The Cowper Testimonial School, Hertford

Reading, writing and arithmetic for a penny a week

By Ian Fisher

The lawyer Henry Cowper, born in 1758, was a cousin of the poet William Cowper and lived for much of his life at Tewin Water House. He was called to the bar at The Middle Temple in 1775 and later became Clerk Assistant to Parliament and Clerk to The House of Peers. He was a notable philanthropist and donated £14000 ­– well over £600.000 today – towards the building of Hertford County Hospital. He also endowed schools at Tewin and Hertingfordbury.

Appreciation for Henry Cowper’s generosity

In 1840, the Governors of the County Hospital met to discuss ways of showing appreciation for Henry Cowper’s generosity, and it was from this meeting that the idea to build a school, paid for by public subscription, emerged.

One penny fee

The school opened on 11 October 1841 and admitted children from the age of six. The fee was 1d.per week, and in the first week 120 pupils were registered. In 1870, the school became subject to The Education Act, which allowed for a grant of between 8 and 10 shillings per year for each pupil, depending on attendance. This could be reduced however if pupils failed to reach the required standards in the three basic subjects: reading, writing and arithmetic. The Act also set out the conditions of training for Pupil Teachers who were selected from promising scholars at thirteen and given, in effect, an apprenticeship which allowed them to be qualified by the age of eighteen. Pupil Teachers were much in evidence at The Cowper School.

School log books

From the summer of 1863 it became necessary to keep school logbooks. They not only give an insight into the running of the school: the challenges and difficulties, but also tell us much about life in and around Hertford and the surrounding area. There are two of these logbooks for The Cowper School. Here are presented extracts from the first of these covering the autumn term for the years 1863 to 1890.

Cyril Stally, headmaster

The School finally closed in July 1957 at which time the Headmaster was Cyril Stally: remembered by one pupil as being strict, but a true gentleman and wonderful teacher. The original building, which stood at the junction of Mangrove Road and London Road, was demolished in 1964, to make way for the dual carriageway.

School history

For a full history of the school please see: Green, Len, The Cowper Testimonial School, Hertford: A History of the School, 1992, Hertford and Ware Local History Society, occasional paper No.3

This page was added on 04/04/2011.

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  • Hello Brenda,

    Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS) holds the Cowper School logbooks. HALS is located in the Registry Block at County Hall. When the building reopens you could visit and view the logbooks.
    Also Len Green wrote a booklet on the history of the school entitled ‘THE COWPER TESTIMONIAL SCHOOL HERTFORD – A History of the School’. Len taught at the school for many years. You may be able to obtain a copy of the booklet from Hertford Museum.

    By Geoffrey Cordingley (03/03/2021)
  • My father, who was born in 1909, went to the Cowper School. Is there any way I can get information about the school at that time?

    By Brenda Lambie (02/03/2021)
  • Hello Nicola,
    The photograph is now on the website at
    Could you add a comment with the names you have, please?

    By Geoffrey Cordingley (10/05/2020)
  • Hello, I have just been looking through some photos from 1937 and 1938 belonging to and featuring my late father, Albert (known as Arthur) Sexton who lived in Ash Street, Ware Road, Hertford. In one of the photos a football is marked ‘CSFC 1937-8’. I can’t help with local history, as my family moved from Hertfordshire over 50 years ago, but my father recorded the surnames of the majority of the staff and boys in the photos. One of the names is Childs mentioned in a previous post.

    By Nicola Iliffe (08/05/2020)
  • Hello Malcolm,

    Your photograph has been added as “Identifying players in a Cowper Testimonial team photo” in Cowper School.

    By Geoffrey Cordingley (08/04/2020)
  • Thanking Mr. Cordingley for his advice concerning the team photograph. I have done that, and hope for results.
    After which I will place the names on this site, for other interested parties.

    By Malcolm Turner. (08/04/2020)
  • Hello Malcolm,
    I believe the student registers were destroyed. They are certainly not available now.
    You could get your photograph published by going to “Get Involved” and perhaps others would be able to identify the students.

    By Geoffrey Cordingley (08/04/2020)
  • Leading-on from my comment of 29/03/20, it would be interesting to see the later ‘ log book ‘, rather than the early one, which finished at 1912,I think.
    Does anyone know if that is possible ?
    With particular interest in the student register.

    By Malcolm Turner. (08/04/2020)
  • Like many others I’m sure, I have a football team photograph, showing players, extra players and staff at Cowper School. The football is marked CSFC 1936-7. My father would have been fourteen then. I can see two of his mates there, Gerry Childs and John Phillips ( I think ).
    Does anyone have a set of names for the players ?

    By Malcolm Turner. (29/03/2020)
  • Interesting comment on a scholarship to Richard Hale (aka Hertford Grammar School for Boys). My brother went there around 1947 and won a scholarship for his uniform which I think was called The Bruton Scholarship, it benefitted not only my parents but also another local family to whom my brother’s school uniform was passed on!!

    By Brenda Lambie (09/10/2018)
  • Stally was well past normal retiring age. He lived in the house that was directly North of the School.In September when the boys returned to school he would take a large wire waste bin and fill it with apples from the garden and standing at the low end of the school yard he would toss the apple into the yard and boys would try and catch them. My father used to teach the younger boys when he was 12 but he was not allowed to go to school until he was 8 like one of his sisters. Apparently because they both could read and write at age 3 but they were thought to be too advanced and may have a mental breakdown so they had to stay away. In those day the school system was like in America today a Grade School. When Dad did get to school he past 3 grades in his first year and had completed his education at 12 when he started teaching in the school . He was offered a place at Richard Hale but his father had to sign a agreement that if the scholarship should not be able to pay for my Dad then he would have to. As he had 6 children and worked as a bricklayer he felt he could not afford the money so neither him or his sister who was also offered a place at the girls grammer school in Ware got the education that they should have had.

    By Raymond Ingrey (05/03/2014)