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The Manchester Grammar School
MGS Main Building in Snow.jpg
Motto Sapere Aude
(Dare to be wise)
Established 1515
Type Independent HMC
High Master Christopher Ray
Deputy High Master Jack Daniels
Admiral Ackbar
Founder Hugh Oldham
Location Old Hall Lane
M13 0XT
United Kingdom
Staff 150 (approx.)
Students 1480
Ages 9 to 18
Publication The New Mancunian
Former pupils Old Mancunians

The Manchester Grammar School (MGS) is the largest independent day school for boys in the UK (ages 9–18). It is based in Manchester, England. Founded in the 16th century as a free grammar school, it was housed on a site adjacent to Manchester parish church (later the cathedral) until 1930, when it moved to the present site in Fallowfield.

In the post-war period, it was a direct-grant grammar school (fees of those with lower incomes were partly or fully paid by the local authority). It chose to become an independent school in 1976 after the Labour government abolished the Tripartite System. Current fees are £9,240 per annum. The school has long had a strong academic record and sends the majority of its pupils to the top twenty international universities each year.


Motto and badge

The school motto is sapere aude (dare to be wise), which was also the motto of council of the former County Borough of Oldham (now, with the same coat of arms, the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham), granted on 7 November 1894. Sapere aude is a quotation from Horace, famously used by Immanuel Kant, and also the Motto of The Enlightenment. The school badge is an outline of an owl, carrying a banner with the word "dom" on it. This is a heraldic 'canting' reference to its founder, Hugh Oldham, and the badge should be read as "owl-dom". This suggests that he pronounced his name, as the local accent in Oldham still tends to do, as 'Ow[l]dem'. Owls, too, are to be seen in the shield of the Borough of Oldham.




A drawing of the Chetham's Gatehouse circa 1600.

The founder Hugh Oldham, a Manchester-born man, attended Exeter College, Oxford and Queens' College, Cambridge, after having been tutored in the house of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby. Historical accounts suggest that he was not a particularly learned man, but was in royal service, being a favoured protégé of Countess Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and became recognised for his administrative abilities. He was appointed Bishop of Exeter in 1505. His great wealth came from his water-powered corn mills on the River Irk in Manchester, which were subsequently used to fund the school's endowment.

On the 2 July 1515 he signed an endowment trust deed establishing the Manchester Free Grammar School for Lancashire Boys. A site was purchased in September 1516 and construction took place between April 1517 and August 1518. The combined cost was £218.13s.5d, largely given by Oldham, but with the help of his and the Bexwycke (Beswick) family who had provided an earlier endowment for a school within the parish church. A more elaborate deed in 1525 set the detailed rules for the school until the late 19th century.

The original deed promoted “godliness and good learning” and established that any boy showing sufficient academic ability, regardless of background, might attend, free of charge. The school was situated between Manchester Cathedral, then a collegiate church, and the church’s domestic quarters, subsequently Chetham's School of Music.

Later Oldham's great friend Richard Foxe, the Bishop of Winchester, wished to found a monastery. Oldham, however, convinced him instead to found Corpus Christi College in Oxford and contributed 6000 marks. Oldham also had a hand in the founding of Brasenose College, Oxford. Thus he did a great deal in establishing places of higher learning.

Early history

The original foundation provided a school house in the curtilage of Manchester's parish church and two graduates (the 'High Master' and the 'Usher') to teach Latin, and later Greek, to any children who presented themselves. The school was intended to prepare pupils for university and eventually the Church or the legal profession. Typically, pupils would have stayed for 8 to 10 years before leaving for university. There was often enough money to fund bursaries or exhibitions for pupils.

In 1654, the world’s first free public library was formed next door to MGS in what had been the church’s living quarters. This was facilitated by a bequest from a wealthy businessman (and ex-pupil) Humphrey Chetham, which also served to create a bluecoat orphanage there, schooling 40 poor boys.

By the 18th century, there are thought to have been between 50 and 100 boys in the Grammar School at any one time, three or four of whom each year were awarded exhibitions to Oxford and Cambridge. An extra room had been built onto the school house for boys who needed instruction in English before they started Latin, and another master was employed to teach them.

Classroom at the Old Site

The 1515 building was replaced on the same site in 1776. This was on two levels, an Upper School for the Latin and Greek pupils, a Lower School for the English students. Boarding-houses were added and many of the Upper school pupils were boarders from surrounding counties. When De Quincy came as a boarder in 1800, classes were held at roughly 7.00am to 9.00, 9.30 to 12.00 and 3.00pm to 5.00.[1]

By 1808 consideration was being given to moving from the site, as it was becoming insalubrious, but this proved impossible as the deed could not be changed except by Act of Parliament.

Going from the Old Church to Long Millgate ... one is in an almost undisguised working men's quarter, for even the shops and beerhouses hardly take the trouble to exhibit a trifling degree of cleanliness ... [The Irk, immediately beside the school,] is a narrow, coal black, foul smelling stream full of debris and refuse.[2]

The Manchester Grammar Extension built in the 1870s(The Old Site)

A commercial school, in parallel with the classical school, and more suited to Manchester's business climate, was established in the 1830s. By this time the school was getting richer on the proceeds of the mills which provided its funding and had a growing surplus on account. Its 'feoffees' (or governors) were mostly landed gentry from outside Manchester and they were heavily criticised for running the school to suit the needs of their offspring rather than as originally intended, the poor of Manchester. This led to a long running suit at the Court of Chancery, which eventually promoted the commercial side at the expense of the classical side of the school.

The area around the school continued to change. During the 1840s, Victoria Station was completed opposite the school and the church became Manchester Cathedral. Then, in the 1870s, a new building, the Manchester Grammar Extension, was built, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and including new classrooms, laboratories and a gymnasium, reflecting the wider curriculum that had developed since the 1830s. It was connected to the original by a first-storey bridge. It was said that the bridge’s purpose was not for ease of movement between the parts of the school, but rather to dwarf Chetham’s gatehouse both in terms of size and grandeur.

Recent history

By the early twentieth century the school was increasingly receiving funding from the state. This was negligible in 1901, fees providing three quarters of the income, most of the remainder being from the foundation. But by 1931, state grants contributed nearly 30% of the total, and the number of pupils had doubled to 1400 - a figure which has been maintained throughout most of the subsequent period.

Side View of the Main Building. The avenue runs across the foreground and the Pavilion can be seen left.
The Swimming Pool

In 1930 the school moved out of the city centre to accommodate a growing student body and provide a wider range of facilities. The new location chosen was Old Hall Lane in Fallowfield, where the school still stands.

Both of the school’s earlier buildings lay empty, and while the former was destroyed in World War Two, the latter, renamed the Long Millgate Building, became a teacher training college in the 1950s. In 1969, Chetham’s School of Music was founded and occupied what had been the orphanage. When the teacher training college closed in 1978, Chetham’s took over the premises.

After the Education Act 1944, MGS became a direct-grant grammar school, which meant that the bulk of funding was provided by government. Entry was by merit (based on examination) and parents were means-tested and fees paid primarily by local education authorities on a sliding scale. Fees paid by parents amounted to less than 20% of the total income. It reverted to independent status in 1976 after the Labour government - in the person of Education Secretary Shirley Williams - abolished the direct-grant funding system. Bursaries continue to support the merit based recruitment system, by abating fees for less well off pupils.[3]

When the Assisted Places Scheme was rescinded in the late 1990s, MGS was the first school to react with a seminal "Bursary Appeal", whose patron is HRH The Prince of Wales. The Appeal has accumulated a value of over £17.5m and finances bursaries, given to boys whose parents are unable to afford the school fees (currently £9,240 per annum). Scholarships are not awarded.


Since 1930 the site at Fallowfield has seen many new additions to the accommodation.

The Main Building was designed in 1930 by Francis Jones and Percy Worthington. In keeping with the style of Oxbridge, it features a quadrangle and a grandiose memorial hall. Entrance to the quad is by a tripartite arch under a clock tower cupola. There is also the Paton Library, MGS Archive Room (formerly the Alan Garner Junior Library which has since become part of the Paton Library), Common Room, Theatre, Refectory, Medical Centre, Book Shop, Gymnasium and Swimming Pool. This is in addition to classrooms (subjects taught in this building are Mathematics, Latin, Greek, History and Religion And Philosophy) and administrative offices. In 2006 the school announced its first major construction work on the main building for some time, with the launch of a plan to refurbish the Lecture Theatre, with the view of bringing it up to the standard of a modern professional theatre.

The Alan Garner Junior Library was situated next to the Memorial Hall. It has since been incorporated into the Paton library

The Mason Building is the school's language department. On the ground floor there are the Language Labs, two suites of listening stations, mainly used to practise the listening parts of national exams. This building was originally the school's Sixth Form block. It is joined to the main building on the ground floor by the Paton Library.

The Marks Building, named after Simon Marks [Marks & Spencer], is just west of the main building and hosts the following departments: Physics, General Science (taken by first and second years - before the subject splits into the usual three divisions), Geography and ICT. There are four physics laboratories, including one for radioactive experimentation, on the ground floor. The main computer room is situated on the first floor of the Marks building.

The English Block is just south of the physics block. It was intended to feature a drama hall in the centre, but this plan was scrapped due to a lack of funding. The second floor, accessible only from the eastern staircase, is used for the storage of the English department's large numbers of plays, poetry and fiction.

The Michael Atherton Sports Hall was opened by Mike Atherton in 1997 and subsequently used by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in recording of a live CD. Upon entering the Hall during a tour, conductor Jan Pascal Tortelier is said to have clapped loudly and on hearing the acoustic qualities, immediately requested the venue for a concert. There are also Squash Courts adjacent to the sports hall.

The Music School is at the rear of the school. There is a music library in the basement as well as a dozen or so music practice rooms, each having a piano, used for private lessons. It contains a keyboard suite allowing first and second years to learn basic keyboard playing and a hall on the west side used primarily for orchestra rehearsals.

The Chemistry Wing is adjoined to the Main Building. It houses the Chemistry department, and the upper floor is used for Middle School (Years 9-11) Biology classes. The building was constructed with two entrances (one near the Music School, and one from the Main Building near the Refectory) which led to two non-connected corridors. This apparently inconvenient design element may have arisen out of a safety concern, since it served to separate middle school experiments from those undertaken by sixth formers. The corridors were connected before the start of the Michelmas 2008 term.

The Rectory is located near the Michael Atherton Sports Hall, and is the home of the Biology Department. However only A-level biology is taught there.

The Parker Art Hall is a three storey arts studio, situated in the south side of the main building. It includes a ceramics department with two kilns on the ground floor and also a dark room for photography.

The Pavilion contains changing rooms for sports teams and a cricket score board, It is linked to the Butty Bar, a cafe serving light meals. On the upper floor is the temporary Sixth Form Common Room and Study Centre. The Careers Room is housed in the Paton Library.

Bexwyke Lodge - Junior Section pupils study stimulating and unusual subjects from their purpose built base in a state-of-the-art timber building, known as Bexwyke Lodge, constructed from sustainable materials imported from Estonia. A comprehensive ICT fit-out complements the project-centred learning and every pupil is issued with a personal notebook computer to ensure the integration of ICT into more traditional lessons.

Old Mancunians

and see also Category:Old Mancunians

MGS has a long tradition of academic excellence and is among the most celebrated schools in England. Its alumni are called "Old Mancunians", or informally 'Old Mancs', and include politicians, mathematicians, cricketers, and several notable writers, such as Thomas de Quincey, the playwright Robert Bolt, the children's author Alan Garner, after whom the school's Junior Library is named, and Martin Sixsmith. Other Old Mancunians are John Charles Polanyi (1929-) who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the actors Ben Kingsley and Robert Powell, the historian Michael Wood, and former England cricket captain Michael Atherton.

Owls are perched on every post along the playing fields fence, as a deterrent for evil spirits.

Senior Team

MGS has a Senior Team who help to run the school. The High Master, Christopher Ray, is ultimately in charge of the school. Stuart Leeming is the Deputy High Master who is responsible for the day to day administration of the school and managed the introduction of the new Junior Section. Neil Sheldon, one of MGS' longest serving members of staff is the Senior Master. The Assistant Surmaster, Pat Squires has responsibility for Pastoral Care at the School. Jim Mangnall is Head of Co-curriculum with responsibility for all things beyond the classroom. The Heads of Schools are Linda Hamilton (Junior Section), Susan James (Lower School), Andy Smith (Middle School) and Patrick Thom (Sixth Form).

Associated schools

Local girls' schools

Two girls' schools are situated nearby: Manchester High School for Girls and Withington Girls' School. MGS often "collaborates" with them, particularly in music and drama events.

Busoga College

MGS is also twinned with a school in Uganda. MGS became linked with the Busoga College Mwiri in 1990 as a consequence of their support for the Busoga Trust. The School donated second-hand science equipment, textbooks and, in 1998, equipped the Mwiri computer centre with almost one hundred PCs. A succession of MGS pupils have been to Mwiri to teach for a term in their gap year and five members of MGS staff and the School Medical Officer have made a combined total of over 20 visits to Mwire. Some of MGS's pupils first formers (year 7)visited the College in 2003. In return Chairmen of Governors, Headmasters and Deputy Heads from Mwiri have visited MGS. A programme has been initiated to enable one member of the Mwiri staff each year to visit MGS for three weeks in September. This scheme was the brainchild of former Head of Physics, Roger Hand, who retired in 2008.

St Bede's College

St Bede's College is a known rival of MGS, particularly in sports such as football. This is because they are located close to each other and pupils share buses.

Life at the school

The school has gradually developed more elaborate ways of fitting subjects into the time-table. In the 1960s it introduced a six-day rotating timetable. Until 2006/07, it operated a seven-day rotating timetable, called the Seven Day Cycle, as opposed to the timetable repeating according to a five-day week. This format was replaced with a Ten Day Cycle beginning in 2007/8, with each day consisting of 7 periods of 40 minutes apiece.

Except on Fridays, the Lower school has assembly in the Sieff Theatre, whilst the Middle and Upper school do so in the Memorial Hall. However on Fridays, Religious assemblies are held. Choices are: Indian, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Non-religious, with only the latter split into age groups; using the same division as normal assemblies. The selection allows boys of all religions to sample each other's faiths, as there is no restriction on where boys can go for religious assemblies. On Fridays, at lunchtimes, Friday Prayers are held for Muslim pupils.

A bus service connects MGS to Manchester's two main train stations Piccadilly and Victoria (opposite the original site of the school), called the MGS Shuttles. Two new services, the Altrincham Shuttle and the Cheadle Shuttle, were introduced in September 2008.

Academic Life

The school was among the first in the UK to adopt the International Mathematics GCSE. Soon afterwards, MGS also adopted the three Sciences. The main difference between IGCSE and GCSE is that the IGCSE does not have a compulsory coursework element, primarily because it would be too costly to moderate around the world. The maths and science departments decided that pupils were finding the coursework (which forms a fifth of the marks awarded in the national GCSE) undemanding and tedious and so made the switch in 2005.[1] In 2009 the GCSE was replaced by the IGCSE in all subjects other than Art. The International Baccalaureate was introduced in 2008 to run alongside the A-level programme. Economics was added as an option for both IB and A-level in 2008.

Extra-curricular and Sporting Activities

MGS has almost 130 activities available for pupils outside the classroom. These range from trekking in the Sahara Desert to climbing Mont Blanc; scuba diving to mountain biking; chess club to Russian Scrabble to name but a few. Pupils are encouraged to start new clubs and activities after gaining support from a member of staff.


There are three publications focusing on the school.

Ulula is an annual full-colour magazine detailing life at MGS during the year. It contains a comprehensive review of activities of the societies, results achieved by the sports teams, dramatic and musical performances, as well as a selection of literary and fine art work made by the boys. It also serves to announce new appointments, retirements and departures of staff members. For those pupils who leave in the year prior to the issue of Ulula, the universities to which they are moving is listed.

MGS News is a biannual 20-page glossy magazine published in October and March. It illustrates articles on the successes of MGS pupils, along with features on Old Mancunians and School events and activities. It is produced in-house by the Communications Department for promulgation to visitors at open events, current and prospective parents and teachers and the wider MGS community.

The New Mancunian, is the school student newspaper which is written and produced by students and has won several national awards.[2] This is twinned in nomenclature with the Old Mancunian which is a monthly pamphlet sent out to ex-pupils.

Specialist publications are produced by societies, such as the Philsoc and Docsoc (science and medical societies respectively) magazines.

Community Action

Community Action at the school is an important part of school life. Pupils visit many primary schools in less fortunate areas during their lunch breaks to help younger children to read and to befriend autistic children at the Grange school. Every Christmas, presents donated by the local community are distributed by MGS pupils in Salford to families who would otherwise not be able to afford presents for their children. During sixth form options, some pupils hold a coffee morning at a residential care home for the elderly in Salford. Other activities include DigSoc, GreenSoc, volunteering at the Manchester Chinese Centre and many more. Lots of MGS boys take part in the Millennium Volunteers V scheme (now 'Vinvolved') and receive certificates for logging their volunteering activities. There are plans for many more community action projects, including the launching of a new Community Action website.

Entrance to the School

Prospective pupils for Year 7 undertake an Assessment Day and an Entrance Exam, which consists of Mathematics and English examinations sat during the morning of the last Friday in January. Entrance to Years 5 and 6 is by Assessment Day only. Any pupil gaining entrance to Year 5 or 6 gains automatic entrance to Year 7. Entrance to Year 12 (Sixth Form) is by examination and interview. Prospective pupils may also attend Open Days which are held in October each year,

Those allocated a place by the school must choose to accept or decline the place offered by the end of March. Boys often apply to more than one school and occasionally turn down a place at MGS. For this reason a number of boys, after sitting the examination, are offered a reserve place. Should any boys with guaranteed places reject their offer, reserve places are converted accordingly.

MGS selects its pupils on the basis of assessment and examination performance, along with a report from the former school. However, interviews may be undertaken for boys on the reserve list.


Interior of the Michael Atherton Sports Hall

The Owls' Nest, School Camps and the Outdoor Study and Pursuits Centre

The school owns the Owls' Nest, a converted barn situated in Disley, south of Manchester, near to Lyme Park. The building is used by forms and activity groups of the school as a base for outdoor trips and camping expeditions. It is most frequently used by classes in Years 7 and 8, who spend a weekend there with their form teacher and form prefects. Wide games such as "British Bulldog" take place in the surrounding fields, and orienteering challenges in nearby Lyme Park. The name refers to the school's logo of the owl (pupils at the school are referred to as 'Sons of the Owl').

There are four annual School Camps, which have been in existence for many decades. They are held at Grasmere, Lucton, Bassenthwaite and Borrowdale. In Grasmere, the school has its own campsite donated by Old Mancunians in 1931. Visits to camps take part in the annual Activities Week, which is a week in which an impressive array of extra-curricular activities are on offer to pupils.

In 2009 MGS opened The Old School House, its new outdoor study and pursuits centre in Kirby Stephen, Cumbria. Set on a hillside with stunning views of the Vale of Eden and the Lake District Fells, the facility offers opportunities such as DofE expeditions, choral and concert practice, art workshops and courses on the Theory of Knowledge. The purchase of the Old School House was made possible thanks to the generosity of Old Mancunian, John Young and his wife Elizabeth.

Junior Section

In September 2008, MGS opened a Junior Section of the school to pupils in Years 5 and 6. Boys entering the Junior Section do not sit an entrance exam but attend an assessment day and gain automatic admission into Year 7.

Prefect System

School Officers: The Captain and three Vice-Captains are selected from the Gold Prefects by the High Master. The three Vice-Captains are each assigned to different sections of the school, one responsible for prefects, one for the Middle School and one for the Lower School. Each is also given a small team of assistants drawn from the Gold and Blue prefects. They can be identified by their badges, which bear the school's coat of arms in addition to the Gold Prefect Tie.

Gold Prefects: Sixteen pupils supervise and oversee the remainder of the prefects. They are selected by the High Master during Summer Term, based on a vote amongst Lower Sixth students, and staff recommendations, based on their academic performance, overall contribution to school and their performance as Silver Prefects. These can be identified by their gold badges and a black tie which bears the school emblem.

Blue Prefects: This category of prefects was introduced in 2007. These prefects are appointed by the High Master for contributions to Sport, Music, Art, Drama and the Book shop. They work alongside Gold Prefects and wear similar badges and ties, only in blue rather than gold.

Silver Prefects: Comprise most upper-sixth formers (year 13)and lower-sixth formers (year 12) after mid-Michaelmas Term. Duties include patrolling corridors or monitoring queues, during non-lesson time. They wear a silver Owl badge and a distinctive tie.

Deputy Prefects: Are appointed provisionally for a month after the middle of Michaelmas Term before being accepted or rejected by the Teacher in Charge of Prefects. Selection is usually based on their record of attendance at their weekly duties and on their general conduct.


Discipline is maintained by two members of staff, known as Proctors, assisted by Year 12 and 13 prefects.

CS: Communication Slip. This is an orange slip sent home to parents to inform them of minor misdemeanors committed by pupils. It is then up to the parents to discipline the pupil. CSs may be given for such offences as talking out of turn in lessons and not making an effort with one's work.

PS: Punishment School. Detentions that take place on Tuesday and Thursday early evenings and Saturday mornings. They last for half-an-hour or an hour in the former case and one or two hours in the latter case. Saturday PS's are imposed for more serious infractions than those on weekdays, even when the detention is of the same duration. An example of an offence that could lead to a weekday PS would be repeated misbehaviour in lessons. A Saturday morning PS tends to be reserved for greater misdemeanors.

The school also operates Exclusion and Expulsion policies for serious issues such as bullying and drugs.

Commendation Certificates Are awarded to pupils by teaching staff for exceptional behaviour.

Future Developments

MGS Drama Centre

The school is currently replacing the existing Lecture Theatre with a new Drama Centre. Work began in April 2008.

Archive Room

The former Alan Garner Junior Library has been converted into the MGS Archive Room and is open for pupils and visitors to research the history of the school.

High Masters

  • 1515- William Pleasington
    William Hinde
    James Plumtree
  • 1534- Richard Bradshaw
    Thomas Wrench
    William Jackson
  • 1547- Edward Pendleton
    William Terrill
    James Bateson
    Richard Raynton
  • 1583- Thomas Cogan
  • 1597- Edward Chetham
  • 1606- Edward Clayton
  • 1616- John Rowlands
  • 1630- Thomas Harrison
  • 1637- Robert Symonds
  • 1638- Ralph Brideoake
  • 1645- Nehemiah Paynter
  • 1652- John Wickens
  • 1676- Daniel Hill
  • 1677- William Barrow
  • 1720- Thomas Colburn
  • 1722- John Richards
  • 1727- Henry Brook
  • 1749- William Purnell
  • 1764- Charles Lawson
  • 1807- Jeremiah Smith
  • 1838- Robinson Elsdale
  • 1840- John William Richards
  • 1842- Nicholas Germon
  • 1859- Frederick William Walker
  • 1877- Samuel Dill
  • 1888- Michael George Glazebrook
  • 1890- John Edward King
  • 1903- John Lewis Paton
  • 1924- Douglas Gordon Miller
  • 1945- Eric John Francis James (later Lord James of Rusholme)
  • 1962- Peter Geoffrey Mason
  • 1978- David Maland
  • 1985- James Geoffrey Parker
  • 1994- George Martin Stephen
  • 2004- Christopher Ray

External links




References and Footnotes

  1. ^ Most of the material in the first part of this section is taken from The Manchester Grammar School 1515-1965, edited by J A Graham and B A Phythian, Manchester University Press, 1965
  2. ^ Engels, quoted in MGS 1515-1965 referenced above
  3. ^ Figures from MGS 1515-1965 referenced above

Coordinates: 53°26′55″N 2°12′37″W / 53.44861°N 2.21028°W / 53.44861; -2.21028


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