Old Grammar School

In 1812 a new grammar school building was opened in Colne, next to the parish church. By then, grammar schools already had a very long history. The original purpose of medieval grammar schools was the teaching of Latin. Over time, the curriculum was broadened, first to include Ancient Greek, and later English and other European languages, natural sciences, mathematics, history, geography, and other subjects.

It is unclear when a grammar school was first established in the town. The new building certainly replaced an earlier school, the first record of which dates to 1667, when it is mentioned as already existing in the will of Thomas Blakey. He bequeathed £40 to pay for the schooling for four poor scholars at the school, and in 1726 the incumbent and churchwardens of the parish church purchased a piece of land “for ever to be to the schoolmaster of the grammar school of Colne.” (1)

Tradition has it that John Tillotson (1630-1694), later Archbishop of Canterbury, attended the grammar school at Colne a few decades before Blakey’s bequest. Whilst there is no evidence from the time to support the claim, there is none to the contrary either, and no good reason to doubt it. The association has been a standard element of what has been written about Tillotson’s life and Colne’s history for centuries. In 1811 for example, Samuel Lewis told of how the old school-room was taken down and that Archbishop Tillotson “received the rudiments of education at this school”. (2) Later, in 1836, Edward Baines repeats the connection and tells us something of the original school: “[it] was antique building, supported on crooks”.(3) James Carr’s Annals of Colne gives a more complete and perhaps more fanciful account! (4):


In 1867 James Bryce visited the school as part of a government enquiry into endowed schools, and his report tells of the ups and downs of the school’s fortunes in the preceding decades. From a high point in 1825, when 100 boys attended, the school “sank very low, and two masters in succession left it starved out.” It revived under the next and then fell after his departure. At the time of Bryce’s inspection the school was on the up again with an “energetic teacher [who] maintains sufficiently good discipline, and has given the school an air of briskness which many schools of much higher pretensions want.” Girls were in attendance too, although well outnumbered by the boys (36 to 6). In terms of academic progress:


This promise was not borne out though. In March 1889, J W Halfhead, who had been appointed master in 1872, died after a long illness. The newspaper report of his death said the school “has diminished in influence, and lately was practically closed.” There was no success in finding a replacement – the meagre stipend being a problem – and it was suggested that the school’s relatively small endowment be used to pay for scholarships to Burnley or Skipton grammar schools instead. The school was still closed in 1892, when there was a dispute between the Church and the local council about who owned the building and who should be on the school’s board of trustees. In January 1901, with questions still unresolved about what to do with its endowment, a Burnley Express article stated “The School has ceased to exist.”(4)



  1. See James Bryce’s 1868 report on the school in , Resports from Commissioners, Volume 28, Part 14, Sessions 19 Nov 1867-31 Jul 1868
  2. Lewis, Samuel A Topographical Dictionary of England.., 1811, p600
  3. Baines Edward, History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, vol III 1836, p240
  4.  Carr, James Annals of Colne, 1878, p175
  5. The Leeds Times January 04, 1873; pg. 5; Burnley Express and Clitheroe Division Advertiser Wednesday, March 13, 1889; pg. 2; Burnley Express and Clitheroe Division Advertiser, Wednesday, January 09, 1901; pg. 3
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