School History

Thetford Grammar School, one of the oldest schools in the country, traces its origins to AD 631 when it is likely that Sigbert, King of the East Angles, provided a school for his court in Thetford.Less conjecturally, a document of 1114 under the seal of Herbert Losinga, by then Bishop of Norwich, records that;

“I have restored to Bund, the Dean, his schools at Thetford as completely and advantageously as he ever held them".

It is likely that those schools were run, possibly under the aegis of Losinga himself when he was still Bishop of Thetford, within the precincts of what was, at the end of the eleventh century, the East Anglian Cathedral. This cathedral occupied what is now the site of the Old School.

"The teacher should studiously govern his pupils by example, rather than teach by manner of words”.

Herbert Losinga

The school’s Roll of Headmasters testifies to the school’s medieval history, with the Duke of Norfolk, victor at Flodden Field, among its pupils;

Sir Richard Fulmerston was responsible for ensuring the school survived the Reformation. The refoundation was confirmed in 1610 with the ratification of Fulmerston’s will by Act of Parliament. The school continued in its one-room Elizabethan building, the accommodation more or less unaltered for three hundred years.

This late C16th building rests on the foundations of a C14th Dominican Friary which itself was built on the site of the C11th Thetford Cathedral. It is thus at the very centre of the historic core of the school. Roger North, attorney-general during the reigns of William III and Mary II, was educated in this building from 1663. In 1744 Tom Paine, the radical thinker, author of ‘Rights of Man’, and contributor to the development of both the American and French Revolutions, began his schooling in this building.

"The world is my country; to do good is my religion".

Tom Paine

The 1880s saw major developments in the fabric and philosophy of the school under Benjamin Reed. Reed’s school was known as the best in Norfolk.

"In all this work the Assistant Masters have taken great interest and worked hard to make the school life a joyous as well as prosperous one".

Ben Reed

In 1888 Thetford Grammar School for Girls was built, in part with money left by Sir Joseph Williamson, Secretary of State to Charles II and a former Thetford MP.

By the end of that year there were 36 girls on the roll with two teachers to look after them. So popular was the idea of such a school that extensions were soon needed to accommodate boarders and to provide additional teaching space.

The two schools continued to grow and thrive through the C20th, adopting Voluntary Controlled Status in 1944 and forming a single coeducational establishment in 1975.

The school returned to independence in 1981, rebuilding itself as a small but academically ambitious school which at the same time pays attention to the "wider curriculum" – a contemporary orthodoxy which has clearly, however, always been part of its long tradition. This ethos is reflected in the continued development of the school into the C21st.

The Losinga building was redeveloped in 1998 to accommodate the growing technological needs of the modern age. In the early C21st the school was reminded of its medieval roots during the construction of its new Cloisters Sixth Form Centre.

This building, opened in 2007, was subject to extensive archaeological research during the pre-construction phase which resulted in the discovery of the remains of 19 individuals, indicating this was the burial-ground for the Dominican Friars.

In 2009 Thetford Grammar School took an active role in the festival of events which celebrated the life of Thomas Paine on the 200th anniversary of his death.

Local artist Ned Pamphilon and students at the school created a mural celebrating the school’s most famous former student.

In 2014 another significant milestone for Thetford Grammar School was the celebration of the 900th anniversary of Losinga’s document marking the existence of our school.

With thanks to David Seymour Updated September 2016