Thornbury in South Gloucestershire has a number of ancient charitable trusts which were administered by the Corporation of Thornbury and which were eventually incorporated into a charitable trust, Thornbury Town Trust. This is now a Registered Charity with seven trustees, three nominated by the Council. It helps organisations, groups and individuals in Thornbury. The following are the Charities that set up the Free School in Thornbury which eventually became Thornbury Grammar School under the headmastership of George Nixon;
John Jones. By a deed dated 15th October 1606 Robert Stone of Morton conveyed to John Jones, William Stone and others a tenement and garden which appears to be the property that became the old Grammar School. This is the date which Thornbury Grammar has long accepted to be the date of its foundation as a school. However we believe that this document only continued a trust that was already in existence. The Free School was very probably founded with a legacy from John Jones the elder, a Thornburian who was Mayor in 1573 and a new body of trustees (or feoffees as they were then called) were being appointed in 1606.
The legacy John Jones gave was described in this 1606 document as
” all that tenement with a garden and appurtenances wherein one John Alpass then dwelt and since in the occupation of Katherine Tekle widow one of the daughters of the said John Alpass and which do lye for and contain in the whole one burgage and an half which said tenement premises were formerly given and enfeoffed by one John Jones the elder of Thornbury unto the said Robert Stone and others by his deed poll All which said messuage tenement and premises are situate lying and being within the borough of Thornbury aforesaid and were heretofore in the occupation of Christopher Canner schoolmaster there.”
We believe that this is a clear reference to the fact that the property which became the Grammar School had already been left in trust by John Jones the elder to be used as a Free School and was being used as such by a schoolmaster, Christopher Canner.
We know little about John Jones the elder. We have only a few small scraps of information which may help us in identifying him.
The will of William Edwards dated 1648 said he (William) had begun to erect a new house or building “upon the said premises so originally derived from the said John Jones the elder” and that he was converting it into a school house (which was later to become part of the Grammar School building in Castle Street).
An enfeoffment of 23rd December 1629 concerned John Jones of Thornbury a mercer and two others (James Eddys of Thornbury a tanner and Thomas Jones of Rangeworthy a yeoman) who were the surviving feoffees of the bequest of Thomas Slimbridge a blacksmith in the 26th year of the reign of Elizabeth I (about 1574). The original feoffees had included amongst others John Jones of the parsonage then mayor of Thornbury.
The Mayor’s Accounts for the year 1789/90 tell us that rent was “received of John Allen, a year’s annuity due Michaelmas given by the will of John Jones of the parsonage long since deceased and issuable out of a messuage now a stable formerly Wears and since Lowes and the garden thereto belonging in the High Street and now in the occupation of the said John Allen.” This bequest may have been a different one as it was said to be used ” for the benefit of the poor of the town. ”
We have also found another record dated 1604 which refers to John Jones of the “Greene House” and this would appear to be an indication that John Jones was associated with the Green House in Castle Street.
In 1642 William White, a linen draper, added endowments to John Jones’ foundation. By deed of gift dated 15th July 1642 he gave his own house in the High Street next to The Swan (later known as 19 High Street) and land at Alveston Hill upon trust to John Stafford the elder, William Stafford and others to allow the profits from the rents of those properties to pay a school master to teach school in Thornbury. The master was to be chosen by the Feoffees (trustees) and the Vicar of Thornbury. The Master of the school had to be a graduate, which meant that it was to be something more than an elementary school. In fact it was frequently known as the Latin School and the pupils had already acquired at any rate the basic skills of reading and writing before admission.
The endowment was said to be for the benefit of “three poor children” of the parish and the school was to be called the Free School of Thornbury.
William Edwards of Thornbury and Alveston, a man of considerable wealth (he left his daughter Elizabeth £300 a year) gave more property to the school, built a schoolroom and left it a small library. He made a will dated 10th June 1648 in which he gave a messuage and two acres of land lying in Kington in the County of Gloucester, another messuage in the town of Thornbury and a messuage and garden in Falfield to William Stafford and the other feoffees named in the deed of William White. He also gave another messuage and garden in Thornbury which he had purchased from James Davis to the feoffees in trust so “they should yearly about the feast of Christmas bestow the yearly profits thereof in coals upon the poor people inhabiting the Alms house in the borough of Thornbury.” He also gave a fourth messuage and gardens which he had purchased from Richard Powell and the fourth part of two other messuages and lands which he had purchased of one John Carter in the parish of Thornbury “upon trust that they should out of the profits thereof cause a sermon to be preached in the church of Thornbury yearly on Whit Monday by the schoolmaster of the school at Thornbury if he could preach if not by some neighbouring minister such as the mayor of Thornbury.”
He also gave towards a library to the school to be used for and by the schoolmaster (provided that he gave security to the feoffees that he would pass on the books to his successor ).
Finally he directed his executrix to finish the school house which he had already begun to build on the premises derived from John Jones the elder so that it could be converted into a school house and annexed to the tenement garden and premises.
It seems possible that the property now known as 50 Castle Street was part of this bequest of William Edwards who left more than one messuage within Thornbury to help fund the school and the salary of the schoolmaster. The school at this stage was still very small, probably less than a dozen, of whom three had free schooling under Edwards’ will.
The terms of the bequest were detailed in an Indenture of the 20th October 1655 which conveyed to John Stafford, William Maxey then vicar of Thornbury and others the newly erected house with its garden and orchard upon trust. The trust specified that the trustees must for ever use the newly erected house as a school. The residue of the income was to be used towards “the maintenance of a schoolmaster to teach school therein as the said William Stafford, George Raymond the elder and George Baker the elder or any two of them should nominate and approve of and that such schoolmaster should freely and without payment teach and instruct in learning three poor children of the said parish.”
The trustees and the vicar had to nominate and approve of the children of such parents as were not able to pay for their schooling. The school was to be called the Free School of Thornbury. The school and schoolmaster had to be governed by such orders rules and decrees as the feoffees and vicar set down and thought most convenient. The feoffees could make a new election of a proper schoolmaster if the schoolmaster died or departed from the borough or if he “misdemeaned himself” or was thought unfit by them and the vicar of Thornbury.
In 1815 a report to the charity commissioners showed that the original charities were still in operation. The report listed the properties which provided the income and went on to say.
“40 guineas per annum is thereout paid to the schoolmaster who is a clergyman and lives in the dwelling house belonging to the school the residue of the income after payment of necessary repairs remains in the treasurer’s hands the present balance being £52.4.1½d.
The school has never been considered as exclusively a grammar school the master being expected together with the classics to teach the common branches of education.
The general understanding of the feoffees has been that 12 boys were the proper number to be taught gratis but as this number does not sufficiently meet the wants of the town it is intended to take into consideration the propriety of increasing the same.
A sermon is regularly preached by the master of the school on Whit Monday yearly according to the directions of William Edwards’ will.”
After the sale of the Grammar School and the other Free School (which was called Attwells Free School) in 1880 the new Thornbury Grammar School continued to give scholarships from the original bequests ; Attwells – three scholarships of £8 for three years, Edwards – one scholarship of £6 for two years and Whites – one scholarship of £4 for two years.