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The history of the school is fascinating and began in 1614 when William Holland, a wealthy merchant from Steyning and former Mayor of Chichester left funds in his will for the foundation and maintenance of a Free Grammar School.
He purchased Brotherhood Hall in his late seventies and then on 25th January 1614 he purchased all the lands connected with the school (Church Street site) from Sir Edward Bellingham of Newtimber, Sussex for £760. Two weeks before his death he made a will in which he left sufficient property to found and maintain a Grammar School.
The school was known as ‘The Free School’ and its first schoolmaster in 1614 was the Reverend John Jeffrey. It was laid down that no ‘child or youth’ of Steyning should be refused admission if he was ‘meet and able’, which meant they needed to read English distinctly and be able to pay a shilling to join the register. In the early days there was only one master and no more than 50 boys, with 6 boarders, and all lessons took place in one room within Brotherhood Hall.
Brotherhood Hall was originally a merchant Guild Hall related to the cloth industry, it was probably an open hall on one floor. The timbers of this marvelous building have been tree ring dated and date back to around 1461. The building housing the original Grammar School was formally the Guild Hall of the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity.
After a period of decline, a North Country man called George Airey transformed the fortunes of the school in 1839, by bringing a nucleus of promising students from other areas and the younger sons of titled gentry and civil servants. He was thoroughly involved in local affairs and was much loved and respected by the people of Steyning.
Following Airey’s 38 successful years as School Master, there were 77 applications to fill his position and the Reverend A Harre was chosen. During this time the boys wore mortarboard caps and short Eton Jackets for Church on Sundays. The Fees at the time were £8 a year and many leading families in the neighbourhood sent their sons to the school.
In 1908 whilst Reverend E. Lea was Headmaster the Brewer’s Arms was acquired and became the school library. The first new school buildings were completed in 1910 which included a woodwork room, and in 1913 Dormer House and gardens were purchased. By 1921 with the advent of the railway making access easy from the surrounding area, the number of students had risen to 133.
By the time Reverend Attenborough succeeded as Headmaster in 1924 there was a much more relaxed attitude to education, allowing a greater variety of subjects. Holland Cottage and Chatfields were both purchased in 1935, and by the outbreak of the Second World War there were 150 boys in the school.
In 1944 John Scragg was appointed Headmaster and shortly after all tuition fees were discontinued, although it was still a selective Grammar School for boys who passed the ’11 Plus’. In 1952 for the first time there were more than 300 boys with 42 sixth formers.
Edwin Crawford was Headmaster when the Shooting Field Secondary Modern School was officially opened in 1953 by His Grace, The Duke of Wellington providing education for nearly 400 boys and girls. In 1964 a new boarding house was opened and is now named after its first and much loved housemaster E. F. Bennett.
With John Evans at the helm, in 1968 the comprehensive school we have today was formed, when the Grammar School amalgamated with the Secondary Modern School to form one large school. A major programme of building works also began to give the Drama Hall, Humanities block, Creative Arts block and the Octagonal buildings.
During the eleven years Peter Bolton was Headmaster the school briefly became one of the largest comprehensive schools in the country. Steyning Grammar school has been responsible for the education of hundreds of thousands of students over the years, preparing them for their careers and life within an ever-changing world. The school is now the largest state school in West Sussex covering two sites with over 2200 students, 450 Sixth Form students and with one of the most modern boarding facilities in the country accommodating 120 students from all over the world.
A commemorative book has been produced in celebration of the School’s 400th year by Caroline Meeson, with the help from local historians, the late George Cockman, Janet Pennington and Joyce Sleight, Steyning Museum curator Chris Tod and old boy George Barker. The book is still available to buy at both school receptions priced £12.