The History of Gillingham School




Gillingham School when it was a Secondary Modern History/Sec-Mod.jpgGillingham School when it was a Secondary Modern
Gillingham Free School History/Gillingham-Free-School.jpgGillingham Free School
Whole School Photo 1934 History/School-photo-1934a.jpgWhole School Photo 1934
Aerial View of the School Today History/Aerial-View-of-the-Modern-School.jpgAerial View of the School Today
Aerial View of the School Today History/Aerial-View-of-the-School-Today.jpgAerial View of the School Today
Typical Grammar School Classroom at turn of 20th century - Example of teacher's desk in Museum (DJL G341 + 381/19) source? History/Typical-Classroom.jpgTypical Grammar School Classroom at turn of 20th century - Example of teacher's desk in Museum (DJL G341 + 381/19) source?
Sports Day 1914 History/1914-Sports-Day.jpgSports Day 1914
Sports Day 1914 History/Sports-Day-1914.jpgSports Day 1914
The Old Cricket Pavillion History/Cricket-Pavillion.jpgThe Old Cricket Pavillion

500 Years of History

2016 Anniversary Celebrations

How the School was Founded

Gillingham School is one of the oldest schools in Dorset, indeed in the country. The history of how it started continues to have benefits for the school that we have today, and we hope that the spirit in which it was founded is still reflected in our culture and ethos.

In 1516, a group of local landowners gave certain lands to form a trust fund, for the purpose of funding a schoolmaster to teach the children of Gillingham (of course in those days that meant boys). These landowners were the men who founded the original Gillingham School; they are the founders that we commemorate each year at our Founders’ Day awards ceremony.

Why would they do that, give away so much of their own property? Well, these were men who believed in the importance of the future of young people, and in their local community as a whole. As well as founding the school, they contributed funds for maintenance of the church, the local roads and bridges, and to provide support for the poor. There was no central government as we know it today, nor any Dorset County Council, to be held responsible for these things at that time. Small towns like Gillingham would only grow and develop if the wealthier local residents chose to contribute.

Many schools were established in this way: many of them didn’t stand the test of time and are no more; others invested in expanding, by a combination of larger donations and through charging tuition fees, and gradually developed into the famous public schools of Britain; some, like Gillingham, continued quietly and efficiently as schools serving their community, eventually becoming grammar schools and comprehensive schools.

Over the centuries, the school has had several incarnations, but the link back to its foundation is continuous. Gillingham Free School was established in building opposite St Mary The Virgin church. The school expanded through to the 19th century; in 1876 it moved into new buildings on this present site and became Gillingham Grammar School. In 1903 the school became a grant-aided school, with education paid for from public funds from that time onwards, also opening its doors to students from the nearby part of Wiltshire. In 1916 girls were admitted for the first time (although there had been a separate school for younger girls for some time which was then absorbed). In 1940 a second (secondary modern) school was built on the same site, so that children of all abilities were catered for, but then, in 1959, these were amalgamated back into the single Gillingham School - then as now providing education for all types of young people in the area: boys and girls; rich and poor; academic, sporty, artistic, practical or caring.

The comprehensive Gillingham School of today was established by new headteacher John Webster; it developed and grew for 24 years with Manlio Lenarduzzi at the helm, followed by Lorna Lyons – the first female headteacher in the school’s history.

Gillingham School is now a large state-funded school, however the trust fund started by the Founders has remained and been added to throughout our history. Each year it provides a small but extra income that allows us to do a few extra things – like give prizes on celebration days; provide financial support for students who need extra funds to pursue a particular talent; or pay entry fees so that teams of students can enter national competitions in sport, music, maths or others. Our board of governors has a special responsibility to administer the trust, to maximise the income and to ensure that it is spent for the good of the education of the children of Gillingham and its surrounding area.

History of the Houses

Baxter, Clarenden, Davenant, Fletcher, George Butler, Hurley, Lyndon, Matthews, Seager and Wagner.

These are all people with a connection to Gillingham School. Three - ex-students, two - former teachers, three - school governors, a local clergymen and a local farmer.


Alec Baxter—was a governor of Gillingham School for many years and only recently died.


The Earl of Clarenden, Edward Hyde. A student at the school in the 17th century. He served King Charles during the English Civil War.


Dr Edward Davenant, the vicar of Gillingham also in the 17th century. He donated a small fortune to the school to ensure continuing education in the town of Gillingham. 


Yvonne Fletcher was a pupil at Gillingham School in the 1970s.  When she left school she joined the Metropolitan Police Force in London.  In 1984 she was shot, while on duty outside the Libyan Embassy.  The impact of this has effected international relations with Libya ever since and to this date has yet to be resolved.  Mr and Mrs Fletcher began the Fletcher Enterprise Award in 1985 in the memory of their daughter.

George Butler

George Butler — a local farmer, who helped run the school farm in the 1950s. In his will, George Butler left a fund to the school, to help those students who want to go on to university.


Walter Edward Hurley a maths and science teacher. He taught at this school for 50 years. And he fought in the First World War.


Neil Lyndon was a Head Boy . When he was in the sixth form he told his tutor Frank Hodgson, that he would have to leave school to get a job, because his family needed extra income. The tutor decided to pay the family, out of his own pocket,the amount Neil would have earned so that he could stay at school and complete his A levels. Neil completed his A levels, and went to Cambridge University. He went on to become a successful author and journalist.

To say thank you he set up the Frank Hodgson Trust for the school, which gives 6th formers today financial support to help them with the expense of their studies.


GB Matthews, a Chair of governors in the 1950s, who owned Purns Mill, which was painted by the famous artist John Constable. He was awarded the George Medal during the second world war for bravery for rescuing 4 men trapped by an explosion.


Edward Seager, another Chair of the Board of Governors. and vicar of Gillingham from 1946-1980. He laid the foundation stone for the school hall in 1964 – you can see the trowel he used in the display cabinet in it's foyer.


Alfred Wagner - a history teacher here for more than 30 years up to 1969. He wrote a book about the history of Gillingham School which we have in the school library.