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A brief history of BGS

The ‘Gramer Scole’ over the Frome Gate was in the care of its first schoolmaster Thomas Moffat, when good fortune stepped in to secure its future. The Thorne family were wealthy Bristol merchants, friends of men like John Cabot and known to royalty. They wished to endow a school where the sons of Bristol merchants and tradesmen could receive a good education before settling down to the important business of making money. On 17 March 1532, Henry VIII issued a Charter, under which the Thornes could endow the Grammar School and establish it in larger premises at St Bartholomew’s Hospital near the bottom of Christmas Steps. There the boys learnt Latin and Greek, Divinity and some Hebrew.

By 1767 the buildings were too small and cramped, and Charles Lee, the Master, persuaded the Corporation that The Grammar School should be allowed to exchange premises with the other City School, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, which had a pleasant, new site on Unity Street, further up the hill. This exchange was carried out, and Charles Lee proceeded to enjoy his new School by greatly reducing the numbers of boys. The School was set to rights in 1812, but education was moving away from the classics, and this caused further problems. However, the Grammar School received a new Scheme in 1848, and prospered. In 1879 the decision was taken under the Rev John William Caldicott to move again, further up the hill to the pleasant rural site of Tyndall’s Park. There the first buildings were the Big School, with its remarkable Great Hall, and the Headmaster’s House, a modest dwelling which is now the Lower School. Further classrooms were added, a Gymnasium and a Fives Court and a Rifle Range. These have been rebuilt as art rooms and rehearsal rooms, but the Winterstoke wing still houses the Laboratories which were added in 1914. The Preparatory School began in 1900, and in 1928 moved into its own building on Elton Road, but this, with so much of Bristol, was destroyed on the night of 24 November 1940 by incendiary bombs.

The Prep Hall, which survived, is now the Mackay Theatre. The Elton Road ruin was rebuilt as classrooms under John Garrett, who added the University Road block and began to colonise the other side of Elton Road. Since then, the School has built yet more classroom accommodation and a new Sports Hall; Modern Languages, Classics/Geography, Art and Music have their own Elton Road Houses, and the former playing field is now the Technology Centre.


In 1879 The Grammar School moved from Unity Street to the new building in Tyndall’s Park. This Big School was designed in the late Perpendicular style, by the Bristol firm of Foster and Wood. Sometimes known as the Long Room, but now usually as the Great Hall, it was originally designed as a teaching room, and the Masters’ stalls are still in place. The noise level will have been limited by two factors, the presence of the Headmaster at one end, and the acoustics, bane of every school musician.

The room is 140 feet long, 50 feet wide and 50 feet high, and in size and spaciousness it has no local rival. Downstairs there are now, as in 1879, the Headmaster’s Study, the Senior Common Room, offices and classrooms. Originally these would have accommodated the Sixth Form, while the rest of the School had lessons together in the Hall.

The organ, which was built by Vowles & Son of St James’ Square, was presented by Mr W H Wills, later Lord Winterstoke, in January 1880. It cost over £1000 and it is still played regularly for assemblies and concerts.

Anne Bradley
BGS Archivist
September 2003

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