History of King Charles School

Part 1 of 3. Tony Whitehorn, King Charles Alumni

The foundation

The church was built in 1678 in 3 stages to 1696, and was known as The Chapel of Ease. It was later rededicated to King Charles the Martyr. It had three galleries and in the third galleries sat the children and footmen.

In the late 17th century the Charity Schools Movement had provided schools around the country, to remedy the neglect of the State in providing education for the children of the poor. The King Charles school was founded in 1698 and was the first school in Tunbridge and the surrounding area.

In the beginning, schools were provided and run by non-conformists, Anglicans and other societies concerned with moral education. However by the reign of King George I ( 1714-1727), the Charity Schools Movement was dominated by high Anglicans and Tories.

In 1698, 50 or more poor children were instructed in the useful articles of reading, writing and common arithmetic in an area called the anti-gallery of the chapel, or in the winter a warmer room was hired in a nearby coffee house.

Rules were draw up in 1698 but they were eroded by 18th century laxity, so in 1775 the Minister was charged to regard inspection, examination and catechism as an important part of his duties and an attempt was made to get local tradesmen to contribute financially, with a right to nominate scholars. There were regular examinations by the Minister and those found proficient were passed. Not more than any two children from one family were to be admitted at a time, except in really hard cases.

The building was maintained by voluntary contributions, and gifts were collected at the chapel doors during two charity sermons in the season. The period 1820 to 1878 was dominated by one man, William Law Pope, Minister of the chapel. Nearest to Pope’s heart was education on which he held liberal views. Under him the school was transformed. Under the anti-gallery the tenements buildings became dilapidated and they were purchased by the trustees around 1808 to 1812, and a school room was built on the site with Pope being the driving force behind this.

The 1820’s was a period of transition for Tunbridge Wells, as it became a spa within easy reach of London. Princess Victoria visited with her mother and attended the chapel. During this period the chapel became a parish church. Decimus Burton had a hand in much of the development around the town.

To the south east a site became available and it was purchased in 1844 and a purpose-built school room and classroom were completed in 1848. The school flourished under the managers and committee with the Minister as chairman.
Three major international conflicts brought the period to the end of the century: Indian rebellion, 1857 to 1858; the first Boer War, 1880 to 1881; and the second Boer War, 1899 to 1902. During this period many boys from the school were involved in the events.

To be continued in part 2…