This week King’s College, Taunton has been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the formal opening of its school buildings.
Originally called Taunton College School, it was built as the state-of-the-art home for Taunton’s grammar school, which had been founded in 1522 by Bishop Richard Fox. By the 1860s, the Headmaster was an extraordinary and visionary man, The Rev William Tuckwell.
At the time, the current school building on Corporation Street was not an ideal place to educate the young people of Taunton – in the 1860s it was surrounded by ‘three stable-yards, a cattle, meat and fish-market, a urinal and a pound’. Tuckwell described the schoolroom in the summer as being ’most offensive.’
With plans to relocate the school and to introduce a modern type of education, Tuckwell sought financial assistance to create a school that would deliver the type of curriculum he felt the modern Victorian needed: science and technology in order to embrace the new scientific discoveries that were taking place; modern foreign languages; and modern English authors as well as the usual classical ones. It was no surprise that Tuckwell felt girls should be educated, as well as boys, and although girls were not taught at the new school, he did establish a committee to encourage girls to take public examinations. His daughter incidentally went on to become one of this country’s first Trade Unionists.
With funds secured from Henry Labouchere, 1st Lord Taunton, and 15 acres of land purchased on the outskirts of Taunton (on a site which had previously been used as the town racecourse), the foundation stone of the new building was laid in April 1868. It took just two years for local builder Mr Spiller, to build the main part of the building.
The school moved into the buildings as they stood – not fully completed – in April 1870. However, the outbreak of a highly infectious disease meant the planned opening ceremony had to be postponed to October – a number of pupils had contracted scarlet fever. It seems rather strange that 150 years later we are experiencing something similar to those original pupils.
Sadly, the story has a bittersweet ending. The debts accumulated by Taunton College School had started to grow over the coming years. Within ten years William Tuckwell left and the school was forced to move back to its original home in Corporation Street. The new buildings however had a new purchaser, The Rev Nathaniel Woodard, who on King Alfred’s Day in 1880, formally opened his latest school, King’s College.
Headmaster at King’s College, Richard Biggs, said: “At a time when we are wrestling with, and managing, a range of current Covid-related challenges, it is lovely to have a good excuse to look back at our history and to celebrate an important anniversary for our school. It is particularly poignant to learn that the original opening of the new buildings in 1870 had to be delayed due to an outbreak of infectious disease. Those same buildings still form the core of our wonderful campus; we are enormously grateful for the vision and courage of those Victorian pioneers.”