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, William Morris Senior, father of the artist and poet William Morris, and Governor of the Bank of England William Cotton, were invited to dine at the School. 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

The Reverend John Gilderdale, Forest’s third Headmaster, is remembered fondly as the man who halted a fall in pupil numbers and began the transformation of Forest into the school it is today. In the 1850s, construction of the chapel began and the School became officially known as Forest School, with the School’s motto ‘In Pectore Robur’ first appearing.

Over the next 100 years, the School experienced great change, cementing its place as one of the leading schools in London. The beautiful Grade II listed Memorial Dining Hall was built in 1886, with a copy of most recent school magazine laid under its foundation stone. The Forest School Magazine had been launched in 1865 and remains one of the country’s oldest school magazines. It is a fascinating historical document, charting the endeavours and lives of the pupils and teachers, along with the development and progress of the School itself.

It was the arrival of Gerald Cedar Miller in 1936 that saw Forest transform into a modern, twentieth century school. Having led the School safely through WW2, Miller commenced upon a building campaign not seen before in Forest’s history. The Aston Block, Science Block, new Junior School, new Manor House and Tuck shop were added and these new buildings were further enhanced by  a new swimming pool and relevelling of the Park.

Forest School’s full transformation was completed by the end of the 1970s with the arrival of girls. 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

Distinguished alumni abound: 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, whilst noted Royal Geographical Society explorer, George Hayward, was horribly murdered in the Hindu Kush.

Leading the way in the Arts and Engineering are Ruth Buscombe and Chantelle Sampat at Sauber F1 and Toro Rosso respectively, whilst Ella Purnell and Nicola Walker are enjoying successful stage and film careers. Award winning Paapa Essiedu became the first black Hamlet at the RSC in 2016. Professor Sir Richard Evans and Professor Richard Holmes became leading Historical academics.

Finally we must not forget Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum DFC, a renowned Battle of Britain spitfire pilot. He has credited Forest with giving him the spiritual support, courtesy of his time in chapel, to fight another day in the clouds.

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 in Walthamstow on 24 March 1834, the same year that Forest School was established.   The William Morris Gallery,  housed in one of his childhood homes, is nearby. 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 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. 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 Memorial Dining Hall today.

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