Richard Hale's Free School

Early days

By Geoffrey Cordingley

The information below is taken from the book

The School of Richard Hale Esquire in Hertford 1617 to 1930 and After. ISBN: 9780954950828

In the mid-fifteen hundreds Queen Elizabeth had been petitioned ‘to grant a general Christianly and charitable collection’ for the establishment of free grammar schools in Hertford, Tewkesbury, Ross-on-Wye, Horncastle, Bourne and Market Deeping.  Nothing happened in Hertford as a result of this petiiton.

Richard Hale

However fifty years later, Richard Hale who had made his fortune as a grocer and now lived at King’s Walden decided to take the initiative and establish a free school in Hertford, ‘an exceedingly poor town.’

Hale’s reasons for establishing the school were “because it was the Chief Town in the Shire,” “because of the great want of a Public School in the Town,” “because of the pure air thereof,” and “so that parents need have no fear for their children’s health for the gain of learning.”

On 29th April, 1616 Letters Patent were granted by the Crown to give the right to the Patron to appoint the Master and Usher (Assistant Master.) The Patron was able to make or alter annual rules and regulations for the management of the school.  The Mayor and nine Chief Burgesses were appointed as the school’s Governors.  The Governors had the power to act on behalf of the Patron should he be under age, presumably 21.

Richard Hale organised a purpose built brick building in grounds close to the Church of All Saints.  A path led to the Master’s House in High Street (later Fore Street), a timber-framed building which was used to accommodate boarders for the school.  Although the school was free the Master was entitled to charge for board and lodging.

Hale Grammar School

The Master’s guidelines were laid down in four documents: the Indenture Tripartite (the agreement between the Patron, the Governors and the Master & Usher) of 1616; the Foundation Deed and Richard Hale’s Will both of 1617 and the Orders of the Free Grammar School of Hertford.

The Master received a salary of £201 per annum, and the Usher £10.  £10 per annum was allocated for the repairs to the School.  These amounts were to be paid out of the interest accruing from the investment of a lump sum identified in Richard Hale’s Will and administered by the Governors.  The Master taught the older children, Forms 4, 5 & 6 whilst the younger children were taught by the Usher.

A second board, The Overseers for Learning, was established to carry out an annual inspection and examination of the school.  This board had the power to reprimand or remove either the Master or the Usher. This board comprised two local parsons along with the parsons of five local villages.  These village parsons were entitiled to nominate a scholar from his own parish to attend the school.

Requirements of Scholars

Admission was restricted to boys of the two Hertford parishes plus the village boys mentioned above.  Potential pupils must be able ‘to read English well and to render their accidence2 perfectly.’

Admission cost 2s 6d (10p) with 6d (2½p) paid quarterly to the Master or Usher; 2d quarterly for cleaning; 1s (5d) for heating & lighting in the winter.

Hours were 6 – 11 am (7 – 11 in autumn and winter) and 1 – 4 or 5 pm (1 – 3 on Saturdays.)

Attendance at church was required at Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays and other festival days.

Holidays were 10 days at Easter and at Whitsun; approx. 3 weeks at Christmas (from a week before Christmas until the Monday after Twelfth night.)

The curriculum was Latin, established religion3 & Greek (from Form IV.)

The parents were required to provide text books, a psalter, Bible or New Testament, a catechism and stationery as well as a candle in winter.

In Years 1 – 3 the texts were Lily’s Latin Grammar, a Latin dictionary & Cicero’s Short Epistles. In Forms 4 – 6 works by others such as Caesar, Plautus & Virgil, a Greek Grammar, Aesop’s Fables in Greek and works by Lucian and Homer.

Parents were required to make sure pupils did their daily homework.

School Rules

  1. Each form to have a captain chosen by desert.
  2. No swearing, lying, fighting, stealing or bullying.
  3. Scholars to play only within the school grounds.
  4. Those braking windows would be punished and their parents sent the bill.
  5. Pupils in Forms 4, 5 & 6 to ‘speak Latin altogether.’
  6. A pupil absent for three days without good cause to be re-admitted only on payment of 2s 6d.
  7. Every school-day to begin and end with a prayer prescribed by the Overseers for Learning.
  8. Scholars to bring their own candles in winter.
  9. Bad company to be avoided outside school.

The First Three Masters

in 1617 Thomas Wright was the first Master.  In 1626 he resigned having purchased the Chequers Inn next door to the Master’s House as well as being chosen as Mayor of the Borough.

Peter Maplesden was the second Master but he only lasted nine months.

Ralph Minors was the third Master who was required to repair ‘the present decay of this good and godly foundation.’  He was required to prepare more than the occasional scholar for university entrance, (only two boys had been admitted to Cambridge over the ten years existence of the school.)  He was also required to attract the sons of the gentry from near and far.  These scholars would help to establish the name of the school and also bring money into the town.


  1. Approximately £2,600 in 2017.  This seems to have been a similar amount to that which a skilled tradesman could earn at the time.
  2. The inflection of words, i.e. the extra letters added to nouns, adjectives or verbs to make different grammatical forms, e.g. adding ‘es’ to make a plural – ‘wish’ becomes ‘wishes’, etc.
  3. Church of England
This page was added on 11/08/2016.

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  • Thank you James, I have made the changes and I will try to do better in future!

    By Geoffrey Cordingley (17/04/2021)
  • As a former pupil of Hertford Grammar School I found the article informative. However there are some errors within the text, namely stationery being written as stationary and existence written as existance.
    As my school reports often said ‘could do better’

    By James Hewitt (16/04/2021)
  • Geoffrey

    Thanks for your guidance. I’ll contact one of them for a copy.

    best wishes

    By Robert Williams (13/04/2021)
  • Hello Robert,

    I presume you will be able to obtain a copy of the book from the school or the Old Boys Association.

    By Geoffrey Cordingley (12/04/2021)
  • This account of the school’s establishment and intentions is extremely interesting and quite valuable as part of the history of the early grammar schools in England. I would very much like to buy a copy of the book from which the information is drawn, not least in the hope of discovering where the source material is currently kept, and if anyone can help me regarding that I would be very grateful.

    By Robert Williams (10/04/2021)