School History

The Gild of the Holy Cross (1552)

King Edward VI School has a long history, with roots that date back over 600 years to the Gild of the Holy Cross, right in the heart of Birmingham.

In 1392 three local burgesses, John Coleshull, John Goldsmith and William atte Slowe, created the Gild of the Holy Cross. This charitable organisation did much for the local community and their gild house became the first home of King Edward's.

In 1545, the Gild survived the investigations of Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries but, during Edward VI’s reign its lands were seized and the organisation disbanded. A compromise was reached between Gild and Monarch that in return for some of the organisation’s land, the Gild would set up an educational establishment in the King’s name. The official charter was sealed on 2nd January 1552 and King Edward VI Free Grammar School for the youth of Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire was born.

Gild of Holy Cross

A turbulent era (1600s)

The next hundred years were troublesome times for the Foundation, with internal feuds between Governors and external disruption.

The English Civil War led to nationwide battles, including the Battle of Camp Hill on 3rd April 1643. During this skirmish school property was damaged by Royalists who, having defeated the Parliamentarians, pillaged parts of Birmingham putting many houses ‘to the flame’.

Violence continued in Birmingham when on the 27th November 1667 rioters broke into the school. Wearing masks, some were armed with pistols, some threw bricks and stones to damage the school buildings. The Head Master, Nathaniel Brokesby, was the main focus of the attack. What he did to provoke this anger or what sparked the riot is unknown, however it is suspected that tensions were high due to numerous complaints that some Governors were not only inefficient but corrupt.

The Georgian School (1731)

As the then town of Birmingham grew, so too did the School. On 4 May 1731 it was ordered that the school building ‘be pulled down and rebuilt’. The new Georgian school building was erected on the site of the original school and took three years to complete. It was an attractive, two-storey building with two wings projecting from a central block enclosing a courtyard which was open on the fourth side. Birmingham began to expand at an alarming rate. By 1751, the population had skyrocketed, and the higher demand required an expansion of the school. The Governors, "being truly sensible that great numbers of children in this place by reason of the poverty or negligence of their parents" lacked a proper education, established four elementary schools schools for both the boys and girls of the city.

The Georgian School

A change of pace (1834)

At about the same time as the Georgian school was being replaced by a magnificent new school designed by Charles Barry (1838), the architect of the Houses of Parliament, a new breed of headmasters began to lead the School. These headmasters propelled the School to academic eminence, reflecting the growing status and prosperity of the city itself. 

Under the leadership of James Prince Lee (1838 – 1848), the School witnessed significant expansion and modernisation. Prince Lee introduced comprehensive science education and strengthened the curriculum to adapt to the changing times.

Continuing their legacy, the surnames of Prince Lee and these other influential Chief Masters are the names of six of the eight School Houses: Jeune (1834-1838), Prince Lee (1838-1848), Gifford (1848-1862), Evans (1862-1872), Vardy (1872-1900), and Cary Gilson (1900-1929).Barry's New Street Building

Victorian educational reform (1883)

Queen Victoria's reign (1837-1901) witnessed significant advancements in the education system in the UK. The introduction of compulsory education, the establishment of voluntary and board schools, and the focus on teacher training and women's education were key milestones that helped improve access to education for a broader segment of society.

King Edward’s School was no exception, already providing elementary education for both boys and girls with four schools across Birmingham. In 1883 the Foundation was dramatically expanded with the creation of KEHS and five grammar schools, some of which being solely for the education of girls.  This was and continues to be a huge contribution to education in our city. Today, more than 10% of secondary age children in Birmingham are educated in one of the Foundation schools.

a picture of the schools doors opening

To the suburbs (1936)

The considerable developments in education, in Birmingham and in the School itself, demanded a more suitable location be found for the School. King Edward’s School moved out of the limitations of Barry’s New Street building to its present 50-acre site in Edgbaston in 1936.

It was here that the School faced the challenges posed by two world wars. It played an active role in supporting the war effort, with many students and staff serving in the armed forces. A roll of honour for WW1 was created to mark its centenary. During the Second World War, a number of pupils were evacuated out to Litchfield to avoid the prolific air raids. The buildings, still under construction because of the move, were requisitioned for a short time by the Ministry of Defence and used to house both British and American troops, including the 6888th women’s Battalion.

1945 saw the beginning of the Direct Grant era, which saw the School receive funding from central government and the Local Education Authority. This meant the majority of pupils were able to attend the School free of charge. During this time, the School was a true meritocracy and it went from strength to strength.

ariel historic photo

The end of Government support (1997)

In the latter half of the 20th century, King Edward's School underwent significant changes in response to educational reforms.  In 1976, Direct Grant was phased out and King Edward’s School became fully independent. In 1980, it was replaced by the Government Assisted Places Scheme, and in 1997 this too was abolished. The days of state support were over. 

The Foundation stepped in with their own Assisted Places programme, and in 2009 The KES Trust was created to help raise funds to support Assisted Places and other education projects for the boys’ benefit. In 2016, the School completed its first major fundraising campaign. The AP100 Campaign raised more than £10 million, funding 100 Assisted Places at the School – helping boys from ordinary backgrounds to achieve extraordinary things. an arial photo of the school

The School today

Today, King Edward’s School continues to inspire boys to take on the challenges the world presents, to make a significant contribution to that world and, most of all, to enjoy doing so.  You can find out more on the School Website.

Founder’s Day at King Edward’s School, Birmingham on Wednesday 12 October 2022

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