St Bees School

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St. Bees School
St Bees School New Crest.png
Motto Latin: Ingredere ut proficias
(Enter so that you may make progress)[1]
Established 1583
Closed 2015, but re-opening 2018.
Type Independent day and boarding
Religion Church of England
Headmaster Jeremy Hallows
Founder Archbishop Edmund Grindal
Location St Bees
CA27 0DS
54°29′40″N 3°35′33″W / 54.4944°N 3.5925°W / 54.4944; -3.5925Coordinates: 54°29′40″N 3°35′33″W / 54.4944°N 3.5925°W / 54.4944; -3.5925
DfE number 909/6003
DfE URN 112444 Tables
Gender Mixed
Ages 4–18
Houses Bega, Lonsdale, School, Grindal
Publication "The Pacquet"
Former Pupils Old St. Beghians

St. Bees School is a temporarily closed co-educational independent school located in the West Cumbrian village of St Bees. Founded in 1583 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Edmund Grindal as a boys' "free grammar school", it was later a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference[2] and was coeducational from 1978.[3] Before closure in 2015 the school accommodated both day pupils and boarders, who lived in five boarding houses located on the school grounds and in the village, although each day pupil was also a member of a house. The last headmaster before closure was James Davies, from September 2012[4] to July 2015.

On 20 March 2017 it was announced that the school will re-open in September 2018 in a partnership with Shenzhen International, a South East Asian education group.[5] On 5th May 2017 the Trustees announced that the Headteacher Designate is Jeremy Hallows, who is currently Head of the Senior School at Bromsgrove School.[6]

Before closure approximately one third of the pupils were boarders, many from China and Eastern Europe.[3] Although many boarders were members of the main school, the school had a dedicated "International Centre", where pupils were intensively tutored to improve their English to a level where they could join the main school, frequently entering the sixth form after having spent one year in the centre and passing an ESOL exam.[7]

The school has had a long and varied history, which was characterised by periods of prosperity interspersed with periods of difficulty. Although the school had a difficult start due to the Queen initially refusing to sign the letters patent establishing the school, it eventually began to grow, partially due to its ownership of the mineral rights to surrounding land. However, despite selling the mining rights for much less than they were worth and taking part in a resulting legal tussle which lasted for the latter half of the 18th century, the school expanded rapidly throughout the 19th century, building much of the campus as seen today. The school did, however, have to be rescued by former members of the school in 1938 due to a financial crisis caused by a sudden drop in pupil numbers.[8]



St. Bees School, Cumbria, the Foundation block seen from the church tower. The original Elizabethan school is the range on the left of the quad.

The school was founded in 1583 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Grindal, who was born in the village of St Bees at Cross Hill House, which still exists.[9][10] Having fallen out with Queen Elizabeth I, and although ill and blind, he refused to resign his position until the Queen signed the letters patent which would create the Free Grammar School at St Bees. The school was founded in 1583; a few years after Grindal's death. Thanks to his making an agreement with The Queen's College, Oxford and his purchase of local tithes, the school was both financially and academically able to prosper.

Early years[edit]

Although specifically incorporated for the education of boys from Cumberland and Westmorland, as early as 1604 people from outside Cumbria were being educated at St. Bees in the original schoolroom (now one of the school dining rooms) near the Priory Church. The school slowly expanded, despite one Headmaster who worked his pupils like labourers. The school had enjoyed some financial security for many years, lessened in 1742 when the school sold Sir James Lowther an eight hundred and sixty-seven year mineral lease for much less than market value.

Modern growth[edit]

In the nineteenth century the school started to look like it is now. Thanks to a resolution of the mineral rights issue being obtained through the Court of Chancery in 1842, the school was able to physically expand, with what is now the "Quadrangle" being built, Grindal House (formerly a hotel) purchased and the Headmaster's Residence being constructed. At the turn of the twentieth century the School Chapel was built, along with what is now the Art Department and the School Library, and the swimming baths. By the outbreak of the First World War the school had reached a peak of three hundred pupils, a figure which would not be seen again for some years.

The VC memorial in the school chapel.

During the Great War three old boys of the school were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for military gallantry in Britain and many of the British Commonwealth countries (see St. Bees V.C. winners for more details. Old boy Alfred Critchley became one of the youngest Brigadier-Generals in the British Empire at the age of twenty-seven for his heroic conduct (he was older than Roland Boys Bradford, V.C. but younger than Bernard Freyberg, V.C.). One hundred and eighty old boys gave their lives during the war, and a special memorial was built overlooking the sports fields where so many had previously played.[11]

After the war the number of students remained high, but in common with many other schools the numbers decreased and then went into free-fall during the 1930s. The situation became so critical that the Governors of the School attempted to have the school nationalised. In the end, the old boys put together a rescue package and the school remained independent,[8] it being the only one of its kind at the time in Cumberland and Westmorland.

The refurbished Fox Music Centre.
St. Bees School, Cumbria, seen from the edge of the "Firsts" in winter

In 1938, during the final stages of recovery from the Great Depression, the school's headmaster of the day, George Mallaby, made an unusual career move by becoming District Commissioner for the special area of west Cumberland, with the task of alleviating the problems of unemployment.[12]

During the Second World War Mill Hill School was evacuated to St. Bees after the latter's buildings in London were occupied by the government. The two schools remained independently run, but sports teams from each school would frequently play each other.[13] The cadet corps of the two schools combined with village volunteers to form the St. Bees Home Guard, resulting in the group being much earlier equipped than many other Home Guard groups, as the cadets from both schools already had the necessary equipment.[14]

Post-war expansion[edit]

Seventy-two old boys gave their lives during the Seconds World War, and the Memorial Hall was erected in their memory.

During the 1950s a new science block was built, formally opened by Barnes Wallis in 1959,[15] and in the 1970s the school became coeducational. New boarding houses were purchased for both girls and boys, Bega House and Abbot's Court respectively, and to celebrate the school's quatercentenary in 1983 an appeal was launched which would give the school a new sports hall, opened in 1988.

The 1990s saw the opening by Prince Charles of the Whitelaw Building, a multi-function business centre and teaching area which was named after the-then Chairman of the Board of Governors, William Whitelaw. In 2000, Barony House was entirely refurbished and renamed the Fox Music Centre in memory of old St Behgian Bill Fox. To mark the millennium, a time capsule was buried in the North-East corner of the Quadrangle.

In September 2008, a Preparatory Department was launched, catering for pupils from the age of 8 until they joined the main school.[16] At this time, a nearby independent school with a prep department, Harecroft Hall, had just closed.[17] The school again expanded in September 2010 to include pupils from age four.


On Friday 13 March 2015, it was announced by the School Governors that due to the harsh financial climate, the school would close in Summer 2015.[18] In response a four-point rescue plan was proposed on the 23rd March by a "rescue team" made up of interested stakeholders.[19]

The plan consisted of....

  • 1) Work on a legal mechanism to take control from the current board of governors
  • 2) Rescind the current closure notice and replace with a preliminary closure notice to the Summer Term of 2016.
  • 3) Use the next nine months to raise funds and to develop a supported and sustainable business plan for the school
  • 4) Throughout this period post frequent updates on progress on the website and issue a substantive interim report of progress before the end of the Summer Term. Then by Christmas term 2015 formally confirm or withdraw the preliminary closure notice based on the success of the rescue business plan.[20]

However, on 17 April 2015 it was confirmed by the Governors that the school would close. The formal statement said the governors are also trustees of the St Bees Foundation and they say they are committed to it having a future in education in west Cumbria and "to the use of the site as support both for the future activities of the foundation and the village of St Bees."[21] The school formally closed in July 2015, though there are plans to reopen the school in the near future.[22]

On 20 March 2017 it was announced that the school will re-open in September 2018 in a partnership with Shenzhen International, a South East Asian education group.[23] On 5th May 2017 the Trustees announced that the Headteacher Designate is Jeremy Hallows, who is currently Head of the Senior School at Bromsgrove School.[24]

Grounds and buildings[edit]

St. Bees School, Cumbria, seen from the edge of the "Firsts"
An overview map of the school.

The school grounds occupy some 250 acres (1,000,000 m2) which is a good portion of the village of St Bees, and the oldest buildings date from the late 16th century. The original schoolroom was used as one of the dining rooms before closure, and it is surrounded by the 'Foundation' block, which was mainly built during the mid part of the 19th century. As one moves North East along the valley, the buildings generally get progressively newer, ending with the Science Block and the Management Centre. Most of the buildings are either built with or faced by the distinctive red sandstone which is characteristic of the buildings at the school. School House is located on the main site, but the other boarding houses are all located across the railway tracks to the South - Grindal in a large former hotel, while the other three houses occupy the whole of Londsdale Terrace, a row of houses owned by the school. The school also owns a building just across the road from the main school, which was occupied by the Music Department. The Priory Church was used by the school for major services throughout the year as the chapel was too small.

The buildings around the main quadrangle in the Foundation block are a grade II listed building,[25] granting them additional protections under English law. This includes the original schoolroom on the lower north side of the quad. Lonsdale Terrace is another grade II listed building owned by the school, also built in the mid 19th century.[26] The school did not own, but had use of the former chancel of the Priory Church, which is a grade I listed building, granting additional protection above grade II.[27] The school used this room for orchestra and choir practices.

Old St. Beghians[edit]

Former pupils of St. Bees School are styled Old St. Beghians. An "Old St. Beghians' Club" was founded in 1908 by master J.W. Aldous, and today as the Old St. Beghians' Society it provides a link between old boys (and girls) and the school. Amongst other things it organises an "Old St Beghians Day" at the school once a year, publishes a magazine called the Old St. Beghian twice a year( now additionally published online) and holds and participates in many golfing tournaments. There are several regional branches of the society which traditionally hold annual meals and reunions.[28]

Notable Old St. Beghains include men and women in various professions, including three Victoria Cross recipients, military officers,[29] clergymen and politicians and, perhaps the best known old boy, actor Rowan Atkinson[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "St. Bees Village Website - School History". Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "HMC Schools Q-S". Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Independent Schools Inspectorate - St Bees Report" (PDF). Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "New Head Appointment". The Old St. Beghian No.181. January 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Press release from St Bees School trustees. retrieved 20.3.2017
  6. ^ Press release 05.05.2017 by the Trsutess of St Bees School
  7. ^ "St Bees School - International Centre". Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Future of St.Bees School". The Glasgow Herald. 7 July 1938. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  9. ^ "Archbishop Grindal's Birthplace: Cross Hill, St. Bees Cumbria, By John and Mary Todd. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society 1999, Vol XCIX.
  10. ^ "Veterans look to the future". News and Star. 13 January 2006. 
  11. ^ Aldous, M.A., J.W. (1921). St. Bees School Roll of Honour and Record of Service. Edinburgh: University Press.
  12. ^ Gittings, Robert, 'Mallaby, Sir (Howard) George Charles (1902–1978), public servant and headmaster' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version (subscription required), accessed 10 August 2008
  13. ^ "Poignant last reunion". The Whitehaven News. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Mill Hill School at St Bees". Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Juniors to join school". The Whitehaven News. 9 July 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "18 jobs lost as school to shut". The Whitehaven News. 23 April 2008. Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  18. ^ Whitehaven news web site 13th March 2015
  19. ^ "Rescue St Bees School" website - retrieved 23rd March
  20. ^ "Rescue St Bees School" website - retrieved 23rd March
  21. ^ West Cumberland News and star
  22. ^
  23. ^ Press release from St Bees School trustees. retrieved 20.3.2017
  24. ^ Press release 05.05.2017 by the Trsutess of St Bees School
  25. ^ "British Listed Buildings - St Bees School Buildings". Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  26. ^ "British Listed Buildings - 1-11, St. Bees". Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  27. ^ "British Listed Buildings - Music Room in former Chancel to Priory". Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  28. ^ "About the Society (OSB)". Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  29. ^ "Whitehaven News - For Valour". Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  30. ^ "Chortle Profile - Rowan Atkinson". Retrieved 29 May 2011. 

Reference list[edit]

  • Aldous, M.A., J.W. (1921). St. Bees School Roll of Honour and Record of Service. Edinburgh: University Press. 
  • Special Committee, Old St. Beghians' Club (1939). The Story of St. Bees 1583-1939: a souvenir of the 350th anniversary of the opening of St. Bees School. London: Buck & Wooton. OCLC 223279332. 
  • Strype, John (1710, republished 1974). The history of the life and acts of the Most Reverend Father in God, Edmund Grindal: the first Bishop of London, and the Second Archbishop of York and Canterbury successively, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, to which is added an appendix of original mss.; in two books. New York: Burt Franklin research & source works series. OCLC 313493627.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]