Schools: Enfield Grammar School

Pages 294-296

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.

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The origins of Enfield Grammar School are confused and obscure. The accepted date for its foundation is 25 May 1558 (fn. 1) and from this time onwards it has a continuous history, but it inherited part of a charity called Poynetts, originally established at South Benfleet (Essex) by the will of Robert Blossom (d. 1418). This property became the endowment of a chantry at Enfield in 1471. On the dissolution of the chantries in 1547 the property passed to the Crown, but the Court of Augmentations declared the King's title doubtful and in 1550 the property was restored. (fn. 2) Three years later Queen Mary relinquished all claims and in 1558 an attempt was made to endow a school with the Poynetts estate. One of the proposed trustees died before the deed could be executed; unfortunately for the school a second deed granted only £6 13s. 4d. (the salary of the former chantry priest) for the school, while the residue was to be used for the relief of the poor. The schoolmaster was to teach the children of the poor of Enfield Latin and English 'according to the trade and use of grammar schools'. (fn. 3) In 1586 William Garrett left £50 to build a schoolhouse, and this money was probably used to erect the Tudor school which was still in use in 1963. (fn. 4)

The first known headmaster was William Bradshawe, who either died or left in 1600, since Thomas Taylor received 14s. to serve out Bradshawe's time and was then himself appointed master. Taylor was succeeded by Richard Ward (1606-47). (fn. 5) In 1615 James I attempted to reclaim Poynetts and actually sold the rents, but four years later they were bought back for £100 by the parish. In 1621 a new trust deed was drawn up; the master was to receive £20 a year and was to teach the children of the inhabitants of Enfield the cross-row or alphabetical letters, writing, grammar, and arithmetic; (fn. 6) Prouns' house, adjacent to the school, which had been purchased by the parish in 1516, became the master's house, but the use of the chamber and garret over the school was reserved to the trustees and vestry. (fn. 7)

Dr. Robert Uvedale, the botanist, was master from 1664 to 1676. He established a private school in the manor-house, and was accused by the parishioners of neglecting the grammar school; although he won his case he decided to resign and devote his time to his private pupils and his botanical studies. The school has adopted the Uvedale coat of arms and motto, and possesses part of his Hebrew testament, including the flyleaf on which he recorded the birth-dates of his children. (fn. 8)

The Revd. John Allen (1732-61) was so successful that the school was extended. The vestry gave up the upper part of the school-house, which was then fitted up for boarders, and a new master's house was added to the building. (fn. 9)

The Revd. Samuel Hardy (1762-91) was an author and theologian. (fn. 10) During his mastership Thomas Liley, the parish clerk was appointed usher, the first whose name is recorded. He was the 'ingenious schoolmaster' who in 1779 established the dimensions of a cedar tree planted by Uvedale and for many years a local landmark. (fn. 11) During this period the school suffered financially, for between 1773 and 1795 the timber on the Poynetts estate was sold for £1,849 and the proceeds applied to the relief of the poor-a proceeding which reduced the parish rate but did nothing for the school. (fn. 12)

The next master, the Revd. John Milne (1791- 1831), was successful during the first half of his long headmastership. There were about 110 boys, aged 7 to 14, all the sons of parishioners both rich and poor alike. They were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic; geography, mathematics, and classics were available for those willing and able to profit from their study. The parents provided the books and stationery, but there were no fees, although some parents whose boys benefited from the higher education made gifts to the master. The latter did not take private pupils, but he occasionally coached university entrants. In 1818 Milne was first asked to resign and then dismissed on account of his severity to the boys. He contested the dismissal and claimed a further increase in his salary which then stood at £100. (fn. 13) He was at length successful and in 1825 a new scheme was drawn up for the government of the school. The master was to receive a salary of £120 a year, but if the number of boys fell below 60 his salary was to be cut by one-third. The master, with the assent of the trustees, might appoint an usher at a salary of £50 a year, but the usher was to be dismissed if the numbers fell below 60. There were to be three hours of teaching each morning and afternoon; instruction was to be given in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the master and boys were to attend church on Sundays and prayer days. The trustees seem to have been smarting from their defeat, for they pointedly demanded Milne's strict compliance with the provisions regarding hours of attendance and holidays. (fn. 14)

Relations with the next master, James Emery (1831-46), were also unhappy, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to eject him for neglect of duty. He was eventually bought out by his successor, Charles Chambers (1847-74). In 1858 the trustees fell out with Chambers and attempted to dismiss him, an action which had the support of the Charity Commission. (fn. 15) Chambers refused to go and the trustees appointed another master. This course was opposed by the Vicar of Enfield, J. M. Heath, who thought that further litigation would be both costly and unsuccessful; he added that being bankrupt did not make a man a worse schoolmaster. Chambers won his case and the school had to meet a further heavy bill for costs. Since 1819 the charity had spent in all £2,838 on litigation at a time when its normal expenses were £230 a year.

The uncertainty and expense occasioned by the lawsuits naturally affected the school adversely, while rival National and private schools all benefited. This was confirmed by the Schools Enquiry inspection in 1865. There were then 75 boys who were taught the elementary subjects and history, grammar, and geography. There was no Latin, French, or drawing, nor were there examinations or prizes; the books were antiquated, the school was badly organized, and the buildings were unsatisfactory. Chambers kept an entirely separate private school of 17 boarders and 5 day boys and was therefore unlikely to be able to give proper attention to the grammar school. (fn. 16)

In 1872 a parish meeting was held to discuss the future of the school and it was decided to apply to the Endowed School Commissioners for a new scheme. This permitted the sale of the Poynetts estate and the introduction of school fees. A pension was to be provided for Chambers, who eventually retired in 1874. Despite his differences with the governors he appears to have retained the affections of his former pupils, who presented him with a silver salver at a dinner held in his honour. (fn. 17) The estate was sold for £6,000, debts were paid off, and in January 1876 the school reopened with 11 boys under the headmastership of W. G. Macdonald. The curriculum included mathematics, history, geography, French, natural science, and vocal music, for a fee of £6 a year; Latin, German, and drawing were extras at £1 a year for each subject.

Macdonald stayed for only a year and was succeeded by W. S. Ridewood, who remained headmaster until 1909. During this period numbers increased to 159 and several extensions were made to the school buildings. The first of these was a headmaster's house, the gift of Edward Ford, one of the governors. In 1894 the South Block was erected with the aid of a grant from the Middlesex County Council, and six years later the 18th-century Assembly Rooms were purchased; these additions provided laboratories, a library, a staff room, and several classrooms.

In 1908 the school passed under the control of the County Council and in the following year E. M. Eagles became headmaster. The school continued to grow and in 1909 a new hall and three more classrooms were erected. In 1924 the balance of the money derived from the sale of the Poynetts estate was used to purchase Enfield Court; the house accommodated the junior forms and the grounds became playing fields.

L. C. Soar was appointed headmaster in 1934. In 1938 a new hall was begun and other additions included a new library, classrooms, and laboratories. These extensions involved the demolition of the old Assembly Rooms. Under the 1944 Education Act the school became a voluntary controlled school. (fn. 18) In 1964, when there were 778 pupils, Mr. Soar retired and was succeeded by Dr. L. Whitworth.


  • 1. L. Birkett Marshall, Brief Hist. Enfield Grammar Sch. 1558-1958, 15.
  • 2. W. Robinson, Hist. and Antiquities of Enfield, ii. 165.
  • 3. J. Tuff, Notices of Enfield, 131-2. Dr. Marshall points out that there was a schoolmaster at Enfield in 1524: see account of funeral of Sir Thomas Lovell in L & P. Hen. VIII, iv (1), p. 152.
  • 4. Robinson, Enfield, 180; building described in Hist. Mon. Com. Mdx. 23.
  • 5. Robinson, Enfield, 188.
  • 6. Ibid. 168-9.
  • 7. Tuff, Enfield, 119; E. Ford and G. H. Hodson, Hist. Enfield (priv. printed 1873), 319.
  • 8. D.N.B.; Lysons, Environs of Lond. ii. 285; Marshall, Enfield G.S. 27, 52.
  • 9. Ford and Hodson, Hist. Enfield, 317.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. 1793, lxiii (2), 1156; ibid. 1794, lxiv (1), 275.
  • 11. Ibid. 1779, xlix (1), 138-9; ibid. 1814, lxxxiv (2), 206.
  • 12. 2nd Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 547, p. 85 (1819), x-B.
  • 13. Ibid. pp. 83-85, App. 266; 9th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 258, p. 188 (1823), ix.
  • 14. Tuff, Enfield, 134-5; Marshall, Enfield G.S. 33.
  • 15. Tuff, Enfield, 140, 229.
  • 16. Schs. Enquiry Com. [3966-XI] H.C., pp. 23-26 (1867- 8), xxviii (10); Marshall, Enfield G.S. 30, 34-35.
  • 17. Ford and Hodson, Hist. Enfield, 325; Marshall Enfield G.S. 36.
  • 18. Marshall, Enfield G.S. 37-49.