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PLYMPTON GRAMMAR SCHOOL

Updated:  02 March 2012 

The history of Plympton Grammar School begins in 1560, when Mrs Janet Hele, daughter of Mr Thomas Maynard, of Sherford, Brixton, and wife of Mr Walter Hele, of Winston, Brixton, gave birth to a son they named Elize.  He entered Exeter College in 1577.  He did not obtain a degree, however, but became a student of the Inner Temple.  He was called to the Bar in 1590 at the age of thirty.  He became Reader and Treasurer of his Inn as well as Lent Reader.

The original Plympton Grammar School premises.

The original Plympton Grammar School premises.
From a postcard.

Elize married twice, the first being to Miss Mary Hender, the third daughter of Mr John Hender of Bottreaux Castle.  She gave him his only child, a son, they named Walter.  Mary possibly died soon afterwards because on or soon after March 19th 1618/19* he married Miss Alice Eveleigh, daughter of of Hinton, Northamptonshire, and his wife, who was the widow of Mr Nicholas Eveleigh, of Holcombe, Ottery St Mary, Devon.  Young Walter died in January 1623/24* when he was just twelve years of age.

In the meantime, Elize had purchased the estate of Fardell in the parish of Cornwood, Devon, from Sir Carew Raleigh, the son of Sir Walter Raleigh, and on January 9th 1632/33* he granted, enfeoffed and confirmed this estate, along with the 147-acre Holland Farm in Plympton, to what he termed 'Godly and charitable uses'.  This was fortunate because on January 11th 1634/35* he died in Exeter and his wife died six months later.  He was buried on February 4th in the Saint Andrew's Chapel of Exeter Cathedral.

In September 1658 the Trustees of his estate, Mr John Maynard and Mr Elize Stert, allotted the sum of 1,800 for the building of a school-house at Plympton, maintaining a master and providing him with a residence.   The money was apparently deposited in the care of the Mayor of Plymouth.

The agent for the building of the school was Mr John Avent and he received his first allocation of money in October 1663 and immediately set about quarrying the stone.  In early 1665 the work was stopped because he had spent 712 17s 6d but received only 619 10s.  Work recommenced May 1666 and was finally completed in March 1671.  The total cost was 1,099 17s 6d, the contractor saving some 700 by making use of an old house that stood to the south of the school for the accommodation of the master instead of building a new one as was originally required.  That house remained in use for the next two centuries.

Mr J Brooking Rowe, in his "History of Plympton Erle", gives the measurement of the original schoolroom as 63 feet long, 26 feet 6 inches wide and 19 feet high, with a coved ribbed ceiling.

Mr Richard Tapprell was appointed as the first master and he was succeeded in 1695 by the Reverend Thomas Browne.  He died only three years later and was replaced by Mr Jonathan Oltramare, who remained for sixteen years, during which the number of pupils fell from fifty to five or six.  He died in April 1714 and was not replaced so presumably the school was closed.

Plympton Grammar School was revived again a year later, when, on March 26th 1715, the Reverend Samuel Reynolds was appointed as master and the numbers started to increase again.  In the course of his thirty years at the School he brought up and educated his son, Joshua, who was to become one of the School's most illustrious sons.

The Reverend Reynolds was followed from 1746 to 1756 by Mr John Davis; from 1756 until 1800 by Mr Robert Forster; from 1800 until 1816 by Mr William Hayne; from 1816 to 1829 by Mr Thomas Murphy Phillips; from 1829 until 1834 by Mr William Gray; and from 1834 to 1845 by Mr Charles Kevern Williams.  Mr George Phelps Patey became master in 1845.

At this time there were two hereditary trustees, the Marquis of Lothian and the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, and a Board of Governors.   The Governors met on December 26th 1868, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Morley, and were informed by the solicitor to the trustees, Mr Charles T Bewes, that they were now required to divide the School in to two sections, a Lower School for 7 to 10-year-olds, who would receive elementary education, and a Higher School, for 10 to 16-year-olds, who would receive instruction in Algebra, Arithmetic, Composition, English, French, Geography, Geometry, History, Latin, Mathematics, and the elements of one or more of the Natural Sciences.

For just over 197 years the teaching had been done by just the one master, probably with the help of older boys passing on their knowledge to the younger ones in a monitorial system.  However, on January 9th 1869 a Mr Willing was appointed as the second master, at an annual salary of 70.  Not only that, but within a couple of months the School had also appointed a specialist French teacher, Monsieur Bouillon, who gave two lessons of 1 hours each per week for a salary of 30.  His appointment was on a quarterly basis.

Success was evidently breeding success and the School soon had to hire the small hall owned by the Plympton District Public Hall Company daily from 9am until 4pm, for which the Secretary, Mr Brooking Rowe, charge them 5.

A new building on land at Holland Farm was planned at this time and the tender of 119 from Messrs Stevenson & Son was accepted but the work never proceeded.  The master's residence was reported to be uninhabitable and Mr Patey moved out to a house in Ridgeway, for which he was later given 30 per year as expenses.  The Trustees sold part of Holland Farm to the South Devon Railway for 341 7s 10d to help pay for the repair of the master's residence and the purchase of Marsh Orchard, on the eastern side of the School, in order to provide a play area.  The repair work was done by a Mr Dingle for 1,430 but he must have been one of those infuriating "stop and start" builders because in 1870 the Governors told him that he the work was not completed by the end of August 'the penalties would be strongly enforced'.  The play area had to wait.

Mr George Phelps Patey died on May 6th 1870 and advertisements were duly placed to fill his position.  Sixty-two applications were received and on July 20th 1870 the Reverend Cornelius Hargreaves Crooke was appointed.

Gas lighting replaced natural lighting in February 1871 and on July 26th that year the Reverend Crooke reported that the owners of the orchard had at last agreed to sell part of their land for 1,150 so at last the play ground could proceed.

The Hele Prize was created on April 20th 1872, when it was decided that the sum of 5 should be presented to the boy who was most successful at the school examination.  The examinations took place between June 10th and 18th and the Reverend George Purdue, of Wantage, was appointed the examiner.

On May 27th 1876 the Reverend Crooke resigned.   The post was twice offered to the Reverend Alfred Charles Whitley but he declined on both occasions.  The post thus had to be re-advertised and eventually a Mr Arthur Cloutte was given the job.  He remained until September 1889, when he was killed on the railway track near Plympton Station.  His replacement, Mr A W Barker, resigned after only 18 months and Mr Richard H Chapple was chosen in May 1891 to fill the vacancy.  There were at that time only 15 pupils and three of them were 'under notice to leave'.

As a result of the Education Act of 1903, Devon County Council assumed control of the Plympton Grammar School.  They immediately condemned the buildings and closed the School.  The Hele endowment was used to provide scholarships for boys to go to secondary schools in Plymouth.

The second Plympton Grammar School

However, local pressure caused the County Council to have a re-think and and the Education Committee bought "Castle Barbican", once the private residence of Mr J Brooking Rowe FSA, FLS.  It was duly converted for educational use and Plympton Grammar School re-opened by the Earl of Portsmouth on Monday May 2nd 1921.  Also present was Mr Isaac Foot, who was described as the Deputy Mayor of Plympton's 'daughter borough', a point which he later conceded by admitting that he was 'speaking with due humility as the Deputy Mayor of a comparatively mushroom borough'.  [1]

Lessons commenced the following day, with Mr H W Hale as Head Master, three staff (Mr Nesbitt, Miss Peacock and Miss Quanby) and no less than forty-five pupils.  There were also an instructress in domestic science and a manual instructor.  The building was expected to accommodate 140 pupils.

Within a year the staff were increased and then comprised the Misses Hacker, Horrell, Peacock and Quantly, and Messrs Jenkinson, Nesbitt and Hughes.  It is worth recording that in 1922 pupils from Lee Moor arrived at School by pony, those from Elburton and Plymstock had to walk, but those from Newton Ferrers and Ivybridge travelled by train to Plympton Station.  Compare that to October 1967 when they were transported by a dozen or so coaches supplied by the Embankment Motor Company and Western National Omnibus Company.

By 1928 there were 250 pupils on the register and the School was in dire need of accommodation.  Manual classes were held in a Sunday school a mile away; the Sixth Form met in two tumble-down attics; and in 1931 even the old school-room, long condemned, was brought back in to use.

In 1976 dry rot and death watch beatle were found in the old building and had to be rectified before it could be leased as office accommodation.  The premises were owned by the Hele's Trust at that time.  [2]

Plympton Grammar School

Plympton Grammar School

A new building

Work started on laying the foundations for the new building at Stone Barton during the week of Monday December 9th 1935.  [3]

The present building in Stone Barton Road was occupied for the first time on Monday June 7th 1937  [4] and officially opened on Friday June 11th 1937 by Sir Henry Lopes, Bart., DL, JP, chairman of Devon County Council.  It was now a co-educational grammar school.  Mr H W Hale continued Head Master, assisted by Senior Master, Mr J A Jenkinson, and Senior Mistress, Miss E Horrell, and twelve other teachers.  The new building would accommodate 320 pupils and had cost 32,119 excluding the furniture.  The extremely large gathering included Major G S S Strode, chairman of the governors; Mr T J P Chalice, an old pupil who presented an English oak tree to celebrate the occasion; Sir Francis Acland MP; the Reverend E J Sanford, vicar of Plympton St Mary's; and Mr H V de Courcy Hague, Devon County Architect.  [5]

One feature of the new building was the clock tower, below which was the only room not on the ground floor, the school library.  There were ten class-rooms at the front and rooms for domestic science, art, chemistry, physics and woodwork at the rear, linked by a colonnade.  The assembly hall, with its semi-circular roof studded with cube-shaped lights and adjoining projection room, formed one side of one of the quadrangles at the rear.  The site occupied about 12 acres, of which nine were taken up with playing fields for cricket, hockey, tennis, and netball along with a cinder running track.  [4]

Mr Hale retired in 1950 and Mr J A Nicholson, previously a House Master at King Edward's School, Birmingham, succeeded him.

Plympton Grammar School is most widely known for having educated several boys who were later to achieve fame as artists, namely Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose was born in the school-house when his father was master of the school; Mr James Northcote RA; Sir Charles L Eastlake PRA; and Benjamin Haydon.

Change of name

From September 1983 the School was renamed the Elize Hele School and later that same year, Hele's School.


NOTE: * Before 1752 the calendar year started on March 25th, which was known as Lady Day. Thus the first three months of the year were actually in the previous calendar year as we know it today so the date is written as a combination of both years.  To us today, the year in which these events took place would be the second of the ones quoted (i.e. for 1618/19 we would read 1619).


Sources (incomplete):

[1]  "Plympton's New School: Historic Ceremony", Plympton and District Times & South-West Devon Advertiser, Plympton, May 5th 1921.

[2]  "Old Plympton school is hit by dry rot", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, December 16th 1976.

[3]  "Laying the Foundations of Plympton's School", South Devon Times, Plympton, December 12th 1935.

[4]  "The Scholars are there but school is not open yet!", South Devon Times, Plympton, June 10th 1937.

[5]  "From Private House with Attics to 32,000 Building", South Devon Times, Plympton, June 17th 1937.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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