STEYNING GRAMMAR SCHOOL
Four Hundred Years of Education
Steyning Grammar School: four hundred years of education This talk reveals much of the history behind this well-known Sussex school. Today Steyning Grammar School (which became a Comprehensive in 1968 when it was amalgamated with the local Secondary Modern) is one of the largest in Sussex – and the only state boarding school in the county. On two sites now, it educates almost 2000 pupils who come from a 100 square mile catchment area. What is, or what was a Grammar School? Put simply, it was a school for the teaching of Latin grammar, these schools mostly founded in 16th century or earlier. Some also taught Greek and Hebrew. Tree-ring dating in 2014 revealed that the fine timber-framed building in Church Street, Steyning was erected c.1451, in the reign of Henry VI. In its early days it was a guild hall for a group of merchants, most of whom were in the cloth trade – mercers and drapers – supplying dozens of different fabrics to the townspeople, as well as such useful articles as knives, bird-cages, candles, soap, sugar, pepper, tobacco pipes and ready-to-wear clothing for children and adults. Teaching of the merchants’ sons in the building would have been quite normal. The ground floor comprised six shops, and traces of these can still be seen today. The merchants also had strong links with the port of Shoreham. The talk explains how one of these Steyning mercers, William Holland, moved his business to Chichester in the late-16th century, He became mayor of the city three times, but he did not forget the town of his birth. Shortly before his death in 1614 he endowed his old school in Steyning – the former cloth hall – with lands, the rents from which would support the schoolmaster and up to 50 boys, as well as keeping the building in good repair. However, the school fell on hard times during the 18th century. A Chancery Court Case ensued in 1816 as there were hardly any pupils, the schoolmaster had been embezzling the funds, and the building had not been painted for 100 years. However, the situation was finally remedied in the form of a brilliant new schoolmaster, Mr George Airey, who arrived in 1840 with his wife and family. Incidentally, he always cut the boys’ toenails himself when their feet were washed once a week in the dining room – there were to be no ingrowing toenails in Steyning! The talk on the history of this amazing building is a fascinating one, illustrated with scenes of school life in Tudor times. It also reveals how the school fell into disrepair, and what it looks like today. It is listed Grade I and received a Historic Buildings Award from West Sussex County Council in 1982. It certainly looks set for another 400 years of education.