Hoots from the Archive - Items from the Archive - The Early History of MGS in Five Objects

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 27 Oct 2022

School Statutes

This academic year, the archive has been used by Year 5 boys from the Junior School as part of a scheme of work on local history. We have used various objects and documents as jumping off points to discuss the foundation and early history of the School.

Here are five of the objects we have used:

Foundation Deeds, 1515

Obviously, no session on the foundation of the School can omit the Foundation Deeds. Alfred Mumford in his history of the School, provides a transcript of this vital document. As with many legal documents from this period, it is long-winded and densely written. However, if gives us a surprisingly amount of detail on the School's early years. The document is dated to the 20th August, 1515, so we can pinpoint the exact day of our foundation. The deeds also give us information on the individuals involved in the foundation, where the School will be located, the first Master and Usher and how they will be managed and how the early school was financed. To read the full transcript, follow this link

School Statutes, 1525

The statutes of the school were written in 1525 and give us all sorts of useful information about the day to day life of MGS in this early period. This document, in tandem with the foundation deeds, give us quite a clear picture of how MGS operated. We can learn about the length of the school day, sick pay and holiday arrangements for the High Master and Usher and rules for the pupils. That statutes also lay out in some detail the stipulations for saying prayers for the souls of the founders. These arrangements seem likely to be the origin of our modern Founders' Day service. To read a transcript, click here

Hugh Oldham's Tomb, 1519

The tomb of the School's founder sheds light on the man himself, and of the symbols that the School has taken as its own. Oldham died in 1519, four years after he founded MGS. As Bishop of Exeter, his final resting place is in Exeter Cathedral, in the chantry chapel of St. Saviour and St. Boniface. Oldham had built this chapel himself, and his choice of decoration, the owl, has become the symbol of the school that he founded. Part of his tomb was defaced during the Reformation and fell into a state of general disrepair. However, it was restored in 1763 with money from the president and fellows of Corpus Christi College in Oxford. The links with Corpus Christi date back to the foundation of the school. Hugh Oldham had given £600 towards the foundation of Corpus, having been good friends with its founder Richard Fox. The president of Corpus has, since 1525, been an ex officio governor of MGS and until 1877 was tasked with appointing new high masters.

Prints of the early MGS

This print is an artist's impression of the early school buildings around 1518. The main archway is still in existence and recognisable, but the rest of the buildings have been replaced.

This second print show MGS in the late eighteenth century. The building on the right was constructed in 1778. The owl plaque on the front of the building is visible. The same owl now sits on the wall in the Refectory and is the earliest use of Hugh Oldham's rebus that we can find.

Erasmus New Testament of Hugh Bexwyke, 1522

This copy of Erasmus' translation of the New Testament into Latin is thought to have been part of the early library at the School. Latin was, of course, the lingua franca in the century that MGS was founded. The school statutes of 1525 show that Latin was a major part of the early school curriculum, along with studies of the Bible. Therefore, a Latin New Testament seems an obvious candidate for inclusion in an MGS library. Further, Erasmus' translation was part of the wider reformation context of the early 16th century, attempting to make the Bible accessible to a wider audience. Whilst we don't have much information on the provenance of the volume, there is evidence that it may have once been owned by one of our major benefactors, Hugh Bexwyke. His name appears on one of the first pages of this book. In an age when printed books were very valuable and still the preserve of the wealthy, it doesn't seem much of a stretch to envisage Bexwyke donating this book to the school he helped to found.


There aren't any comments for this article - be the first!

Post your own comment

Subscribe for updates

Subscribe to receive update emails whenever new Hoots from the Archive articles are posted.