The Early Years
There has been a school associated with Gloucester Cathedral or St. Peter's Abbey as it was known, since at least the 12th century. Gerald of Wales was sent to the school in 1155 to study Latin under master Haimo. On the order of Pope Benedict XII, the school taught both "infantes" (boys vowed for monastic life from infancy) and "juvenes" (who joined the community after the age of fourteen). It emphasised logic, the Classics and philosophy.
By the 14th century a larger grammar and choir school had been established. In 1378, when Richard II held his first parliament at Gloucester, it is recorded that the monks had to eat in the school house for several days.
The Establishment of the School by Henry VIII
In 1540, during the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII closed down the Abbey of St. Peter at Gloucester. In its place, by statutes of 1545, Henry established the Cathedral and a school known as the "College School". Henry VIII's statutes required the master of the school to be "skilful in Latin and Greek, of good fame, and a godly life, well qualified for teaching, who may train up in piety those children who shall resort to our school for grammar".
The school opened in what had been the Abbey library, to the north of the Cathedral. The Tudor school set high standards. Pupils had to be familiar with Latin oratory, the rules for verse, the "most chaste poets" and the "best historians". For each class, levels of achievement were set and tested.
The Seventeenth Century
In 1616 the controversial reformer William Laud was appointed Dean of Gloucester. The result was to plunge the College School into the religious disputes which led to the outbreak of the Civil War by 1642. Laud wished to emphasize ceremony and dignity in church services, but his critics accused him of popery. One of his reforms was to revive the practice of the whole school attending early morning prayers in the Lady Chapel. John Langley, who from 1618 was headmaster, was a strong puritan and critical opponent of Laud's reforms. In 1642 he gave evidence which helped to sentence Laud when he faced execution during the Civil War. In 1649 Parliament, following its victory in the Civil War, abolished Deans and Chapters. However, Cathedral school were considered too valuable a resource to dispense with.
The Eighteenth Century
At the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries the College School reached the peak of its fortunes and earned an important place in national life. The credit for raising the College School to this status is almost entirely due to one headmaster: Maurice Wheeler. (1684-1712), who was widely considered to be one of the most obviously distinguished educationalists of his day.
Wheeler began the practice of referring to his school as "The King's School". One of the greatest benefits which Wheeler left to The King's School was its library. During his headmastership a large number of books were donated. Today, only 50 of the originals remain, most having perished in a fire of 1849. In Wheeler's time the school averaged about one hundred pupils between the ages of 5 and 16. He integrated the choristers fully into every aspect of school life: previously they had been educated in separate classes. Wheeler pioneered new ways of encouraging boys to excel. He introduced a prefect system, he supported physical exercise in the belief that fresh air cleared the brain and he supervised gardening as an extra-curricular activity.
As a result of Wheeler's reforms, The King's School stood at the height of its prestige. Without doubt, it ranked as the most important school in Gloucestershire and one of the leading schools in the whole country.
The Nineteenth Century
In 1843 the school purchased a house at the corner of Hare Lane and Pitt Street (the future St. Lucy's Nursing Home). On to this was built a new school house in the Gothic style, including a schoolroom, dining hall and dormitories. These rooms were devastated by fire in 1849.
The building of "Big School" (now the gym) in 1849 on the north side of the Chapter House began a new period in the long history of King's.
In the second half of the nineteenth century the school went into an unfortunate decline, mainly due to financial difficulties, the rise of other public schools and the unwillingness of the Dean and Chapter to maintain more than a "music school".
The Twentieth Century
The school's survival during uncertain years, when the Dean and Chapter were struggling to obtain funds, was the achievement of Headmaster Francis Gillespy (1922-1930). By 1930 he had raised fees and increased the pupil roll to 150. In 1929 the school expanded physically when three new classrooms, a laboratory and a lecture room were opened in Pitt Street (now the D.T. centre). Gillespy also divided the school into three houses: School, Serlo and Wheeler.
After the Second World War the School premises were further enlarged. King's School House was acquired in 1948, Little Cloister in 1959, Dulverton House in 1957, Wardle House in 1959 and the Bishop's Old Palace in 1960. Archdeacon Meadow has been upgraded to an excellent playing field which regularly hosts first class cricket as well as school matches.