Mr Adams' Free Grammar School

William Adams was the son of a Newport trader and small landowner who became an apprentice to a Haberdasher in London. Over the years he rose up through the Company to become Warden and was even elected Alderman of the City of London. He became very successful financially but remained unmarried and childless.

Over the years he purchased land in Newport on which he built his new school. On the 29th of October 1656, at a special ceremony of the Court of Assistants, the Master and Wardens of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers formally agreed to take over the direction of Adams’ Grammar School. The link between the two has been preserved to this day. On the 7th of November, Oliver Cromwell issues Letters Patent legally endorsing the school and its governors, the Haberdashers.

The School Statutes were made public on the 2nd of February 1657. They laid down the salary and conditions of appointment of the Master (MA) and Usher (BA), what was to be taught, and when the school holidays were to be. They can still be seen, along with the list of William Adams’ Benefactions in Big School at Adams’ Grammar School.

The school opened on March 25th 1657; new year’s day according to the Julian calendar in use in England until 1752. The first Master, Thomas Chaloner, and the Usher were charged with the education of 80 ‘foundation scholars’. The school building was unusual in that it was purpose-built, with the Schoolroom the only teaching area. There was also a Library stocked with over 1,000 books at a time when a collection of 100 was rare. The Usher’s house was to the north of the School and the Master’s house was to the south, which was lived in by the Headmaster until 1979.

In 1660 William Adams realised the implications of Charles II's declaration of the illegality of all government acts since the deposing of his father, Charles I. He used his influence with Charles, allegedly eased along by a £1000 ‘gift', to secure the passage through Parliament of a Bill legally confirming the school, its exemption from taxation and the use of the Knighton Estates to finance it.

William Adams died in 1661 at the age of 77. His Will revealed an estate worth £15,719 6s 8d; well over a Million in today's currency, not including the value of the School Building and the Knighton Estates bequeathed to finance it.

So what did the Grammar School in Newport teach 350 years ago? Well in the Statutes it is written "For the teaching of Latin Greek and Hebrew tongues". "The Master shall read and teach classical authors in order to learn...the tongues and with regard to religion, morality and pure language" But there are further instructions as to what the School Day should look like. In summer it would start at six in the morning, in winter at seven or even seven thirty if it was dark. There would be a break at eleven for two hours lunch and back to school in the afternoon until five or "so long as the day light shall continue". Each school day would start with prayers and the reading of a whole chapter of Holy Scripture and close with the singing of a Psalm and prayer of thanksgiving. On Sundays the scholars would attend Church both morning and afternoon and have to give an account of the sermon to the teacher on Monday morning. Special care was to be taken of "good manners and decent deportment of the scholars" "All misdemeanours especially the sins of swearing, cursing, lying, filching, filthy or obscene talking or acting, gaming for any thing of price and foul language to any person" would be severely punished. 

Today at the start of the Twenty First Century, the Haberdashers Company are emulating their predecessors like William Adams and using the Academy programme to create a new generation of outstanding Haberdashers' Schools. It is humbling to think that they have been trustees to Adams' Grammar School for over 350 years and that they will still be trustees to Adams' and Abraham Darby 350 years from now.

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