It gives me immense pleasure to stand before you today and share the story of Aylesbury Grammar School (AGS), a journey through time that has spanned an incredible 425 years and counting. Before I dive into this remarkable tale, I must confess that I am not an Old Aylesburian, and for that, I hope you'll forgive me. Nevertheless, I come with a unique perspective as an historian and a connection to AGS through my nephew, who proudly attended this esteemed institution.
I embarked on this historical exploration with the help and support of countless individuals within the AGS community. To all those who graciously shared their stories, insights, and memories, I extend my heartfelt thanks.
First and foremost, I'd like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of the editorial committee: Mark Sturgeon, the headmaster; Jim Collins, representing the AGS Foundation; Alison Cox, the development director; and Tom Burton, an OA (Old Aylesburian). Their wisdom and guidance, coupled with the freedom to find my own voice, were instrumental in bringing this history to life.
My journey involved speaking with numerous current and former staff, governors, former headmasters, and OAs. Their willingness to share their experiences breathed life into the modern aspects of AGS's story.
AGS's roots run deep, covering 425 years and possibly even more, as my research has suggested. While official records from the school's first century are regrettably absent, they were lost during the tumultuous Civil War that ravaged Aylesbury.
Traditionally, AGS traces its origin to Sir Henry Lee in 1598. However, my investigation led me to compelling evidence indicating that the school's history may extend back to the 1570s, potentially making this celebration a 450th birthday party. This alternative view challenges the established 1598 founding date, which relied on a letter attributed to Sir Henry Lee.
The missing letter, mentioned in an 1880s history of Aylesbury, cited "further donations" by Sir Henry Lee in 1598 and 1603, implying earlier contributions. This crucial discovery prompted further questions about the school's true origins.
The 17th century proved tumultuous for AGS, with the English Civil War and religious divisions casting shadows over Aylesbury. The town became a focal point for conflict, led by John Hampden, a name well-known to AGS students through its house system.
During this period, school records vanished amid the chaos of war. AGS's association with the parish church led to the dismissal of its schoolmaster. Puritan influence held sway for a time until the restoration of more moderate beliefs in 1662.
The 18th century marked a transformative period, largely due to the contributions of Henry Phillips and William Mead, both non-conformists from puritan traditions. Henry Phillips, the namesake of one of AGS's houses, left an enduring legacy by bequeathing £5,000 upon his death in 1715.
This substantial endowment enabled the school to expand and provide free education to 120 boys from Aylesbury and Walton parishes. William Mead played a pivotal role in managing Phillips's legacy and establishing the School Foundation, which continues to shape AGS's character.
The 19th century brought challenges and reforms. AGS faced an existential crisis during a critical phase in 1849-1851. Public outcry and the demand for reforms pushed the school to implement much-needed changes and regain its standing.
In 1907, AGS transitioned to its current location, with the stipulation of becoming co-educational. Girls became an integral part of AGS until 1959 when Aylesbury High School was established. Keith Smith, affectionately known as "K.D.," played a pivotal role in shaping AGS's identity as a confident boys-only school while introducing modern initiatives.
As we journey through AGS's history, it's essential to remember that history is not merely a thing of the past. Recent challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, have shaped the school's character in the 21st century.
While Covid-19 presented unprecedented challenges, it was not AGS's first encounter with a pandemic. Throughout its history, the school faced various health crises, including smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19.
The resilience of the AGS community shone through during these trying times, a testament to the spirit cultivated over 425 years. I can't help but wonder if some of today's students are keeping diaries. They may be the ones receiving calls in the future, tasked with chronicling AGS's next chapter.
In conclusion, we stand at the precipice of the present day, where AGS continues to thrive and evolve. The future holds promise, and as we celebrate this storied institution, let us remember the words that Sir Henry Lee would have understood back in the 1500s when he founded a school to teach local boys in Latin:
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