Your News: Old grammar school is an important part of town’s history

The Old Grammar School
The Old Grammar School

Last month I discussed the Chapel of Rest. The Old Grammar School is another of Bourne’s good buildings at risk, and in some ways even more important. It is more than two hundred years older, for a start, making it one of a mere handful of buildings with early 17th century origins in Bourne, and it could even be much older, at least in part.

Dating it as it exists today is a very difficult matter because it has undergone so many changes. 1626 has been put forward as a suggestion, but one date we can really latch onto is 1636. This was the date of the death of William Trollope, the grandson of Thomas Trollope, of Bourne and Casewick, a family which acquired the Manor of Bourne Abbots after the Reformation.

His will provided for an endowment for the maintenance of a schoolmaster in a school built by himself for the teaching of grammar (which in those days primarily meant Latin). This suggests that the building for the school he founded had only recently been built, if already in existence, or was built shortly after that date, but all else must largely be speculation. For example, it does not mean that he might not have rebuilt a building that was already on the present site, because the history of the grammar school goes back much earlier.

In any event, the present schoolhouse does have an early to mid-17th century appearance, and that particular time is an architecturally interesting one, being just before the civil war and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy, and is rarer for vernacular buildings like this either than the Tudor period before it or the Georgian after it. It was also a time when secular architecture was challenging the long dominance of the Church, and important changes were being made in building design generally.

Even if a precise first construction date could be established for the Old Grammar School, it would be of limited value in understanding the building as it is today. Few buildings of this modest kind are now as they were when first built, and most have undergone a number of alterations. When we look at this one, we soon see evidence of both earlier and later construction. The ashlar stone plinth course, for example, is likely to have been salvaged from a much older building, and this would most obviously be the demolished parts of the abbey. If so, this stonework may have been in existence right back when Robert Manning was here in the late 13th century.

The main sections of the walls on the other hand are now later than 17th century, Georgian in fact. We can tell this from the glazed header bricks which create the check pattern that was a common feature in red brick buildings of the 18th century, and also by comparing the size of the bricks with the much smaller 17th century ones abutting the quoin stones at the corners. Indeed, there seems to be documentary confirmation of this reconstruction, because according to J. D. Birkbeck’s History of Bourne, the builder George Portwood presented a bill for ‘pulling down and rebuilding’ the school in 1736. Birkbeck also says that some further changes were made in 1858 and 1876, and suggests that the building’s most striking features, the bold mullioned and transomed windows in the gable ends, are Victorian, though this is unlikely, and would be disappointing, since windows of that kind are so characteristic of the 17th century.

We know that the history of grammar schools in Bourne goes back to the Middle Ages. Robert Manning, or Robert de Brunne, born around 1275, was a monk and academic who may have been at the abbey (though he was a Gilbertine, not an Augustinian) who importantly worked on the development of the English language at a time of dominance of Latin and Anglo-Norman. It is possible that there was an earlier building on this site in his day, and that he would have been familiar with it. We have a number of schoolmasters’ names from the early 17th century, too. Trollope also funded almshouses which stood nearby, where Tudor Cottages now stand, and these may well have looked rather like that attractive building, in earlier form, with the red brick and timber framing of the period.

Bourne Preservation Society’s proposal to revive the fortunes of the Old Grammar School is to make it the centre of an educational and heritage trail that would include Baldock’s Mill and The Abbey Church, and also perhaps the Red Hall and the remains of Bourne Castle in the Wellhead Fields, all of which are in such close proximity. The idea would be that schools would use the ‘Heritage Experience’ as a learning resource, and would visit the Old Grammar School for a Victorian classroom experience. They would be able to visit the Abbey Church and the other sites for architecture and history studies at the same time. Pupil packs would be provided. For general tourism also, the Heritage Experience would encourage visitors to Bourne, putting it on the heritage map, thus benefitting the town.

But as I said in my first article, the future prosperity of Bourne depends to a considerable extent on all of us, and the pride we take in its heritage, and Bourne Preservation Society is looking for new members to support this and any other potential project. We would very much like to hear from anyone who would be prepared to devote some time and energy to our cause. All relevant information about us is at www.bournepreservationsociety.co.uk.