Thornbury and District Museum: Thornbury’s publicly-funded schools

August 05 2019
Thornbury and District Museum: Thornbury’s publicly-funded schools

THORNBURY has several good schools. But of these, only two – St Mary’s School and Gillingstool – have a history going back before the 1950’s.

Gillingstool Primary School evolved out of the British School, which was built on the site in Gillingstool in 1863. It replaced an earlier British School, which was built in about 1838 as the property we later knew as 7 & 9 Bath Road.

The name of the new school changed several times, becoming the Thornbury Board School and then the Council School. Until 1965, it provided education for children up to school leaving age. That year, the new Castle Secondary School was built in Park Road and thereafter the Council School provided only primary education. In 1968 it changed its name to The Leaze School and in 1985 it became Gillingstool Primary School. A book, The History of a School by Tony Cherry, tells more of its history.

St Mary’s Primary School was founded as the National School in 1837 and was originally sited on a small plot of land adjoining the churchyard outside the castle walls. A new school was built in 1862 on the current site.

From the 17th century, Thornbury had two free schools, which provided some education for a limited number of children who could afford the small fees, subsidised by a group of charitable bequests. It was not until 1879 that the endowments of these two schools, the old Grammar School in Castle Street and Attwells Free School in St Mary Street, were combined and Thornbury Grammar School emerged. A new school was eventually built in Gloucester Road. George Nixon was appointed the headmaster and he saw the school through these changes. Thornbury Grammar School was finally closed in 1972, when it was transferred to new buildings at Alveston under the new name of Marlwood. The old school buildings in Gloucester Road became the Castle Upper School and later the Castle Sixth Form Centre.

The Thornbury Union Workhouse, opened in 1839, had its own school, with separate classrooms for boys and girls. It is unclear when it closed but log books from the National School show children from the workhouse attending. The book I’m a Pauper, Get Me Out of Here, also by Tony Cherry, details the history of the workhouse and includes lots of details and stories about this school. Both books can be bought at the museum or borrowed from local libraries.