Maidstone Grammar School is one of the oldest schools in England, with a history that can be traced back to the 14th century.

Maidstone Grammar School is located in the heart of Maidstone, Kent and has been providing quality education, character development, and community service for nearly 500 years. As one of the oldest institutions of learning in the country, Maidstone Grammar School has a rich history that has helped shape its values and traditions, and establish it as a leading establishment in the region.

Dating back to 1549, Maidstone Grammar School has undergone significant changes since its modest beginnings as a small grammar school. Over the centuries, it has grown and evolved in response to the changing needs of society and the field of education. Today, it is a dynamic community of students, teachers, staff, and alumni (Old Maidstonians), who share a passion for academic excellence, character development, and social responsibility. While embracing new technologies and best practices in education, the school remains committed to building on its rich heritage and traditions.

The school officially dates back to 1549 when Maidstone was granted its first Charter, but its history can can be traced back even further.

Prior to 1549

In 1348, a school was recorded in the Old Grey Friars Building at the top of Gabriel’s Hill in Maidstone. The Grey Friars’ Order School was run by the Franciscan Order and provided education to local boys. The school was one of many monastic schools that existed in England at the time, and its curriculum focused on Latin, religion, and music.

By the late 14th century, around 1395, the school relocated to the College of All Saints, an ecclesiastical college, which was attached to the church in the centre of Maidstone.

In the early 15th century, the school moved again, this time to the newly constructed Corpus Christi Hall, which still stands on Earl Street today, albeit in a different form. The hall had been built by the Guild or Fraternity of Corpus Christi, which was founded in Maidstone in 1422. The guild consisted of two wardens, four chaplains, and a number of churchmen, gentry, and townsmen, and the building included a hall, refectory, chapel, and cloisters. The school continued to prosper in its new location and, by the mid-16th century, had become one of the most important grammar schools in Kent.

In 1547, the Government of Edward VI continued Henry VIII’s Protestant Reformation and commenced the dissolution of the monasteries and other religious institutions of the country, including colleges (All Saints) and guilds (Corpus Christi), which were regarded as supporting the old religious order. The Corpus Christi Guild was suppressed, and its property was given to the Crown.

In 1549, on behalf of the young King Edward VI, Protector Somerset sold the Corpus Christi Hall to the town of Maidstone for £200 to house a Grammar School. This sale was part of a broader educational reform programme that aimed to establish Grammar Schools throughout the country and to provide an educated clergy to support the new Church. Maidstone was granted its first Charter, which established Maidstone Grammar School as the town’s official school. The school was to be run by a body of governors, and its curriculum was to include Latin, Greek, and other subjects deemed appropriate for the education of gentlemen.

1549 to 1871

Between 1549 and 1554, the school was located at the Corpus Christi Hall until Maidstone’s involvement in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Rebellion against Queen Mary’s attempt to reintroduce Catholicism caused the town’s recent charter to be cancelled in 1554, leading to the temporary closure of the school.

In 1558, the Catholic Queen Mary died, and her half-sister Elizabeth ascended to the throne. With the return of Protestantism, the town of Maidstone was granted its Second Charter in 1559, and the school resumed its existence, which has remained uninterrupted until the present day.

These events were significant in reflecting the changing religious and educational landscape in England during the English Reformation.

In June 1648, a major battle took place along Week Street and Gabriel’s Hill, just a few hundred yards from the Maidstone Grammar School site at Corpus Christi Hall. The battle resulted in over 400 deaths as Lord Fairfax recaptured the town for the Parliamentarians during the second phase of the English Civil War.

The Puritan Commonwealth of 1649 to 1660 was a defining period in British history, and Maidstone Grammar School’s Orders of 1650 (the school’s rules and regulations), bear witness to its unshakeable commitment to education as a means of fostering individual moral and spiritual growth. The Orders of 1650 were created in the context of the broader effort to reform education in England during the Puritan Commonwealth. They reflect the Puritan emphasis on discipline, adherence to social norms, and the importance of classical education in Latin and Greek literature.

Under the Orders of 1650 the school hours were fragmented into morning and afternoon sessions. In the morning, classes ran from 7am until 11am, and in the afternoon from 1pm to 5pm (except on Thursdays and Saturdays, when classes ended at 3pm). In addition to these regular hours, students were also expected to attend a church service at All Saints on Sundays.

Other extracts from the 1650 set of orders outlined expectations for students, such as requiring them to read fluently in English before being admitted to the school and prohibiting admission of students with a history of bad behaviour. The orders also set out guidelines for the behaviour of both students and teachers, with severe consequences for those who violated the rules. For example, any scholar who was “debauched or lewd in behaviour” or who assaulted, struck, or threatened the master or usher would be immediately expelled from the school.

The orders also established a system of fees for admission and the purchase of necessary books. Every scholar who was the child of a freeman of the town of Maidstone was required to pay sixpence to the school’s common box at admission, while all other scholars had to pay twelvepence. These funds were to be used for the purchase and maintenance of common books, such as an English Bible in folio and dictionaries.

The Orders of 1650 also stipulated that the Headmaster would be entitled to a house and wages for life as long as they continued to serve as the Headmaster, provided they were not convicted of a serious crime, such as being a “haunter of alehouses, inns or taverns, profane in language or life, unsound in religion, excessive or immodest in hair or dress, negligent in the duties of their position, or that refused to conform to the good and wholesome Orders and constitutions hereby made…”. Ironically, in 1691, John Law MA, the Headmaster of Maidstone Grammar School, was involved in an altercation in which he killed a local man at an ale house. He was subsequently found guilty of manslaughter, and received a sentence of excommunication and mutilation. However, Law managed to escape and disappeared.

Despite these orders, when William Wyse vacated the headship of Maidstone Grammar School in 1651, the Maidstone Corporation carried out an inspection of the school and found it to be disorderly. They recorded, “we conceive they are far short of what they ought to be, both touching the Schoolmaster himself in his deportment as also of the said scholars.” As a result, a new set of rules was drawn up, which remained in place until 1844.

In 1844, the Victorian era was well underway, and a new set of regulations were introduced that were fitting for the period. These rules reflected the educational and social values of the time and took into account the practical considerations of operating a successful school during a period of substantial growth and change in the UK.

The 1844 rules for Maidstone Grammar School required that students begin their day with Church of England prayers and attend church regularly. Subjects at the school included Grammar, Humanity, Poetry, Rhetoric, Latin and Greek Languages, Mathematics, Algebra, Arithmetic, Reading, Writing, History, Geography, and Use of The Globes. The study of classical languages such as Latin and Greek reflected the continued importance of classical education in the curriculum. The emphasis on mathematics was also seen as crucial for the development of logical thinking and problem-solving skills, which were important for the emerging industrial and technological society.

The school day began at 7am and ended at 5pm. The holidays were scheduled around the midsummer break (four weeks from the 3rd Thursday of June) and the Christmas holidays (four weeks from the 3rd Thursday of December). The emphasis on moral development and discipline reflected the Victorian-era belief in the importance of character and good behaviour. Violent or ill-mannered students were expelled from the school, and students who were absent during school hours were visited by a tutor at home. The Headmaster had full power over the school houses, and his deputy could take over in case of his injury or temporary disability.

The rules also reflected the practical concerns of running a school. Students were required to pay two pounds and six shillings, and the prohibition on enrolling students who had been expelled from other schools reflected the need to maintain financial stability and discipline within the student body.

In 1818, the newly constituted Charity Commissioners carried out a full inquiry into the condition of the school and reported that there were ten day boys and fifteen boarders enrolled. By 1866 it was reported that there were 46 day scholars between 10-16 years old and 8 boarders, all in the Headmaster’s house. By this time, it was becoming clear that the Corpus Christi site was becoming too small to accommodate the rising numbers of pupils.

Moreover, the Corpus Christi site was located in a commercial area near the river, surrounded by factories, and the land was considered valuable. It could be sold at a reasonable price to help fund the purchase of a more suitable plot. In fact, the move raised a revenue of £3,500. The chosen plot on Tonbridge Road provided a more peaceful and appropriate setting for the school, away from the busy commercial area.

Nonetheless, Mr Elton’s 1869 report disapproves of the belief that the relocation was prompted by an increasing number of students. Rather, he expressed concerns about the school’s location due to the declining student population and the presence of “undesirable” individuals such as sailors, bargemen, and other frequent visitors to the playground. In his critical report on Maidstone Grammar School, Elton described the state and quality of education at the time. According to him, “the location’s drawbacks discourage many parents from enrolling their sons in the school.” Moreover, “subscriptions have already been received to construct a new school building, and it is believed that a sufficient fund can be raised as the old site will be very valuable for commercial purposes.” Mr Elton also provided a comprehensive evaluation of the pupils’ academic performance. “The boys are not adequately practised in Latin verse composition, which may explain their subpar pronunciation. In modern subjects, their work was more satisfactory. The upper-class students did very well in answering a challenging set of arithmetic questions. In history and geography, the younger boys performed exceptionally well in their exams, displaying a keen interest in these subjects.” Elton concluded that, despite the school’s unsatisfactory state, it had the potential to become a good town school if changes were made to the curriculum. “The people of Maidstone are unlikely to support a purely classical school, but if the course of instruction were to be altered somewhat, this grammar school would have a good chance of prospering.”

Subsequently, changes to the curriculum occurred in the same year following the 1869 Endowed Schools Act, which resulted in the school having a formal entrance test and the curriculum being expanded to include at least one Modern Language and Natural Science. Further changes occurred in 1871 when the school moved to the Tonbridge Road site.

1871 to 1930

Over the course of its time located on Tonbridge Road, Maidstone Grammar School experienced a number of wars that had a significant impact on the school community. The Boer War, which took place between 11th October 1899 and 31st May 1902, was one of the most notable conflicts of this period. Tragically, twenty-nine MGS students lost their lives during the war. The war’s early setbacks were a major factor in the introduction of a national Cadet Force, which was designed to train future officers for the British Army. The school’s CCF was officially established under the name ‘The Cadet Corps’ on 25th January 1906, with 60 students enrolled. The War Office lent the Corps twelve service rifles and forty-five carbines. The name of the Corps was changed several times before becoming the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) in 1948.

Maidstone Grammar School’s CCF began in July 1906, with its first summer camp taking place in 1907. Only one commanding officer, Capt CG Duffield, who was also the Headmaster at the time, attended the first summer camp, with 33 students from the CCF attending.

The names of forty-three Old Maidstonians who died during the Great War are engraved on two panels in the Big Hall. Given that the school admitted only around 15-20 students per year, this number is equivalent to approximately three cohorts. To honour all of the soldiers who lost their lives during the Great War, the school organises regular trips to visit the Tyne Cot Memorial, the Menin Gate, and the Flanders Fields museum in Ypres, where the name of Old Maidstonian 2nd Lieutenant S.A. Meyers is engraved on one of the memorial stones. The school also pays tribute to Old Maidstonian Sapper H.R Mount, whose name is one of the 50,000 on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. Tragically, a member of the school staff, G. Ormrod, was also killed in battle, and a commemorative plaque in the MGS Staff Room honours his memory.

During the period when the school was located on Tonbridge Road, there were significant changes in education. Central government involvement encouraged a broader curriculum, with more emphasis on science, technology, and physical training. When the new Headmaster, Mr A J Woolgar, took over in 1925, he recognised that the school needed larger premises to accommodate the growing number of pupils, particularly in terms of playing fields. He, along with the School Governors and the Kent Education Committee, were keen to acquire bigger buildings and playing fields, and Alderman George Foster Clark gifted land in Barton Road in 1924. As a result, the school moved from its location on Tonbridge Road, where it had been based for 60 years, to its new site at the top of Barton Road.

Barton Road 1930 to Present

Facts about the Site

The present building was built on the site generously donated by George Foster Clark- Justice of the Peace & Alderman (member of a borough or county council) of the Borough of Maidstone. He offered to donate 30 acres of his land to build the school on, however the School Governors opted to accept about half, as they were not sure they would be able to afford the upkeep. The Foster Clarks were a local family who had made their money from producing custard powder and jelly. The site was officially opened by Lord Cornwallis in July 1930.

Interesting features of the 1930 school

  • Initially there were about 300 students (now over 1200).
  • There was no canteen until after WW2; dinners were cooked in the ‘old kitchen’, now the caretakers room next to the PE Office, and the dinners were served in the Gym.
  • Technology was initially in room 25.
  • Until relatively recently the only entrance and exit to the school was through the archway of the Gatehouse.  Many lorries and coaches got stuck! You can still see the scratches and grooves in the brickwork.
  • The current car park was the main hard court play area.
  • Initially the Headmaster had free use of the Headmaster’s House and had a maid and gardener; Dr Argent (HM 2009-12) was the first to not live on the site so the house was converted into two upstairs apartments and downstairs offices and stores for the CCF.
  • Roman connections were discovered during the building of the new site.  Barton Road was part of the Roman road from Rochester, a Roman fort, to the iron mines which the Romans worked in the Weald of Kent (including Staplehurst High Street).  Along this road were Roman villas, and one lies under the area between the Gatehouse and the canteen – some excavations were done in 1930 and 1950, but the archaeological site is now covered by tarmac!
  • The wooden science lab (room 93) was originally the Scout Hut; the school had its own Scout troop from 1930-1970s.

How did we get the Pavilion?

The school pavilion was built thanks to donations from our Old Maidstonians Society.

Academic success

Between 1930 and 1996, the names of students which graduated to either Cambridge or Oxford University were engraved on panels in the Big Hall. From 1996 onwards, the engraved names indicated the students who attained A grades in their A levels.

Library- Past and Present

The school library used to be where room 1 currently is; with the present rooms 2a, 2b and 2c being the book store area.  In 1960 the library transferred to its present location. It is known as the War Memorial library as there is a large, wooden plaque which has the names of the 70 Old Maidstonians who died in World War 2. People can pay their respects there.

The Old Tuck Shop

The current School Uniform shop used to be a small sweet shop, run by the senior students and was so up until the mid 1990s.

A Planning Error

Many people may get the impression that the Grammar School has been here on Barton Road since 1929, because the drainpipes around the school all have 1929 cast on them. In actual fact, the School was not ready until 1930, and the gutters had already been ordered with 1929 on them!

Swimming Pool

The school used to have its own outdoor swimming pool, where the hard courts beyond room 93 are. There still remains a small storeroom of P.E. equipment, which was a chlorinating and pumping house for the pool. It wasn’t heated and therefore was only used for a few weeks during the summer. The upkeep of the pool was quite expensive and, due to fact that Maidstone Leisure Centre’s swimming facilities were improving, the school decided to use this land for other purposes

Development of the School

Since WWII, many new buildings were built to adjust to the increase of students. In the 1950’s, the science labs, which are the current rooms 20, 21, 30, 31 and the Physics Prep room, were created from the cloisters opposite the Big Hall. In 1960 the South Block (current library and small hall, music block, rooms 42-49, room 60) were built as the school now had over 800 students.  In 1981, the Technology block and rooms 52-59 were constructed and opened by Sir Rhodes Boyson PC. He was a British educator, author and politician and was knighted in 1987.

In 2000, the old Maidstonian, James Burke, a British broadcaster, science historian, author and television producer, opened the new reception. In 2006, the new canteen, and the History, Maths and Art block were opened. Then in 2009, the Applied Learning Centre was built, followed by the Sixth Form and Food Technology block in 2011.

Preparing for War

As the war clouds gathered from 1938 onwards people started building air raid shelters in preparation for an attack. All public buildings had to have air raid provisions, and therefore, in late 1938 to 1939, an air raid shelter was built under the school. The shelter had zigzag passages, and could hold more than 300 people, allowing lessons to continue as normal.

The school’s playing field also contained a tank trap, which was a large pit, filled with concrete blocks called dragon’s teeth, which would stop the caterpillar tracks from moving. This was hidden from site by covering it with turf, strong enough for light vehicles.  Also, room 7 was established as a machine gun post in case of the expected German invasion. On the 13th of September 1940, thirty-seven bombs fell in close proximity to the school but the students were all well protected in the air-raid shelter

A Great Day for MGS Students

At the end of the Second World War, school fees were abolished, meaning that you did not have to pay to embark in Maidstone Grammar School.

HMS Maidstone

HMS Maidstone was a submarine depot ship during World War II.  It was built and operational by 5th May 1938.  It weighed 8900 tons and had a length of 497ft, a beam of 73ft, and a speed of 17knots and could hold up to 1167 men.  It was used throughout the war and travelled to Gibraltar in 1941 then in 1942 it was based at Algiers harbour.  In November 1943 she was assigned to the Eastern fleet.  Then she was transferred to Western Australia to operate in the Pacific, returning to Portsmouth in November 1945.

After the war in 1951 it stopped at the Spanish harbour Corunna and this was the first time that a British warship had been in Spain since the end of the Spanish Civil War.  Then in 1953 it took part in the fleet review to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  In October 1969 it was re-commissioned for 2,000 troops to be sent to Belfast where in 1971 she was used as a prison ship in operation Demetrius as a place to hold Irish internees without trial, including Gerry Adams.  The ship was also famous for 3 IRA prisoners escaping and swimming over 300 yards through icy water to evade army and police.  The ship was decommissioned 6 years later on the 23rd May 1978, and the ships bell was donated to the school and is rung before every Big Hall Assembly to request silence and it announces the arrival of the Headmaster.

A Film Set? Surely Not?

In the 1990’s, the school was used for some scenes of ‘The Darling Buds of May’, a TV series set in the 1950’s. The old canteen was used for the Electrical Warehouse and the lower staff room as the tax office. The school was also used for two episodes of Art Attack, also in the 1990’s.

World War II (1939-1945)

Maidstone Grammar School was presiding at Barton Road when World War 2 broke out, in 1939. War had several implications for both students and staff, the most prominent being the ones described in the December 1939 wartime issue of the Maidstonian. It describes the trenches on the field and how it was disfiguring the school. While Maidstone was not suspected to be a high profile target it could come under attack and so the main points where fortified. As well as trenches, tank traps were built, where massive pits were dug and concrete spikes known as dragon teeth were placed in the pits, to trap tanks. One of these was discovered when putting in the foundations, for the 1981 building work, where the current technology rooms are.

A common practise as described by an Old Maidstonian, was that in the wartime, before playing any sorts of field games, the field had to be scanned, this meant that the boys would have to line up in a row and check the field for bullet casings that cascaded down during the Battle of Britain roaring above them. With the threat of air attack, air shelters were regularly used and are still under the court and field. The entrance is along the back entrance to the school and is very overgrown and no longer accessible.

With the new invention of aviation warfare, the obvious threat was from the sky. During the course of the war, about 240 bombs were dropped on Maidstone, killing 53 people (over 60,000 civilians killed nationwide). The nearest bombs to our school fell on the 13th September 1940 where bombs struck the Foster Clark Estate, Greenside, Birch Tree Way and South Park Road.

In December 1939, MGS found themselves sharing the site with the senior members of Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, who moved from London for safety reasons. As well as this the war suspended the use of the classic MGS house system, as “it was found the school house had very few seniors”. From then on the school was described by its students as having a “ghostly appearance”. The daily visits to the air raid shelter, the trenches and tank traps in the field along with the ever obvious military presence made the school a rather dismal place to the few students that were attending at the time. As well as this a student described how the windows had to be taped over with adhesive, to stop the glass flying if the school was attacked from the air, which in turn cast a eerie glow over the classrooms.

While Maidstone was not a high priority target, there was a major fear of German invasion and the army even went as far to install a machine gun post into the room we now know as the IT room 7, as it had ample view over both sides of the field like so.

A main achievement of MGS, was the farm and growing skills displayed to help the war time rationing effort. Rationing was introduced straight after the war was announced and Maidstone Grammar School helped ‘Dig for Victory’ and in 1940 managed to successfully grow a staggering 2 tonnes of potatoes, one and quarter tons of carrots and a quarter tonne of onions.

Also in August and September during WW2 many MGS students helped bring in the grain harvest and hops on farms as far away as Marden.