Hanley Castle High School
The origins of this school are lost in the mists of time. The first documents referring to school lands are deeds of 1523 and 1544, but a plaque erected in the 1930s puts its foundation as early as 1326, when a chantry school was established to teach local children music, reading and writing so that they could become part of the choir of St Mary’s church. The oldest part still existing is the Sixth Form house of around 1600.
The Lechmere family maintained a close connection with the school, whose emblem is the Lechmere pelican, appointing the schoolmaster and, in 1733, paying for its restoration. But they also tended to regard the school as their personal property and in 1760 Edmund Lechmere was charged with incorporating school lands into his own and using school timber for his own purposes. At this time it was known as the Free School and owned various small plots of land around the parish, from which it received rents.
Traditionally the schoolmaster was the vicar of the parish, who was glad of the extra income but was not always a good teacher. By the mid-19th century, the school’s reputation was at a low ebb and in 1868 the trustees appointed a pioneering headmaster, William Walker, who reformed the school and divided it into two parts: an upper or grammar school giving the sons of the middle classes a good education at a cost of £5 (c£770 today) a year, and a lower or elementary school providing the labouring classes with a basic education for a penny or two (c78p) a week. Sir Edmund Lechmere summed up Walker’s achievement thus: “When he came to the school, it was in a state of melancholy decadence. He raised it from a dormant condition to one of considerable efficiency and importance.”
In 1893 another reform allowed the grammar school to concentrate on boys from the age of 8 to 17, by moving the elementary school to a new site at Cross Hands and renaming it St Mary’s Primary School. By 1896 there were 36 infants and 74 older children at this school. In 1947 it became solely a school for infants and numbers dropped to around 30.
In 1909 Worcestershire County Council paid for several new classrooms and took control of the appointment of governors. A prospectus designed to attract both dayboys and boarders stated that Hanley Castle was one of the healthiest villages in England. When Mr R H F Walling became headmaster in 1921, there were 55 boys in the school and when he retired in 1946 the number had increased to 172, of whom 50 were boarders. Although the total had reached 217 in the mid-1960s, the school was still small by county standards and, with state support for grammar schools now politically unfashionable, there was a possibility that it might close. But the council decided on reform and continuation. In 1972 girls were admitted for the first time, boarding ceased and two years later the school changed its status from grammar to comprehensive, becoming Hanley Castle High School.