners of St. Olave’s Church, Southwark, should use the income from his property to fund a chantry priest to say masses for his soul. If they failed to do this within two years, his executors, who included the mayor of Guildford, were permitted to use the property to ‘make a free scole at the Towne of Guldford’ or put the income to some other charitable use. Elizabeth Beckingham died in 1510 and the lands were used to ‘kepe and maynte’n a ffree gramer scole in the seid Town of Guldeford‘.

In 1547, the mayor and citizens petitioned Edward VI to supplement the school’s endowment for the maintenance of the school and on 27 January 1552, the King granted letters patent to the school, from then on to be called ‘The Free Grammar School of King Edward the Sixth for the Education, Institution and Instruction of Boys and Youths in Grammar at all future times for ever to endure’. As the school is still educating Guildford boys, this aim would seem to have been a successful one. The terms of the letters patent also increased the school’s income by ?20 a year and granted the mayor and certain others the authority to appoint a schoolmaster and to draw up statutes for the school on the advice of the Bishop of Winchester.

The present school site was purchased in 1555 by the town government and construction began in 1557. The town clerk, John Austen, was particularly active in the school’s interests, raising funds to complete the houses for the schoolmaster and usher, although this work was never completed, perhaps owing to Austen’s death in 1572. The school found another benefactor in the 16th century, the Guildford mayor and member for Parliament, William Hamonde, who paid for further building work. Members of the Guildford government were often benefactors and the buildings were completed in 1586. George Austen, son of John Austen, wrote a history of the first century of the school. Today, the King Edward’s is an independent day school, teaching boys aged 11 to 18 years.

Further information:

‘The borough of Guildford: Introduction and castle’, Victoria County History: Surrey (4 volumes, 1902-12), III, pp. 547-560

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