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Changing Times | The history of Chichester’s Prebendal School

Prebendal School prides itself on its rich history, as the oldest school in Chichester and in Sussex.


It is probable that the school dates back to when the cathedral was built (1075) when it would have been known under a different name as a ‘song school’ for the cathedral boys’ choir.


The old school house which stands today dates back to the 13th century and features a narrow tower above the Long Dorm that contains 300-year-old panelling.


The school was forced to close down in 1462 when the headmaster at the time, Thomas Gyldesburgh, who was also rector of St Olaves, found himself in prison for debt.


In 1497, Bishop Story was consecrated Bishop of Chichester and was very quick to express his feelings over the ignorance of the clergy and the general lack of education in the city. The grammar school was reorganised and its statutes renewed and attached to the Prebend of Highleigh in Chichester Cathedral. The Prebendal School as we know it today was founded.


During the 17th century, there were a few notable events for the school. In 1642, during the Civil War, Chichester went under siege by Parliamentarian forces led by Colonel William Waller.


The siege lasted five days, after which the Royalist resistance surrendered. Despite the surrender, the Parliamentarians proceeded to sack and desecrate the cathedral.


Bruno Ryves, later the Dean of Chichester, described what happened when they raided the cathedral: “These monuments they defaced, and mangled with their hands and swords as high as they could reach: and to shew their love, and zeal to the Protestant religion.” Despite desecrating the cathedral, the Parliamentary forces preserved the school but did appoint a new headmaster. The school was then closed during the summer of 1665 due to the Great Plague.


From then until the end of the 17th century a succession of pupils either came from, or went on to important schools or even to teach royalty, which indicates that the school at this time must have been held in great respect nationally.


Notable alumni include regicide and Member of Parliament for Chichester, William Cawley, and William Juxon, chaplain to Charles I and later Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury,


Over time, the school has undergone many changes, and fluctuations in the number of students attending the school. At the end of the 18th century, school numbers were low, some 40 boys, and new statutes were drawn up in 1880 making payment of fees by all pupils, except the choristers, compulsory. By the third decade of the 19th century there were between 70 and 80 boys and three adjoining houses were added to the original 13th century school house.


During the First World War, former Prebendal teacher, The Rev C. Pierpont Edwards, conducted a funeral service as an army padre at Gallipoli. The funeral was shelled, yet he bravely carried on.


It was also during the Great War that Graylingwell hospital became occupied by the war wounded, and required voluntary support from local groups.


The Scout Troop of the Prebendal School (62 boys were educated during 1917) was one of those groups and they received war service badges for their services at the hospital.


In 1931, the school uniform underwent a great change as the traditional Eton suits and mortar boards were given up and replaced with grey suits and shirts, stockings and pullovers with scarlet caps bearing a badge derived from Bishop Story’s Arms.


The school cellar was turned into an air raid shelter during the Second World War with both Tangmere RAF field, and Portsmouth Dockyards nearby.


Since the end of the Second World War, the school has played host to many important visitors, notably Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, who visited on July 30, 1956, and nine years later the school formed an honour guard for the Queen Mother’s visit.


The school choir has sung for Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon and Sir Laurence Olivier. In 1975, the school was visited by politician, barrister and army officer Airey Neave and by RAF pilot Oliver Philpot in 1977.


In 1997, the school marked 500 years since its re-founding in 1497 with a service of thanksgiving at Chichester Cathedral.


The school became co-educational in 1972 when girls were allowed to join and today it is both a day and boarding school for girls and boys aged between three and 13. The motto ‘fons sapientiae verbum dei’ in Latin, which translates to ‘the word of God, is the foundations of wisdom’ reflects the school’s strong traditions and close ties to the cathedral which continue today.


By Olivia French, Learning and Community Engagement Officer at The Novium Museum

Posted in Lifestyle.