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Derby School
Motto Vita Sine Litteris Mors
(Life without Learning is Death)
Established c. 1160, refounded 1554
Closed 1989
Type grammar school
Founders Walkelin and Goda
Location Derby
England England
Houses Gateley's, Tanner's, Fuller's, and Grimes's
Publication The Derbeian
Former pupils Old Derbeians
Coordinates: 52°55′13″N 1°28′36″W / 52.9202°N 1.4766°W / 52.9202; -1.4766

Derby School was a school in Derby in the English Midlands. It had an almost continuous history of education of over eight centuries. For most of that time it was a grammar school for boys. The school became co-educational and comprehensive in 1974 and was closed in 1989. In 1994 a new independent school called Derby Grammar School for boys was founded.



The school was re-founded in the 12th century by a local magnate, Walkelin de Derby (also called Walkelin de Ferrieres, or de Ferrers) and his wife, Goda de Toeni, who gave their own house to an Augustinian priory called Darley Abbey to be used for the school[1]. Local legend has it that it was the second oldest school in England[2]. However, there is no firm information as to the site of the original school[3].

While Derby School was in existence almost continuously for more than eight centuries, it was closed for a few years as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries[4].

Magna Britannia[5] says of Derby School -

In this parish [St Peter's] is the Free-school, one of the most ancient endowments of the kind in the kingdom. It is certain that it existed as early as the twelfth century, and it seems to have been founded in the reign of Henry II, soon after the removal of the canons of St Helen's to Derley. Walter Durdant, Bishop of Lichfield, in his charter, speaks of the school at Derby as the gift of himself and William de Barbâ Aprilis. Soon after this, whilst Richard Peche, who succeeded Walter Durdant in 1162, was Bishop of Lichfield, Walkelin de Derby and Goda his wife gave the mansion in which they dwelt, and which Walkelin had purchased of William Alsin, to the canons of Derley, on condition that the hall should be for ever used as a school-room, and the chambers for the dwelling of the master and clerks. This ancient grammar-school was given to the corporation by Queen Mary; who were to pay to the master and under-master 13£. 6s. 8d. by four quarterly payments. This school is free to the sons of burgesses only. The masters are appointed by the corporation: the head-master has now a salary of 40£. per annum, the under-master of 20£. per annum; and they are joint lecturers, on Croshaw's foundation, at All-Saints, for which they receive 10£. each[6].

Royal Charter

The former Derby School Building in St Peter's Church Yard, Derby

Following the extinction of Darley Abbey, on 21 May 1554, Queen Mary I by a Royal Charter, and in return for a payment of £260 13s 4d, granted the corporation of Derby several properties and endowments which had belonged to Darley Abbey, the College of All Saints, St Michael's Church, and some other suppressed chantries and gilds, for the foundation of "a Free Grammar School, for the instruction and education of boys and youths in the said town of Derby for ever to be maintained by the Bailiffs and Burgesses of the same town."[3]

The new Free Grammar School was established in a purpose-built building next to St Peter's Church, Derby.[7] In the late 20th century, this building was for some time part of the Derby Heritage Centre and is now a hairdresser's. The school remained at this site until it moved to St Helen's House in 1863.[8]

The school held a closed exhibition (a form of scholarship) worth £50 a year at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.[9] At any one time, this could be held by one old boy of the school, who had the title at Emmanuel College of Exhibitioner. (Until the 1930s, fifty pounds was a substantial sum, usually more than the annual wage of a farm labourer.)

While the astronomer John Flamsteed was at the Free Grammar School in the 1660s, parents were expected to provide boys with books, quill-pens, and wax candles to use when daylight failed.[10] At that time, most masters of the school were Puritans.[10]

St Helen's House period, 1863-1966

The School at St Helen's House, with the Old Derbeians' war memorial. St Helen's House is on the right and the Pearson Building, known as 'B' block on the left

St Helen's House, in King Street, Derby, was built about 1726 for John Gisbourne, an alderman of Yoxall Lodge, Staffordshire[11], and originally stood in 80 acres (320,000 m2) of parkland [12]. The boys-only grammar school moved here in 1863, after the school's governors had bought the property from Edward Strutt, 1st Baron Belper[4][8], the nephew of the philanthropist Joseph Strutt, an old boy of the school[13][14].

Under the Rev. Walter Clark BD (headmaster 1865-1889)[15] the school was expanded from a local grammar school into a nationally known public school. On 14 November 1888, Derby School received a visit by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII[16].

Date Stone on the wall in front of 'B'-Block

The school was greatly expanded with the Pearson Building known as 'B'-block being added in 1901. The date stone on the wall outside 'B'-Block reads: "In usum huius scholae A.D. MCMI sepositum P.K. Tollit A.M. Praefecto".

Derby School evacuated to Overton Hall, Ashover 1939 - 1940

Following the declaration of War on 3rd September 1939 arrangements were made for the pupils and staff of Derby School to be evacuated in 1939 away from the town of Derby. As Amber Valley Camp being built by the National Camp Corporation was not completely finished, as a temporary measure, they went to Overton Hall in Ashover near Matlock. for a few months.

Derby School at Amber Valley Camp 1940 - 1945

In June 1940 Derby School moved from Overton Hall, Ashover to new accommodation at Amber Valley Camp, Woolley Moor some five miles away. The boys all walked this distance and subsequently, an annual sporting event “The Five Mile Walk” was inaugurated.

Amber Valley Camp was one of the National Camp Corporation’s premises. In the 1930’s this organisation began to set up wooden buildings complete in every way on sites in the countryside so that urban children could enjoy and experience Britain’s national surroundings.

They proved to be useful in the 1939-1945 War as evacuation centres and even in some instances as military camps. After the war Derby Corporation Education Committee used Amber Valley Camp for monthly visits by the town’s secondary school children.

Originally the camp itself consisted of six buildings used as dormitories, there were two ablution blocks, a sanatorium, a double staff bungalow (one part housing the Camp Manager - Commander De Denne (RN Retd.) and the Rev Alan Grime and his family occupied the other section. The dining room allowed 300 pupils to take meals. In addition, there were four classrooms in a block and a further hut was the craft centre. Another block housed a Physics Lab and a Chemistry Lab and provided an office for Les Bradley – the Headmaster. Classes were also held in the school hall, the Woolley Moor Methodist Chapel and a nearby public house. Interestingly the dormitories were called after Derbyshire places – Wingfield, Melandra, Eyam, Dovedale, Cromford and Bakewell all come to mind. Sadly the only building now left at Amber Valley is the old dining room, which is now the Headquarters of the Ogston Sailing Club.

Return to Derby in 1945

St. Helen’s House and the adjoining building known as ‘B’ Block, also as the Pearson Building, in King Street had been used by Ordnance Survey staff during WWII. In 1945 this organisation vacated the buildings including Big School (the large school assembly hall) and so allowing Derby School to return to its home after 5 years at the beginning of September at the commencement of the Autumn term of 1945. Thus Derby School was well and truly restored to its roots and so began its final period there of just over two decades before moving finally on to the Moorway Lane, Littleover site in 1966.

In 1944, the School (already owned by Derby Corporation as a result of its 1554 Charter) accepted financial support from Derbyshire County Council and became one of four single-sex grammar schools in Derby within the tripartite system established by the Education Act 1944. The other three were Bemrose School (boys), Homelands (girls) and Parkfield Cedars (girls, see Judith Hann).

The St Helen's House complex consisted of the House itself (called 'A'-block), which contained classrooms and offices; an attached annexe ('B'-block), which held most of the classrooms and (on the first floor) 'Big School', the school's assembly hall; the school chapel, a separate building in red brick which housed the Chemistry Department; several single-storey prefabricated buildings which contained the woodworking classroom and gymnasium and changing rooms and shower facilities; and another smaller annexe close by which housed the refectory and some classrooms. An ususual feature were the cloisters between the rear of 'B'Block and the rear of the chapel. Here was housed the armoury for the JTC / CCF containing scores of real weapons: dozens of Lee Enfield .303 rifles, a couple of Bren guns and even revolvers. No live ammunition was stored. It's mind boggling to think of such a situation, at a school!

All school sports were played at Parker's Piece, believed to be named after a sports ground at Cambridge University, this is a 4 acre ground three-quarters of a mile from the school and situated on City Road. One side of the ground was on the banks of the river Derwent and there was a large old wooden boathouse for both the Derby Rowing Club and also the Derby School Rowing Club. Many of the older large 'fours' and 'pairs' boats being housed under the railway arches of the LNER railway which ran alongside the sports ground. In addition, there were two football pitches in winter and a cricket square for summer. The sports ground was large enough for a 400 yard athletic track to be laid out for use during the summer term along with facilities for both long and high jumps. An ancient wooden pavilion smelling of decades of dubbin, wintergreen and persperation provided both changing rooms and ablutions.

St Helen's House was notable for its Fives Court, since demolished, this was in the grounds in front of The Pearson Building also known as 'B'-block and for the fire escape outside Big School. Boys would prove their mettle by sliding down the fire escape supports.

In front of the main House, or 'A'-block, stands a war memorial to Old Derbeians who lost their lives in both World War I and World War II. Every year on the Sunday nearest to November 11th the Old Derbeians Society always hold a service of Remembrance Remembrance Sunday. Here there was also a statue of Gillard, a notable master, this was later moved to Littleover.

The school was divided into four houses: Gateley's, Tanner's, Fuller's, and Grimes'. All boys were allocated to one of the houses in alphabetical order. The houses competed annually for the Cock House Trophy, gained by the house with the greatest number of 'House Points' which were awarded by masters for boys' academic, social and sporting achievements.

Forms for boys up to the age of about sixteen were named by a number and the initial of the form master. The number one was eschewed, so boys started in Form 2. For at least one year, there was a Form 2B, which is the same as the Bash Street Kids. The Fifth and Sixth Forms were divided between lower and upper: the complete form numbering system was Form 2, Form 3, Form 4, Lower Fifth, Upper Fifth, Lower Sixth, Upper Sixth. For the academic year 1945-46 for the only time there was a three form entry intake, but then starting in the academic year 1946-47 it reverted to its normal two form entry.

Each form was allocated a form room. And each boy had a desk in the form room in which he kept his books and other belongings. Theft was unheard of. But lessons were held throughout the school; in fact many miles would be covered by swarms of boys moving from one room to another after the bell signalling the end of a 'period'. A period was 40 minutes. Double periods were obviously twice as long. Masters engulfed in the crowds yelled for running in the corridors to cease.

Leadership at the school was in the hands of the masters, but, as with most schools, older pupils were given responsibility and were appointed Praepostors (an appellation still used at Uppingham and Rugby) or Monitors. As mentioned above, the title Prefect (Praefectus) was reserved for the Head Master. The Praeposters and Monitors were responsible for the behaviour of younger boys outside lessons in the halls and grounds of the school and were permitted to punish minor breaches of discipline. Such punishment would consist of requiring the boy to report to the Praepostors' or Monitors' room, where the punishment would be handed out. Punishments were many and varied, but usually inventive. One example was to require the boy to put a number of dots - usually four - in each square of an area of a sheet of graph paper - not as violent as the punishments handed out in the Rugby School of Tom Brown's Schooldays.

The concentration of staff and pupils at St. Helen's House generated an eco-system around the school. Opposite the school, in a group of three shops, was a sweet shop, which served as the school tuck shop. School legend had it that, when the master of the shop was alive, he used to take bets on horse races tick-tacked from the upper floor of the school where the sixth formers had their form rooms. A bakery in between St. Helen's house and the annex supplied half loaves of bread to hungry pupils on their way from one class to another. Also opposite the school, the Seven Stars, a former coaching inn, was popular with staff and older pupils.

In the early 1960s the nearby Lancaster School buildings was absorbed. A daily treck from King Street to Lancaster Street for school dinner became part of many routines. There were also teaching rooms there, notably for art and for geography, and a large area devoted to woodwork lessons on the ground floor. It became a place for riotous football in the playground.

In 1965, the St Helen's House building was declared dangerous because of falling tiles and masonry. The school moved to a new site on Moorway Lane, Littleover, in 1966. St Helen's House (A Block) still stand today and is currently (2009) surrounded by scaffolding being made wind and weatherproof prior to being converted along with B Block into a quality hotel. Within the section on St. Helen's House period full details of the proposals are reported.

Derby school was a significant football team in the early 1870s, notable for its passing tactices. A double pass is reported from Derby school against Nottingham Forest in March 1872, the first of which is irrefutably a short pass: "Mr Absey dribbling the ball half the length of the field delivered it to Wallis, who kicking it cleverly in front of the goal, sent it to the captain who drove it at once between the Nottingham posts"[17]. In February 1873 the following passing movement is also described: "[The ball was] crossed by C Garrard and cleverly put through by H. Sleigh"[18]

Littleover period, 1966-1989

The first headmaster and deputy headmaster of Derby School at Moorway Lane, 'Norman' Elliot and W. O. Butler, transferred from the St Helen's House site.

On arrival at the new school in 1966, its playing fields were found to be still full of stones, so in the beginning the boys were bussed across town to Parker’s Piece, at Chester Green, for sports.

The traditions of the older boys, uprooted from St Helen's House, influenced the new boys. The running of the school was still steeped in history, with praepostors and monitors, and with the houses still competing for the Cock House trophy. Latin remained an important subject. Masters (never called teachers) still dressed in suits, with gowns and mortar boards, and used corporal punishment, sometimes publicly after lessons. There was a strict dress code, and sixth formers could wear boaters on summer days. Lockers did not need locks. Older boys expected respect and obedience from younger boys, although not fagging. Praeposters and monitors could administer punishment. They also had their own rooms, and later the use of the Pavilion, off limits to masters and the lower forms. The new school even had purpose-built Fives courts, where gloved fights between boys with grudges were tolerated as a gentlemanly way of settling disputes.

But new ways were coming, and as things begin to change many of the masters took the opportunity to retire. Theft, which was said to have been unthinkable at St Helen’s House, arrived. The house system began to lapse, the dress code was relaxed, and long hair was tolerated.

The school continued as a single-sex grammar school until 1974, when it was taken over as a maintained school by Derbyshire County Council, which converted it into a co-educational comprehensive school and greatly increased its size, in buildings and pupils. At this point, it was still Derby School. However, in 1989 the County Council took the decision to close Derby School and to make the headmaster redundant[8]. A new school called Derby Moor Community School, now known as Derby Moor Community Sports College, was opened in the Moorway Lane buildings, with a new head and governing body but with many of the old school's staff and students. In terms of legal identity, this was not the same school, but in some ways it was its successor.

Cadet Forces

Before the Second World War, the school had an Officers Training Corps. During the 1940s, OTCs in British schools were renamed 'Junior Training Corps'. On return to Derby from being evacuated due to WWII to Amber Valley Camp near Alfreton in September 1945 the JTC was very popular with senior pupils (Lower and Upper Fifth plus Sixth forms) with many pupils going off for two weeks summer camp under canvas to places such as Aldershot and Catterick Army depots. One of the benefits being a member of the school's JTC and CCF was that Derby School pupils were allowed to undertake Cert.'A' training in all military matters and in Derby this meant that final exams were held at The Barracks at Sinfin in Derby, the home of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment. Passing out with a Cert.'A' meant that when the boys were later called up to undertake their National Service they were one-step ahead of the majority of young men! Derby School's JTC was amalgamated into the Combined Cadet Force in April, 1948. This had an army section, an RAF section, and a band made up of members of both. A parade was held on Friday afternoons, and on that day members of the the JTC and CCF would come to school in their uniforms and boots. In addition, JTC and CCF pupils stayed on after school on Monday afternoons to undertake other instruction in civilian clothes. The CCF survived into the years at Littleover.

School motto

Cap badge of the Derby School JTC from the 1940s

The school motto, Vita sine litteris mors, is a quotation from letter number 82 in Seneca the Younger's Epistulae morales ad Lucilium -

Vita sine litteris mors est, et hominis vivi sepultura.
(Life without learning is death, and the funeral of a living man).

This motto is shared with -

A legend of the motto, forming the school badge, was laid in black and white mosaic at the entrance of the new Moorway Lane School in 1966.

School hymn

The school hymn, Lift Up Your Hearts!, was given a musical setting in 1916 by Walter Greatorex, an old boy of the school[19].

School Register

The Derby School Register, 1570-1901

A book called The Derby School Register, 1570-1901, was published in 1902[20], edited by Benjamin Tacchella, a modern languages master at the school, and the following is an extract from its preface:

No work is more suited to perpetuate the fame and traditions of an ancient school, and to foster the spirit of brotherhood among the succeeding generation of its 'alumni', than a Register recording the proud distinctions of the humble achievements of those who have had the honour of belonging to it. Now, considering that prior to 1865, and with the exception of a bare list of the names of the pupils between 1834 and 1858, there was no register of any kind kept at the School, it looked like a hopeless task. However, one by one, a fairly complete list of scholars under Dr Fletcher (1834-1843), and Dr Leary (1858-1865) was got together. As for the more remote period (1570-1834), it has been necessary to go further afield. All available sources have been drawn upon: College admission registers (both of Oxford and Cambridge), biographical notices, pedigrees, memoirs, town records etc. Nor have the names been forgotten that are carved on the walls and panels of the old Grammar School in S. Peter's Churchyard, many of which had to be recovered from under accumulated layers of paint and whitewash.

Old Derbeians Society

The Old Derbeians Society (or OD's) was formed in 1911 allowing all pupils of Derby School, who had left their full time secondary education, to enrol as members for life. For the record on Saturday 28th October 1911 the President of the OD Society, Dr. R. Laurie, had invited its members to a smoking concert to inaugurate the birth of the Society for which the need had long been felt. The full report appears in "The Derbeian" (the school's magazine) for December 1911 and includes a statement from the Rev. A.C. Knight "that a loyal and patriotic Old Boys' Society (now known as OD Society) would inspire confidence in the town and in this way help the school itself."

Thus started the Society and the current OD Society Committee (in 2009) are planning to commemorate the first century of their Society in 2011 in several ways. Planning is still ongoing and details will be announced when finalised.

A particularly important development since the formation of the new Derby Grammar School on Rykneld Road in Littleover in 1994, has been that the new school have taken on board / adopted the OD Society and today both 'old boys' and 'old girls' on leaving the Rykneld Road site are all invited to join the Society. This marks a most welcome introduction of younger members into the OD Society and the future appears bright.

For example two recent events took place in 2009; after a gap of several years there has been the re-introduction of an annual cricket match between the Old Derbeians and the Grammar School pupils. This match took place on the school's new playing fields out at Mickleover on the afternoon of Saturday 27th June. This was then followed at 6.30 p.m. by the President's inaugral Garden Party (Alan G. Lockyer 1946-1953) on the grounds of the new School. An opportunity not to have been missed was that all persons attending were able to be taken on conducted tours of the School's facilities. At this same Garden Party everyone was able to meet the school's new Headmaster Mr Richard Paine and his wife whose tenure of office started in January 2009.

Old Derbeians

See List of Old Derbeians.

A Service of Remembrance takes place at the Old Derbeians' War Memorial in front of St Helen's House on each Remembrance Sunday. Wreaths are laid by the President of the Old Derbeians' Society and the Headmaster of Derby Grammar School.[21]

List of masters and headmasters

See List of Masters of Derby School. This aims to include all of the school's known headmasters, plus some other notable masters. The list has many names of those who taught at the school in the final years at St Helen's House (1945-1966) and at Littleover (1966-1989).

St Helen's House gallery

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Derby Grammar School

Derby Grammar School, an entirely new school founded in 1994, is an independent school which includes a Junior department. It occupies the 18th century Rykneld Hall at Littleover (previously Rykneld Hospital) and currently has around three hundred pupils[22].

The new school aspires to fill the gap undoubtedly left by Derby School. With the agreement of the Committee of the Old Derbeians' Society, Derby Grammar School has adopted a heraldic badge devised by the Reverend Walter Clark in 1883 for Derby School, which it used until the badge was replaced by a coat of arms granted by the College of Arms in 1952.[8] Of course, the 1952 coat of arms ceased to exist with Derby School in 1989.

Membership of Derby School's Old Derbeians Society is now open to all former pupils of the new Derby Grammar School, deemed to be the next generation of Old Derbeians.[23]


  1. ^ Bishop Durdent and the foundation of Derby School (Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 33, 1911) by Benjamin Tacchella
  2. ^ St Peter's, Derby, home page (accessed April 2007)
  3. ^ a b A History of Derbyshire (1999) by Gladwyn Turbutt
  4. ^ a b Derby School: a Short History by George Percy Gollin
  5. ^ Magna Britannia (volume 5, 1817) by Daniel and Samuel Lysons
  6. ^ Derby School at British
  7. ^ Grammar school education in Derby: its early history to 1662 (in Derbyshire Miscellany, vol. 15, Part 1, 1998) by Richard Clark
  8. ^ a b c d A potted history of Derby School, accessed May 2007
  9. ^ Article on Derby in Wilson, John Marius: Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-1872) (accessed 5 November 2007)
  10. ^ a b Birks, John L., John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal (London, Avon Books, 1999) pp. 3-4.
  11. ^ Derby Gripe Site (accessed April 2007)
  12. ^ Derby City home page
  13. ^ Jedediah Strutt (1726–1797), inventor and cotton manufacturer by J. J. Mason in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2003)
  14. ^ Distinguished Alumni of Derby School by James Michael John Fletcher (Derby Reporter, 1872)
  15. ^ Rev. Walter Clark, BD, headmaster of Derby School, obituary by J. Cook Wilson in The Classical Review, vol. 3, no. 6 (June 1889), pp. 281-282
  16. ^ The Times, 16 November 1888, page 4
  17. ^ The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Wednesday, March 20, 1872; Issue 8226
  18. ^ The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), Wednesday, February 12, 1873; Issue 8273
  19. ^ Words and music of Lift Up Your Hearts! at The Ames Collection
  20. ^ The Derby School Register, 1570-1901, ed. Benjamin Tacchella (London, 1902)
  21. ^ Old Derbeians Newsletter for September 2007 online at (accessed 28 February 2008)
  22. ^ Derby Grammar School - official site
  23. ^ Main page of the Old Derbeian Society web site, accessed 27 February 2008

See also

External links

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