Founded in 1565
In 1565 a free school for the education of boys and young men in grammar was founded in Highgate by Sir Roger Cholmeley, Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench. Bishop Grindal of London granted the chapel and former hermitage of Highgate, with other lands and rights on his manor of Hornsey, for the use of the school. The number of free scholars, drawn from Highgate and the surrounding villages, was fixed at forty.
By 1711 the chest which contained the deeds and charters of the school had been lost. Apart from recording the appointment of new masters, references to the school in the first minute book of the governors are sparse. In 1594 the schoolmaster was removed for neglecting his duties. In 1615 the villagers complained that the master read the service inaudibly in the chapel. In 1644 the Committee for Plundered Ministers deprived Thomas Carter the schoolmaster for alleged drunkenness. He had been imprisoned in 1641-2 for 15 months for continuing to use the Book of Common Prayer in the chapel and for speaking against Parliament.
In 1719-20 the chapel was rebuilt and enlarged, and by that date the Cholmeley Charity was also supporting alms houses and a school for poor girls. Such work could only partly be supported from pew rents and benefactions to the chapel. In the 17thcentury the school probably gave a classical education to its pupils.
By the beginning of the 19thcentury the Cholmeley School had become an elementary school for 40 poor boys in the village. In 1819 the Brougham committee found that there was scarcely enough room for them all in the school-house. The boys, who were frequently unruly, were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic by the chapel sexton. The master declared that he had never known grammar to be taught in the school.
40 Places for free education
By this time the chapel was too small for the growing population of Highgate. The governors launched an appeal for funds to build a new church, and a parliamentary grant was made. In 1821 the governors introduced a private Bill to confirm their title to the chapel and to create a new parish at Highgate. The new statutes for the school were approved in 1832. The boys were to be instructed in Latin and Greek and the principles of religion according to the teaching of the Church of England. Forty boys were to be educated free, but the master was to be allowed to take as many ‘pay-boys’ as he liked, and he was to appoint all the ushers and assistant masters.