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

The current location of the school on Barton Road was build on land donated by George Foster Clark, a Justice of the Peace and Alderman of the Borough of Maidstone. Although he offered 30 acres of his land for the school’s construction, the School Governors chose to accept only half, unsure if they could afford the maintenance of the entire plot. During excavation for the new site, evidence of Roman history was uncovered.

Barton Road was once part of a Roman road connecting Rochester, a Roman fort, to the iron mines operated by the Romans in the Weald of Kent. Roman villas lined this road, with one situated beneath the area between the Gatehouse and the canteen. Excavations took place in 1930 and 1950, but the archaeological site is now concealed by tarmac. Lord Cornwallis officially opened the site in July 1930.

It is a common misconception that the Grammar School has been on Barton Road since 1929, as the date is cast on the drainpipes around the school. In reality, the school was not ready until 1930, but the gutters had already been ordered with the 1929 inscription.

From 1930 to 1996, the names of Maidstonians who graduated and attended either Cambridge or Oxford University were engraved on panels in the Big Hall. Since 1996, the engraved names have represented Maidstonains who achieved all A grades or higher in their A levels.

When the new school building opened on Barton Road in 1930, there were initially around 300 students. Since then, the school has continued to grow, educating approximately 1400 students today. The first girls were admitted to the Sixth Form in 1992.

Due to the steady increase in student numbers since moving to Barton Road, the school building and site have gone through many transformations. Since WWII, many new buildings were constructed to accommodate the growing student population.

In the 1950s, the science labs, which are currently rooms 20, 21, 30, 31 were created from the cloisters opposite the Big Hall. In 1960, the South Block (home to the current library and rooms 42-49) 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 and in 2000, James Burke OM and British broadcaster opened the new reception.

In 2006, the Refectory and the Walker Building (affectionally known as Australia by Maidstonians) were opened. The Applied Learning Centre was built in 2009, followed by the Sixth Form and Food Technology block in 2011.

Since 1930, the Headmaster had lived in the School House with a maid and gardener. Dr Argent (HM 2009-12) was the first not to live on the site, so the School House was converted into two upstairs apartments and offices downstairs.

There was no canteen until after WWII, and dinners were cooked in the ‘old kitchen’, now the caretaker’s office, and served in the Gym. Until relatively recently, the only entrance and exit to the school was through the archway of the Gatehouse, where many lorries and coaches got stuck. You can still see the scratches and grooves in the brickwork.

The current front car park was the main hard court play area. The school library used to be where room 1 currently is, with the present rooms 2a, 2b, and 2c being the book store area. The school used to have its own outdoor swimming pool, where the hard courts beyond room 93 are. The upkeep of the pool was quite expensive, and due to the fact that Maidstone Leisure Centre’s swimming facilities were improving, the school decided to use this land for other purposes.

In 1960, the library transferred to its present location. It is known as the War Memorial library, and there is a large, wooden plaque with the names of the 70 Old Maidstonians who died in WWII.

An old tuck shop run by senior students existed until the mid-1990s and was based where the caretaker’s outside office is now located. Holes on the wall, where students carved their money into the brickwork as they waited in line for food, can be seen to this day.

Since being asked to expand in 2017, the school has made significant changes to the campus resulting in the addition of a new performing arts building, expanded science and computing provision, a new pavilion, relocated the MFL department into new premises, modernised the library, and constructed a full-size 3G all-weather pitch.