Highgate School

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Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate
Highgate crest.jpg
Motto Altiora in Votis
(Latin: "Higher through prayer")
Established 1565
Type Independent day school
Religion Church of England
Headmaster Adam Pettitt, M.A.
Founder Sir Roger Cholmeley
Location North Road
N6 4AY
Local authority Haringey
DfE number 309/6001
DfE URN 102163 Tables
Staff 126 full-time
Students 1455
Gender Mixed
Ages 3–18

Maroon and Navy

Affiliations Eton Group, HMC, IAPS
Former pupils Old Cholmeleians
Website www.highgateschool.org.uk

Highgate School is a British day-only independent school in Highgate, London, England. Originally a free charity school for local boys, it became during the nineteenth century one of England's public schools. It is a member of both the Headmaster's Conference and the Eton Group. Highgate no longer takes boarders and recently moved towards co-education ending over 400 years of single-sex education. According to the Good Schools Guide, "Its decision to go co-ed has helped to put its popularity and academic standards on upward trajectories".[1]

The school was founded as, and still is, a charity, the Free Grammar School of Sir Roger Cholmeley, Knight at Highgate by letters patent of Queen Elizabeth I in 1565. In this period up to 1871 it was known commonly as The Free Grammar School at Highgate, The Highgate Grammar School, or the Cholmeley School, when not referred to legally. By the 1870s the school had largely dropped free provision for local parish boys and instead became a boarding-school for boys from the upper and upper middle classes. For this reason the name was changed to Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate, which it is still known by today in its registered charity status.[2] In the later part of the 19th century the school's current title Highgate School developed, as it competed with public schools like Eton College, Harrow School, and Winchester College.

Highgate School comprises three "schools" – Pre-Prep (ages 3–7), Prep School (ages 7–11) and the Senior School (11+) – which are managed by the Highgate Foundation.


The school was established in 1565 by a Royal Charter of Elizabeth I giving permission for Sir Roger Cholmeley to erect a free grammar school for boys.

Cholmeley, a former Chief Justice and local landowner, decided to found a charitable school for poor boys from the local parishes, and acquired from the Bishop of London some land on the site of the old gatehouse to the Bishop's park and hermit's chapel (opposite the Gatehouse Inn, which still exists). A new chapel and buildings for the school and the local curate, who was expected to be the teacher, were built. The chapel also served as a chapel of ease for Highgate residents.

However, by the early nineteenth century a dispute arose because the charity was spending more money, and the curate more time, on the local chapel than on the pupils. A House of Commons commission visited in 1819 and found the Master, the Rev Samuel Mence, was paying a sexton to teach the boys. In a long and bitter action brought in the High Court against the Trustees it was contended that this was contrary to its founding charitable deed. Lord Chancellor Eldon, in his 1827 judgment, agreed, finding "the charity is for the sustenance and maintenance of a free Grammar school".[3] The trustees were forced to comply and a separate local church for Highgate, St Michael's, was built in South Grove after a successful local appeal. Mence struggled on at the school until 1838 when there were only 19 pupils.[3]

An expansion of the school occurred under the next Headmaster The Revd Dr John Bradley Dyne (Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford) between 1838–1874. Under Dyne the school became a boarding school; fees were introduced and academic standards improved. Like other public schools, Highgate followed Dr Arnold at Rugby School in introducing the house system. Also like other public schools, Dyne mercilessly flogged the pupils with a birch rod.[3]

Highgate School has the greatest concentration of Eton Fives courts in London.[4] The school has two blocks of courts;[4] one structure with ten courts (of which six were built in 1899 and a further four added c.1913) and a second block of eight courts constructed in the 1920s.[4]

During this period the current chapel and main buildings were erected, designed by Reginald Blomfield (who had also designed Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford). A fragment of the older school building, a gateway with a rusted bell mechanism above between the porter's lodge and the main school building, remained intact until 2006 when the bell was refurbished and the old entrance itself rebuilt in a more modern style.

During the Second World War the school's buildings were commandeered by the British government and the school was evacuated to Westward Ho! in Devon, returning to Highgate in 1943. This return was maybe slightly premature because one afternoon in 1944 a V‑1 Doodlebug flying bomb landed and exploded in the field behind the Junior School. Luckily, the only serious casualty was a cricket scorebox.

By 1965 the school occupied a large site in Highgate Village, as well as extensive sports fields and several boarding houses in the surrounding area.

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was buried in the school chapel, his grandson an Old Cholmeleian. However, in 1965 after a row with the council there was a ceremonial disinterring of Coleridge at which the then Poet Laureate John Masefield spoke and the remains were reburied at St Michael's parish church just a few hundred yards away. There are currently weekly services for pupils and staff in the Chapel, and monthly celebrations of Evensong, which are open to the general public. There are also twice-termly Communion services, which is a relatively new innovation.

Highgate School also has the oldest Public School freemasons' lodge, Cholmeley Lodge No 1731, formed in 1878, part of the Public Schools Lodges Council.

In 2003 the school took the decision to become fully co-educational ending over four hundred years of single sex education.


Due to the Foundation's significant ownership of land and properties around the school, it has been able to invest greatly in the school's facilities; the relatively recent conversion from boarding to day school has increased the space available for this to continue. The Foundation's governing body consists of 12 members; 5 are nominated (one each by the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London, by the Bishop of London, and by the Lord Chief Justice), and the rest are co-opted. The school is a member of the Eton Group of independent schools.


Chapel Quad, with "Big School" on the left, and the chapel

The school operates a house system like many other public schools and upon reaching Year 9,[5] pupils are placed in a house according to where they live (although the boundaries of each house can flex based on numbers and gender balance). These houses are Northgate, Southgate, Westgate, Eastgate, Queensgate, Kingsgate, Midgate, Fargate, Heathgate, The Lodge, School House and Grindal. Each house has a Housemaster in charge of the pastoral, as well as academic well-being of house-members, and tutors for each year group. This system, which Dyne, like other public school headmasters, copied from Arnold's at Rugby School, was established to create "house spirit" among the students, allowing for both academic and sporting competitions among the houses. Some of these, like School House, Grindal and The Lodge used to be boarding houses. Grindal and Westgate are the only houses to have their own old boys' clubs, the Mitre Club and the Zephyr Club respectively. However, other houses, such as Kingsgate, are newer, having been created by a dissaffected group of Westgateans in the 1970s.


  • 2006–date Adam Pettitt
  • 1989–2006 Richard Kennedy
  • 1974?–1989 Roy Giles
  • 1954–1974 Alfred John Farr Doulton
  • 1936–1954 Geoffrey Foxall Bell MC
  • 1908–1936 J.A.H. Johnston
  • 1893–1908 Rev Arthur Edmund Allcock
  • 1874–1893 Rev Charles McDowall
  • 1838–1874 Rev John Bradley Dyne
  •  ?–1838 Rev Samuel Mence

Notable members of staff and governing body[edit]

The Cholmeleian Society[edit]

The Cholmeleian Society works to help former pupils of Highgate School, called Old Cholmeleians (OCs) (after Sir Roger Cholmeley, who founded the school in 1565), stay in touch with each other, and with the school. To promote this, social events are organised, and a magazine, The Cholmeleian, is published twice a year. Notable Old Cholmeleians include:



Popular music[edit]

Classical music[edit]

Film and television[edit]


  • Harry Courtney (Oxford Boat Race Crew, 1875 and 1876)
  • Gordon Crole-Rees (Davis Cup tennis player)
  • Colin Drybrough (Captain of Middlesex CCC)
  • David Hays, (cricketer)
  • Thomas Hughes (Two FA Cup Winner's Medals for Wanderers FC 1876 and 1877)
  • William Knightly-Smith, Cricketer, Cambridge University, Gloucestershire and Middlesex
  • Douglas Lowe QC (Olympic athlete, President of the Bar Council)
  • Sir Daniel Pettit (England Footballer and Industrialist)
  • Leonard Pike (Cambridge Boat Race Crew, 1876, 1877 and 1878)
  • R.D Robertson (Rugby union, Scottish International)
  • Walter Robins (England Cricket Captain, Middlesex CC. Also played football for Nottingham Forest)
  • Stuart Rogers (Cricketer, Somerset)
  • William Seagrove (Olympic athlete)
  • Phil Tufnell (Middlesex CCC, England cricket team, TV personality)
  • R.G. Warton (England cricket team manager)
  • William H "Tagge Webster" CBE, President of the MCC and England Amateur Footballer
  • Amin Zahir (fencing, Olympic team)



Scholars and poets[edit]

Business and commerce[edit]


The Armed Forces[edit]



External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°34′18″N 0°08′57″W / 51.5717°N 0.1493°W / 51.5717; -0.1493