Repton School

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Repton School

, ,
DE65 6FH

Coordinates52°50′27″N 1°33′04″W / 52.8409°N 1.5510°W / 52.8409; -1.5510Coordinates: 52°50′27″N 1°33′04″W / 52.8409°N 1.5510°W / 52.8409; -1.5510
TypeIndependent, day and boarding school
MottoLatin: Porta Vacat Culpa
(The gate is free from blame)
Religious affiliation(s)Christian
  • Bequest made: 1557 (1557)
  • Land acquired: 1559
FounderSir John Port
Local authorityDerbyshire County Council
Department for Education URN113009 Tables
HeadmasterMark Semmence [1]
Age range13–18
Enrolment640 (2018)[2]
Colour(s)Navy and Yellow         
AlumniOld Reptonians
Preparatory schoolRepton Preparatory School

Repton School is a 13–18 mixed, Christian, independent, day and boarding school in Repton, Derby, Derbyshire, England.

The school only admitted boys for its first 400 years, and started accepting girls in the sixth form early in the 1970s, and within 20 years became fully coeducational.[3]


Foundation and early years[edit]

The school was founded by in a bequest of Sir John Port of Etwall, who died in 1557 leaving funds to establish a grammar school at Etwall or Repton, provided the students prayed daily for his family's souls.[4]

In 1559 Gilbert Thacker granted buildings at the site of Repton Priory for the school, but lawsuits quickly began between the School and the Thacker family focusing on use of the approach to their home.[5]

Relations with the Thackers deteriorated such that, by the 1650s, the school and the family were embroiled in litigation. In 1642, the school commenced an action against the Thacker family and in 1652 the family also brought an action against the school which was settled out of court.

The atmosphere around the dispute was aggressive and on occasion the Thackers diverted drains into the school's buildings by constructing dams. In 1670 a wall was built to keep the parties apart.[5]

Pupil numbers seem to have swung between 80 and 200 in the first hundred years, but as the school was free until 1768 it is unclear how teaching was afforded.

The headmaster was free to keep cattle in a room within the school in this period.[5]

A pupil's letter home in 1728 relates to his father that the headmaster, George Fletcher, would withhold meals from the boys if they were unable to recite scripture.[5]

Decline and renewal in the 18th and 19th centuries[edit]

Repton Grammar School, Repton, Derbyshire: gateway. Tinted lithograph by Hullmandel & Walton
Repton Grammar School, Repton, Derbyshire: gateway. Tinted lithograph by Hullmandel & Walton

The school declined in the 1700s and the 1800s.

Pupil numbers were under 50 by 1833, and a former pupil recalled after leaving:

"even more than the paucity of its numbers, was the almost total absence of all those facilities... cricket ground we had none. Football was played upon the gravel, between the Arch, and the broken pillars...No gymnasium, no fives court, no racquet court...No French, no German, no Music, no Natural Science... No chapel, no master's house beyond the Arch, no bridge (at first) across the Trent, no railway.... Why did even 50 boys resort to Sir John Port's old School?"[5]

Although by the 1830s some of the reforms of Dr. Thomas Arnold were being implemented at the school,[5] the school declined further in the following decades.

Decline was paused by headmaster Steuart Pears, who worked hard to raise the school's status and reputation.

A big effort was made with Charity Commissioners and the Clarendon Commission to have the school accepted as one of the great public schools,[5] however Repton was excluded from their 1864 report (which included only nine schools), and the school was thus excluded from the Public Schools Act 1868.[6]

In 1884, a chapel was added to the school's buildings.[7]

20th century[edit]

Between 1900 and 1914 the "Black Book" (the school discipline record) recorded 38 instances of homosexual relations within the pupil community.

Harold Abrahams, joined the school in 1914
Harold Abrahams joined the school in 1914

Punishments for this activity ranged from caning to expulsion. Most of the activity was performed in groups, with research concluding "what we are seeing here is [not] the victimisation of couples, but the periodic purges of small cadres of peers".[8] Immediately after this period, when Fisher became headmaster in 1914, an account was as follows: "homosexuality was rife. Fisher immediately expelled two senior boys and began to rule with a very firm hand".[9]

Harold Abrahams CBE, the Olympic champion in the Paris Olympics of 1924 in the 100m sprint, depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, joined the school in 1914. Recalling his time at the school, Abrahams said he encountered antisemitism, often feeling bullied and alone.[10]

In 1907, a gymnasium was added, this building is now listed at grade II.[11]

A reforming master, Victor Gollancz, established evening class in political education for the boys in the early 1900s; the school considered that this tended to "undermine the authority of the teachers by encouraging the pupils to ask questions and work with the boys in a colaborative way", so he was termed a 'traitor' and a 'pacifist' and was dismissed form the school.[12]

1,912 former pupils of the school served in the First World War, of these 355 died in service.[13] A war memorial was added to the school's site in 1921.[14]

Christopher Isherwood, Repton Old Boy
Christopher Isherwood, Repton Old Boy

In 1917, writers Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward (one of the most outspoken political novelists of the era), were sent to Repton, where they formed a friendship in the sixth form, which continued when they both attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Commenting his time at Repton, Upward reflected "everyone was homosexual, up to a point, at Repton" and the two boys revolted against everything associated with the establishment, which they called "the other side".[15] The friendship endured until Isherwood's death in 1986.

In the 1920s, the poet Vernon Watkins was sent to Repton; his quiet, gentle character provoked regular bullying in his early years, but in his last years he attained more popularity once he was able to show ability in sports. When he died the school wrote that he was "perhaps the best poet Repton has had".[16]

Hubert Parry originally wrote the music for what became the tune Repton in 1888 for the contralto aria "Long since in Egypt's plenteous land" in his oratorio Judith. In 1924 George Gilbert Stocks, director of music at the school, set it to the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" in a supplement of tunes for use in the school chapel. Despite the need to repeat the last line of words, Repton provides an inspired matching of lyrics and tune.[17] the Second World War, 188 former members of the school lost their lives serving their country.[18] The school itself struggled before and during the war: the school owed £50,000 and, in 1941, the Board of Education said its 'future is doubtful’.[19] One boarding house (The Cross) was closed in 1938 and a second (Latham House) was closed in 1942. The total number of pupils was 353 on the outbreak of war but only 273 in 1943. Numbers then recovered. The Cross was reopened in 1945 and Latham House in 1947. By the time the school celebrated its quatercentenary in 1957, it was full with 470 pupils.[20]

Roald Dahl[edit]

Writer Roald Dahl attended in the 1930s; his experiences are related in his semi-autobiographical book Boy, in which he describes an environment of ritual cruelty, fagging and beatings:[21]

All through my school life I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely... I couldn’t get over it. I never have got over it.[22]

Jeremy Clarkson, Old Reptonian
Jeremy Clarkson, Old Reptonian

Jeremy Clarkson[edit]

In the 1970s, broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson attended Repton.

He said the school made him a "suicidal wreck" remembered his time as follows:

As the years dragged by I suffered many terrible things. I was thrown on an hourly basis into the ice plunge pool, dragged from my bed in the middle of the night and beaten, made to lick the lavatories clean and all the usual humiliations that... turn a small boy into a gibbering, sobbing, suicidal wreck.

In the first two years the older boys broke pretty much everything I owned.
They glued my records together, snapped my compass, ate my biscuits, defecated in my tuck box and they cut my trousers in half with a pair of garden shears.[23]

Clarkson has stated that as he entered the sixth-form he was expelled for "drinking, smoking and making a general nuisance";[24] the school maintains he left by consensus.[citation needed]

The "Stig" character in Top Gear is said to have been named after the school's pejorative slang term for new boys, a private reference with the producer Andy Wilman, who attended Repton with Clarkson.[25]

21st century[edit]

A June, 2019 chemical spill at the school resulted in nine individuals requiring medical intervention and support as a result of a dangerous leak in new sports facilities requiring the attendance of multiple ambulances and fire appliances.[26]

In 2011 the Headmaster contacted all parents following an incident in which some 13- and 14-year-old girls accessed alcohol, after which one was required to attend hospital.[27]

In July 2018, Toffee, an elitist dating app that excludes all but those that went to independent schools described Repton as having the nineteenth most attractive alumni of independent schools.[28]

A police investigation in August 2018 resulted in a staff member being suspended. The school refused to confirm why the staff member was suspended. When asked for more information about the reason behind the suspension, a spokeswoman for the school said she could not comment because of an ongoing police investigation.[29]

In April 2019, a teacher at the school was convicted of drunk driving and banned from driving for 20 months. In the incident they attempted to escape the police by darting through the school campus and mounting the pavements.[30]

Concerns over safeguarding[edit]

In spring, 2018 the Charity Commission, which regulates Repton, expressed 'serious concern' after four safeguarding issues came to light in as many months at the school. The Commission urged reporting safeguarding concerns to Derbyshire Constabulary.[31]

An emergency inspection in January 2015 was ordered by the Department for Education reviewing welfare and safeguarding compliance under the Independent School Standard Regulations (ISSRs) and the National Minimum Standards for Boarding (NMS). The school failed to meet these national minimum standards at that inspection.[32]

However, the school implemented an action plan to address this .[citation needed]

Sexual abuse[edit]

2019 Sexual Assault, Gross Indecency and Indecency Trial[edit]

In April 2019, a 53-year-old former teacher appeared in court after being charged[33] with a number of sex offences against underage girls who were pupils that the school at the time off the alleged offences, including indecent assault and gross indecency with a child. Having pled not guilty to all the alleged offences at Repton at a hearing on 13 May, 2019 he is to stand trial for 11 charges and the full trial begins on 23 March 2020.[34]

2018 sexual misconduct allegations[edit]

In 2018 four members of the school's staff were subject to police investigation for inappropriate sexual conduct towards children, specifically:

  • Police arrested a member of staff on suspicion of attempting sexual contact with a child.[35]
  • A few weeks later, a second police investigation into a staff member, relating to safeguarding concerns, was launched.[36]
  • Within weeks of this, a further two members of staff were reported for misconduct allegations. Local police commented:

"Officers from Derbyshire Constabulary are working as part of a multi-agency team to deal with safeguarding concerns at Repton School"[37]

  • In August 2018, one of these individuals, a 28-year-old former organist at the school, Jeremy Woodside, was placed on the Sex Offender's Register; he has since left the country.[38]

Charity Commission Safeguarding Concerns[edit]

In 2018, the Charity Commission expressed concerns about the school's safeguarding arrangements.[39]

Rape allegations within the pupil body[edit]

In October 2017 a former pupil began proceedings against the school claiming negligence on the school's part in connection with an alleged rape of that pupil by another pupil in 2014 when a 17-year-old pupil was arrested on suspicion of carrying out two rapes at the school;[40] in this action it is understood that it was claimed that the school failed to supervise or discipline its pupil.

In the case the claimant made a request of the Derbyshire Constabulary for the papers from their investigation, which the police refused to provide without a court order.[41]

2016 Disqualification from teaching[edit]

A former Head of Physics, John Mitchell, was found to have abused of a position of trust contrary to s.16(1)(a) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 on 6 December 2014 when he engaged in sexual activity with a female between the age of 13 and 17 and he did not believe that she was 18 or over. He also communicated in a sexual way and with sexual motivations to this same pupil.

He was disqualified from teaching indefinitely by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, following a findings that this was unacceptable professional conduct.[42]


Roald Dahl gives accounts of his time at Repton in his book 'Boy'
Roald Dahl gives accounts of his time at Repton in his autobiography

Author Roald Dahl gives accounts of fagging in his 1984 autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood and described an environment of ritual cruelty and status domination, with younger boys having to act as personal servants for older boys and be the subject of beatings.

Dahl expresses some of these darker experiences in his writings, which is also marked by his hatred of cruelty and corporal punishment.

Fagging is recorded as having taken place at Repton as recently as the 1970s[43] and 1980s, when Chris Adams was at the school and subsequently reflected:

"The only thing I disliked about Repton was the ingrained hierarchy whereby the older boys would subject the younger pupils to a lot of misery through the system of fagging. It was basically a system of slavery and I hated seeing the young lads literally trembling with fear"[44]

Cock of the School[edit]

In the early centuries of the school's development a pupil role called Cock of the School was accepted within the pupil body. The title was conferred on a boy after fighting between likely candidates.

Once a boy was incumbent in this role, the younger boys were regarded as his 'slaves' and custom required them to defer to him and to do his work. Writing in 1907, G. S. Messiter described the practice as an "ancient custom".[45]

Corporal Punishment[edit]

Physical chastisement of pupils was part of the culture of the school until recent times. A prefect, F. C. Freeman, wrote to The Spectator Magazine about the justifications for this in 1939:

Thus it can be seen that corporal punishment... is no " barbarous type of bullying practised by older adolescents upon younger adolescents." It is a mild type of punishment, the threat of which enables the prefects to keep perfect discipline with very little exertion[46]

Corporal punishment is no longer permitted at the school.[47]

Health and safety offence[edit]

Criminal enforcement proceedings were brought against the school by the Health and Safety Executive in October 2014.[48] Magistrates fined the school £10,000 following a guilty plea to a health and safety indictment after an incident of negligence which resulted in a grandmother sustaining serious back, head and hand injuries.[citation needed]


The school is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

An Integrated Inspection took place in March 2014, finding the school to be "exceptionally successful in achieving its aims... the quality of the pupils' achievements is excellent".[49]


Per year, fees currently stand at £34,707 for boarders and £25,746 for day pupils.[50]

There are scholarships available for drama, sport, art, music, academic capacity and 'all rounder talent'.

There is also some bursary assistance.[51]


Repton Priory was a 12th-century Augustinian foundation dissolved in 1538. After dissolution, the Thacker family lived at the priory until 1553, when, fearing the priory would be recommissioned under Queen Mary I, Gilbert Thacker destroyed the church - a task almost entirely completed in a day[52][53] - stating:

"He would destroy the nest, for fear the birds should build therein again."[52]

Accordingly, only parts of the original buildings remained when the school was established; these comprised:[54][55]

  • the footings of areas of the priory remain in some areas, uncovered during construction work in 1922;
  • the bases of a cluster of columns of the former chancel and chapels;
  • fragments of an arch belonging to the former pulpitum, moved to their current position in 1906;[55]
  • fragments of the door surrounds of both the chapter house and warming room.[54][56] and
  • largest surviving portion of the priory known as "Prior Overton's Tower", which is post 1437; largely altered, it has been incorporated into a 19th-century building.[57]
The School Arch, formerly part of Repton Priory, was moved to its current site in 1906.[55]

The 1957 400 Hall theatre was transformed and extended by Bryan Avery in 2011 following a £3.3million project.[58]

In 2013 a £9 million science priory was built. During the preparations for the building work, archaeological digs were undertaken which indicated the site had been occupied in the Roman period.[59][60]

Houses and pastoral arrangements[edit]

A little over two thirds of pupils are boarders.[61] The school has 10 houses: 6 for boys and 4 for girls.


  • The Abbey
  • The Cross
  • Field House
  • The Garden
  • Latham House
  • The Mitre
  • New House
  • The Orchard
  • The Priory
  • School House[62]

Former Houses[edit]

Houses that have been redeveloped or renamed include:

  • Brook House
  • The Hall (at one time divided into A-K and L-Z) - now known as School House.

Although the school is in a low crime area, there are occasional incidents: for example in May 2015 a cache of laptops and mobiles were stolen from pupils in a boarding house,[63] while a further theft of a valuable chalice from the chapel occurred in March 2016.[64] In contrast to its twentieth century history, the school now has strong anti-bullying policies.[65]

There is a chapel which is Anglican in foundation.[66]

Sports and clubs[edit]

The school competes in various sports.[67] Notable sporting former pupils include 1932 Wimbledon tennis finalist, Bunny Austin and several first-class cricketers.[68] In 2013 six former pupils played together in an international hockey match.[69] The school has a Combined Cadet Force and a music school, as well as various after-school clubs.[70]

Adam Peaty, the Olympic swimmer, attended the school for a period on a scholarship after his potential was identified.


The school's motto, Porta Vacat Culpa ("the gate is free from blame"), is a quotation from Ovid's Fasti.[71] 'The gate' (Porta) refers to the school's arch[72][non-primary source needed] and, by a synecdoche of pars pro toto, the school itself, whilst also being a pun on the name of the school's founder, Sir John Port.[73]

Overseas client schools[edit]

The school set up Repton International Schools Ltd (RISL) in 2013 to establish, develop and maintain the highest quality British international schools. The client schools are generally funded by partners, sometimes private equity firms, who are licensed to use the Repton School "brand".[74]

RISL covenants its profits to Repton School Trust in the UK, which helps fund capital projects and bursaries.

Client schools comprise: Repton School Dubai, which opened in September 2007 and is situated on a site in Nad al Sheba;[citation needed] Repton School Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2013 on Al Reem Island, Abu Dhabi; Foremarke Dubai opened in 2013 and is located in Dubiotech, Al Barsha South and the Repton New English School in Amman, Jordan.

Further relationships are in development in, amongst others Oman, India and China.[75]

Yet another overseas offshoot is set to open in Bulgaria as of August 2018.[76]

Prep school[edit]

A junior school, Repton Preparatory School, was founded in 1940. It moved to nearby Foremarke Hall in 1947.

Social action[edit]

In May 2016 the school made defibrillators on its site available to the local community.[77] Some of the staff at the school have been vocal about the issue of speeding traffic in the village of Repton, and have participated in public speed gun enforcement.[78]

Many of the school's facilities are used by the wider community. Olympic gold medal and world record holder Adam Peaty used Repton's swimming pool as a training facility. His coach, Melanie Marshall, also teaches swimming at the school.[79]

Film and TV settings[edit]

The school has twice, in the 1930s and 1980s respectively, represented the fictional Brookfield School in a 1939 film and a 1984 BBC version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.[80][81]

Around 200 pupils were extras in the 1939 film.[82] Similarly, pupils appeared as extras in the 1984 BBC version.


  • Thomas Whitehead (1621–1639)[83]
  • Philip Ward (1639–1642)[83]
  • William Ullock (1642–1667)[83]
  • Joseph Sedgwicke (1667–1672)[83]
  • Edward Letherland (1672–1681)[83]
  • John Doughty (1681–1705)[83]
  • Edward Abbot (1705–1714)[83]
  • Thomas Gawton (1714–1723)[83]
  • William Dudson (1723–1724)[83]
  • George Fletcher (1724–1741)[83]
  • William Asteley (1741–1767)[83]

Old Reptonians[edit]

Alumni of Repton School are known as Old Reptonians.



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