School History

The History of Forest School

Forest School officially opened as Forest Proprietary Grammar School on 1 October, 1834. To celebrate the opening, the shareholders, among whom were the Spode industrialist William Copeland, the namesake father of the artist and poet William Morris, and Governor of the Bank of England William Cotton, were invited to dine at the School, and five days later, 22 boys joined the School under the headship of The Reverend Doctor Thomas Dry. By the end of its first year, the School had grown to 80 pupils.

In Pectore Robur

Some ten years after opening, challenges had arisen due to a fall in numbers. However, new Headmaster, Mr John Frederick Boyes, was determined the School should survive and even took a reduction in his salary. Having brought about some stability, Mr Boyes left the School in 1848, after inheriting a fortune, and dedicated his life to writing.

The Reverend John Gilderdale, Forest’s third Headmaster is remembered fondly as the man who helped transform Forest into the school it is today. In the 1850s, the School became officially known as Forest School and the School’s motto ‘In Pectore Robur’ was first used.

Over the next 100 years, the School experienced great change, cementing its place as one of the leading schools in London. The Forest School Magazine was launched in 1865 and remains one of the country’s oldest school magazines. Its pages record the sad loss of 98 pupils in the First World War and 41 pupils in the Second World War.

During the 1950s the School continued to grow and over the next 30 years, the Science Block, the Aston Block, the Gloucester Building, the Music School and the Sports Hall were opened. In 1981, HRH The Duchess of Kent visited Forest to commemorate the opening of the Girls’ School, which marked a new era for Forest as it became, and remains, the only diamond structure school in London.

Distinguished alumni

Forest School is proud of its alumni and their diverse accomplishments. In Sport, Old Foresters H Tubb and WJ Cutbill were founding members of the Football Association; Nasser Hussain and James Foster became England Cricketers, and Paralympic Equestrian competitor Liz Stone won gold at Atlanta in 1996. Surgeon Commander EL Atkinson was the man who located Scott’s final camp on the ill-fated polar expedition of 1910-13 and his polar flag hangs today in the School Dining Hall.

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC, a renowned Battle of Britain spitfire pilot, credits Forest with giving him the spiritual support, courtesy of his time in Chapel, to fight another day in the clouds. Last year, Geoffrey was pictured sharing a joke with HRH The Prince of Wales during the 75th Battle of Britain anniversary events.

Actor Paapa Essiedu is playing Hamlet in the RSC’s 2016 production, and also shared a joke with the Prince of Wales during the BBC’s recent televised celebration of William Shakespeare.


William Morris links

Forest School is proud of its historical links with William Morris, champion of fine craftwork in furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and stained glass, writer, poet and pioneer of socialism.

William Morris was born on 24 March 1834, the same year that Forest School was established, and grew up at the family house, now home to the William Morris Gallery, in Walthamstow. Morris’ father was a founding shareholder in the School and his brothers were all pupils here.

Morris was a boarder at Marlborough College when an organised rebellion there in November 1851 led to the decision that he leave the School that Christmas and study for his matriculation with a private tutor: the Reverend Canon Doctor Frederick Barlow Guy, who was then Assistant Master at Forest before going on to become its Headmaster.

F. B. Guy’s influence over his talented pupil was great and a cordial friendship developed between them that lasted throughout their lives.

After F. B. Guy’s wife died in 1875, the School commissioned the firm of Morris & Co. to install a memorial window in the south transept of the School Chapel, which was designed by Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris’ lifelong friend and partner. Burne-Jones also designed a window for the eastern end of the north transept; both of these windows were destroyed by the blast of a flying-bomb in 1944. A fragment from one, depicting Rebecca, has been set in a Quatrefoil window in the North wall. A third window made by Morris & Co. still remains in the north transept behind the organ; it shows Samuel and Timothy and incorporates the distinctive grapes and flowers that are so typical of Morris’ designs.

Although Morris was never a pupil at Forest, his influence on the School remains strong. In 1868, he submitted a poem for the Christmas Term edition of the Forest School Magazine titled ‘Captiva Regina’, and a banner made at the request of F. B. Guy, depicting an oak tree with the arms of the diocese of St Albans and the School motto ‘In Pectore Robur’, hangs in the Victorian Dining Hall today.

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