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Felsted School
Braintree Road, Felsted, Great Dunmow, Essex, UK
associated engineer
Price & Myers
date  (16th century, 1800 -1802) 1860 - 1867, 1988 - 1989, 2008
era  Victorian  |  category  Building  |  reference  TL677204
Felsted School was founded in the 16th century though most of its buildings date from the 19th and 20th centuries. The older buildings are heritage listed, of red brick with grey slate roofs and brick chimneys. The two modern structures feature steeply pitched roofs and internal timber detailing. The school’s motto "Garde Ta Foy" may be translated as Keep Thy Faith.
The school can trace its origins to 1564, when it was founded as a grammar school for 80 boys by Richard Rich, or Riche, (1496/7-1567, 1st Baron Rich). It was housed in the former Guild Hall (TL676203) on the south side of Holy Cross Church, thought to have been built in the early 16th century. It later expanded into two more existing Tudor buildings. One (TL677204) is north west of the junction between Stebbing Road and Braintree Road, the other is Garnetts House (TL682205) at the east of the school’s grounds.
In the 17th century, the school had more than 100 pupils, including many sons of Puritan families. Mathematician John Wallis (1616-1703) and theologian Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) were educated here, along with Oliver Cromwell’s (1599-1658) four surviving sons — Robert (1621-39), Oliver (1622-44), Richard (1626-1712) and Henry (1628-74).
In 1800, the school’s then headmaster William John Carless (1770-1813) oversaw the demolition and reconstruction of one of the Tudor buildings — the resulting Georgian building, completed in 1802, is now the Ingrams Medical Centre (TL677204) — and the installation of the school’s first cricket pitch in 1805. However, by the 1830s, pupil numbers had declined and in the late 1840s, the school closed temporarily.
On 7th August 1851, the Felsted Charities Act enabled the school to receive a larger income and changed its governance from hereditary patronage to a board of trustees. Under headmaster William Stanford Grignon (1824-1907), Felsted School developed rapidly with pupil numbers rising to more than 200.
Between 1860 and 1867, the main Victorian-era buildings (TL679206) of Manor House, Montgomery’s House and Windsor’s House were constructed at a cost of £15,000. The adjoining buildings are of three storeys, in red brick with golden sandstone banding. At the west end is a square tower with hipped pyramidal roof and clock face on the south side.
This was the start of a series of works encompassing new buildings, extensions and more playing fields. In 1869, the original Tudor schoolhouse was sold to the local vicar for £70. The school’s chapel (TL677205) was built in 1873.
Gepp’s House (TL67720) opened in 1890, and in 1894, a new preparatory (junior) school building was completed for the younger boys. In 1899, chemistry and physics laboratories were constructed. Elwyn’s House, completed in 1900, was designed by architect Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942, knighted in 1919) and cost of £8,000. During 1902-4, a two-storey classroom block, an assembly hall, and carpentry and engineering workshops were added. In 1912, Grignon Hall was constructed to the east of Windsor’s House.
In 1924, more classrooms and a library were constructed on the east side of Grignon Hall. In 1925, the Old Felstedian Society bought back the Tudor schoolhouse as a gift to the school. In 1926, north and south transepts were added to the chapel. Follyfield House opened in 1929.
In 1930, the original Grignon Hall burned down but in 1931 was rebuilt as the present hall. A new science block opened in 1938, for biology and zoology as well as physics and chemistry. By this time, the school could accommodate up to 475 pupils. In February 1952, the original schoolhouse was Grade II* listied and Garnetts House Grade II listed.
In 1962, the chapel closed for rebuilding and the school attended services at Holy Cross Church during the works. The chapel was extended in width, height and to the west, and its interior refurbished to include a gallery, choir vestry and the Bickersteth Memorial Chapel.
In 1964, Felsted School celebrated its 400th anniversary with a new carpentry, machine drawing and engineering complex. On 25th July that year, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother attended the chapel’s rededication service and laid the foundation stone of the music school, completed in 1965.
From 1970, female pupils have been admitted to the senior school. In 1978, then chairman of the Sports Council, former rugby player Dickie Jeeps (b.1931) opened a new sports hall. In the 1980s, the swimming pool was refurbished and new artificial pitches for hockey and cricket laid in the north of the school’s grounds. In August 1984, Felsted School’s Victorian buildings were Grade II listed.
In 1988, work commenced on a dining hall and common room (architect Nicholas Hare Architects, structural engineer Price & Myers), named the Lord Riche Hall (TL679207) after the school’s founder. The building has a steeply pitched roof — 42 degrees &mdahs; reminiscent of East Anglian barns. It is subject to relatively low wind speeds (39m per second), as it is situated among buildings in open country, and so does not transfer excessive horizontal forces to the walls. The roof design balances dead loading with wind suction forces, resulting in zero uplift on the roof structure.
To admit as much natural light as possible, prominent triangular dormer windows range along both sides of the hall. The timber ceiling follows the roof form and includes an acoustic lining. The floor is also of timber, and the walls are wood panelled to door height.
The size of the dormers dictated a distance of 6m between trusses, and a timber roof structure of any elegance could not support the resulting large spans. Instead, a slender steel truss system of rods and hollow sections has been used. As wind loading is low, its tension members are not subject to load reversal and could be made very thin. Once assembled, the trusses were adjusted at the tie-rod ends, hidden inside cylindrical junction boxes welded to the hollow sections.
On 18th May 1989, the £1 million structure was opened officially by the Princess Royal (Princess Anne). In 1993, the school became fully co-educational. During the 1990s and 2000s, much work was carried out to upgrade sporting facilities, provide additional teaching spaces and improve accommodation.
In 2008, the old music school was replaced with a new building (TL678206) also designed by Nicholas Hare Architects. It adjoins the west corner of Lord Riche Hall, with a courtyard between. The new building comprises a double-height recital hall seating over 200 people, a separate recording studio, a percussion suite, offices and classrooms, plus teaching and practice rooms.
Constructed on a concrete slab on concrete strip footings, the new music school resembles the neighbouring hall externally. Inside, it features exposed timber laminated roof trusses The building was fully operational by September 2008, and opened by Dame Evelyn Glennie (b.1965) in January 2009.
Pupil numbers at the school increased from 483 in September 2008, to 520 in September 2010. In 2010, Thorne House (TL677206) was completed, making 10 accommodation houses in all. The school now uses two houses for day pupils — Manor (girls) and Montgomery’s (boys), four houses for female boarders — Stocks’s, Follyfield, Garnetts and Thorne, and four houses for male boarders — Elwyn’s, Gepp’s, Deacon’s and Windsor’s.
On 15th July 2012, fire broke out in the roof and first floor of Follyfield House. It was too badly damaged to be used, and a replacement was constructed to the north east of Lord Riche Hall. It opened in September 2014.
In 2014, Felsted School celebrated its 450th anniversary. On 6th May, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited and unveiled plaques to commemorate the anniversary and mark the reconstruction of Follyfield House.
Architect: Reginald Blomfield (1900)
Architect (1988-9, 2008): Nicholas Hare Architects
Contractor (2008): Jerram Falkus Construction Ltd
Research: ECPK
"The Art of the Structural Engineer" by Bill Addis, Artemis, London, 1994

Felsted School