From Storkyrkobrinken to Tensta Gymnasium

The autumn of 1994, Tensta Gymnasium celebrated a decennium at Hagstråket in the center
of Tensta. The origins of the school are actually far more ancient. As a matter of fact the school
could have celebrated its 700- year anniversary as the history of Tensta Gymnasium started in
the Old Town of Stockholm with the so-called "Byskolan" (the Village School) that was situated
in the close vicinity of Storkyrkan (the Cathedral of Stockholm).
"Byskolan" is documented from 1315 but probably existed as early as in the 1290s. "Byskolan" is
said to have been situated just north of Storkyrkan, at the upper part of Storkyrkobrinken, which
was then called "Skolbacken" (School Hill). The area is now covered by the Royal Palace.
The teaching at Byskolan was long performed by the vicars of Storkyrkan. In those days the
church was called St Nicolai and so was the village school. At the top of this page the original
seal of the school, picturing St Nicolai, is reproduced.
The first headmaster known by name or "scolemästaren" was a certain Arvidius in the 1310s.
From the beginning of the 16th century on a virtually unbroken line of headmasters is known up
to the present headmistress Inger Sandström. In the 16th and 17th centuries, many of the
headmasters of the school became bishops, archbishops, professors or Members of the Royal
Swedish Academy.
At the beginning of the 15th century there was controversy in connection with the appointment
of headmaster. The Pope himself finally handed down his decision, as certified by a document
from 1419.
Maybe the most renowned personality in the 700-year-old antecedents of the school is Olaus
Petri, the Reformer of Sweden. When he took up his duties in 1542, he carried through a change
for Lutheran values and principles in the curriculum.
Olof Petri also introduced school theater. In 1550 Olaus himself wrote a drama with biblical
themes, Tobiae Commedia, for the pupils. The play is seen as the most important Swedish
drama of the 16th century.
The school stayed in the Old Town until 1551 when it was moved to Riddarholmen, where a
building had been vacated due to the closing down of the old Franciscan monastery. The school
stayed at the address that now corresponds to 5, Birger Jarls Torg until 1666, now by the name
of Stockolms Trivialskola. That year a move back to the center of the Old Town took place.
The school moved into premises at 13, Själagårdsgatan /20, Baggensgatan. This remained the
address of the school until 1814.
The time there may be called the classic epoch of the school, when the pupils, "djäknarna",
were a common sight in and outside the town during the compulsory beggars´tours several
times a year. The money and goods collected covered the costs of their tuition and the
teachers´ salaries.

Trivialskolan on Själagårdsgatan.
The house was demolished in 1930. Later on an
Old Age Pensioners´ Home was built in the same spot.

Djäknarnas´ classic epoch , mainly the 17th and 18th centuries, was no idyllic period and their
behavior was far from exemplary. In spite of each misdemeanor being severely punished,
djäknarna remained an unruly lot. The variety of punishments was extensive. Corporal
punishment was administered with bundles of twigs that the students themselves had to collect
and tie together. There were specific regulations as to how many strokes each separate infraction
merited, on what part of the body they were to be given and with which end of the twigs. Serious
infractions were punished by arrest or by having to wear a ball and chain.
The teaching was extremely monotonous and unimaginative and almost exclusively aimed at giving
and testing homework. Often different kinds of lessons were given simultaneously in the same
room housing two or more groups. As work was mostly done orally the racket was deafening.
The schoolday started early, often at 5.30 a.m.. The class teacher was to be woken at 4 a.m.
by a pupil assigned to this task. This pupil then had to go to the school house, make the fires and
light the candles, usually tallow candles in brass candle- holders, before 5.30 a.m. The teacher
usually made his appearance at 6.15 a.m.
The classroom was sparsely furnished. The students sat on benches with no back- or armrests
and there was no real table. If they wanted to write they had to do so on the bench, sitting on a
stool brought from home. The stool had a drawer which should contain paper, ink and dictionaries.
Vacations were generous, exclusively for economic reasons. The regulations for schools of 1649
prescribed Christmas and summer vacations, each lasting a month. At the beginning of the
18th century another three weeks were added at Easter and Whitsun. In 1820 the vacations
were increased further so that finally 22 weeks of the year were free. In comparison, we can
now mention that we only have 14 weeks free nowadays - a sizable reduction.
The organization of schools in those days lasted for a long time. The headmaster was the head
of the school, assisted by a co-headmaster. An ordinary teacher was called a colleague. During
the early 19th century, a change of headmasters each year was customary. This caused the
teachers to take turns at carrying out the duties of headmaster repeatedly. Among the subjects
taught, theology and the classical languages including Hebrew dominated until the 18th century.
Only during J.C. Höjer´s time as headmaster ( 1788-1806) did natural sciences begin flourishing,
mostly due to the headmaster´s own initiative.
In 1814 the school moved back to Riddarholmen, to no. 7, Birger Jarls Torg, a house next to
the former school building.
Trivialskolan was ranked as a " gymnasium"( cf junior college/ 6th form)as late as 1821, in spite
of having taught at that level for centuries.
The premises on Riddarholmen were felt to be small, dark and old-fashioned. In 1880 the school
was finally able to move into an imposing, palatial building at Norra Bantorget. This is when a
really brilliant period of the school's history began. The school was rechristened Norra
Latinläroverket and simultaneously part of the school was relocated to Södermalm and given the
name of Södra Latin. Thus the two schools share origins.

Norra Latin - a palatial building designed by Helgo Zettervall.
The drawing is from the end of the 1880s.

Norra Latin was regarded by many as the foremost and most prestigious school of Sweden.
In public consciousness it was " the school of generations" that fathers, their sons and
grand-sons attended. It was also a boys´s school for very long and girls were only admitted
at the end of the 1950s.
Missed by many and deeply regretted by many sectors of Swedish society, the school
was moved from the building in town and relocated to Tensta. The new, boldly designed
building thus forms the last link of a history going back 700 years.
When the school was moved to Tensta it ended up in Spånga parish, a region that actually
has a certain link with an epoch in the school´s history. Spånga as well as Järfälla and
Bromma were some of the parishes where the students of Trivialskolan walked between
the farms during their vacations, singing songs in Latin and begging in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Certain features of what forms the special profile of Tensta Gymnasium today have their
origins in earlier centuries. Since the start in the 1290s the teaching of music has played a
very important part. Drama, today a prominent feature, was cherished as early as the
16th century onwards. Trivialskolan was also one of the first schools in Sweden to start
celebrating Lucia in a way reminding us of today´s celebrations. Thus Tensta has a
350-year-old continuity in this area.
The cafeteria, today a central spot for the pupils, also has a counterpart in times gone by.
At the beginning of the 19th century when the school was situated on Riddarholmen, there
was an old woman who made her living by selling sweets to the students- but she mostly
had to stay outside the schoolbuilding itself.
This short historical account is derived from a commemorative publication written
by Kjell Öström, Tensta Gymnasium.