Where There’s a Will – The Strange Beginnings of Stokesley’s Preston Grammar School

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventIllustrated Talk
WhenMonday 12th March at 7.30 pmTutorKeith Burton

Keith outlined the long-winded process of how the Grammar School came into being, and how the original intentions of John Preston were gradually eroded.

John Preston the elder died in 1770, but it was many years before his Will was submitted for Probate. A part of the Will had been heavily scored out such that it was illegible. Conjecture exists that this was done after John’s death, however John Preston the younger claimed that that was how he found the Will, and his father must have changed the Will himself.

John Preston the younger died in 1814 and left a bequest in his Will of £2,000 for the construction of a free school for deserving sons of poor families. The subjects to be taught were Classics, English, Writing and Arithmetic. The number of students was to be 12. John had left bequests to unnamed cousins in his Will, and this caused an Action in the Court of Chancery by the Ingleby family of Ripley Castle, claiming their share of the legacies. The legal proceedings were completed in 1817.

The school was to have been built by John Biggins, bricklayer of Stokesley, who owned property in Stokesley and Great Broughton. However, John took to the bottle, was accepted into the Poor House, but after leaving the Poor House died of exposure in a close in Stokesley in 1837 (He was buried at St Augustines.)

The school was finished in 1832 and the first master was T.Todd. In 1833, the decision to admit 24 pupils was taken, 12 paying and 12 free. Children of illegitimate birth or of parents who had received parish relief were excluded from admission. Meanwhile, the Rector of Stokesley, Leveson Venables-Vernon-Harcourt, had via the Court of Chancery obtained the rights to be “in charge” more or less sidelining John Preston’s executors, and had the sole right of appointing the school staff.

Progressively, conditions for enrolling in the school were altered to eliminate free students, and encourage fee paying students, and these students were having to supply more and more of their own materials.

Preston House was purchased for £500 to be used as the master’s residence. Over the years, the incumbents were being required to meet more and more of the expenses of maintaining the fabric of Preston House.

After a string of Masters whose careers at Stokesley had ended usually because of dissatisfaction by the trustees, Henry Fawcett became master in 1863, a role he kept for forty years, during which time a number of his pupils went on to very successful careers.

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