The following was writen by author and historian David Hey for the commemorative book, "Six Hundred Glorious Years", published to coincide with the 600th anniversary of Penistone Grammar School in 1992. This is now out of print but Mr Hey's book, "A History of Penistone and District" (2002) contains a history of the school and can be bought from Amazon.
Further reading: two histories of PGS are now available to download from this site. Both are PDFs.
1) The PGS section from John N Dransfield book, A History of the Parish of Penistone (1906) and
2) a few pages from A Further History of Penistone.
Both the original books are available to view in Penistone library and were scanned with their kind permission.
Penistone Grammar School at the
Kirk Flatt site some time before 1893.
The first question to ask about the long history of Penistone Grammar School is, 'What is the evidence that it was founded as far back as 1392?'
The answer, unfortunately, is not straightforward, but it is nevertheless convincing.
The antiquity of the school is not as unusual as local pride once had us believe; many other Yorkshire schools have even earlier foundations. The biggest problem, here and elsewhere, is to prove continuity.
An inquisition of 1604 into the endowments of the school was told that many of the old deeds were lost or illegible. One that survived was produced to show that in 1392 Thomas Clarel, the absentee lord of Penistone, granted to John del Rhodes and others a piece of land
in the Kirk Flatt, 'so much as extends and lies between five stones placed as bounds'. The new owners of this property were also given the usual common right to dig peat for fuel on the moors.
The deed did not mention a school, but clearly referred to the site on which the building was erected. Clarel was still remembered in 1604 as the founder of the school. The group of people who accompanied John del Rhodes may well have been the first governors.
The school stood in Kirk Flatt until its removal to its present site in 1893. It lay close to the northern side of the church, at the top of Church Hill. Many an early school was founded in or just beyond a churchyard, for the first masters were normally priests, often those who served a chantry chapel. The chantry of St Mary (now the Lady Chapel) had been founded within Penistone church by 1341. Perhaps the priest of this chantry followed contemporary practice elsewhere in supplementing his income by teaching.
A continuous history cannot be proved with certainty, but in 1443, half a century after its foundation, the 'Free Grammar School of Penistone' received a bequest in the will of William Turton of Denby. The medieval origins of the school are proved beyond doubt by this will.
The abolition of chantries by Edward VI in 1547-48 and the confiscation of their lands affected educational provision throughout the country, but in common with many other places the people of Penistone seem to have preserved the endowments of their chantry chapels for the use of their school. The rents of cottages and gardens that had once supported the chantry priests now paid the wages of the schoolmaster.
The names of several masters during the seventeenth century are known to us, especially that of Nathan Staniforth, a puritan clergyman who had been ejected from his Derbyshire vicarage in 1662.
Penistone was still a puritan stronghold and the parishioners were pleased to get such a man as their master.
In 1699 Staniforth played a leading part in the establishment at Penistone of a Thursday market and an annual three-day summer fair. The success of this venture transformed Penistone from a village into a small market town and encouraged the leading families to reorganize and rebuild the school, so as to accommodate boarders.
In 1702, John Ramsden, of Batley, was appointed master to teach 'all the rudiments of the Latin and Greek Tongues, with the Rhetoric' to the 'Grammar Scholars' and English and Latin to 'the poorer sort'.
Ramsden promised not to allow 'any more play-days or Holy-days than are commonly allowed in the Best Governed Schools in this Kingdom' and to 'carefully endeavour by moderate correction and other provident methods to restrain all swearing, cursing, lying, and other evil practices, spoken or committed within or without the School by any under his Authority'.
He was also obliged to give weekly instruction in the church catechism. The rebuilding of the school was completed in 1716. This is the building that appears in old photographs and prints and which remained in use until 1893 (seen here above and right).
The school had 50 boys in 1743 and 40 boys in 1764.
In front of the school on market day
in the 1800s.
An advertisement for a new master in 1785 asked for someone 'properly qualified to teach Latin and Greek Classics, Writing, Accounts and the Higher Branches of Mathematics'.
The following year, the new appointee, Jonathan Wood, advertised 'a very pleasant and convenient house where Youth may be genteelly boarded and educated in Classical and Mathematical learning for thirteen guineas per annum. Entrance Ten Shillings and Sixpence. Young Gentlemen not boarded at the house may be taught Reading, Writing and English Grammar for Five Shillings and Sixpence per quarter'.
Arithmetic and Languages cost another two shillings. Wood's early promise was not sustained and by 1827 he was teaching only at the elementary level of reading, writing and accounts.
Weirfield in the 1890s
The school continued to provide an elementary rather than a grammar school education for much of the nineteenth century.
A government report of 1884 noted that only a few of the 62 boys were above elementary age.
The school was not in good shape in 1892 when Joseph Fulford was appointed headmaster, a position which he retained until 1921. During his time, the school changed fundamentally, though it continued to take boarders until his retirement.
In 1893 a major decision was taken to abandon the old site in Kirk Flatt, which had been used for 500 years, and to move the school out of the town to Weirfield.
Architect's design for the new school
(from the 1910 Penistone Almanac)
A new block, which most of us now think of as the old school, was completed by 1911.
Another revolutionary change was the admittance of girls in 1907.
Fulford deserves to be remembered not just for overseeing these changes, but as an outstanding headmaster who raised standards to a new high level.
The school had thus changed considerably over the centuries, long before the far-reaching changes of modern times. Penistone Grammar School is now a very different institution from the one founded in 1392, but then all ancient establishments change with the passage of time but nevertheless celebrate their long histories.
We have real cause to feel proud that a school has existed in Penistone in one form or another for six hundred years.