Monday 13 December 1993

Minster School Take The Educational Trail


Pupils of the Minster Primary School at Vicarage Street have recently been involved with a project concerning schools past and present in Warminster. Among the various activities was a walk through the town centre, courtesy of the Warminster Dewey Museum, arranged by Danny Howell.

Nine places that were or are schools or have education connections, were visited on the walk, and Danny Howell penned the following notes about the itinerary for the walk, which the pupils could then study in their classroom at a later date:

Emwell Cross House
First port of call was Emwell Cross House, which was a boarding school in the late 1800s. It was run by the De Gruchy family who came to Warminster from Jersey in the Channel Islands. Professor John De Gruchy taught French and maths. Mrs Jane De Gruchy was in charge of the young ladies who boarded in. John De Gruchy died in September 1875 and is buried at Christ Church, Warminster. His obituary said he had few equals as a teacher, that he was punctual, unassuming and kind. Mrs De Gruchy continued to run the school until the 1880s and then resided here until her death on 14 November 1899.

Emwell House
Emwell House, near the Obelisk, was a private school for both day and boarding pupils. It was established in 1872 and the principal was John Wesley Still. His wife ran the girls and kindergarten departments. The school curriculum included English, maths, French, German, science, carpentry, drawing, book-keeping, music, shorthand, scripture, history, physical drill and gymnastics. There were 10 acres of cricket and football fields, asphalt and covered playgrounds, and a separate playground for little boys. The school closed just before 1920 and was later a hotel run by Mr Wright until the Conservative Club took over the premises in 1930.

Missionary College
The Missionary College of St. Boniface (originally known as the Mission House), at Church Street, was founded by the Vicar of Warminster, the Rev. Sir James Erasmus Philipps, and was formally opened on 5th October 1860. The name changed from the Mission House to St. Boniface College in 1871. The aim of the college was to train young men of little previous education but who were capable of becoming good workers in the missionary field.

The number of students in the early days was small and fluctuated. With ten or twelve students the college was self-supporting and there were places for 20. In 1866 there were just three students, a year later the average was seven, and in 1868 it was 13. Fees were £30 per year to approved students and the curriculum included Latin, Greek, maths, English literature and grammar. There was also practical instruction in carpentry, gardening, printing and bookbinding. The St. Boniface College building is now part of Warminster School.

The National School
The National School, also at Church Street, opened in 1815 and was one of the first National Schools in the country, coming soon after the foundation for National Schools in 1811. It continued in this building until 1845 when it transferred to Sambourne (now Sambourne Church of England Primary School). James Joseph Shears and Ann Shears were the master and mistress of the National School at Church Street in 1830. William B. Francis and Edward Godfrey were the masters here in 1844.

Lord Weymouth's Grammar School
Lord Weymouth's Grammar School was founded in 1707 as a Free School by Thomas Thynne, the first Viscount Weymouth, of Longleat. The central-arched doorway, although slightly altered, was originally at Longleat House and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Thomas Arnold, who became an educational pioneer and the headmaster of Rugby School, was a pupil here. He died in June 1842. He was the author of numerous books. It is said he long-cherished a happy fondness of the books in the school library at Warminster during his early schooldays.

Fives Court
The Fives Court at Warminster School is proclaimed to be "the oldest in existence in England that is still in regular use" and is thought to have been modelled on one that was at Winchester School. The Warminster Fives Court was certainly in existence in 1806 when it was mentioned in a letter by Dr. Arnold. The names of the fives players at Warminster were Squie, Skunk and Centre. The fives court required attention in June 1862, when it was said to be falling down owing to damage by heavy wire netting on top.

County Secondary School
The building now used as the Youth Club, in The Close, was built in 1901 to house the County Secondary School (also known as the Technical School). It opened on 23rd October 1901 with five pupils (four boys and one girl). Eustace Dent was appointed the headmaster on 5th February 1902. The school closed on 29th July 1931. During its last years there were 96 pupils (39 boys and 57 girls). Up until 1958 this building was used as the town library which moved to Portway House and then in 1981 the new library opened at Three Horseshoes Mall.

The Avenue School
The Avenue School was built in 1931 and was the first new school to be built in Warminster for over a century. Harold Nelson Dewey, who had previously been the headmaster of the Close School, became the headmaster of the Avenue School from the time it opened until his retirement from teaching in 1953.

When Kingdown Secondary Modern School (now Kingdown Comprehensive School) opened in June 1960 it had already become outgrown by the increase in population in Warminster, so the Avenue School was then used as an annexe for Kingdown until Kingdown was enlarged in 1968. The Avenue School then became a primary school for younger pupils.

Dewey House
The Town Council Offices at North Row were for many years used a school. The main part of this building was constructed in 1704 as a Presbyterian Church for a congregation which previously used to meet in Beastleaze Meadow and later at another building in North Row. A British School for Nonconformist children was established in 1827 at Ash Walk and nine years later it moved to North Row, into the schoolroom attached to a chapel built by the Congregationalists who separated from the Presbyterians in 1719. In 1868 the Presbyterian Church closed and the building changed hands, re-opening as the British School in 1870.

It remained a school until 1923 when its pupils were transferred to the Close School. Already in County Council hands by that time, it was later used as an annexe by the Avenue School and as a base for further education classes. In 1981, using money from the will of the late Harold Dewey (who died in 1971) the Town Council bought the property for use as offices. It is now named Dewey House after Harold Dewey.

At the end of their walk, the Minster School pupils saw the measuring marks painted on one of the upright pillars at Dewey House. These were originally used by the much-feared Mr. Chappell, who held woodwork lessons here. They were re-painted recently by local artist and signwriter Chico Holton. On the outside of the building is one of Warminster's two Domesday plaques.

Town Clerk Joan Withey and her assistant Ann Andrews served the Minster schoolchildren with orange squash and biscuits after their walk concluded at Dewey House. A vote of thanks for an informative walk was given by teacher Chris Bell.