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Changing Times | Midhurst Grammar School – Part two

After the closure of the school and the earlier problems it had suffered, as discussed in last week’s article, the school buildings were left to continue to decay.


The need for the school was still evident, however, and several unsuccessful attempts were made to raise money to restore and reopen the school.


The dream eventually became a reality and the school did finally reopen on April 12, 1881, as a boy’s day and boarding grammar, servicing ten boys.


The reopening of the school marked the end of Hannam’s original statues, the trustees were replaced by a board of governors and the headmaster was to hold no other positions, and the classical education of the past was replaced by a more broad learning programme.


In the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th, numerous improvements were made including a new science laboratory and lecture theatre, an isolation hospital, and two new classrooms.


Pupil numbers increased, with 30 pupils in 1903 rising to 73 in 1907, rising again in 1913 to 108.


Lord Cowdray gifted Capron House, formerly the town home of the family of Capron, to the school in 1922, which became the school master’s house.


The most well-known of the school’s pupils was writer Herbert George Wells. Wells was originally sent to the school to improve his Latin by the chemist in Church Hill to whom he was apprenticed.


Although not a formal pupil, Mr Horace Byatt, the school’s headmaster at the time, coached Wells in Latin after shop hours. In 1883 Wells left his apprenticeship to become a pupil-teacher at the school.


Sir Charles Lyell, geologist, was also a notable pupil of the school and attended from 1810-1815. He later became Professor of Geology at King’s College London. He was knighted in 1848 and created a baronet in 1864 and upon his death was buried in Westminster Abbey.


During the Second World War the school was shared with girls evacuated from London. By 1944, the school was being run by West Sussex County Council.


In 1956 the school began accepting girls for the first time. Ten years later, in 1966, the school merged with the Midhurst County Secondary School to form a comprehensive school after pupil numbers had fallen as a result of the opening of the Herbert Shiner Secondary School in Petworth.


A few years later, further changes saw the school become an upper school, only accepting pupils from age 13, rather than 11. Younger pupils instead attended either the Midhurst Intermediate School or Petworth’s Herbert Shiner School.


In 1997, Lucas House was added to the school, and was extended in 1999. In 2004 the school benefited from new laboratories and facilities within the science department and as a result was subsequently made a specialist science college. In 2006, a new sports complex was added to the site.


In February, 2006, the school was put into special measures, having failed an Ofsted inspection.


Midhurst Grammar School closed on December 19, 2008, due to a move to revert to a two-tier, rather than three-tier, education system in the area. A closing ceremony took place in the former River Site Hall. Staff and students were joined by prior pupils and staff members. The head boy and head girl at the time both delivered closing speeches.


The school was replaced by a new academy, Midhurst Rother College, which opened in January, 2009. The school has gone from strength to strength and in 2013 received an Outstanding Ofsted rating.


This article was compiled using information from Midhurst Grammar School Tercentenary 1672-1972 published by the Tercentenary Committee, Midhurst Grammar School.


By Amy Roberts, collections officer at the Novium Museum

Four rows of Midhurst Grammar School cadets with their headmaster outside the school, 1939. | Pic: West Sussex Records Office

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