Weeke local History - Peter Symonds School
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Peter Symonds School

Peter Symonds is thought to have been born in 1536/7 (Carpenter Turner, 1977 p32-36) in Winchester to a Merchant. It was a period of problems with the early stages of the Reformation, when Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries. His father was not poor; he was one of the two bailiffs of Winchester in 1539-40. He died suddenly in 1542 and had he lived may have become Mayor of Winchester. His wife Joan was left with four young sons and as was normal in those times she remarried. She married into the Bethell family who were very successful during the Reformation. Two of the boys stayed in Winchester, a third can not be traced, but Peter was sent to London (URL26).

He was apprenticed to a wealthy merchant who was a member of the Mercers Company. Little is known of his life in London. He eventually became a member of the Mercers Company in his own right. He married Anne, but she bore him no children who survived childhood. They lived in Lombard Street in the City of London and in 1583 Peter became a Warden of the Mercers Company. He became very wealthy and bought two estates, the manor of Ingelby in the parish of Chadwell, Essex and the estate called Trinity Marsh in West Ham. Whilst Peter was flourishing in London, two of his brothers were doing well in Winchester.

John Symonds was city bailiff in 1565-7, and again in 1580, and William, built up a substantial fortune. He has been described as probably the most wealthy Wintonian of the Elizabeth period and was to be Mayor in 1575, 1585 and 1596, eventually leaving the Corporation an estate at Chawton, the income from which was to be used for the "benefit of six poor aged people of the said city." When he died, in 1606, he was buried in the Cathedral (Carpenter Turner, 1977 p32-36).

Peter died in 1587 and was buried in his local church in London, All Hallows, Lombard Street. His will included several bequests but his main fortune was to be used to set up a hospital in Winchester after his wife’s death. In his childhood he had seen the dissolution of the monasteries in Winchester. This had lead to the disbanding of the hospital services for the poor provided by the monasteries. He determined that a charity should be set up to provide support to the poor in his childhood home of Winchester. Peter’s wife died in 1592 but there were considerable problems with litigation over Peter’s will and this lead to the hospital being delayed until 1606. Peter's proposed hospital was to have a governing body headed by the Warden of Winchester College as Conservator and six Governors (Gubernatores), of whom two were to be ex-mayors, and the rest "substantial and honest citizens who shall not have borne that office". The fact that his bequest involved lands in Essex ensured that subsequently his charity did not suffer the scandals that affected other charities based on property and land near Winchester (Jenkinson, 1994 p19-20).

The charity was set up to provide for six poor, old and unmarried men at least fifty years old, and four poor "young children" over the age of seven years, and who were to leave when they reached the age of eighteen. Peter did not want to be forgotten, so every June 29th (St Peters Day) the men and children receiving alms from his charity went to a special church service with the Warden and Governors of the charity.

Following the family disputes over Peter’s will the Major of Winchester started the building of the hospital in 1607. It was built in Minister Street and was called Christies or Peter Symonds hospital.

For 290 years the charity progressed with the Gubernators regularly met to manage the charity and maintain their number. The boys were educated at several schools over the years eventually they went to the College Quiristers School (Jenkinson, 1994 p21-22).

The assets of the charity went through a remarkable increase with the coming of the railways. The estates were well positioned and land was initially sold to the railways companies and then was required for major developments along the railway lines. During the 1870s and 1880s the Gubernators requested to the Charity Commissioners that they be able to use the extra funds to provide more accommodation for elderly men. These requests were not accepted because Winchester already had sufficient accommodation for the elderly and so a scheme to extend the education of boys was considered. Eventually this was decided to be a quite separate scheme to the hospital but using the extra funds available from Peter Symonds bequest. There was some concern that boys who had benefited from the Charity, previously, had received schooling but had not gone on to use the benefit but had returned to their families (Jenkinson, 1994 p24).

In 1896 permission was obtained from the Charity Commissioners to set up a separate school for boys. The school was opened in 1897 with 59 boys in temporary accommodation in 39 Southgate Street. Mr Telford Varley, who had been second master at the Royal Grammar School at Guilford became the new school’s Headmaster. By the end of 1899 the permanent school buildings were opened at the present site in Weeke parish. The entrance at that time was from Cranworth Road since Owens Road did not exist then.

The early years of the school were problematic because the school was under funded. Attempts to get the town council to contribute to the running costs did not succeed. In 1903 income consisted of £200 from the Foundation, a voluntary grant of £200 from Winchester College and a grant from the Board of Education of £253.55. Annual fees were £8 for day boys and £35 for boarders (Jenkinson, 1994 p39-42).

In 1906 approval was obtained from the Board of Education and the County’s Director of Education to build a house for the Headmaster. By 1909 the financial situation had much improved and work was started to erect a hall at the school.

In 1913 the amalgamation was organised with Trafalgar House School. This was a school based in Trafalgar Street, just below Westgate. It had been run for a 100 years by the Naish family. Peter Symonds number of pupils before the amalgamation was about 150 and 35 boys joined from Trafalgar House.

After World War I a library was built as a war memorial of pupils and former pupils who had died in the war. Within a couple of years the number of pupils had risen to 200 to 250. Telford Varley retired as headmaster in 1926. He was replaced by Dr. Percy Tom Freeman, who had been at King Edward VI School, Southampton as head of Science. The school continued to be funded by the County Council, the Board of Education and the Gubernators. They all contributed to the building of new science laboratories that the new headmaster wanted to build (Jenkinson, 1994 p67-70).

The School continued to grow under Dr Freeman as headmaster and after World War II the state education system was established and Peter Symonds became a voluntary controlled school. This resulted in the abolition of the fees and free textbooks were provided. Dr Freeman was due to retire in 1957 but died in harness in August 1956. The school now had 650 pupils and needed extra accommodation. Dr Freeman was replaced by John Shields who was headmaster from 1957 to 1963. The school received funds to expand and provide more accommodation to meet the needs of the school.

John Shields retired in 1963 and was replaced by John Ashurst who had been headmaster of Eggar’s Grammar School at Alton.

The late 1960s saw the rise of comprehensive education. The Hampshire County Council reorganised education in the county in a rapid way whereas other counties dragged their feet to maintain their grammar schools. It was finally decided to make Peter Symonds a sixth form college and other schools in the Winchester area would be feeders providing 11 -16 years education. John Ashurst left in 1971 to be replaced by Stuart Nicholls who had the task of overseeing the change in the status of the school to sixth form college. The school became a college in 1974 and the final grammar school pupils persisted until 1978. In the early 1990s Neil Hopkins replaced Stuart Nicholls as Principal of the college (Jenkinson, 1994).

In 1991 the Trustees of the Alms Houses, Christ’s Hospital, arranged for the remaining portion of Peter Symonds’ Foundation to be amalgamated with the Winchester Charity, known as St. John’s Hospital and Allied Charities.

Release 1.0 last update 02/09/08

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