A brief look at Chesterfield Grammar School

We are taking a brief look at Chesterfield Grammar School in this blog. With the school closing in 1991, quite a few people might not realise that Chesterfield actually did have such a school.

Surprisingly few photographs of the old Chesterfield Grammar School, on Sheffield Road, appear in the public domain – at least those of the actual school, as opposed to pupil and teacher school year photographs. Our first illustration is taken from Ford’s 1839 ‘History of Chesterfield’. It shows the second school building on Sheffield Road.

The second grammar school building on Sheffield Road, from Ford’s 1839 ‘History of Chesterfield’.

The grammar school was endowed by Godfrey Foljambe of Walton Hall, who died in 1595. The school probably opened in 1598, when it took over the former St Helen’s chapel. In 1710 the medieval chapel was superseded with a two-storey building, shown in our first illustration, which is taken from Ford’s 1839 ‘History of Chesterfield’.  Highly regarded in the early eighteenth century, after some years of decline the school closed in 1832.

The new school opened in 1847.

Our second illustration shows the new building constructed, again, near the site of St Helen’s chapel. This new grammar school (boys only and fee paying) opened in 1847. The Rev. Frederick Calder, as headmaster, started a process of expansion and modernisation. This building now forms part of Chesterfield College’s West Studios, which our modern (and third) illustration shows. Part of the 1840s building can be seen, together with a major extension built in 1899 (to the far right). Contrast this with our fourth photograph, which shows the building in an Edwardian colourised postcard.

Chesterfield College’s ‘West Studios’ – the former Chesterfield Grammar School buildings, in 2017.
The main building of the grammar school on Sheffield Road, probabaly in about 1910. The building shown in our second illustration (the 1840s building) is to the far left. (Courtesy Richard Sheppard).

In 1903 the grammar school was recognised as a secondary school. It remained independent until 1940, when it was transferred to Derbyshire County Council.

There were various other extensions to the Sheffield Road site, including the purchase of nearby Hurst House, for use by the sixth form, but the school buildings became increasingly inadequate. A decision was made to relocate to Brookside, where the school’s governors had purchased land for playing fields in 1928. Fully opening in 1967, it’s these buildings that form the basis of the present co-educational Brookfield Community School.

The education ministry’s architect was concerned that this replacement building was itself inadequate in some ways. He was particularly concerned that the kitchen wasn’t large enough, the dining room was ‘critically small’ and that additional windows were needed in the assembly hall to meet Ministry regulations. Nor did he like the combination of steel and pre-cast concrete, or the mixture of brick and small block cladding. The building’s architects were the once well-known Chesterfield practice of Wilcockson & Cutts.

Our final photographs are two taken from a series of postcards of the Sheffield Road site published around 1928, but probably taken earlier. They both show the rear of the building

The school buildings from the south-east.
The school buildings from the north-east. This and the view above are from a set of postcards published in the late 1920s.

The end of, what by that time was called Chesterfield School, came in 1991 following a reorganisation of the town’s secondary schools.

There’s much more about the grammar school and Chesterfield education in general in our VCH county editor’s book ‘A History of Chesterfield Grammar School’. This 700-page book was commissioned by the Old Cestrefeldian Trust, from whom it is available. You can also find out more of the history of the school and a link to purchase the book at http://oldcestrefeldians.org.uk/History.html.

The Old Cestrefeldian Trust is publishing Chesterfield Grammar School Roll of Honour 1939-1945, a 96-page paperback containing short biographies of some 70 former pupils who died while serving in the Armed Forces during the Second World War. More details of this new title will be available nearer the time.

(Our thanks to the Old Cestrefeldians’ Trust for permission reproduce illustrations from their collection and use information from Philip Riden’s book, ‘A History of Chesterfield Grammar School’)