Bradford Grammar School is of ancient foundation – its origins traceable to a grammar school as early as 1548. However, it was the charter of Charles II in 1662 which created the ’free grammar school for better teaching, instruction and bringing up of children in grammar and good learning and to continue for that use forever’. The School’s earliest site was next to the Parish Church on Church Bank – now Bradford Cathedral; BGS has always had close links with the Church throughout its history. The School has had three central locations in the city (one of which was short-term while re-building took place) until it moved, in 1949, to its current site on Keighley Road, some distance outside the town centre.
The Free Grammar School, which offered free education to children of Anglican families, funded by donations and bequests, operated from 1662 until 1871. It moved to a new site in Manor Row in 1820 but remained a relatively small school, with numbers seldom exceeding 60, while the population in the city – mainly non-conformist – was rising considerably during the 19th century with the growth of the wool industry. Change came with the Forster Acts of 1869 and 1870, which created a national elementary system of education, and, significantly for BGS, the Endowed Schools’ Act dissolved the Charter of 1662, enabling the use of School endowments to fund the demolition of the old school and the building of a new and larger grammar school on the same Manor Row site; hence, the pupils moved briefly into temporary premises in Hallfield Rd. from 1872 – 1873. BGS was the first school in the country to be reorganised under the provisions of the Act – appropriately since W E Forster was also the Liberal MP for Bradford. It was to prove a seminal moment for the School: under the new leadership of a strong Governing body led by Jacob Behrens, a successful wool merchant of German origin, and the reforming Headmaster, William Hulton Keeling, the School not only expanded rapidly to well over 400 pupils but began to develop its high academic reputation of national standing: as early as 1901, BGS achieved 21 Oxbridge awards. Keeling expanded the curriculum and began to develop the corporate life of the School, founding the House system and starting school games. From 1892, the local Council were able to finance local authority scholarships – a system which proved mutually beneficial.
Important changes accelerated in 1926 during the headship of Dr W Edwards: the School opted to receive direct grant funding from the then Board of Education, while at the same time purchasing new premises for the Junior School in Thornville, a large Victorian mansion opposite Lister Park; more significantly, the search began for a new site for a now overcrowded school, which culminated in the building of the current premises on Keighley Rd by 1939. However, it was not until 1949, during the headship of R B Graham, that the School moved in, the buildings having been commandeered for use by the Army in 1939.
BGS owes a huge debt of gratitude to the drive, determination and vision of the then long-serving Chairman of Governors, Douglas Hamilton, whose leadership and skill ensured the success of various appeals in difficult times to make such a move possible. He also ensured that BGS by the 1950s was a well-established direct-grant boys’ grammar school of 1,000 pupils – one of 179 such schools accepted under the new provisions of the Butler 1944 Education Act. This arrangement provided a generous supply of able scholars funded by Bradford and W Riding LEAs respectively, alongside fee-paying pupils selected by the School’s own Entrance Examination. The School consistently achieved high ranking for its scholastic achievement under the successive headships of J P Newell and K D Robinson, and at the same time co-curricular activities expanded significantly.
In 1975, when the direct grant arrangements were abolished under a Labour Government, BGS became a fully independent boys’ school at the beginning of the headship of David Smith, who was later to serve as Chairman of HMC Schools and was also a strong advocate of the Assisted Places Scheme, to which the School belonged from the 1980s until its abolition in 1997. Also in 1975, the Junior School moved from Thornville to its present site in Clock House, which was successfully re-modelled and extended. The School continued to prosper, with additional new buildings such as the Sports Hall, the Clarkson Library – so named after a legendary Second Master and benefactor, W E Clarkson – and the Hockney Theatre. It has always been able to rely on a successful tradition of generous benefaction from former pupils to fund such projects. In 1984, the school began its transition to coeducation with its first intake of 6th form girls and became fully coeducational from 1998 under the headship of Stephen Davidson. BGS has been proud to achieve outstanding Inspection Reports from the Independent Schools’ Inspection Service – the most recent in 2011. Additionally during the last decade the premises have been greatly enhanced by an ambitious process of further development, which has provided a wide range of outstanding facilities for study, culture and recreation. This process continues under the present Headmaster, Kevin Riley.
The School Motto is Hoc Age, which generations of pupils have taken to mean ‘Do this! Get on with it!’ There are other explanations of its meaning, one of which is ‘Pay attention!’, but the most likely explanation is that the words are an echo of the Communion Service injunction ‘Do this in memory of me’.