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History of School

The Royal School Wolverhampton owes both its existence and ethos to the good-hearted and pioneering Victorian philanthropist, Mr John Lees. A successful merchant and Wolverhampton resident, Mr Lees first opened a school in 1850 to provide a secure home and schooling for the city’s many orphans, brought about as a result of the cholera epidemic that was rampant in the mid 1800s.

It is hard to imagine that he began with just 13 children and that without his clear vision and determination, we may never have evolved into the co-educational non-denominational Free School that is now.


HRH The Duke of Edinburgh - Patron of the school

School Moto - Nisi Dominus Frustra

Except the Lord build the House they labour in vain who did build it

History Timeline

Below is a timeline, showing the main developments that have occurred over the course of the School’s history.

John Lees, a wealthy Wolverhampton merchant, founded an Orphan Asylum to help those children affected by the cholera epidemic. Initially housing 13 boys, aged between 7 and 10, this number soon expanded resulting in the need for larger premises.

On 29th March 1852, Lees purchased from Thomas Perry, 2.5 acres of land on Goldthorn Hill at a cost of £1000.

On 15th March 1853, the foundation stone was laid. Behind the stone are several coins in a glass bottle. A bible reading featured on the brass plate, Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 35 & 36, ‘I was a stranger and ye took me’, these words also echoed in the inscription above the main entrance to the school.

The main section of the new Orphanage was completed at a cost of £6,000. Rev W. Dalton officially opened the school and presided in absence of the founder, John Lees, due to ill health.

John Lees passed away on 4th February 1863, at the age of 59. At this time the Orphanage accommodated 70 boys and girls, however plans were needed for additional wings as demand for places was high. Pupil numbers reached 100 by 1866.

First Chairman of the Governors, Mr William H Rogers Esq, instructed a memorial fountain to be built in honour of his late wife. The Committee of Wolverhampton Water Works Company offered to supply the water to the fountain free of cost. Stone carvings depicting the same verses, Matthew 25, can be seen on each face of the fountain.

1864-1900 There were many additions to the site including: Infirmary, gymnasium, laundry, swimming bath, headmaster’s house, with a separate larger Chapel located at the entrance to the Orphanage which was built in 1894. Additional land was acquired, bringing the site to 25 acres in size.

The prefix ‘Royal’ was first granted to our School by Queen Victoria in 1891, in commemoration of 40 years of work with children in need. The school henceforth to be known as 'The Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton'.

The school was visited by the Duke and Duchess of York, later to be King George V and Queen Mary, to open a new infirmary.

1901 saw the addition of the clock tower on the main building.

Due to increased pupil numbers it was decided to open a Junior School to offer education from five years old. On July 25th 1932 the Junior School was officially opened, it was completed at a cost of £13,000. Sam Wells Page was the first Chairman of the Governors with Miss Irene Probert appointed as the first Headmistress to 47 pupils under the age of 9.

On the 8th March 1944, HM King George VI sent communication to the Home Office giving permission to rename the orphanage. Henceforth, to be known as 'The Royal Wolverhampton School'.

The school song ‘Nisi Dominus Frustra’, was composed and written by brothers, Mr N R Pensom and Mr B A Pensom, both teachers at the school. The song was first sung by the schoolboys choir at the Annual Dinner of The Old Royals Association in 1946.

The Royal continued as a charitable institution until the mid-1960s when it ran into financial difficulties and in a bid for survival the School’s Constitution was amended to allow some fee-paying pupils.

On the 3rd June 1969, the school was visited by HM Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother, Patron of the school, to open the new dining room and science block.

1991, saw the foundation stone laid for the new dining room block, to be known as Clarence House. Unfortunately, the previous dining room had been extensively damaged by fire. Mr Eric Gurmin, previous pupil of the school and Chairman of the Board of Governors officially opened the new facility.

Following the sad death of Her majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002, His Royal Highness, the Earl of Wessex, formally accepted the School’s invitation to become its Patron.

In September 2006, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the School’s £2.6 million swimming pool complex. A brand new 25m pool with nursery pool. His Highness said: ‘It is very exciting to see the pool .... used for both the elite swimming club and the community – and see it realise its potential.’

In September 2012, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh arrived by helicopter to commemorate the 80th Birthday of The Royal Junior School. Prince Edward said during his visit: ‘The School is clearly thriving, growing and developing in many directions, and I feel privileged to be its Patron.’

2016 - Now an independently-run Free State and Day Boarding School, we turn full circle by offering ‘education for all’ in an all-inclusive and inspiring learning community that welcomes children from all social backgrounds and creeds. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh officially opens the school.

Currently, the main building is undergoing an extensive restoration programme. This 2 year programme will ensure the fabric of the building is sympathetically restored and heritage of this beautiful grade II listed building preserved for future generations.

The Royal School community was privileged to host a visit from our Patron, HRH Prince Edward Duke of Edinburgh and HRH Sophie Duchess of Edinburgh on Tuesday 2 May. The Duke of Edinburgh takes an active interest in the school, particularly in our recent growth and development and was keen to see for himself how the community has blossomed from his last visit in 2017.

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