The King's (The Cathedral) School


Mortarboards and Mitres - The Headmasters of The King's School

Mortarboards and Mitres: The Headmasters of The King's School, Peterborough

In a previous project, local historian Jane King meticulously researched The King’s School's casualties from both World Wars. One interesting outcome was her discovery of some pupils' deaths of which the School had never previously been aware, enabling their names to be added to its War Memorials and Roll of Honour. With Jane's kind permission, her booklet of biographies of each casualty can be viewed in the History section of the School's website.

During the above project Jane researched Archibald Walter Annand, the Headmaster of the School from 1913 who resigned in 1915 to serve in World War 1. As a result of her discoveries, the School acquired a great deal of welcome information for its archives, such as a copy of the citation for his Military Cross and details of his post-War career.

Both Jane and I were fascinated by how profoundly Mr Annand had affected staff and pupils in the short time he led The King's School. The success of any School depends on its morale, which hinges on the Headteacher's character and their ability to earn the trust and respect of staff, pupils and parents. Having learnt how Mr Annand had influenced events, I enthusiastically accepted Jane's offer to help research all the Headmasters of the School since its conversion from an Abbey Grammar School in 1541, to see what impact they may each have had.  

A good teacher is able to capture and retain pupils' attention, nurture their ambition, and instil moral values and a thirst for knowledge that will hopefully endure for life. A good Headteacher has those same abilities, but also steers the School steadily, leads by example, and creates an atmosphere in which staff and pupils can all attain their full potential. We hoped to establish the extent to which The King's School's past Headmasters may have achieved this.

The School has always been linked to Peterborough Cathedral. For centuries, its Headmaster and Deputy were appointed by the Dean and Chapter; it was also subject to triennial Bishop's Visitations, which were akin to modern Ofsted inspections. In light of that close relationship between School and Cathedral, Jane chose the title 'Mortarboards and Mitres' for our project. As each Headmaster's character derived from his own background and experience, we decided to compile a biography for each of them, to serve as chapters of the School's history. We therefore embarked on the Herculean but riveting task of establishing the known facts about each man.

With invaluable input from the School’s volunteer Archivists Judith Bunten and Jenny Davies, and alumnus Tim Hurst-Brown, Jane has done her utmost to trace documents and information from as broad a range of reliable sources as possible. Thanks to the kindness of the Dean and Chapter, she and I have greatly enjoyed many hours examining the Cathedral's archives. Many other Schools' and Colleges' archivists have also responded generously to our requests for information. To all who have assisted us in our quest, both Jane and I are truly grateful, especially the former staff, pupils and their relatives who have so graciously agreed to be interviewed or supply us with information.

Our aim is to provide an insight into how each Headmaster's character, personality and behaviour may have affected the School's staff and pupils throughout the past 475 years, and how far those ripples may have spread. Examples of the stories outlined in the booklet include how the Headmaster Francis Standish came to write an invaluable eye-witness account of Oliver Cromwell's sacking of Peterborough Cathedral; why another Headmaster, Edward Bidwell, had to resign as Bishop of Ontario; and how others tutored members of the British Royal family and a Prime Minister. Among the featured alumni are many who became key local figures, such as Mayor or Dean of Peterborough, and others who gained national prominence, such as playwright John Fletcher (associate of William Shakespeare) and John Fisher (who became Bishop of Salisbury, and officiated at the marriage of artist John Constable). Other featured alumni who ventured further afield include Sydney Smith, whose geniality and stellar career in the R.A.F. won him the friendship and respect of Lawrence of Arabia; Herbert Galloway Stewart, who was a tutor to the Romanov family and witnessed the Russian Revolution; and John Bodger, who became a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and whose advice was sought and highly valued in World War 2 by both the British Government and the Pentagon. (All our research documents have been added to the archives of The King's School, which would welcome contact from relatives of any of those mentioned in our booklet).

Having compiled the biographies from 1541 to 1939, we would now like to share ‘the fruits of our labours’, which can be viewed via the link below. The post-1939 biographies will be added once our research is complete.

Trevor Elliott (former Deputy Headteacher), March 2017