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The Dorchester Grammar or Free School
(1567-1736)


[Also known as 'The Thomas Hardye' School']

©Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Dorchester September 2009
Revised & updated Sept 2010 - last minor update Nov 2012)



© Dorchester Free School as it was in 1924 (Building front right)
It had re-opened in 1883 with the official title of 'Dorchester Grammar School'. The Tudorbethan front was by Crickmay,
but behind the facade it still retained the original old schoolroom, with a further storey on top. In 1928 the school moved to Culliford Road
Michael Russell FIPD - private post card collection

Throughout its long life it has had a number of changes to its official name, moved twice, been expanded and modernised until today we find it still a vibrant free institution open to all and situated at Queens Avenue in Dorchester. The school has its own website where you can find out everything you might need to know about how the school currently operates and its connection with other institutions. I have provided a link to the pages dealing with its history where you will find a great picture of the school as it was during the mastership of Thomas Ratsey Maskew, M.A. who was appointed to the school in 1846. The short history of the school given below concentrates upon the first 100 years of its existence and is aimed at showing the important role it played during the 17th century in underpinning the creation of the Rev. John White's vision of a godly community in Dorchester and the people involved.


Link to background Notes on all known Masters of the Free School

Foundation of the Freeschale in 1567

The charges incurred in building of the Free School occupy several pages in an account book recorded in the 'Municipal Records of Dorchester'. (1)   Two wealthy townsmen, Luke Adyn a Capital Burgess of Dorchester living in All Saints parish, and William Churchill a gentleman from Holy Trinity, employed a local builder John Roye to construct the school house on a site they acquired at the lower end of South Street. We know that it was to have 3 chimneys, and the side wall was to have 12 lights made of stone with mould work for which he was to be paid three shillings a light. The same wall was to have a stone door with molding for access to the street. During 1567 building operations were proceeding; freestones coming from Poxwell and some of the wall stones from Upwey; the rest coming from the famous Ham Hill quarries. A former schoolhouse erected by the Chubb family was demolished and some of the timber re-used in the new building for which 'Rollyns and Byshope' of Fordington were paid 8d to deliver two cart loads. Inside there was a table on which stood the Queens Arms carved by Robert Amay and when it opened for business it had just 5 pupils.

The schools early history however is obscure, but in 1579 it was rescued and re-endowed by Thomas Hardy of Melcombe Regis (2) . The schools location is shown on John Speeds map of 1611 drawn up just two years before the great fire which destroyed so much of Dorchester. It gives an idea of the the layout of the town at that date, much of which we can still recognise today. The school is on the plot next to Nappers Almshouses (marked "N" on the map index) and today is the site of the Hardye Arcade.

Thomas Hardye of Melcombe Regis ( - 1599)
Principal benefactor of the School

On the 3rd August in the 21st year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st (1580) (3) Thomas Hardy a merchant from Melcombe Regis made an endowment which is still commemorated in St Peters Church in Dorchester on a wall plaque shown below. It was originally in the south chapel, known as the Hardy's chapel as it was used by the boys of the 'Free School '. The text of the memorial reads:-

'To the Memory of Thomas HARDY of Melcombe Regis in the County of Dorset Esq who endowed this borough with a yearly revenue of 50. Appointed out of it to be employed for the better maintenance of a preacher 20; A schoolmaster 20; An Usher 20 nobles, The alms women five marks. The Bailiffs & Burgesses of Dorchester in Testimony of their gratitude and to commend to posterity an example so worthy of imitation hath erected this monument'.

This monument is mentioned in 'William Whiteway's Diary' (4) under the entry for 5th April 1629 where it says:-
' In this month Mr John Browne set up Mr Hardy's monument in St Peters Church, but the towne paid for it 5'

The endowment was in favour of 10 Trustees (and their heirs), all important and influential men in their time. It consisted of lands at Frome Vauchurch, land and tenements at Wyke Regis, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis and embraced the messuage and burgage 'commonly called the schoolhouse' on the east side of South street in the Parish of St Peters.

The school appears to have always been referred to as the 'Free School' even though for much of its history top up fees were charged. Understandably however following Mr Hardy's generous endowment it also became known as 'The Thomas Hardye School'. Other people in Dorchester also contributed to the endowment from time to time, as did country gentleman like Sir Robert Napper who in the year 1610 granted four messuage's south of the schoolhouse to provide accommodation for the schoolmaster and a site for the erection of a house for the usher (5). The History of Dorchester (6) which was written in 1837 refers to

    "A small farm at Frome Whitchurch, belonging to it and several houses in the town which from the reserved rents being high , seem formerly to have been of more importance than they are at present. there is an annual rent of 9 shillings payable to the master, out of Shilvinghampton Farm which formerly belonged to the family of hardy; and another rent charge of £2 per annum on a Farm at Buckland Newton".

Rev. Edward Doughty MA.(c1550-1616)
Master of the Free School (1580-1584)

The first known Master of the 'Free School' was Edward Doughty MA who is credited by Hutchins (7) as taking office in the 22nd year of the reign of Elizabeth 1st. A native of Derbyshire he was educated at St John's College Cambridge from which he joined the church, being ordained deacon and priest on the same day (6th October 1577). Three years later (on 20 November 1580) he was appointed Rector of Holy Trinity Church and Master of the 'Free School' in Dorchester. He served for four years before being appointed perpetual vicar of Banwell in Somerset (on 24 Oct 1584) which is likely to be the date his term of office as master of the 'Free School' came to an end, although he did not resign as rector of Holy Trinity until 15 Nov 1585.

Henry Harris MA. (1568-1596)
Master of the Free School (1588?-1595)

The next known master of the Free School listed by Hutchins (7) is Henry Harris, but he is too young to have immediately succeeded Edward Doughty. A native of Dorset he matriculated at St Alban Hall Oxford on 11 October 1583 then aged 15; obtaining his BA on 15 June 1588. This is probably the earliest he would have been recruited as master of the school. His university record shows that he 'dispensed towards his MA on 14 March 1589/90'. Unfortunately he became ill in 1595 and died the following year being buried on 31st May 1596 still only 28 years old.

Rev. Robert Cheeke MA. (1572-1627) (1, 8 to 13 inc)
Master of the Free School (1595-1627)

The third known master of the schoolhouse that I can trace was Robert Cheeke who arrived in 1595 and soon became a man of some importance in the town. He was a graduate of Magdalen Hall Oxford (8) where he matriculated on 8 July 1586 at the age of 14 and went on to obtain his Bachelor of Arts degree there on 22 June 1593 (and his MA on 7 July 1598). He joined the church being ordained a deacon and priest on 26 Aug 1575 in Lazant (13) parish church in Devon by the Bishop of Exeter, William Bradbridge. He was therefore only 23 years old when he secured his first job as master of the Free School, a post he was to retain for the rest of his life. He taught many of the sons of the more wealthy patrons of Dorchester and was instrumental to adding to the reputation of the school. He was well liked and respected not only by his scholars but also by most of the townspeople in Dorchester. Gervase Scrope was a typical example of the sort of student attending the school in 1606. He was the son of a gentleman and boarded with Mathew Chubb in his house in Dorchester. With his puritan views Robert Cheeke naturally found a kindred spirit in the form of the Rev. John White who arrived in Dorchester that year and he soon became involved in many of the schemes White devised. Their closeness can perhaps be judged by the fact that the school attracted pupils from beyond Dorchester and some of these boarded with John White.

On 6 August 1613 much of Dorchester, including the schoolhouse, was destroyed in a great conflagration, which the inhabitants regarded as a 'fire from heaven', and is described in some detail by David Underdown in his book of that name (9). One of his pupils at that time was the diarist William Whiteway (1599-1635) (4), then aged 14, and he recalled the dismal sight of 'great buildings' turned to heaps of stones, and into 'dust and ashes'. William Whiteway attended the school from 1606 to 1615 and is known to have traveled with Robert Cheeke to Oxford for a few days in 1614, although surprisingly he does not appear to have gone on to study at university himself. When he died in 1635 he left 20 to the school.

In 1615 Sir Robert Napper started to build (next to the devastated school) some Almshouses for the poor; which were to become known as 'Napper's Mite' which he built 'to honour God' and because many had been left destitute by the fire. They were completed the following year and housed ten poor men - four from the country and six from the town. The school was also rebuilt in 1618 at a cost of £500, a considerable sum to raise at a time when there were other heavy demands on the townspeople. Most of the money for the rebuilding did come from within Dorchester although Whiteway says that Cheeke received contributions from 'well disposed gentlemen of the country, and from many that had previously been his scholars. The elder Gould's and Richard Bushrod were among those that contributed locally but even so Cheeke had to dip into his own pocket to meet the final bill.

In the 'upper room' above the 'school room' in the reconstructed building they gradually established the Dorchester Town library, and an inventory taken in 1631 gives the names of the donors. Perhaps as Rose Toup puts it ' a bit stodgy but sufficiently varied to suit the palates of the towns people'.

On the South side of the entrance to the 'School House' there appeared on the wall the Queen's arms, supported by a Lion & Wyvern, and under them the date 1659. The old school room was in this part of the dwelling house and continued to be used for the lower boys until 1664. One of the artifacts that survives from that time is the great oak screen (depicted below) which Cheeke had installed in the new school. It came from a Spanish ship wrecked on the Dorset coast when Drake defeated the Armada in 1588 and it still hangs over the stage in the school theatre having moved with the school each time it was relocated.



The Great Oak Screen of 1588

As if the raising of funds and rebuilding of the school was not enough, in 1617 the year before the school reopened, Robert Cheeke took on an even more influential role in the community. The Rev John White was Rector of Holy Trinity and St Peters but the third important church in Dorchester was All Saints (or All Hallows as it was then often called). Co-incidentally the Rector of All Saints had for many years been William Cheeke who as far as I know was no relation to Robert. By 1617 he was infirm, rapidly going blind, and Robert had to take over as Rector, and an Usher was hired to assist him. In 1636 a place was found in one of the Almshouses for William who by then was blind and feeble with no one to look after him.

Students & the Alehouses

Students will always be students and as might be expected those of the Free School were no different, many of whom were for the first time boarding away from home and the influence of their parents. Then, as now, excessive drinking in the town was from time to time a problem and exercised the minds of those trying to create the new Godly community. Of particular concern was corruption of the Free School boys. It is important to remember that in 17th Century Dorchester nobody drank water, which was more often than not heavily polluted. Men, women and even children drank 'ale' which with its proteins and vitamins, supplemented a meager diet and, as water was boiled in the brewing process, ale was a liquid free of water-borne infections. Ale was the only safe drink widely available, and vast quantities were produced. Dorchester corporation in fact set up and ran the main brewhouse using the profits to support many of the charitable ventures undertaken, including that of the Free School . (For more information on the brewhouse see the biography of Benjamin Devenish) The first mash produced strong ale and was generally thought to be suitable for men. The re-brewing of the mash for a second time produced a weaker ale suitable for women and the final brewing, the weakest, was reserved for children. After the great fire everything was disrupted and its not surprising to find the local justices of the peace dealing with people trading without a licence and a lack of control over the quality of the ale produced.

Once again David Underdown (9) informs us that "The recorder Sir Francis Ashley was particularly concerned about the lure of the alehouses in the poorly policed suburbs of Fordington and Colleton Row. In 1617 a number of Free School boys, boarders from good families, were caught drinking in a disreputable Fordington Alehouse run by a man named Nicholas Hellier. Around Christmas Ashley unearthed two more unlicensed ale housekeepers in Colleton Row, both of whom had been 'entertaining townsmen and apprentices drinking'. But this could happen in the borough too: Ashley also dealt with a man found in a alehouse who had been 'drawing other youths thither'. Three Dorchester ale housekeepers were in trouble years later, in 1633, for serving mead and beer to boys from the Free School .

The casebook of Francis Ashley (14) has survived from which we can glean a bit more insight:- 3rd August 1617 :- That Nicholas Heyman also known as Hellier of Fordington was this daye committed till he find suetyes for his good behaviour, for keeping disorderlie typling by a long space without licence. Presentment justified by the constable that on Whitsunday last had 6 at least drinking and dancing in his house. And since the pretended tyme of his licence hath harboured Mr Cheeks schollers vis Mr Francis sonne of Weymouth and Mr Harbyn's sonne, who have twice been there by their owne confession and spent 12d at a tyme, Heyman himself being then at home, who would excuse it for that they came with Joseph Parkins of Dorchester having before denyed that ever anie townsman was in the house. Mr Pele (i.e. the Rev Edward Pele vicar of St Georges church) the preacher of Fordington enformes that on the Saboth day last, viz ult August there were half a dozen drinking there. And I punsht before Coome & Prower being dronken in his house"

One of Robert Cheeke's students was Christopher Lawrence (1613-1667)(9). Christopher was the son of Robert Lawrence a shoemaker turned ale housekeeper (4). Robert had two spells as constable of Dorchester and was churchwarden and overseer of the poor at All Saints Church. He kept an unusually orderly alehouse, his only indiscretion being in 1633 when he allowed boys from the Free School to drink there; unwittingly. of course, he said. (15) Some thought Robert too much the genial host, a bit too partial to the bottle himself. He does not sound to be much of a social reformer. Yet his son Christopher, born and educated in Dorchester certainly was. He studied under Robert Cheeke and this is probably where he inherited his zeal for social and religious reform. From the 'Free School' he went to Oxford where he matriculated on 4 November 1631 at Queens college at the age of 18. He duly obtained his BA there on 30 Jan 1634-5 (8). He took holy orders and was appointed Curate of Podimore (north west of Sherborne)(12) on 20th Dec 1635. His university records state that he was made Rector of Odcombe Somerset; Langton Matravers Dorset 1656-8;(16) and of Winterborne Came in 1658 until ejected for non conformity in 1662. Those not prepared to take the oath were deprived of their living and not allowed within 5 miles of their previous parish so he removed to Frampton. He died 15 May 1667 and was buried in All Saints Church Dorchester.

Another student cast later into a similar mould was Joshua Churchill. From the Free School he initially entered Queens College on 18 Aug 1644 progressing to Emmanuel College on 29 Jan 1647/8. He also took holy orders and was made Vicar of Over Compton in Dorset in 1650; Rector of Winterborne Came & Farringdon 1655; and then Vicar of Fordington in 1656. There he remained until he was presented to the Assizes in 1660 for not using the Anglican Liturgy and ejected from Fordington in 1662. He went to Compton Valence and then assisted the Rev. William Benn in preaching to a dissenting congregation at Dorchester, and succeeded him in his pastoral office.

Venue for the New England Parliament - 1624

In 1624 the Rev. John White's efforts led to the establishment of the Dorchester Company. Its Governor was White's friend Sir Walter Erle who presided over what Dennis Bond grandiosely called the 'New England Plantation Parliament'. Their meetings were held at the Free School which was often used for other similar venues. Robert Cheeke himself invested in the Dorchester Company.

A few more words about Robert Cheeke before we leave him behind. Unfortunately the parish registers for All saints have not survived for this period so we know little about his private life apart from the fact that his wife was called Margaret and that she was to remarry after his death to a Mr. William Lawrence of Stapleton. In September 1623 there was a Bishops Visitation to Dorchester & his pupils acted two comedies in Latin at the Shire Hall for their entertainment. The following year the Corporation rebuilt Dorchester Gaol and Robert obligingly composed an inscription to go above the gateway which read:-

Look in yourselves, this is the scope:
Sin brings prison, prison the rope.

Robert Cheeke died on 8 October 1627 (4) and Mr Brancard of Shaston (i.e. Shaftsbury) stood in as schoolmaster until his replacement Gabriel Reeve arrived in June 1628 however, probably in recognition of the workload, Mr Branchard's brother was also appointed Usher of the School. Although Sir Francis Ashley commended Robert Cheek's 'great pains and travail' in the parish he does not appear to have been particularly energetic in his later years. There was great respect for him however as the Corporation took pity on his widow Margaret when her second husband William Lawrence died and allowed her to live in the rooms above the schoolhouse. She had to vacate them by lady day 1651/2 (i.e. 25th March) when Mr Cromleholme was made schoolmaster, but out of respect for the memory of her former husband Mr Cheeke she was to receive 4 per annum towards her house rent. (17)

Gabriel Reeve MA (1593 - aft 1650)
Master of the Free School (1628-1650)

As mentioned above Gabriel Reeve took over duties as the 4th Master of the Free School in June 1628. He originated in Southants, was educated at Winchester College, and graduated at New College Oxford, in 1616. He was ordained as a deacon in 1620 in Salisbury Cathedral but there is no subsequent record of him serving the church so his sole occupation appears to have been as Master of the Free School.

Educational Fees

The Free School was not the only educational establishment in Dorchester in the 17th Century. The main purpose of the 'Hospital' for example was educational, although we would probably consider it to be more like a workhouse by today's standards. A spell in the 'Hospital' however at least gave a child of poor parents a better chance of being trained in a decent trade and perhaps gaining an apprenticeship. It also meant some income towards the costs involved and provided an opportunity for their instruction into the religious doctrines of the day. The Corporation also established in 1623 an 'under school of Trinity' and a building for this purpose was erected in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, directly under the eye of John White. The cost, about £100, was borne by the Corporation, and they had the right "to put in what schoolmaster they shall think fit, to be removed upon just occasion, and the said schoolmaster and his successors are to undergo such order and government as Mr White and Mr Cheeke and their successors shall think fit, being a subordinate school unto the Free School, to train up boys and prepare them for the said Free School ". Aquila Purchase probably the first master was appointed in 1625; he relinquished his office when he emigrated to New England in 1632 when his place was taken by Christopher Gould (4). Although it had a greater emphasis on teaching it taught little beyond the ability to read, religious doctrine and moral discipline. For those not rich enough to employ a personal tutor the 'Free School' therefore represented the best educational preparation available.

Although always referred to as the 'Free School' by 1631 it was charging parents tuition fees and from events that arose that year it is clear that this was at least of concern to some sections of the community. On 16 September that year there was a major falling out between the Capital Burgesses of the Corporation and the Freemen who had the job of regulating trade in the town. Although it did not occasion the disagreement during the debate William Paty and John Coke who spoke for the Freemen took the opportunity to raise other old grievances and one of these was the question of the Free School which they claimed 'should be free for all'.

William Whiteway in his diary records that Sir Francis Ashley (a JP and the Recorder for the Borough) actually produced the deed of foundation and showed that it was to be free only for poor men's children. The Freemen thereupon walked out in what Whiteway describes as 'an insolent manner and crying out 'a free schoole, a free schoole.' The chiefs of this faction in addition to Cole & Paty were George Munden, John Stevens, Thomas Whittell, William Mundin, Edward Brag, and old Mr Vawter the instigator of all. Mr William Savage their Counsellor, Dr William Bradish and Mr Ironside their divines. A few days later the Corporation tried to pacify the Freemen by reducing the quarterly rate each Freeman paid to the Company. To no avail at the ensuing elections for the Governor and the four elected assistants - the only opportunity the ordinary Freemen had to express their opinions - the popular faction swept the board. Whiteway needless to say complains that 'the same men carried themselves tumultuously'.

The row, almost inevitably was mediated by the Rev.John White. On the 5th December he got the antagonists to agree to a 'solemn pacification between the 15 of this town (i.e. the Capital Burgesses) and the commons as they call themselves. Every man showing his readiness except Mr John Coke, Patroclus Cooke and Roger Stephens'. To prepare the ground John White had initiated the first of a series of collections for the Free School at the 5 November commemoration. The idea was to build up the school's endowment until it could provide the schoolmaster with a salary of forty pounds a year, after which it would no longer be necessary to charge fees for the sons of 'men of ability'. This temporarily stilled the agitation, though much of the one hundred pounds raised in 1631 and at subsequent collections was frittered away on repairs to the school buildings, and the target of forty pounds a year for the master was never attained. [On the 10th January 1639/40 the Municipal Records show that "all men of ability shall give xxs a year for every child they shall send to the free school to be taught until the schoolmasters maintenance by foundation and addition by the town be made up to x1li yearly"]

    Rev. Gabriel Ball (1604 - ?)
    Usher of the Free School (1630)

    The municipal records of Dorchester (1) also show that a Gabriell Ball was "chosen for the 'Free School' on 14th January 1629/30". Rose Troup in her book on John White (10) suggests that he may have been an usher or under master of the school as we know from William Whiteway's diary that Robert Cheeke was succeeded by Gabriel Reeve in 1628 and he hung onto the post until 1650. The municipal records show that Gabriel Ball apart from his duties at the 'Free School' was to spend a minimum of two hours, several times a week, teaching the poor children of Dorchester 'Hospital' for which he was to be paid 20 nobles quarterly. A noble was worth six shillings and eight pence then so this amounted to over £26 per annum. Gabriel was the son of John Ball of Thurlbare in Somerset and had matriculated at Brasenose College Oxford (8) on 13th December 1622 at the age of 18. He was ordained as deacon 22 Sep 1627 and priest in Exeter Cathedral on 21 Sep 1628 before accepting the post in Dorchester (12). He does not seem to have lasted very long as his successor was dismissed in 1632.
    Nathaniel Bernard (Barnard)
    Usher of the Free School (1632) (4, 9, 10)

    A small entry in William Whiteway's diary for 8th June 1632 is worth some explanation. It simply states " Upon the removal of Mr Nathaniel Bernard usher, Mr Nathaniel Cooke succeeded him in that place". We already know that John White and Robert Cheeke exercised tight control of the schools in Dorchester and with the death of Robert Cheeke in 1627 there can be little doubt that John White was the prime mover behind school policy, until at least 1643. For reasons that are not clear to us it was found necessary to dismiss the School Usher Nathaniel Bernard and it should not go un-noticed that Nathaniel Cooke was John Whites nephew. Incensed by his treatment Nathaniel Bernard on 23 June 1632 addressed a petition to Bishop Laud against John White of Dorchester. It contained a curious document in execrable latin, almost unintelligible, describing the petitioner's persecution by those around him , whom he termed schismatics. This was therefore presumably also aimed at Gabriel Reeve. He had he said been the Usher of the Free School until forced to resign. As far as we know the petition had no immediate affect beyond increasing the suspicion of Laud against the Patriarch.

    Nathaniel Cooke also appears to have been a temporary appointment as the municipal records (1) for 23 April 1634 show that a Mr Forward (said to be one of the sons of the Rev Thomas Forward the Rector of Lydlinch) was to be paid 20 markes [a total of £13.6s.8d.] besides his 'vailes and gratuities' for his 'paines' as Usher at the Free School.

In 1634 Gabriel Reeve, probably at the instigation of John White, seems to have engineered repairs and improvements to the school as he was paid £2.4s.2d in January 1635 in recompense for the cost to fencing in the school close, presumably in an attempt to better control the pupils and reduce interference with its neighbours. Benjamin Devenish who ran the brewhouse, which generated funds for the school, was also repaid £5.5s 0d for the same purpose. Gabriel received in the same accounts what was then quite a substantial amount of £23. 17s.11d for repairs to the school walls, and the Rev John White was repaid £4.3s 2d in respect of the walls as well demonstrating his close involvement. Another £6. 0s 3d was spent that year by Reeve on other expenses associated with the school, and there are records of payments for the erection of a mud wall, the supply of straw, spars and even thatching the roof.

In 1638 during a serious chicken pox epidemic the masters of the Free School and Trinity School were both ordered not to admit children 'that have had the pox, or do or shall diet or lodge in any house where the pox has been until such children and houses have been clear of the pox by the space of one month at the least'. Rumblings about school fees however continued.

In 1639 the Commissioners for Charitable Uses investigated the matter, and two years later William Munden a tailor who had been prominent in the 1631 campaign and another freemen called William Besse unsuccessfully demanded 'to be accounted poor men' and thus exempt from school fees for their sons. In Munden's case this was not very convincing as he was a man of some substance, who had been churchwarden of his parish and had held other local offices. One pupil known to have been at the school circa 1639-1643 and presumably had to pay was John the son of Gilbert Loder of Dorchester. When John left the school in 1643 he went to University at Caius College Cambridge where he was scholar 1643-1648 and was awarded a BA degree 1646/7. According to David Underdown in his book Fire From Heaven he was appointed to the living at Fordington despite not being ordained and under age. He was in fact 23 years old and according to the Municipal Records of Dorchester was appointed Vicar of St George's on 1st January 1649 "upon petition of the inhabitants of Fordington 8 Feb 1648/9 (Minute Book of the Dorchester Standing Committee p 455 & 501).

David Underdown in his book 'Fire from Heaven' informs us that during the Civil War Gabriel Reeve, like many others, fled the impending hostilities which threatened Dorchester in 1643. The Civil War seems to have seriously affected him as unlike John White who was at least offered another parish in London in 1645, there is no record that I can locate of how he managed to support himself through this difficult period. He did after all leave behind his home, and small annual pension of £20 together with his ability to get extra remuneration from paying pupils. He appears to have remained in contact with, and on good terms, with John White (he was a witness to his Will in 1648). They were both in some financial distress, and both returned to Dorchester in the autumn of 1646 well before the official end of the Civil War in 1652. It was probably through John White's influence that the Dorset Standing Committee took the following initiative:-

    November 27th 1646. Whereas in the town of Dorchester "there is a convenient dwelling provided for the Schoolmaster and a small pension but of twentie pounds per annum for his maintenance, in respect whereof the said school hath been a good space (i.e. time) since without a schoolmaster, and whereas Mr Gabryell Reve, who hath heretofore been a schoolmaster there, upon the entreaty and request of the inhabitants of Dorchester aforesaid so that there may be an addition of fortie pounds per annum to the said school hath engaged himself to undertake the Government of the said school again" it is ordered that £20pa be paid him out of each of the impropriate parsonages of Puddletrethide and Fordington on condition that he teach, gratis, twelve scholars from Dorchester and twenty of the country.

When he did return he was clearly not the same man. The school needed someone with energy and enthusiasm to re-establish its post war position and reputation and whilst John White was alive he at least seems to have kept things under control. John White however died on 21st July 1648 and lacking his direction (and protection) things rapidly deteriorated and the towns people lost patience. In 1650 the Corporation noted the 'low condition' of the school and concluded that Reeve had 'lost his esteem both in the town and country'. When he refused to resign, the trustees ('upon the ernest solicitation of the townsmen') kicked him out. With him went the Usher Edward Archbold, dismissed for 'offensive carriage'. I have not been able to locate anything else about him. He was 57 years old when he left. There is a will at the National Archives for a 'Gabriel Reve Gentleman of London proved 15 Feb 1666' which might well be him and if so might provide additional information.


The School after 1650

Having covered the foundation and early years of the school my background notes about the lives of subsequent Masters of the school can be accessed via the links at the beginning of this account or as I mention them in passing below. Gabriel Reeve was replaced on the 10th October 1651, by the sub-master of St Paul's School Samuel Cromleholme MA (1618-1672) who brought with him a substantial private collection of books which he used at the school to good effect and did much to recover the schools reputation during his 6 years of tenure. When his friend and mentor the Rev. John Langley died however he was offered his position as High Master of St Paul's in London, something he felt unable to refuse so he was replaced by Anthony Withers (c1634-c1696) who accepted the post in Oct 1657 but actually arrived in May the following year. The most significant event during his tenure, which lasted according to John Hutchins until 29 Sep 1662, was the bequest of £100 left to the school by John Hill who died shortly after Anthony arrived.


The John Hill Exhibition
Alderman, Capital Burgess of Dorchester & Mayor in 1636 (18)

'Funding of a Poor Scholar through University'

In his will dated 21st May 1657 John HILL, throughout a firm believer in John White's vision of the godly community, gave real substance to one of his pet schemes of educating the poor. Like John White and many others he had left Dorchester during the Civil War when danger threatened the town and lived in London where he had business interests. John White returned to Dorchester in 1646 but the war carried on until 1651 and John Hill then aged 62 never returned to live in the town. When he died in 1657 he bequeathed 100 to be invested in the purchase of property in fee, on trust to the Mayor, Aldermen and Capital Burgesses of the town of Dorchester, to apply the rents and profits of the lands and tenements purchased to maintain a poor scholar who was to be educated and brought up in the 'Free School' there, and sent and promoted to one of the Universities of the nation. taken from its description in the Will this bequest became known as the John Hill Exhibition.

His will made it clear that the scholar chosen must be born of honest parents and the funding to last until he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree after which another poor scholar was to be chosen. This scheme had particular importance to John White and it is a shame that he died in 1648 before its fruition. They had worked hard in Dorchester at improving the health and employability of the poor by trying to teach them a trade in the hospital where they also received religious instruction. They had ensured its durability by making it financially self sufficient by establishing the brew house and provided a means of improving the education of the less well off at the under or Trinity school which then fed the better pupils into the Free School in preparation for university. This bursary put in place the final piece of the jig-saw as in theory at least anyone might aspire to the best education and future in life. In practice however it was to prove that whilst undoubtedly the individuals chosen had financial constraints (the sons of widows for example) they all still appear to have been the sons of Gentlemen of Dorchester rather than anyone who actually managed to climb very far up the social scale based on ability alone. John White's original vision of course was for many such bursaries to be gradually put in place and the ability to fund greater numbers would undoubtedly have produced different results but the costs of the Civil War, the strain it placed upon the town and its inhabitants and the split in ideologies it caused all took their toll and John's death in 1648 took much of the drive out of the priority placed upon looking after the poor.

The Mayor of Dorchester in 1658 was John Whiteway (1614-1679) the brother of William Whiteway (1599-1635) the diarist who referred to John Hill in his diary as cousin. John Whiteway was himself a substantial merchant and influential magistrate of Dorchester and had married Mary White the niece of the Patriarch and shared many of the same ideals. Initially, in Sep 1658, they devoted the annual rent of £5 from town land on which the George Inn stood to the bursary, so funds started to accrue from that date. The Mayor and Corporation were accountable to the executors of John Hill's estate in London for the correct disbursement of the funds and John Whiteway corresponded with Richard Davidge one of the executors throughout his term of office. On the 4th March 1658/9 they laid the money out on a tenement and land at Chaldon owned by a Mr Savage at the higher rent of 6pa.

In July 1659 they settled on the purchase from Mr Christopher Betscomb of Symondsbury of property he owned in Trinity Parish Dorchester at a total cost of £125. The £100 bequest from John Hill was used to purchase the main dwelling house which was "new stone built and tiled" standing in Fore Street and this was made over to the executors of his estate. The corporation then chipped in the extra £25 to purchase the "back house, stables and small garden" and added this to the bursary making a total annual revenue of £9pa. The initial tenant was Robert Pouncy.

The Municipal records of Dorchester record the following 11 Exhibitioners to have benefited from this bursary:-

    1659. James Gould, son of Christopher. Wadham College Oxford. Matriculated 10th March, 1656-7. B.A., New Inn Hall, 1660 ; subscribed the usual declarations, before ordination as Priest by the Bishop of Bristol, 19th December, 1663 ; Rector of West Knighton Dorset, 12 Nov 1663 - 1688; Vicar of the chapel at Frome Billett and West Stafford, Dorset 18 Oct 1667. Elected at the desire of the Founder. [MRD Ref C. 9, C.15.]

    1661, July 5. James Goold , son of Margery, widow. Exeter College Oxford. Matriculated 13th. July, 1660; subscribed the declarations before ordination as Priest by the Bishop of Bristol, 4th June, 1664. [MRD Ref C. 9, C. 15.]

    1670, Sept. 30. Allen Lester (1652/3-1689) , son of Allen Lester of Dorchester. Wadham College Oxford. Matriculated 18th March, 1669-70, aged 17. B.A., 25 Feb 1673/4; Ordained a deacon 13 June 1674 and priest 15 June 1679. Vicar of Ilfracombe Devon, 1683. Appears to have died in Dorchester being buried 8th Feb 1689 at Holy Trinity Church [MRD Ref C. 15.]

    1674, Sept. 18. Henry Snooke (1658-1727), son of John Snooke of Dorchester. Christ Church Oxford. Matriculated 17th July, 1674, aged 16. B.A., 1678 ; M.A., 1683 ; Ordained deacon 7 Nov 1680; priest 7 Mar 1681; Vicar of Brighthelmstone (Brighton) , 1681-1686, and of Ringmer Sussex, 1690 until his death buried St Mary the Virgin Ringmer 16 Oct 1727 aged 70. [MRD Ref C. 15.+ NBI]

    1700, Sept. 27. John Nelson( 1685-1750), son of John Nelson of Dorchester. Balliol College Oxford. Matriculated 19th May, 1701, aged 16. B.A., 1705 ; M.A., Trinity Coll., Cambridge, 1709 ; Rector of Winterborne Germayne (actually called Winterborne Farringdon Dorset), 1707. [MRD Ref C. 7.] Church records suggest he was instituted Rector of Winterborne Clenstone 4 Feb 1719 until his death ( recorded against Winterborne Germayne in 1750). He was buried at St Peters Church Dorchester on 30th March 1750.

    1707, Aug. 25. Nathaniel Templeman (1690-1753), son of Abraham Templeman of Dorchester. Trinity College Oxford. Matriculated 14th January, 1706-7, aged 16. B.A., 1710 ; M.A., 1713 ; Rector of Church Knowle Dorset 1712 ; of Charborough Dorset, 1716 ; Canon of Gloucester, 1730. [MRD Ref C. 7.] Church records show his death as 1753.

    1762. George White (1746-1804), son of Robert White of Dorchester. Wadham College Oxford. Matriculated 13th October, 1761, aged 15. B.A., 1765 ; Fellow of Balliol, 1767 ; M.A., 1768 ; Rector of Huntspill Somerset, 1778 where he died 22nd September, 1804 and was buried in St Peter & All Hallows Church Huntspill on 27th. [MRD Ref C. 37a. + NBI]

    1767, Oct. 5. Thomas Bryer (1750-1818), son of William Bryer Gentleman of Dorchester, deceased. St. John's College Cambridge. admitted sizar 30 Jun 1766, . B.A., 1771. Rector of All Saints Dorchester 1774-1818; Rector of Shaftsbury St James 1797-1818 Died 8th Oct 1818 Dorchester [MRD Ref C. 27.]

    1808, Nov. 4. John Old Zillwood (1785-1871), son of William Zillwood Gentleman of Dorchester. Wadham College Oxford . Matriculated 15th July, 1808, aged 23 but joined the church being ordained a deacon 15 Feb 1812. He was awarded his B.A at Magdalen Hall, 1814 ; M.A., 1815 ; Rector of Compton, Hants. His death is recorded at the GRO Sep qtr 1871 Winchester district at the age of 86. [MRD Ref C. 46.]

    1818. Francis Oakley (1787-1843), son of Francis Oakley Gentleman of Dorchester. Magdalen Hall. Matriculated 7th February, 1818, aged 30. He was ordained as a deacon 17 Oct 1819; and priest 16 Dec 1821 before being appointed as a perpetual curate at Chaldon Herring Dorset 14 Jan 1822 a position he seems to have held until 1830. He was made Vicar of Bradpole on 17 March 1835 until his death on 6th Oct 1843. He was buried at Holy Trinity church Bradpole on 10th Oct aged 56.[ MRD Ref C. 46. + NBI]

    1824. Thomas Curme (1806-1884), 3rd son of Thomas Curme Gentleman of Dorchester. Worcester College Oxford. Matriculated 11th May, 1824, aged 18. B.A., Church records show that he was ordained a deacon in the chapel in the Palace of Wells 20 Dec 1828 and appointed stipendiary curate of Brewham Somerset (I think this should be Blenheim however as he is reported to have been Domestic Chaplain to the Duke of Marlborough and the parish listing shows another curate incumbent at that time in Somerset); Vicar of Sandford, Oxon, 1841. Died 23rd June, 1884 (GRO June qtr aged 78 Woodstock Oxon). He received payment for two years in 1826, and was apparently the last Exhibitioner. [MRD Ref C. 46.]

    By order in Council, 14th August, 1879, this bequest was added to the endowments of the Grammar School.


In 1662 Anthony Withers was replaced as master by the Rev John Stevens but these were difficult times and the reputation of the school suffered under his leadership to such an extent that the Corporation found it necessary on 6th April 1664 to issue a set of rules and orders to him to be observed ' on pain of dismissal'. With the writing on the wall he made other arrangements and in August 1664 he accepted the position of Rector of Wylye in Wiltshire and was replaced by Henry Dolling.

Unlike many of his predecessors I can find no record of him entering the church and he appears from the outset to have become a career teacher. Although I can find no record he almost certainly would have sought employment after gaining his BA degree in 1661 and this is likely to have been at one of the grammar schools as a teacher. He must have quickly gained a reputation to have come to the attention of the Corporation and he was offered the post of master in Dorchester after gaining his MA in 1664. John Stevens was 40 years old when he left and Henry but 24 when he arrived but he certainly gained the respect of the Corporation and formed close and lasting relationships with his pupils, taking a direct and active interest in launching them into worthwhile careers. He gradually steered the school into calmer waters and was still master there in 1677. We know he was still in Dorchester in 1681 and its possible that he remained in that capacity until 1689 when he was replaced by Rev.Conyers Place. He maintained the schools good reputation for many years and gave it great stability serving until 1736.


Free School 1736-2010


Under a scheme propounded by the Charity Commissioners in 1879 all the Dorchester Charities (except Napier's and Wheatstone's) were amalgamated for the schools support, & a new school in the Tudor style, retaining the old school room & screen, was erected on the same site, at a cost of £4,500. A science department, including chemical & physical laboratories &; a carpenter's workshop, was added in 1898 at a cost of about 700, the chemical & physical laboratories being fitted up at a cost of about 500; In 1915 Kellys street directory shows the following teachers employed at the school:- Hugh A. FRANCIS M.A. head master; G. B. WILLIAMS (science); T. E. DIBBLE B.A; T. Gordon DAVIES M.A; D. S. LIDBURY ; T. T. PALMER ; E. LANE (music); W. COOK (carpentry); & Sergt.-Instr. MERCHANT (gymnasium) assistant masters

For 360 years the school remained in South street until 1928 when it moved to Culliford Road and the old site has now been redeveloped as 'Harvey's Arcade'. The first prize giving after the move was presided over by Mr POPE the Chairman of the Governors and the prizes presented by the Bishop of Salisbury. The headmaster (Mr R.W. HILL) made mention of the fact that Mr Thomas HARDY who was one of teh Governors made his last public appearance when he laid the foundation stone of the new school. The prizes given annually by Mr Hardy would be made permanent by Mrs Hardy and would in future be called 'The Thomas Hardy Prize for Englsh Literature. There was then 180 boys at the schoolor one third as many as 18 months ago. A new house had been added to the school and had been named after an old boy Sir Frederick TREVES.

The schools constant growth and development and the changing needs of our educational system occasioned a further move in 1992, to its present location, where it administers to the needs of some 2,300 students; a far cry from the handful it started with and its much more modest beginnings during its first 100 years. It is difficult to know how many of the important denizens of Dorchester in the 17th Century actually went through the school, but it was quite a few and perhaps more will come to light as time goes by, but there is no doubt in my mind that it underpinned an important part of our social history which long needs to be remembered.


Genealogical Sources & Notes:-

(1). The Municipal Records of the Borough of Dorchester edited by Charles Herbert Mayo p563

(2). Thomas Hardye is thought to be the younger brother of Edmund Hardy, both sons of Thomas Hardy of Toller Whelme in Dorset and his wife Joan Ferret of Cerne. On the death of his father in 1561 his mother Joan remarried to John Brown of Frampton. Thomas became a wealthy merchant with a number of residences in the county around Melcombe Regis and Dorchester and was closely associated with Luke Adyn and many others in the town who supported creation of a new school . The Municipal Records contain an interesting record which demonstrates their close association. It is a Bond given by 'Luke Adyn' to 'Thomas Hardy' gentleman (described therein as - of Frampton) and dated 5th October 1577 only 2 years earlier. It states "that the said Thomas Hardye and his heirs may peaceably enjoy a messuage on the north side of High East Street between the burgage of John Churchill on the west and John Browne Esq on the east, and also a messuage on the north side of Durngate lane in the west part of another lane leading from High East Street towards Durngate lane on the south of a burgage now or late in tenure of Michael Taylor and in the east part of the burgage of John Hennynge. Witnesses were William Churchill, John Fysher, Giles Symondes, John Browne, John Hennyng, and Matthew Chubb".

(3). The 21st year of the Reign of Elizabeth 1st ran from17th Nov 1579 to 16 Nov 1580

(4). William Whiteway of Dorchester - His diary 1618-1635 based on notes compiled by Thomas D Murphy Dorset Record Society

(5). Access to Archives (A2A) Catalogue Ref D/COO:F/T/4 ; +  D/BFM/12/1  2 Jul 1748

(6). 'The History of Dorchester 'by James Savage published 1837 - page 219

(7). “The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset” by John HUTCHINS, Published 1860-74

(8). Oxford University Alumni - register of students, graduates, and officers who attended Oxford University between 1500 and 1886. Original data: Foster, Joseph. Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 and Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714. Oxford: Parker and Co., 1888-1892. [Note Not properly indexed on Ancestry.com for Gabriel Reeve - search for George - on same page]

(9). Fire From Heaven Life in an English Town in the 17th Century by David Underdown published by Pimlico 1992

(10). 'John White The Patriarch of Dorchester [Dorset] and Founder of Massachusetts' by Frances Rose-Troup published by GP Putnam's Sons in 1930.

(11). Dorchester Divided - Researches & Reflections on Dorchester in the Early 17thc by the Community Play Research Group - published 2002

(12). The Clergy of the Church of England database (CCEd) is an online database of clergy of the Church of England between 1540 and 1835. This database is still being compiled Aug 2009 and may therefore contain only some of a persons appointments etc.

(13). Lazant church is more correctly called Lezant or Lanzante (i.e. Holy church) and this was originally dedicated to St Briocus on 25th September 1259 but is now dedicated to St Michael.

(14). The Casebook of Sir Francis Ashley JP Recorder of Dorchester 1614-1635; Dorset Record Society 1981: e.g. pages 36; 55; 56; Nicholas Helier also 42,48,49

(15). In Sir Arthur Ashley's casebook 7 Jan 1632/33 John Lawrence of Fordington Yeoman in £10, Robert lawrence of Dorchester shoemaker in £5 'Tipler licensed in Fordington. This licence was renewed 13 Dec 1634

(16). Christopher Laurence's name appears in the parish registers for Langton Matravers from 1653-1656 Source OPC

(17). MRC records as (1) above - page 573

(18). MRC records as (1) above - page 715 + 578 to 581 inclusive

(19). Times Newspaper Friday, Nov 02, 1928; pg. 20; Issue 45040; col C

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