The Origins and the Old Grammar School

The Old Grammar School at the bottom of Shortbank Road on the east side of the town

The school was first founded by Peter Toller in 1492 as a chantry school in the parish church of St. Nicholas. In 1548 King Edward Edward VI took over all chantry lands. The school was then re-founded at the bottom of Shortbank Road by William Ermysted, Canon Residentiary of St Paul’s and Chaplain to Queen Mary and the Charter of the Free Grammar School of Skipton was granted in September 1st 1548. Its income was derived mostly from lands in Skipton, Addingham and Eastby. The principal terms of this complex document were:

“…the said William Ermysted ordained, that there should be a school in Skipton-in-Craven, from time to time for ever, for the instruction of boys there in grammar…That the said school shall be kept in a house in Skipton, which he purchased of Henry, Duke of Cumberland, on 20th August 1547…That there shall be one master. He shall daily enter and teach in the same school…immediately after six in the morning and shall faithfully exercise himself in teaching the boys until eleven, and from one in the afternoon until six…that the said master shall be a priest and…. shall teach the boys the alphabet according to the proper pronunciation of syllables and shall afterwards proceed in order in the grammar art, and the rudiments thereof, with frequent use in the Latin tongue according to their capacities, from the advanced scholars, and that they compose epistles, orations and verses.”

Over the years local families supported the school financially. In 1707, William Petyt, a London barrister and former pupil who was born in Storiths, Bolton Abbey, left £50 to the school and in 1719 his brother Sylvester, also born in Storiths and a former pupil endowed the school with £30,000. Between them the brothers also left all their papers and books to Skipton. Some 5,000 items, these form the basis of the Petyt Library*. In 1739 Lady Elizabeth Hastings founded a scholarship at Queen’s College, Oxford for poor pupils of eight principal schools in Yorkshire which included Skipton, “Provided that scholar hath distinguished himself above the rest of the same rank within his school.

* The Petyt Library now resides at York University

Early Headmasters

Stephen Ellis (1543-1561)

Roger Bolton (1561-1577)

John Livesay (1577-1617)

Lawrence Taylor (1618-1620)

Thomas Barker (1621-1646)

Henry Doughty (1649-1654)

Edward Browne (1654-1656)

John Collier (1656-1659)

Thomas Barker (1661-1674)

Timothy Farrand (1674-1685)

George Croft (1685-1715)

Richard Leadal (1715-1727)

William Banks (1727-1730)

Matthew Wilkinson (1730-1751)

Samuel Plomer (1751-1780)

Thomas Carr (1780-1792)

Richard Withnell (1792-1796)

Thomas Gartham (1796-1824)

Robert Thomlinson (1825-1835)

William Sidgwick (1836-1841)

William Cartman (1841-1867)

Horatio Grimley (1867-1872)

Frederick Fleay (1872-1876)

The New Grammar School

The new School building on Gargrave Road

1876 – the establishment of a new school building on a new site on Gargrave Road, costing £14,000. It was intended to deliver secondary education on a fee-paying basis both day and boarding pupils. 13 pupils followed Headmaster Hartley to the new school. Ambitions were for it to grow filling the 50 places that the boarding house was set up for and increasing the intake of day boys. Under Hartley’s valiant leadership numbers grew steadily but the original ambitions were only partially fulfilled and survival was a struggle, if not precarious at times.

1888 – some pupils died of typhoid. The governors’ culpability was dismissed by the local health board but its reputation was dented by the tragedy.

1890s – public funding for secondary schooling became more politically acceptable

1895 – Addition of Science Block

1904 – Local authority scholarships allowed able pupils to attend; added to existing scholarships – mostly partial – funded by the Petyt Trust.

The pupils and masters in 1908. The Headmaster, Shawyer, features in the centre.

1912 – inauguration of Old Boys Society

1914-18 WW1 – 55 masters and old boys died, the majority served in the Army

1915 – 128 boys on roll (highest in modern era so far)

1917 – Adoption of further public school characteristics under headship of former Charterhouse public school teacher Frank Forder: a ‘House’ system and a Founders’ Day was introduced.

1918 – 167 pupils on roll, 40 as boarders.

1924 – Memorial Library completed, dedicated to the fallen of the Great War. The focus was a bronze roll of honour.

1927 – Addition of Sanatorium on NE side.

1933 – teaching block added on SW side.

1939-45 – Second World War. 41 old boys died serving in the war

1941 – hosted c.100 evacuated pupils of Varndean School from Brighton

1944 – Butler Act. Transformed Ermysted’s into a state-maintained selective grammar school

1959 – Memorial Hall built on west side

1974 – Implementation of 1972 Local Government Act county boundary changes cut off students from West Craven, newly added to the Lancashire authority. Numbers on roll started to fall as a result.

1974 – Struggles over selective status began. Since April 1974 The Department of Education had announced the intention to develop a fully comprehensive system and end the 11+ selection.

1976 – The Governors rejected a North Yorkshire County Council working party’s various reorganisation proposals which would have to overcome the difficulties of utilising the existing three secondary school sites in the town.

The resistance to comprehensive reform, finally confirmed by the election of a Conservative government in 1979, left Ermysted’s one of only 164 selective grammar schools in the country and one of only 3 in North Yorkshire.

1978 – the new school year started with 450 pupils on roll

1980 – Education Act allowed funding of pupils from other authorities to apply to Ermysted’s. This encouraged growth of numbers of pupils from Keighley, Ilkley, Earby and Barnoldswick.

1989 – closure of boarding house

1992 – Quincentenary marked by the royal visit of the Princess Royal

1992 Quincentenary celebrations. Headmaster David Buckroyd greets H.R.H. The Princess Royal

1994 – Sports Hall built on NE side

1996 – Achieved accolade of top performing school in the country in the maintained sector for A Level Results, beating many of the country’s most prestigious public schools; this prompted the Headmaster, David Buckroyd, to quip at Speech Day that Ermysted’s was the ‘Eton of the North.’

Early 2000s – the expansion of the school roll through the introduction of a 4-form entry system saw the expansion of new buildings to gather pace: new tech block added on east side, new refectory, old gym turned into ICT and teaching rooms.

2005 – 13 pupils gained Oxbridge universities places. The academic reputation of Ermysted’s stood particularly strongly.

2008 – OFSTED inspection rated the School as ‘Outstanding’

2016 – new 6th form study centre built

2022 – 791 pupils on roll

Headmasters 1876-2022

E. Hartley (1876-1907)

Williamson (1907-1907)

J. Shawyer (1907-1908)

H. Plum (1908-1911)

A.Powell (1911-1917)

F. Forder (1917-1922)

McIntosh (1922-1937)

M. Forster (1937-1956)

A. Gibbon (1956-57)

J. Eastwood (1957- 1972)

J. Woolmore (1972-1982)

D. Buckroyd (1982-1998)

T. Ashworth 1998-2008)

G. Hamilton (2008-2016)

M. Evans (2016 >