The Establishment of a Free School in Leicester


The reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 saw a number of schools established in major towns in England and Leicester being a centre of trade was at the forefront of this new movement.

In 1572 a scheme was started in Leicester to provide a free Grammar School. The church at nearby St. Peter's owned by the Crown was falling into disrepair and ruin and was sold to the Mayor and the Corporation of Leicester for the sum of £35. The materials from the building were reclaimed and used to build a new school house with a slate roof which was to be maintained by the Corporation. What materials and artefacts that were not used were sold and the proceeds used to bring a supply of fresh water into the town. Money went a good deal further in those days!

Henry, Lord Huntingdon- Patron

The chief patron of the school was Henry, Lord Huntingdon and he and the Corporation were responsible for drawing up a list of school rules that might seem harsh to the twenty first century observer.

School Attendance Times

Time of the school were dependent on the seasons of the year. From April to September the school opened between 6am and 5pm with an hour at noon for lunch. In the winter months the school opened one hour later at 7am!

The daily routine started with prayers which were said at the start and the end of the day.

Attendance at school was required between Monday and Saturday with a half holiday on a Thursday afternoon only. Sundays were not really a free day as church attendance was compulsory and there were often extra exercises set for the students  to recite to their master on Monday.

School attendance was closely monitored and if a student was absent for ten days ( not necessarily consecutive) then the students registration at the school was withdrawn and they could no longer study. There were always other students ready to take their place in school.


Examinations were held on a quarterly basis where all the students were gathered together and recited what they had learnt without the use of their books. I think that the modern educationalist would argue that there was little opportunity for the student to discuss or contradict their teachers.

Correction Day

A varied curriculum was offered including sports where "they shall use honest games". A prefect would watch whilst the young men played their games and report to the master any who broke the rules of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. Monday was deemed "correction day" and those who had broken the rules would be dealt with by the master on that day. The fact that they needed this day suggests that rules were broken regularly!

Queen Elizabeth 1
Credit: Attributed to Nicholas Hilliard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A flourishing school

By the Eighteenth century the school was flourishing and was the principle place of education in Leicester and the surrounding areas.

Hot Buns for Breakfast

An Eighteenth century diarist, a hosiery manufacturer recalled the school contained pupils of every social class including the sons of the Earl of Stamford. It is unlikely that it would have contained the sons of the poor but perhaps it did educate the sons of shop keepers or minor merchants.  He also recalled the appearance of the baker at 7am every morning selling hot buns to the boys. By the mid eighteenth century there were at least 30 boarders and  200 plus day boys, being taught by Masters who were paid by the Corporation.


Examinations had changed and were now Greek and Latin involving speeches which were delivered to the Authorities of the town at specific periods in the nearby High Cross in Leicester.

An annual supper called the "Potation" was held where the lower masters invited friends who "partook liberally". I expect it was both food and drink that was partaken.

The Demise of Leicester Free Grammar School

By 1836 the Head masters post attracted a considerable salary £75 18s 6d per annum plus charitable bequests of £40 per annum. In addition his house next to the school was provided rent free. However despite this salary the headmaster was inefficent and with the opening of new schools  the numbers of boys attending the school had fallen to 80.

The Corporation decided in 1836 not to support the school any longer and refused its yearly grant giving the income from its trust to the Trustees of Church Charities. The number of pupils at the school dropped rapidly and by 1841 the school was closed as there were only five pupils.

The income from the Free Grammar School trusts was used to fund the education of scholars at the recently opened Collegiate school


It appears that the school was located in the centre of Leicester somewhere near the Highcross. This means that it was built very closely to the remains of King Richard III which were recently found in the car park of the the Collegiate school. The building would have been pulled down by the Victorians who re developed the area with no apparent regard to the antiquities lying below- the area is also noted for its Roman remains.