Bradford Grammar School History

With an illustrious past spanning hundreds of years, Bradford Grammar School is one of the oldest and most respected institutions in Yorkshire.

About Bradford Grammar School

The earliest records dating back to 1548 show that the School, sited close to the parish church, was already flourishing in the mid-sixteenth century.

In 1662 the School was re-established by Royal Charter as the Free Grammar School of Charles II at Bradford, ‘for the better teaching, instruction and bringing up of children in grammar and good learning and to continue for that use forever’. The Charter is a document that we proudly display in the School today.

Despite four and a half centuries of change, the aims of the School’s founders have endured. Yet during this time Bradford Grammar School has always been progressive.

BGS was the first grammar school in England to be reorganised under the Forster Act of 1869, and in the twentieth century it became one of the country’s leading direct grant schools. In 1949 the school moved to its present site at Frizinghall.

The School became independent in 1975 and fully co-educational in 1999. Having occupied three locations since our establishment, the iconic building that we inhabit today was opened in 1949.

A long history of excellence inspires our pupils to fulfil their potential and make their own mark upon the future of BGS. Our School motto roughly translates as ‘get on and do it’ – symbolising our honest, straightforward and modest approach to educational excellence.

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. This 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, larger grammar school on the same Manor Row site; hence, the pupils moved briefly into temporary premises in Hallfield Road 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 a 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 Road 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, 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 1999 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, Simon Hinchliffe.

The School Motto is Hoc Age, which roughly translates as ‘get on and do it’ – symbolising our honest, straightforward and modest approach to educational excellence.

Further reading on the history of Bradford Grammar School is available in the following scans of original books held in the archive:

Bradford Grammar School, Past and Present, 1662-1912, the Rev W H Keeling, former Headmaster of the School

Origin and History of the Bradford Grammar School from its formation to 1882, Part 1, W Claridge MA, former Headmaster of the School

Origin and History of the Bradford Grammar School from its formation to 1882, Part 2, W Claridge MA, former Headmaster of the School

A further book, Haec Egimus – All This We Did, by David Moore (OB 1952 -1962), covers the history of BGS from 1949-1963.

It is available to purchase at a cost of £25 including postage and packaging (UK). All proceeds go to the OBA Bursary Fund. Please send a cheque made payable to Bradford Grammar School to:

OBA, Bradford Grammar School, Keighley Road, Bradford, BD9 4JP

If you live outside the UK and would like a copy, please email and we will be able to let you know about the postage costs.

Junior School


Our creative approach to learning allows children to develop into unique individuals


Senior School


An education at BGS offers inspiration to enrich the mind, body and spirit, which fundamentally changes lives for the better


Sixth Form


Our innovative Sixth Form lays the foundations for creative and inspiring excellence