The History of Blundell's

Please click here to read a history of the school which was produced for a Quatercentenary leaflet in 2004, as we celebrated our 400th birthday. (It is a 4.4 MB Adobe PDF file, so may take a short while to download, even on broadband). The text from this document is provided below.

Quatercentenary leaflet

“...thou I am not myself a scholar, I will be the means
of making more scholars than anyone else in England.” (Attributed to Peter Blundell)

Peter Blundell, one of the wealthiest merchants of Elizabethan England, died in 1601, just before the great Queen, leaving money and lands to found a School in his home town to maintain sound learning and true religion. Old school hallNo expense was to be spared in its construction. Generous lands were provided in Tiverton and South Devon for its maintenance and Blundell’s executors established links between the School and Balliol College, Oxford and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, which survive to this day. Blundell’s was to be a School much larger and grander than any other in the West Country. Indeed, in the 1670s £600 was given to Balliol to found more scholarships, yet the running surplus in the Feoffees’ (Trustees) accounts was still over £500. From the beginning, under its first Headmasters the School flourished, producing clergy and gentry who took the lead in the Civil War and the Glorious Rebellion in preserving the Protestant Religion and the liberties of the subjects, objects so dear to the heart of the founder. In an early Eighteenth Century travel book the School was justly called ‘The Greatest Glory of the Town’.

Supporting these 400 years of service of the School to the nation has been the dedicated contribution of Masters and Feoffees. A. L. Francis, The Chief, was headmaster for 43 yearsOne must remember in gratitude men such as Samuel Butler, the First Master, who laboured for 43 years, during which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for Massachusetts, and who retired as the Civil War ended. Master Rayner’s 32 years coincided with Marlborough’s victories and Walpole’s Prime Ministership; William Richards’s reign included Trafalgar and Waterloo. Also there was A.L. Francis, whose 43 year Headmastership started as the Franco-Prussian War ended, finishing as the battle of Passchendaele began. With them we remember that company of men and, latterly, women who have given their working lives to the service of this School.

To start, oversee and continue his great work Peter Blundell appointed local merchants and gentry as the first Feoffees. According to his will they were to be hereditary and, as a father or uncle died, a son or nephew was appointed to the body. In modern times there have been reorganizations consonant with the march of time, but there have been Heathcoat Amorys on the Governing Body continuously for 150 years and the first Fursdon to be a Feoffee was elected 250 years ago.

The flow of scholars and clergy continued through the centuries. Numerous Hanoverian bishops, including George III’s tutor, culminated with Frederick Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury who crowned Edward VII. The men of letters have ranged from Bampfylde Moore Carew who produced a ‘best selling’ account of his career as ‘King of the Gypsies’ in the 1750s, through Richard Blackmore, who penned ‘Lorna Doone’ a century later. John Squire (1901-2) knighted for his services to literature, and John Hollands (1946-1951) who wrote a novel of the Korean War which sold over a million copies in the 1950s. Through the mists of time we glimpse, among a host of scientists, William Buckland (1797-98) the great geologist and A V Hill (1900-5) the winner of a Nobel Prize for Biology. A Blundell’s Balliol Scholar, Thomas Davey, was Master of Balliol at a time when another Blundellian was Provost of Oriel, and a Sidney Scholar, Knox Shaw (1900-1905) became Master of Sidney Sussex. The present Master of Selwyn, Professor R.J. Bowring (Westlake 1960-1964), is also an Old Blundellian.

Blundellians have been present at the great events of our history. There was a Blundellian, J H Hill (1792-6) at Waterloo, another, W Morris (1846-7) was at the Charge of the Light Brigade. Both were wounded. Blundellians were foremost in all parts of the Victorian Empire, and gave their lives in the Boer War and the two World Wars. Every year sees numerous obituaries added to the School Archives of men who have served their country well in the affairs of the 20th Century.

The school at the new Horsdon siteAt the gateway of all their lives was their time at Peter Blundell’s School. For the first 278 years this was in the ‘Old School’ by the Lowman, where the syllabus was Latin and Greek and boys had to be tough to survive. Birches swished, older boys tyrannized over younger, boarders told dayboys their place. Outside lessons life was unsupervised. They hunted, they held cockfighting matches, they fished, they played a sort of football and, after 1800, cricket (with 4 ball overs). It seems that they loved it and cherished their school days by forming an Old Blundellian organization at least as early as 1725. This has continued with two short gaps until today. Blundellians as different as Parson Jack Russell and Archbishop Temple remembered those rough old days with affection.

In May 1882 the whole school moved up the road to its new home at Horsdon. Within ten years A L Francis had trebled numbers to 250, and School House, Old House, North Close, Petergate and Westlake had been built, so that as Victoria’s reign came to an end, Blundell’s had again taken its place among the country’s great schools, with high scholastic achievement and distinguished performance in those games, which the Victorians had developed to replace the rude sports of earlier centuries. In 1904 the Tercentenary was celebrated with due sense of pride. Not only had the boarding houses been built with funds put up by the first boarding housemasters, but also Francis and his colleagues had paid for the additional buildings necessary for the growing numbers and the Chapel had been built entirely through voluntary subscription as a statement of faith in the future.

Old Blundellian Day (OB Day) parade, 1912During the last Century there has been continued great growth and change. Under ‘Fusty’ Wynn (1917-30) numbers first topped 300 and Francis House was built. Under Neville Gorton (1934-43) Blundell’s became a dynamo of educational novelty and, latterly, there has been an explosion of activity. The continued support of the Heathcoat Amory family, with a long tradition of service on the Governing Body, has been a key feature of the last century. Additionally, Old Blundellians via the Peter Blundell Society, and the singular munificence of Sir Christopher Ondaatje (1947-51) have supported many developments over the last fifty years. Girls were admitted in 1975, with full co-education starting in 1992, and they are now well over a third of over 550 Senior School pupils. St Aubyn’s Preparatory School (now Blundell's Prep School) became an integral part of Blundell’s with almost 400 younger pupils. Soon there will be 1000 Blundellians! As ever throughout its long history the School has occasion to be grateful to the support of those who have added to Peter Blundell’s initial generosity. ‘Great trees from goodly acorns grow’!

As we set forth to march on Old Blundellian Day from Old Blundell’s to St Peter’s to celebrate our 400 Years of History and begin our journey towards half a millennium of continuous existence in 2104, we carry with us echoes and memories of which we are proud and of which we can never be deprived.