400 years of history explored in souvenir book

A FORMER Steyning Grammar School teacher has delved back into its history to mark its 400th anniversary.

Steyning Grammar School boys in old-style uniform
Steyning Grammar School boys in old-style uniform

Caroline Meeson, who was an art teacher there, has produced a book packed with pictures to mark the occasion.

She has had help with research from local historians George Cockman, Janet Pennington and Joyce Sleight, Steyning Museum curator Chris Tod and old boy George Barker.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

The aim of the book, Steyning Grammar School 1614 - 2014, is to give an historical account of how the school has developed since 1614.

From a single, oak-beamed, candlelit classroom with no more than 50 boys, the school has grown to a giant, split-site comprehensive with an international boarding house that is thriving.

Caroline said: “It was about three years ago that discussions began and plans started forming on how to celebrate the school’s 400th anniversary.

“It was felt that a commemorative book might be a suitable contribution, so for the last year and a half I have been working on the production of a souvenir book.”

She said she had had enormous editorial support from Cathie Ballard, school librarian Elizabeth Peters and Alana Davidson, head of modern foreign languages, while Tom Packer had worked tirelessly on the design.

The history of the school is fascinating, having begun in 1614 when William Holland, a wealthy merchant from Steyning, left funds in his will for the foundation and maintenance of a free grammar school.

In the early days, there was only one master and no more than 50 boys, with six boarders, and all lessons took place in one room within Brotherhood Hall, in Church Street.

A North Country man called George Airey transformed the fortunes of the school in 1839, by bringing a nucleus of promising students from other areas and the younger sons of titled gentry and civil servants.

In 1908, the Brewer’s Arms was acquired and became the school library. The first new school buildings were completed in 1910, and in 1913 Dormer House and gardens were purchased.

By 1921, with the advent of the railway making access easy from the surrounding area, the number of students had risen to 133.

Holland Cottage and Chatfields were both purchased in 1935, and by the outbreak of the second world war, there were 150 boys in the school.

In 1952, for the first time, there were more than 300 boys with 42 sixth formers.

The Shooting Field Secondary Modern School, providing education for nearly 400 boys and girls, was officially opened in 1953 by the Duke of Wellington.

The comprehensive school as it is today was formed in 1968, when the grammar school amalgamated with the secondary modern to form one large school.

Steyning Grammar school has been responsible for the education of hundreds of thousands of students over the years, preparing them for their careers and life within an ever-changing world.

The school is now the largest state school in West Sussex, covering two sites with more than 2,000 students, 500 sixth form students and with one of the most modern boarding facilities in the country, accommodating 120 students from all over the world.

Head teacher Nick Wergan said: “It is fascinating to read in such detail about the heritage of our school. We are all enjoying our 400th celebration and look forward to the events to come this year.”

The book is dedicated to the many staff, students and people of Steyning who hold the school in a special place in their hearts.

It is on sale, priced £12, at the school reception, at the Shooting Field site, as well as online and at reunion events in the spring. Steyning Bookshop and Steyning Museum also have the book on sale.

Proceeds will go towards upgrading the drama hall and foyer reception area, which are used by both the school and the community.