Corpus Christi Hall 1549-1871
How and when was it founded as a Grammar school?
In 1422 the Guild or Fraternity of Corpus Christi was founded in Maidstone. At this time it had the use of a chantry in the north chancel of All Saints’ Church, and consisted of 2 wardens, 4 chaplains and a number of churchmen, gentry and townsmen. The four main characteristics of this building were that of the hall, refectory, chapel and cloisters. In 1547 the Government of Edward VI continued Henry VIII’s Reformation and began the dissolution of the Colleges and Guilds of the country. Corpus Christi Guild was suppressed and its property was handed over to the Crown. In 1549 on behalf of the young King Edward VI, Protector Somerset sold the building to the town of Maidstone for £200 to house a Grammar School. The town’s sympathy with the 1554 Protestant Rebellion of Sir Thomas Whyatt of Allington Castle caused the forfeiture of Maidstone’s recently granted charter, and with it the right to run a school, causing a temporary closure. The Catholic Queen Mary was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth in 1558 and England became Protestant again. She granted Maidstone’s Second Charter and the school resumed its existence, unbroken to the present day.
The Corpus Christi Hall: What is it like?
At this present moment in time, only the refectory remains of the Corpus Christi Hall, which once thrived in the days when the school was present here; it is a Grade 2 listed building, and currently houses the offices of the Avis Rent-a-Cars!
The interior of the Corpus Christi Hall maintains some of its great character, consisting of two crown posts with chamfered tie beams, a passage with 5 stone arches, and traces of a wooden partition that originally divided the hall into two.
The school hours taken from the 1650 Orders:
The school hours were longer than the present ones! Initially they were fragmented into am and pm. In the morning the school hours were from 7am until 11am, and 1pm to 5pm (except Thursdays and Saturdays, which were 1 – 3pm). Also on Sunday students were expected to attend a Church Service at All Saints.Extract for a Painting of Corpus Christi Hall, 1780 by Old Maidstonian William Alexander
In 1818 a Chantry Commissioner’s report stated there were 10 day boys and 15 borders.
Why did they move from this school in 1871?
In the mid 19th century the search for a new site started. The first reason according to Streatfeild’s History (1915) was that an increasing number of boys were joining the school, because at this time, there was a growing demand for education. The school currently had about 46 day students and 8 borders. Another reason was the old site was seen as a place of commercial value being close to the river, and surrounded by factories, therefore the land could be sold at a reasonable price and another plot of more suitable land be purchased. Revenue of £3,500 was raised for the move. The plot on the Tonbridge Road was more away from the hustle and bustle of the busy area in which Corpus Christi was situated. Mr Elton’s Report of 1869 appears to contradict Streatfeild’s view by stating students number were decreasing and stresses concerns about the location as sailors and bargemen as well as other ‘undesirables’ regularly walked through the playground.
In 1866 there were 46 day scholars between 10-16 years old and 8 borders, all in the Headmaster’s house.
Tonbridge Road 1871 - 1930
This period coincided with great changes in education. It was the early days of central government involvement initially encouraging, and then enforcing through legislation, a wider curriculum with more emphasis on science, technology and physical training. Both the School Governors and the Kent Education Committee were anxious to acquire larger buildings and bigger playing fields, and then Alderman George Foster Clark made a gift of land in Barton Road in 1924, so plans for a move to our 5th site were put in place.
Maidstone Grammar School and the Combined Cadet Force
The CCF has been a part of MGS’s history for over 100 years. It was first officially introduced under the name of ‘The Cadet Corps’ on 25th January 1906. There were initially sixty names on the roll and the War Office lent the Corps twelve service rifles and forty-five carbines. Since then the name has changed many a time until 1948 when it became known as the Combined Cadet Force or ‘CCF’ for short.
Why Did MGS Move From Tonbridge Road to Barton Road?
MGS moved from its home of 60 years at Tonbridge Road to a new home at the top of Barton Road. When the new Headmaster Mr A J Woolgar started in 1925 he knew that a grander space was needed, to cope with the growing number of pupils, particularly the need for more playing fields.
Barton Road 1930 to Present
Facts about the Site
The present building was built on the site generously donated by George Foster Clark- Justice of the Peace & Alderman (member of a borough or county council) of the Borough of Maidstone. He offered to donate 30 acres of his land to build the school on, however the School Governors opted to accept about half, as they were not sure they would be able to afford the upkeep. The Foster Clarks were a local family who had made their money from producing custard powder and jelly. The site was officially opened by Lord Cornwallis in July 1930.
Interesting features of the 1930 school
- Initially there were about 300 students (now over 1200).
- There was no canteen until after WW2; dinners were cooked in the ‘old kitchen', now the caretakers room next to the PE Office, and the dinners were served in the Gym.
- Technology was initially in room 25.
- Until relatively recently the only entrance and exit to the school was through the archway of the Gatehouse. Many lorries and coaches got stuck! You can still see the scratches and grooves in the brickwork.
- The current car park was the main hard court play area.
- Initially the Headmaster had free use of the Headmaster’s House and had a maid and gardener; Dr Argent (HM 2009-12) was the first to not live on the site so the house was converted into two upstairs apartments and downstairs offices and stores for the CCF.
- Roman connections were discovered during the building of the new site. Barton Road was part of the Roman road from Rochester, a Roman fort, to the iron mines which the Romans worked in the Weald of Kent (including Staplehurst High Street). Along this road were Roman villas, and one lies under the area between the Gatehouse and the canteen – some excavations were done in 1930 and 1950, but the archaeological site is now covered by tarmac!
- The wooden science lab (room 93) was originally the Scout Hut; the school had its own Scout troop from 1930-1970s.
How did we get the Pavilion?
The school pavilion was built thanks to donations from our Old Maidstonians Society.
Between 1930 and 1996, the names of students which graduated to either Cambridge or Oxford University were engraved on panels in the Big Hall. From 1996 onwards, the engraved names indicated the students who attained A grades in their A levels.
Library- Past and Present
The school library used to be where room 1 currently is; with the present rooms 2a, 2b and 2c being the book store area. In 1960 the library transferred to its present location. It is known as the War Memorial library as there is a large, wooden plaque which has the names of the 70 Old Maidstonians who died in World War 2. People can pay their respects there.
The Old Tuck Shop
The current School Uniform shop used to be a small sweet shop, run by the senior students and was so up until the mid 1990s.
A Planning Error
Many people may get the impression that the Grammar School has been here on Barton Road since 1929, because the drainpipes around the school all have 1929 cast on them. In actual fact, the School was not ready until 1930, and the gutters had already been ordered with 1929 on them!
The school used to have its own outdoor swimming pool, where the hard courts beyond room 93 are. There still remains a small storeroom of P.E. equipment, which was a chlorinating and pumping house for the pool. It wasn’t heated and therefore was only used for a few weeks during the summer. The upkeep of the pool was quite expensive and, due to fact that Maidstone Leisure Centre’s swimming facilities were improving, the school decided to use this land for other purposes
Development of the School
Since WWII, many new buildings were built to adjust to the increase of students. In the 1950’s, the science labs, which are the current rooms 20, 21, 30, 31 and the Physics Prep room, were created from the cloisters opposite the Big Hall. In 1960 the South Block (current library and small hall, music block, rooms 42-49, room 60) were built as the school now had over 800 students. In 1981, the Technology block and rooms 52-59 were constructed and opened by Sir Rhodes Boyson PC. He was a British educator, author and politician and was knighted in 1987.
In 2000, the old Maidstonian, James Burke, a British broadcaster, science historian, author and television producer, opened the new reception. In 2006, the new canteen, and the History, Maths and Art block were opened. Then in 2009, the Applied Learning Centre was built, followed by the Sixth Form and Food Technology block in 2011.
Preparing for War
As the war clouds gathered from 1938 onwards people started building air raid shelters in preparation for an attack. All public buildings had to have air raid provisions, and therefore, in late 1938 to 1939, an air raid shelter was built under the school. The shelter had zigzag passages, and could hold more than 300 people, allowing lessons to continue as normal.
The school’s playing field also contained a tank trap, which was a large pit, filled with concrete blocks called dragon’s teeth, which would stop the caterpillar tracks from moving. This was hidden from site by covering it with turf, strong enough for light vehicles. Also, room 7 was established as a machine gun post in case of the expected German invasion. On the 13th of September 1940, thirty-seven bombs fell in close proximity to the school but the students were all well protected in the air-raid shelter
A Great Day for MGS Students
At the end of the Second World War, school fees were abolished, meaning that you did not have to pay to embark in Maidstone Grammar School.
HMS Maidstone was a submarine depot ship during World War II. It was built and operational by 5th May 1938. It weighed 8900 tons and had a length of 497ft, a beam of 73ft, and a speed of 17knots and could hold up to 1167 men. It was used throughout the war and travelled to Gibraltar in 1941 then in 1942 it was based at Algiers harbour. In November 1943 she was assigned to the Eastern fleet. Then she was transferred to Western Australia to operate in the Pacific, returning to Portsmouth in November 1945.
After the war in 1951 it stopped at the Spanish harbour Corunna and this was the first time that a British warship had been in Spain since the end of the Spanish Civil War. Then in 1953 it took part in the fleet review to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In October 1969 it was re-commissioned for 2,000 troops to be sent to Belfast where in 1971 she was used as a prison ship in operation Demetrius as a place to hold Irish internees without trial, including Gerry Adams. The ship was also famous for 3 IRA prisoners escaping and swimming over 300 yards through icy water to evade army and police. The ship was decommissioned 6 years later on the 23rd May 1978, and the ships bell was donated to the school and is rung before every Big Hall Assembly to request silence and it announces the arrival of the Headmaster.
A Film Set? Surely Not?
In the 1990’s, the school was used for some scenes of ‘The Darling Buds of May’, a TV series set in the 1950’s. The old canteen was used for the Electrical Warehouse and the lower staff room as the tax office. The school was also used for two episodes of Art Attack, also in the 1990’s.