The Skinners' School

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The Skinners' School
Skinners school logo.jpg
St John's Road

, ,

Coordinates51°08′33″N 0°15′40″E / 51.1425°N 0.261°E / 51.1425; 0.261Coordinates: 51°08′33″N 0°15′40″E / 51.1425°N 0.261°E / 51.1425; 0.261
TypeGrammar school;
Motto"To God Only Be All Glory" and "In Christo Fratres"
FounderWorshipful Company of Skinners
Department for Education URN140595 Tables
ChairmanWilliam Cohen
HeadmasterEdward Wesson
Age11 to 18
Number of students1100+
HousesSebastian, Atwell, Hunt, Knott, Nicholson
PublicationThe Leopard
Former pupilsOld Skinners
School SongThe Leopard Song

The Skinners' School (formally The Skinners' Company's Middle School for Boys and commonly known as Skinners), is a British grammar school with academy status for boys located in the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, and surrounding areas. Established in 13 October 1887, the school was founded by the Worshipful Company of Skinners (one of the 108 livery companies of the City of London) in response to a demand for education in the region.[1] Today Skinners' remains an all-boys grammar school, recently awarded specialist status in science and mathematics in recognition of these disciplines' excellent teaching. The current enrolment is 1119 pupils, of whom around 325 are in the sixth form. The first headmaster was Reverend Frederick Knott, after whom Knott House is named. The current Headmaster is Edward Wesson.

Skinners' boys generally take eleven General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) tests in Year Eleven (aged 15–16), and they have a choice of three or four A-Levels in the sixth form. The majority of students go on to higher education following the completion of their A-Levels at the end of Year Thirteen (aged 17–18). The most recent inspection from the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) conducted in 2007, graded The Skinners' School as "outstanding".


The Worshipful Company of Skinners[edit]

The Skinners' School is one of a number of schools associated with the Worshipful Company of Skinners. The first of these was Tonbridge School founded in 1553 by Andrew Judde a wealthy London fur trader and native of Tonbridge.[2] On his death governance of the School passed to the Skinners' Company where he had been Master for many years. Subsequently, the Skinners' Company, like many other City Guilds, took an active interest in supporting education.[3] For many years this took the form of charitable grants and scholarships. However, by the late nineteenth century, there was rising pressure to expand educational provision beyond that currently provided by the existing 'endowed schools' like Tonbridge and the relatively basic, local 'state national schools'. Skinners' Company proposals for a second school "at Tonbridge or at some adjacent locality" first emerged in 1870, and after a prolonged row between the two towns Royal Tunbridge Wells was chosen as the location.[4]

Skinners' Day

Every year since the first Skinners' Day in April 1889,[5] the School plays host to the Master and Wardens of the Skinners' Company, and School Governors, for the purpose of celebrating the School's achievements over the previous year and the awarding of prizes.


After briefly considering an offer made by Sir David Lionel Salomons to site the new School on his Bromfield Estate at Southborough,[6] a stretch of land was finally purchased in January 1885 on St. Johns Road, opposite an area of ground known as 'the Lew'. With continued opposition from the Townsmen of Tonbridge to the siting of the new School in Tunbridge Wells, construction was delayed for over a year. However, in May 1886 ground was finally broken and work on the School Hall begun.[7] The foundation stone, a fine piece of Wiltshire Sandstone, was laid on 27 October the same year, by the Master of the Skinners' Company, Lewis Boyd Sebastian, accompanied by the Company's wardens and a select number of local dignitaries (pictured above). Beneath the stone lies a circular aperture containing documents relating to the School, a number of bronze, silver and gold coins fresh from the mint and a London daily newspaper – a hidden time capsule marking the School's official foundation day.[8]

Skinners' School Headmaster and Boys 1890–91

The School opened for business almost exactly a year later, with 53 boys, many of whom had to walk in excess of six miles to reach class each day. Skinners was maintained as a day school until 1894 when the governors allowed borders to be taken on the understanding that the total number would not exceed 50. Soon after the introduction of boarders, the first House system was created with boarders allocated to 'School House', pupils coming in from the surrounding countryside making up 'Weald House', and those living within the town divided between 'East House' and 'West House'. Skinners has always been a selective school with entrance examinations held from the very first year in 1887 through to 1945 when the Eleven-Plus Examination was first introduced. Until the late 1940s Skinners was also a fee-paying school. An advert for the school in 1895 stated: "The School Fee for Day Boys, which includes tuition, books, stationary and games for boys under 11, £2 18s 4d a term, and for boys over 11, £3 10s a term".

The following year, the Skinners' Company founded Sir Andrew Judd's Commercial School in Tonbridge, now referred to more simply as The Judd School. Subsequently, in 1890, the Company opened The Skinners' Company's School for Girls in Hackney, now called Skinners' Academy.

The Reverend Frederick Knott

The Reverend Frederick Knott[edit]

The Rev. F.G. Knott was selected by the School Governors from over 80 candidates who applied to be headmaster of the new Skinners' Company Middle School for Boys. After graduating from Magdalene College, Cambridge he taught at Dulwich College for a number of years, before taking up his first role as Skinners' School headmaster aged 27. He moved into the School House with his fast expanding family (with six children born between 1890 and 1903), and ten boarders.

The following report on a speech he made at Skinners' Day in 1900 provides a strong indication of the ethos he imbued the school with during its formative years.

"The School is not to be regarded as a place where many lessons were stuffed into boys' brains. It was a place where character was formed, where they learned to associate with friends and where they learned to be in sympathy with their thoughts and ideas. It was a preparation for a greater life."

Frederick Knott served as headmaster for 37 years, retiring in 1924.

The School Crest, Lynxes and Leopards[edit]

Skinners' Company Coat of Arms 1633
Skinners' Eurasian Lynx

The school crest, worn on the Skinners' blazer pocket, is directly derived from the Skinners' Company Coat of Arms, officially recognised in 1550. While the original versions of the cat (like the one from the 1633 version illustrated here) look very leopard like, our armorial animals are officially the Lynx and Marten. In the language of skins, the Marten is known as Sable and the Lynx as Lizard. The modern version of the crest is more obviously a Eurasian Lynx as you can see.

In heraldic terms, the Skinners' coat of arms is described as follows:

Arms: Ermine, on a chief gules three caps of the first tasselled and enfiled with coronets Or.

Crest: On a wreath Or and gules, A lynx statant proper, about the neck a wreath leaved vert purfled Or. Mantled azure, doubled argent.

Supporters: On the dexter side a lynx proper and on the sinister side a marten sable, about the neck of each a wreath leaved vert.

Mottoes: (above the crest) In Christo Fratres – Brothers in Christ; (below the arms) To God only be all glory.

Despite the Lynx crest, Skinners' boys, particularly Old Skinners' boys, have historically been referred to as Leopards, . There is no clear explanation for this, except perhaps for the fact that Leopards were more commonly known than the Lynx. For the first 3 years in the School's history there was no mention of 'Leopards'. Then in late 1890, as the first boys started leaving the School, it was decided to set up 'the Guild of Past and Present boys of the Skinners' School', otherwise to be referred to as the 'Guild of Leopards'.

The Guild of Leopards and Old Skinners' Society[edit]

Percy Shaw Jeffrey

The old boys' association, originally known as the Guild of the Leopards, was established in 1890 by Percy Shaw Jeffrey (the second master) with its first President being Freddie Knott (the Headmaster), a position he held for five years.

Leopards' Day The first Leopards' Day took place in July 1891, during which all current and past members of the School were invited to attend a game of cricket matching the Leopards against a team put together by the headmaster's brother Percy. The School won by seven runs despite an excellent innings of 106 contributed by Percy Knott, the first century scored on the School ground.[9] The Leopards' Day tradition continues each summer, though more recently it has often involved a soccer match.

Old Skinners' Dinners

It has also been a long held tradition of the School to hold an Old Boys' Dinner each year, the first of which took place in December 1896 at the Royal Kentish Hotel, near the Pantiles.[10] More recently it has been decided that these Old Skinner Dinners be held less frequently, but more magnificently, at the Skinners' Hall in London, which has been a very successful venue for Old Skinner celebrations of significant School anniversaries.

Old Skinners' Society The current Old Skinners' Society has four main aims:

  1. To promote, preserve and strengthen the ties of sentiment which exist between Old Boys and the School and to encourage the closest liaison between the Society and the School.
  2. To provide opportunities for Old Boys to keep in touch with their former school friends and with the School.
  3. To encourage the formation and activities of branches of the Society.
  4. To provide and promote financial and/or material assistance to the School.

The Leopards Song[edit]

Percy Shaw Jeffrey wrote the words to The Leopards’ Song which first appeared in the School Magazine of December 1894 and referred primarily to the Guild of the Leopards. The original last line of the third verse was "The Guild may stand forever". The music was written by Cuthbert H Cronk who was the organist at St John’s Church from 1893 to 1943 and music master at the School from 1894 to 1899. The song was first sung at the Christmas Concert in 1895.[11] The lyrics are as follows:

The Leopards Song.jpg
Leopards Song Sheet Music.png


Original School Plan
Schoolhouse by the Lew

The song contains two lines in Latin: Floreat Sodalitas and 'dalitas Pardorum. Floreat can be translated as "let [it] flourish" and Sodalitas as "fellowship" or "companionship"; 'dalitas is a contraction of Sodalitas (in the same way that fortune 'fend is a contraction of fortune defend) and Pardorum is the genitive plural of Pardus, meaning "Leopard" (the school emblem). Floreat Sodalitas therefore means "Let fellowship flourish" and 'dalitas Pardorum is "the fellowship of the leopards".

" Bab-el-Mandeb's Straits" refers to the gallery overlooking the old School Hall (or 'Big School' as it was originally called) which led from the stairs to the old Headmaster's office (originally in the West Tower). The apostrophe and the "s" may be anachronistic (a grocer's apostrophe). The name is Arabic for the "Gates of Grief" and describes the perilous waters between Yemen and the Arabian peninsular. It's likely that the naming of the gallery was always intended to be a humorous reference to the fate-wrestling perils associated with visits to the headmaster.

The medieval ‘Lew’ probably derives from the French word Banlieue (referring to a ‘marginal area’, later ‘suburb’). The term Lew was originally applied to the whole area between the current site of St. John’s Church and the Cross Keys – which stands on the site of a boundary point with Southborough once called the ‘Lewegate’. Before St.Johns Road was officially re-named after the church consecrated in 1858, it was known as ‘The Lew’. By the time the school was built (as illustrated) the Lew also referred to the small but dense settlement that had sprung up around the end of Culverden Down and acquired a somewhat disorderly reputation for vagabonds and street musicians. Apparently there used to be running battles between the first Skinners’ boys and the local gang of Lew boys – which the Skinners’ boys generally won due to the plentiful supply of excellent clay sling shot material to be found around the bottom of the school grounds. The Lew also refers to a stream (now largely underground) that runs down the north side of the school.

Singing Traditions

A long-standing tradition at the school is to elongate the s sound in the word "whiskered" to create a hissing sound. Over time, enthusiastic boys, partially spurred on by the semi-disapproval of the staff, extended the tradition to all words within the second verse. While the students are never encouraged or told of this tradition, it is passed down through the years by the older boys to those starting at the school, during renditions of the song.

In recent years (starting in the late 1990s) it became customary (at least at Skinners' Day rehearsals) to loudly and deeply shout the word 'breathe' after the first line of each chorus, as a tribute to a much-loved retired music teacher, Mr Tony Starr, who shouted the word during rehearsals to remind the student body to breathe at that point.

The song has another version written by Shaw Jeffrey who adapted its lyrics for his new school when he became headmaster for the Colchester Royal Grammar School.

The First World War[edit]

Allen Victor Hobbs
John "Jacky" Gaimes

The School's Cadet Corps (originally referred to as the Officer Training Corps or OTC) was created in 1900.[12] When the First World War broke out in 1914 a high proportion of these cadets joined the army as junior officers.[13] Many joined the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment which was the most closely affiliated with the Skinners' OTC, but there was also widespread school representation across many other army regiments, the navy and Royal Flying Corps, predecessor to the Royal Air Force. By the end of the war 522 Skinners' School Masters and Old Boys had served in the Armed Forces (roughly 40% of the 1200 boys who had attended the School since its foundation). Of these 89 are commemorated on the Memorial at the back of the Old School Hall having paid the ultimate sacrifice for serving their country.[14]

Particularly worthy of mention across the three services were: Lieutenant Allen Hobbs (pictured right) of the Royal Flying Corps; Captain James Mould MC / D.S.O. serving in the Worcester Regiment, and Commander 'Jacky' John Gaimes D.S.O. serving in the submarine branch of the Royal Navy.[citation needed]

Allen Hobbs was a brilliant maths scholar who gave up his place at Cambridge to serve his country. He was the first boy to fly a plane over the School,[15] before being shot down in France by the infamous German fighter ace Max Immelmann in 1915.[16]

James Mould, Skinners' school master between 1905 and 1912 was the most decorated Old Skinner, winning a Military Cross during the Gallipoli campaign and the Distinguished Service Order during the Battle of the Somme, before falling in action in September, 1916.[17]

"Jacky" Gaimes one of the most celebrated WW1 submariners. He was one of the three British officers chosen to accept the surrender of the German U-boat fleet at the end of the war. Following his death in 1921 – commanding a new submarine which sunk mysteriously during a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay – a large section of the Atlantic Fleet drew up in formation over the spot where his boat failed to resurface and conducted a requiem. A rare honour for a worthy hero.[18] The portrait illustrated here was commissioned in 1918 to hang in the Imperial War Museum.[citation needed]

The Second World War[edit]

Cecil Crouch

Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the pupils of Colfe's School were evacuated from Lewisham to Tunbridge Wells and shared the Skinners' School premises for three years. Skinners' boys were taught in the mornings, Colfe's in the afternoons. The air raid shelters that were dug beneath the school still exist, but remain closed to the boys of the School. While the total number serving in the armed forces appears to be unrecorded, it is known that 61 Masters and Old Skinners lost their lives during the conflict, and are recorded alongside those from the First World War on the School memorial. Unlike the First World War, when the majority of Old Skinners served in the Army, at least half of those who lost their lives in WW2 were serving in the RAF as bomber or fighter pilots.

Particularly worthy of mention across the three services were: RAF Sub-Lieutenant Eric Wright, Submarine Commander Cecil Crouch, and Major John Timothy of the Parachute Regiment.

Eric was among the six torpedo-carrying Fairey Swordfish biplane crews who lost their lives taking on a German battlefleet during their infamous Channel Dash in February 1942. The bravery of Eric Wright, 22 years of age and the youngest of the Swordfish men, alongside that of his brothers in arms was recognised ‘in despatches’ as follows: “Their aircraft shattered, undeterred by an inferno of fire, they carried out their orders. Not one came back. Theirs is the courage which is beyond praise.”[19]

In command of HMS Thunderbolt, Cecil Crouch (pictured right) became one of the most successful submariners in the Royal Navy, sinking seven enemy ships including two submarines. In recognition of his 'courage and skill' he was one of the very few to have been awarded with the Distinguished Service Order three times, the last being posthumous after the sinking of his submarine in March 1943.[20]

John "Tim" Timothy was one of the longest serving officers of The Parachute Regiment in World War II. He took part in the Bruneval Raid, as well as airborne operations in North Africa, Italy and the Battle of Arnhem where he was taken prisoner. Tim subsequently escaped from the POW Camp Oflag VII-B in Bavaria and met up with American Forces. His leadership, endurance and courage resulted in him being awarded the Military Cross three times.[21]

State Grammar School[edit]

The Skinners School, along with the Judd School, Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar and Tonbridge Girls Grammar, became 'free' voluntary-aided state Grammar Schools in 1948 following the 1944 Education Act. This act introduced the Tripartite System defining three different types of secondary school: grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools.

Recent Developments[edit]

The status of the School has continued to evolve over the years. On 1 April 1992, The school (formerly a voluntary aided grammar school) became a grant maintained school, reverting to voluntary aided status again in 1998, following the Education Reform Act of that year. On 1 February 2014 the school converted to academy status.

The School has also made significant improvements to its facilities over recent years. Additional accommodation has been provided for purpose-designed design and technology facilities and classrooms. A modern languages centre was completed in 2002 and a new music and performing arts centre opened in 2003. Specialist science status was awarded in 2005, which resulted in refurbishment of the science block. The school has since also gained mathematics and computing specialism status, and also achieved the 'green flag' status as an ecoschool five times. The school won a prestigious teaching award in 2009 in recognition of the work completed concerning environmental sustainability. A new School Gym was opened in 2012, and in 2020, the completion of the Mitchell Building provided a spacious new sixth form centre, English department and School Library.

Buildings and Property[edit]

The school consists of a range of buildings built at various stages of the school's history. While each building services specific departments, these have changed as new building/facilities became available:

The Old School Hall (1887)

Skinners' Old School Hall in the 1890s
West Door and Headmasters Window
The School House
Byng Hall
The Old Gym
Science School Extension c.1910
Old School Pavilion
New Wing
Sports Hall

The red-brick, Early English Gothic building facing St.Johns Road is the oldest building on the main school site. The architect, E.H. Burnell had previously designed the front-facing buildings of Tonbridge School in a similar Gothic style.

The Old School Hall is entered to the front via heavy wooden doors, and a gothic stone entrance hall, overlooked by an oriel window, designed to provide the original headmaster with a full right and left view from his office. Over the years it's also been the main location for team photos.

The main hall is buttressed with brick and stone piers, and well lit with fourteen stone traceried windows. On the inside the central hall is 170 ft by 30 ft long, with a "noiseless" wood block floor, carved corbels along the walls and a moulded timber roof. In 1903 the School acquired a magnificent organ from St. Johns Church, which still takes pride of place, alongside a narrow stage. In this room the Skinners' School morning assembly took place for over 70 years until the building of the 'New Wing' in 1960.

To the left of the entrance is the main staff room. From the entrance hall, stairs run up to a gallery overlooking the main hall, which was dubbed the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits by the boys in early days, as it defined the 'dangerous' narrow passage leading to the headmaster's office (now the Bursar's Office). To the right of this gallery is the Old Library, moved in 2020 to the new Library in the Mitchell Building. Further up the stairs, the clock tower used to be the home of the music department, again moved once more extensive facilities became available.

The School House (1890)

The School House was originally built as the Headmaster's residence, but given its commodious proportions, it soon doubled up as a boarding house for close to a dozen boys. It now contains administrative offices including the school reception, headmaster's and deputy headmaster's offices.

Byng Hall (1900)

While the School did not acquire Byng Hall until 2003 the School had been a close supporter of St. John's Church Institute, who originally took residence in the Hall from its inauguration in 1900. Byng Hall was named after Lady Byng whose generous financial contribution had enabled the Hall to be built. Lady Byng was a direct descendant of the infamous Admiral John Byng who'd been executed in 1757 for allowing the French to take Minorca. Voltaire made a wry reference to Byng's execution in Candide, commenting that: "in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others". Given this historic injustice it was fitting that the Hall should be officially opened by another more celebrated Admiral, Charles Davis Lucas, the very first recipient of the Victoria Cross. As a young midshipman during the Crimean War Lucas had ignored the desperate cries to take cover when a live shell landed on the deck in the midst of a fierce artillery exchange with the Russians. He ran forward, picked up the still fizzing shell, carried it to the rail and dropped it overboard a fraction of a second before it exploded. He later married Lady Byng's niece, and was no doubt more than happy to play his part in restoring the good name of the family. It fell to Skinners' first headmaster Reverend Frederick Knott to lead the vote of thanks for Admiral Lucas' heroism and the Byng family's generosity in funding the building of the Hall.

Originally the St John's Church Institute[22] and later part of St John's Primary School, the governors of Skinners' had been hoping to purchase it for many years. It is stylistically very similar to the Main Building and School House and is viable from the front of the school plot.

Skinners' received grants from central government and ran an appeal in school and through the old boys network to raise the funds for the buildings purchase and renovation. The final building received a conservation award from the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society for the sensitive restoration[23] which now enables Byng Hall to be used by the music and drama department; school drama productions and music recitals in The Thomson Theatre are prominent features in the school calendar.

The Old Gym (1900–2018)

The original Gymnasium was constructed in 1900 and served the School for over 100 years. It was decommissioned once the new School Gym was constructed in 2013, converted into a temporary careers office and gallery room for the art department, and then a temporary sixth form study area and common room. It has since been demolished to make way for the Mitchell Building (see below).

The Science School (1901) Grafted onto the southern end of the main School Hall, the Science School was designed in more of an arts and crafts style by the architect W Campbell Jones. This extension contained the original school laboratories. Campbell Jones' firm still existed half a century and two world wars later and was called back to design the ‘New Wing’.[24]

The Old Pavilion (1924–2011)

The Pavilion originally stood in the corner of the playing field on the main School grounds. It was built in 1922 to commemorate the Old Skinners' boys and masters who died serving the country in the First World War. The pavilion was designed by OS Stanley Philpot, in traditional style with sand-faced bricks, half-timber frame and hand-made roof tiles. Unfortunately the Pavilion lost its primary purpose as the School playing field was superseded by Southfields, and the building was eventually demolished to make way for the new Sports Hall in 2012.

Southfields(1929) Skinners' owns a large set of playing fields just along the main road that runs outside the school on the border of Tunbridge Wells and Southborough. Called Southfields, it was originally intended to be the site for the new school when plans were drafted in the 1930s. World War II prevented the move from occurring, but the foundations for the buildings are still present in one corner.

The fields are home to five rugby pitches, a football pitch, cricket nets, three cricket squares and various athletics facilities. The pavilion, featuring three changing rooms, was rebuilt in 2005 following an arson attack.

The New Wing (1960)

Disliked by some for its late-1950s modernist design, this is a civilised building that despite alterations has weathered well over the years. It is still often ironically referred to as The 'New' Wing. It contains the physics and chemistry laboratories and more recently now serves the biology laboratories. The laboratories were completely renovated on the school being awarded special science status in 2005 which prompted the biology department's move. New Wing also contains the sixth form facilities and the dining hall, which contains the canteen and is where whole school assembly is held before lessons every Monday morning.

The Knox Wing (1980) The Knox Wing contains 8 class rooms each of very similar appearance. These rooms serve as form rooms and also class rooms for economics, geography, history, religious studies and Politics.

The Leopard Building (1994) The Leopard Building contains dedicated rooms for art and design/technology. Recently it has become home to IT rooms and the other class rooms serve as form rooms and rooms for mathematics. In 2010 the design technology rooms were upgraded to include facilities for delivering food technology.

The Cecil Beeby Building (2002) The Cecil Beeby Building named after one of Skinners' School's long-serving headmasters, provides dedicated resources for the modern foreign language department and also provides form rooms. It was built on the site of two old cabins where German used to be taught.

The New Sports Hall (2012)

The New Sports Hall was officially opened by the Chair of the Governing Body on 9 November 2012. Inside the main hall can accommodate four badminton courts, five a side football, basketball, hockey training and cricket practice nets. At the far end it holds a large indoor climbing wall and upstairs houses a state of the art fitness suite, dance studio and classroom.

The Mitchell Building (2020)

The Mitchell Building, named after OS Brian Mitchell, whose significant bequest made the building possible, is the latest addition to the School campus. It accommodates a new sixth form centre, the newly named Sinfield English department, and a magnificent, roof-space library. The building matches both the 45° roof angle of the surrounding gothic buildings, and red brick facings, but is also pleasingly modern. The plentiful windows ensure the internal spaces are very well lit, and the building's eucalyptus-lined stairs provide a solid sense of quality.

House and Form System[edit]

All students are assigned a house on entering the school. In years 7 and 8 there are 5 forms, organised by house. In years 9-11 the pupils are reorganised into forms represented by colours: blue, green, red and yellow. In years 10 and 11 there are separate teaching groups from the forms. In the sixth form there are five forms in each year.

The five houses of Skinners' are named after notable contributors to the school, each designated a colour which determines the colour of the trim on the school blazers, caps and scarves worn by the pupils, as well as athletics kits. While the house only initially determines which form the student is in, it forms the basis of sport teams throughout each pupil's career at the school. As such, friendly rivalries exist between each house especially amongst cricket, hockey and rugby teams, with competition peaking at sports day. These houses are:


Lawrence Atwell

House colour:   Lawrence Atwell was a 16th century Devonian, fur trader, and Skinner, who built up a significant property portfolio in London and Surrey, including a lucrative stretch of Fenchurch Street. On his death is 1588 he left his property and the associated rental income to the Skinners' Company with the request that "the Master and Wardens should form a stock, from time to time to be employed in some good sort". By 1880 this charity fund had accumulated considerably and it was agreed that part of the fund should be applied to the advancement of education. £6,890 was thenceforth was allocated to the endowment of the then proposed Skinners Company's Middle School for Boys in or near the town of Tonbridge. Subsequently a further £9500 was allocated from the Atwell Charity fund in 1899 which enabled the construction of the science laboratory extension to the Old School Hall and a gymnasium.[25]


House colour:   Thomas Hunt was born in the early sixteenth century, and his success as a fur-trading Skinner was so great that by the mid-1650s he was wealthy enough to own a significantly sized merchant house on Fenchurch Street. This made him a close neighbour of the first Russian Ambassador to be sent to England from the court of Ivan the Terrible (the first Tsar). At this time Russia was the Saudi Arabia of fur – drawing on the seemingly endless supplies of 'soft gold' from Siberia (the best furs were literally worth their weight in gold). It's very likely that Hunt knew the Russian ambassador given this trade connection and no doubt shared a few ales together, chased down by a few vodkas. Hunt died childless in 1557- bequeathing the rental from his property on Fenchurch Street and the nearby Rood Lane to a charitable trust fund governed by the Skinners Company. In 1880 this trust fund in combination with a similar scheme set up by Atwell formed the majority share of the £20,000 raised to create the Skinners' Company's Middle School for Boys. Unfortunately there are no known surviving portraits of Thomas Hunt.


House colour:   The Reverend Frederick Knott was the first headmaster of Skinners, serving from the school's first day in September 1887 through to his retirement 37 years later in 1924. He was 27 when he took up the post, taught Divinity and Latin, opened the batting for the school cricket team until it reached full strength in 1893, and was affectionately known as 'Babs' (which is why the 'BAB-El-Mandeb Straits' led to his office). He was a mad keen sportsman. His first two hires Mr. Shaw 'Leopard Song' Jeffey and Mr. Pochin were mainstays of the Tunbridge Wells football team,and one of his son's scored 261 not out for Oxford against the West Indies!).


Lewis Boyd Sebastian

House colour:   Lewis Boyd Sebastian was the Worshipful Master of the Skinners' Company when the School was founded, and first chairman of the School Governors. In addition to the portrait shown here, you can also see him in the 'Laying of the Skinners' Foundation Stone' picture in the history section above – leaning against the foundation stone with a silver trowel in his hand. He was 35 when this photo was taken, a brilliant lawyer, prolific author and keen traveller. Sebastian proved to be a lifelong supporter of the School, attending our Skinners' Speech Day celebrations for another 20+ years until his death in 1927. During this time he became one of the world's leading experts on Trademark Law (laying essential foundations for the emerging practice of 'brand' management and marketing), wrote a number of history and travel books, and chaired the Norwegian Club – lending support to many of the early expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.


House colour:   Theodore Nicholson was the first named boy on the Skinners’ register of pupils, a successful industrialist, world-travelled and life-long friend of the School. He was born in the Pantiles in 1875 to Arthur Nicholson. Theodore's father opened the first high street chemists in Tunbridge Wells (which he ran on the Pantiles for over 40 years), and was a leading supporter of the Skinners' School coming to Tunbridge Wells. He also owned the very first telephone in Tunbridge Wells. While his 4 brothers all ended up as pharmacists, Theodore took a different route – moving up north to ran a successful industrial plant. Despite his distance from the school he took his role as first Skinners' boy seriously enough to offer up some annual prizes from the 30th anniversary of the school in 1917. When Nicholson retired in 1932 he cruised round the world from London to Australia, to New Zealand, across the Pacific to Vancouver, across the USA by train and back home to England via New York.


The Skinners' School has always taken its sport seriously and offers a wide range of sporting activities. The major sports on offer are rugby and hockey in the winter, and cricket and athletics in the summer. A variety of other sports are also available including: cross-country running, basketball, handball, tennis, badminton, climbing, golf and football (6th Form only).

The First 37 Years (1888–1925)[edit]

For the first 37 years Skinners' primary winter sport was football, with home games played on the School playing field. The first recorded Skinners' School game was played against Tunbridge Wells 3rd team on 15 February 1888.[26] It featured a combination of masters and pupils. Percy Shaw Jeffrey played in goal, and his colleague Mr. Pochin scored a hat-trick to secure victory, three goals to one. Skinners first game against the Judd School on 15 October 1890, was also a triumph, with William Balding scoring a hat trick and Skinners' winning 6 goals to nil.[27]

The photos above feature the Skinners' 1st XI football teams from the 1921–22 and 1924–25 seasons.

Cricket has always been the School's primary summer sport. The first recorded game was played on Tunbridge Wells Upper Cricket Ground (now Linden Park) against Grove House on 6 June 1888. Like the early football games, masters played alongside pupils, with Headmaster Freddie Knott opening the batting and scoring 151 runs not out across two innings out of a winning total of 208.[28]

The photos above features the Skinners' 1st XI cricket team from 1912, a Holly Bush Lane match against Sevenoaks in 1918, and the Old School Ground Pavilion.


First Skinners School 1st XV
Skinners Juddment Day Victors 2019

In 1925, after 37 years of being a proudly football playing school, Skinners made the switch to Rugby. The events of 1923–24 had driven a wave of rugby mania. In celebration of Rugby's centenary a combined England-Wales team beat a Scotland-Ireland 21 points to 16 in 1923. In 1924, the New Zealand 'All Blacks' team were dubbed 'The Invincibles' after winning all 32 matches on their UK tour. In South Africa the same year the British Isles Rugby Union Team were first named the 'British Lions'.

In October 1925 – the following Skinners Day report was published by the Kent & Sussex Courier: "It has been decided that this would be the last season that the School would play Association Football. the matter had been very carefully considered and it had been decided to play Rugby in future as so many of the surrounding schools were taking up "Rugger" that in two or three years time they would have no competitors to meet in the Association game".[29]

The football team's black shirt with red sleeves was translated into their red and black hooped rugby shirt, and a new era of Skinners' rugby football began. Skinners first rugby match was played at home against Maidstone Grammar School on Saturday 13 February 1926, the more experienced Maidstone team winning 34 points to 3.[30]

Skinners first rugby game against their arch-rivals the Judd School took place in Tonbridge on 26 March 1926. Having beaten Judd at football on a regular basis they must have wondered whether they'd made the right decision to make the switch to rugby when they went down 9–6. But since the next 7 Judd matches went to Skinners, there was no turning back.

The 1st XV match between Skinners' and Judd, now referred to on both sides as 'Juddment Day' had been fought 98 times before the pandemic stricken 2020 season. Over the last 15 years it has been a relatively even-handed affair with 7 wins to Skinners, 6 to Judd and 2 draws. The last game in October 2019 was a resounding win for Skinners’ on Judd’s home turf 18 points to 3.

Skinners currently fields 26 rugby teams in an average season, playing leading School teams across the South East of England. The senior team also participates in regular international tours, the most recent being:

2019 – Argentina and Uruguay (Curupayti Rugby Club Buenos Aires / Areco Rugby Club, San Antonio de Areco / Universitario de Santa Fé Rugby Club / Colegio Seminario Montevideo)

2017 – South Africa (Hoerskool President High School / Paarl Boys' High School / Weskus High School / Jan Van Riebeek / FH Odendaal).

2015 – New Zealand (KLN Lions / Massey High School, Auckland / Scots College, Wellington / St Bede's College, Christchurch / Westland High School Greymouth.)

Skinners is one of only twenty school teams to have won the national NatWest Schools Cup since its inception in 1988, winning the final against the London Oratory School in 1992.

England Rugby Representation

Old Skinners who have played rugby for England include:

Colin Smart

Colin Smart appeared in the number one shirt for England as loose head prop 17 times between 1979 and 1983.[31] After captaining the Old Skinners' team, now Tunbridge Wells RFC, Colin Smart, went on to play for the Welsh Students team while studying in Cardiff. He joined Newport RFC in 1973, and in 1977 was the first Englishman to captain the side to the Welsh Cup in their 100 year history.[32] Smart was initially offered a chance to play for Wales against New Zealand in 1974, This was a Welsh squad that included many of the players, JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, central to the only British and Irish Lions team to have ever defeated the All Blacks at home in 1971.[33] He turned down the invitation,[34] deciding instead to accept his first trial for England the following month.[35] Smart was finally called up to the full England team in 1979, making his debut at Twickenham Stadium against France. During his career he played against every major international team, including three Five Nations Championships, England tours to Japan, Fiji and Argentina.[36][37] and games against Australia for the London Counties and the All Blacks with Newport RFC. He made his last appearance for England at Lansdowne Road against Ireland in 1983.[31] Smart is also famous for one of the most infamous after-match drinking incidents in rugby, following a post-match party in which he downed a bottle of aftershave, having been challenged and set-up by a fellow player Maurice Colclough who'd emptied a bottle of aftershave, filled it with wine, drank from it and challenged Smart to follow suit. It didn't end well for Colin, but is unlikely to be forgotten.[38]

Will Edwards

William Edwards (Rugby) played for Saracens RFC and Northampton Saints before making his breakthrough in 2017, when he was called up to the World Series squad for the Vancouver Sevens tournament, which England went on to win.[39] He was made captain of the team later the same year in the Clermont-Ferrand Men's Seven's Grand Prix,[40] and subsequently went on to play for England in the Singapore,[41] Paris[42] and London[43] Sevens, before the team was shut down in August 2020.


Cricket has been played continuously at Skinners for over 130 years, and currently fields 17 teams across the age groups. School cricket has been played at Southfields since 1930, where there are three cricket pitches.

England Cricket Representation

Old Skinners who have played cricket for England include:

Bob Woolmer

Bob Woolmer was selected to play for Kent in 1969. He graduated to Test cricket with England in 1975 as an all-rounder, having taken a hat-trick for MCC against the touring Australian cricket team with his fast-medium bowling. In the final match of the series at The Oval he scored 149.[44] Further batting success followed over the next two seasons, including two further centuries against Australia in 1977. He finished his career having played in 19 Test matches and six One Day Internationals for the England cricket team. He later went on to coach South Africa, Warwickshire and Pakistan.

Phil Edmonds

Phil Edmonds made his first-class debut for Cambridge University against Warwickshire on 24 April 1971. Though he opened the batting for Cambridge in this first match, his true forte was left arm spin bowling. He took 10 wickets in his first annual University Match against Oxford University,[45] Edmonds made his debut for Middlesex the same year[46]

Edmonds made his debut for England in the Third Test of the 1975 Ashes series at Headingley taking a stunning 5/28 on debut. His first Test wicket was the Australian captain Greg Chappell. He completed 51 Tests in total, his last being in 1987.

School Uniform[edit]

The Skinners' School has uniform requirements that apply to all boys at the school, including those in the sixth form.

Years 7–10:

  • Black shoes
  • Black trousers
  • White shirt
  • School blazer and tie (with house colour)
  • Black V-necked jumpers and school scarves are optional

Years 11–13:

  • Black shoes.
  • Black or grey suit.
  • Year 11 should only wear white shirts and continue to wear the school tie.
  • Years 12–13 may wear a white or blue shirt, with the sixth form tie (black and decorated with leopards).
  • V-neck jumpers can be worn as long as they are a suitably subdued colour with no logos.

Sports Kit
PE/Gym Lessons

  • School white shorts and socks
  • House T-shirt
  • Non-marking trainers


  • Black and red reversible rugby T-shirt
  • School black shorts
  • Black socks with red hoops at top
  • Appropriate footwear for football, hockey, rugby or climbing.

Other ties are also available, however. Sporting achievements result in the presentation of school 'colours', a tie unique to the sport the achievement was gained in, which is presented by the headmaster in front of the school. The same goes for outstanding ability within the CCF. Prefect ties can be worn by the head boy, deputy head boys and senior prefects, as well as school and form prefects (These are black with horizontal red stripes).

Many boys have represented sports teams at county, regional and national level. Ties awarded to such boys are also accepted within the uniform policy.

  • Teachers wear smart-casual clothing, with university gowns only worn on Skinners' Day during the ceremony.

Sixth Form[edit]

The sixth form are provided with their own common room, featuring a canteen and recreational seating, and an adjacent study centre equipped with computing facilities. There is also a common room for prefects situated under the headmaster's office in School House. There is also a common room for Sixth Form English students equipped with computing facilities and recreational seating area.

The current head of sixth form is Mr Craig Fleming.

Academic Performance[edit]

The Skinners' School performs consistently above average and was awarded a "1 or outstanding", from Ofsted inspectors, on 6 June 2007.[47]

In 2016[48][edit]

  • 87% of entries achieved A and B grades (excluding General Studies).
  • The vast majority of candidates achieved excellent grades, with 65% of grades being at A* or A.
  • The overall GCSE pass rate (5 A*-C) was 98%.


The current headmaster is Edward Wesson.

Past headmasters have included:

  • The Reverend Fredrick Knott (1887–1924);
  • Colin Ransford (1924–1928);
  • Lieut. Colonel Walter Bye (1928–1953);
  • Cecil Beeby (1953–1976) after whom the Modern Languages school block is named;
  • Gerald Taylor;
  • Peter Braggins;
  • Simon Everson.

Student Leadership[edit]

In the summer term of Year 12, school prefects are selected. Leadership roles amongst the prefects now include the head boy, two deputy head boys, the chairman of the school council, the parents' association and Old Skinners' Society liaison prefect, two senior prefects and five house captains. Other school prefects are divided between the roles of duty prefect and form prefect.

There are usually approximately sixteen form prefects, who take responsibility for a year eight or year seven form, two to a form.

Boards in School Hall denote previous positions of importance including Head Boys and CCF Commanding Officers. Until recently boys who earnt a place at an Oxford or Cambridge college would have their name added to the University honours board although that practice has now been ceased due to the volume of boys gaining Oxbridge places each year.

Notable former pupils[edit]


  1. ^ Beeby C. 'The Birth of a School or A Tale of Two Townships', Kingfisher Kent (1984)
  2. ^ Herbert, W. 'History of the Worshipful Company of Skinners', (1837) p322
  3. ^ Holmes-Walker, A. 'Sixes and Sevens, A Short History of the Skinners Company', (2005)
  4. ^ Beeby C. 'The Birth of a School or A Tale of Two Townships' (1984)
  5. ^ "Skinners Day in Tunbridge Wells" – Kent & Sussex Courier (12 April 1889)
  6. ^ Beeby C. 'The Skinners' School' (2004) p43
  7. ^ Beeby C. 'The Skinners' School' (2004) p62
  8. ^ Beeby C. 'The Skinners' School' (2004) p65
  9. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (3 July 1891)
  10. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (18 December 1896)
  11. ^ 'The Leopards Song' 2nd Edition, (1927)
  12. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (19 November 1900)
  13. ^ "Old Skinners in the Forces" – The Leopard (1914–1919)
  14. ^ "Skinners School War Memorial" – Kent & Sussex Courier (July 1920)
  15. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (14 April 1916)
  16. ^ Mosley. R 'The Lost Boys and Masters of Skinners' School' (2018)
  17. ^ Mosley. R 'The Lost Boys and Masters of Skinners' School' (2018)
  18. ^ Mosley. R 'The Lost Boys and Masters of Skinners' School' (2018)
  19. ^ "Mention in Despatches" – Supplement to the London Gazette (3 March 1942)
  20. ^ Booth T. 'Thetis Down' (2008)
  21. ^ The Pegasus Archive
  22. ^ "Old Skinners' Society Byng Hall Appeal". Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Skinners School – Default Page Title". Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  24. ^ Pearman H.Bell Phillips keeps red-brick discipline at Skinners’ School The RIBA Journal (14 December 2020)
  25. ^ Wadmore, J.F. 'Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Skinners', (1902) p230-232
  26. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (24 February 1888)
  27. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (24 October 1890)
  28. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (15 June 1890)
  29. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (16 October 1925)
  30. ^ Kent & Sussex Courier (19 February 1926)
  31. ^ a b "Colin Smart". ESPN. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  32. ^ "History of Newport 1976-77".
  33. ^ The Times Newspaper (1974-11-13)|title=Smart in Welsh Party for Cardiff
  34. ^ "English players in Wales, Hugo Porta's final bow and inexperienced England squads". ESPN. Retrieved 21 February 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  35. ^ The Times Newspaper (1974-12-17)
  36. ^ The Times Newspaper (1979-04-03)
  37. ^ The Times Newspaper (1981-04-03)|title=Effectiveness of scrummaging may determine tour's success
  38. ^ "Blood, mud and aftershave". Guardian. 5 February 2006. Retrieved 1 March 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  39. ^ "Will Edwards helps England to Sevens Victory in Vancouver – News – Tunbridge Wells RFC". Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  40. ^ "England name squad for Clermont-Ferrand Sevens". RFU. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  41. ^ "England Sevens name squad for Singapore". RFU. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  42. ^ "England sevens name squad for Paris". RFU. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  43. ^ "England Sevens name squad for London". RFU. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  44. ^ "4th TEST: England v Australia at The Oval, 28 Aug-3 Sep 1975". Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  45. ^ "Oxford University v Cambridge University at Lord's, 10-13 Jul 1971". espncricinfo. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  46. ^ Streeton, Richard (7 August 1971). "Middlesex title hopes checked by Essex". The Times (58244). p. 13.
  47. ^ "Ofsted Report June 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  48. ^ "Skinners School – Exam Results". Retrieved 12 April 2018.

External links[edit]