Rossall School

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Rossall School
Motto Mens Agitat Molem
'Mind Over Matter'
Established 1844
Type Independent day and boarding
Private school
Religion Church of England
Headteacher Ms Elaine Purves
Chairman of Governors Mr Chris Holt, BSc MBA ACMA
Founder Revd. Canon St. Vincent Beechey
Location Rossall

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DfE number 888/6044
Students 660
Gender Coeducational
Ages 2–18
Houses 12
Colours Red, white and navy blue
Former pupils Old Rossallians
Rossall as seen from the playing fields

Rossall School is a British, fee paying co-educational, independent school, between Cleveleys and Fleetwood, Lancashire. Rossall was founded in 1844 by St. Vincent Beechey as a sister school to Marlborough College which had been founded the previous year. Its establishment was "to provide, at a moderate cost, for the sons of Clergymen and others, a classical, mathematical and general education of the highest class, and to do all things necessary, incidental, or conducive to the attainment of the above objects."[1] Along with Cheltenham, Lancing and Marlborough, Rossall was part of a flurry of expansion in education during the early Victorian period. These schools were later complemented by others such as Clifton, Wellington, Malvern and Radley.

Set in a 161-acre (0.65 km2) estate next to Rossall Beach, Rossall is also a member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and was granted a royal charter on 21 October 1890.[1] It accepts students between the ages of 2 and 18 and also has an associated preparatory school. Rossall's campus has a large array of facilities for extracurricular activities and the school is home to the Lawrence House Space Science and Astronomy Centre, the only facility of its type in the UK. Over the years, Rossall has adapted itself to changing attitudes in education, and was the first school in the UK to have a Combined Cadet Force and one of the first to introduce the International Baccalaureate and host a dedicated international study centre on campus.[2]



File:Big School, Rossal School.jpg
The interior of Big School as viewed from the balcony
Rossall Sumner Library (Formerly the school chapel)
Rossall International Study Centre, formerly the largest Headmaster's House in the UK
An aerial view of the Rossall estate today
Another aerial view of Rossall
Inside the Sumner Library

The idea of founding a boarding school on the Fylde coast originates with a Corsican man named Zenon Vantini. As the owner of the North Euston Hotel in Fleetwood,[3] Vantini opened his hotel expecting many visitors but few people arrived. To boost the number of visitors to Fleetwood and help his hotel and the local economy, Vantini opened two schools in the vicinity of Fleetwood, one for boys and another for girls, totalling 1,000 students.[3] The early Victorian period was marked by high child mortality rates, and Vantini expected that in the long term, the schools could be funded by a form of tontine insurance scheme, whereby the cost to educate children who reached their teenage years was offset by those who had died in infancy.[3]

Vantini called a meeting at the North Euston Hotel to discuss the foundation of the schools with local businessmen and clergy.[3] It was decided that any school that was to be founded would be directly affiliated to the Church of England. This was to be the first major Church of England school in the north of England and a sister school to Marlborough College which had opened the previous year. It was soon established that there was little hope of founding the girls' school and this idea was abandoned, with the boys' school pupil numbers reduced to 200.[4] Consequently, Vantini's involvement with the scheme steadily dissipated, Rev. St. Vincent Beechey, the parish priest of Fleetwood, took over.

Beechey set about finding the funds required to set up such a school. Beechey got the financial support of Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood, The Earl of Derby as patron, the Duke of Devonshire as vice-president and John Bird Sumner, then Bishop of Chester and later Archbishop of Canterbury, as visitor.[4] As a result of Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood's financial problems from over-investing in the development of Fleetwood, he agreed to lease his ancestral home of Rossall Hall to the school for 21 years, with the option of buying it for £7,000 after ten years.[4] The Northern Church of England Boarding School, renamed Rossall College under the reign of William Osborne, opened on 22 August 1844,

1844 to 1914

Initial problems were not unusual for boarding schools of the time, though Rossall nearly shut down in its infancy because of huge outbreaks of Scarlet Fever. The foundation stone to the school chapel, now the Sumner Library, was laid in 1848 by the first ever Bishop of Manchester, James Prince Lee - the diocese having only been created that same year. Rossall's swift and successful development can be seen by its inclusion in the book The Great Schools of England (1865).[5]

The current chapel was constructed in the 1860s and the school underwent further development from the 1880s to 1900 to accommodate more students and to create further facilities such as the gym which still stands. In 1874 Rossall became the first Church of England school to play a Catholic school, Stonyhurst College, in an inter-school sports fixture, at cricket. Protestant newspapers warned against such activities advising Rossall parents to be wary of encroaching papism.[6]

Two decades later, roughly one hundred O.R.s served in the Boer War, nearly half of them winning distinctions or mentions in despatches. Seventeen old boys died in active service, all of whom are now commemorated in the stalls of the school chapel.[7]

Rossall was widely considered to be in top 30 public schools in the UK by the end of Queen Victoria's reign also earning itself a place in the Public Schools Yearbook and the Public School News section of the Cambridge Review.[8] Despite some financial difficulties as a result of fund embezzling by a bursar, by the end of the 1920s Rossall's academic results were amongst the best in the country with record numbers achieving scholarships to Oxbridge and attaining distinctions in the Higher Certificate examinations.[9]

1914 to 1945

During the world wars large numbers of Old Rossallians lost their lives in combat, 297 in World War One alone[10] - the majority of whom are now commemorated in the extension memorial chapel. Rossall has a memorial plaque at St Georges Chapel by the Menin Gate in honour of its fallen, alongside schools such as Rugby, Eton and Harrow.[11] 1,617 ORs fought in World War One,[12] 300 of whom received war honours.[10]

Rossall's WWI War Honours (With Bar)
V.C. G.C.M.G. C.B. C.I.E. C.M.G. D.S.O. C.B.E. O.B.E. M.B.E. D.S.C. M.C. D.F.C. A.F.C. D.C.M. M.M.
2 1 4 2 16 54 (9) 9 37 9 2 154 (13) 4 3 2 2

Before the outbreak of the Second World War Rossall had made plans to accommodate Westminster School[13] however these plans were scrapped when the government requisitioned the campus for several departments of the Office of Works, the Board of Education and the Ministry of Pensions. As a result, the school moved to Naworth Castle.[13] The government departments put up prefabricated buildings and found other premises close by as soon as possible, and left in 1940. The school returned and took in a school from the south-east, as the Westminster School had found an alternative solution. The eventual choice was that of Alleyn's who had to be evacuated from London as a result of the risk of bombing.[13] Another side effect of the war was that there was only one centenary dinner celebrating the 100th year of Rossall. It was conducted by Old Rossallians imprisoned in Changi Prison, a notorious POW camp in Singapore during the Japanese occupation.[14]

1945 to present

Benjamin Britten gave a concert in Big School in 1954. It continued to thrive and in the 1970s, in a bid to ensure the highest standards during a period of declining boarding, girls were allowed to enrol. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the school pushed on with a development programme and had royal visits including the Queen in 1994 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its foundation. The school went through great financial difficulty at the turn of the millennium.

Rossall has since had more investment than previously, with the boarding houses including Maltese Cross currently undergoing varying degrees of refurbishment. The middle school now runs from years 7 to 9, one year longer than traditionally. As a part of the modernising of the school the IB was introduced as an alternative to A-Levels in 1998, being only the 3rd school in the UK to do so, and there is now an international boarding contingent.

Rossall promotes relatively affordable private education in relation to the rest of the UK - 80% of those who attend the school are the first in their family to attend an independent school and a large number of scholarships and bursaries are available.[15] 2007 saw the return of the Rossall Summer School - developed to give children from outside the UK the opportunity to develop their English speaking skills as well as being a chance for those thinking of going to a boarding school to consider whether they are suited to the lifestyle.


Rossall School Archway
The Interior of the School Chapel
The South End of the Dining Hall


The Archway

This was erected in 1867, under the reign of William Osborne, with the foundation stone being laid by William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire.[16] It is believed to have been designed by Edward Graham Paley. It is clearly modelled on the entrance gates of the Oxbridge colleges and originally had large wooden doors which were locked at night; these have since been removed for improvements in access.[17]

The Chapel

In the 1860s a new school chapel was built to cope with the increasing number of students, the old chapel serving, as it does today, as the school library. The new chapel was designed by Edward Graham Paley,[18] extended by Robert Lorimer and includes carvings by Eric Gill.[19] The chapel organ was designed by Harrison & Harrison.[19] Rossall celebrated the chapel's 150th Anniversary on 1 April 2012.

The Dining Hall

The original school dining hall burnt down in the 1920s. The replacement, the current dining hall, was designed by Sir Hubert Worthington.[20] The design was not without fault however - it was constructed from bricks encased in a weatherable coating that would dissolve away to leave it looking in the same condition as the rest of the square. The largest section of wood panelling behind the headmaster's table in the dining hall is made from an oak tree that grew in the back garden of George Mallory.[21] It is likely that it is the largest school dining hall in the country[22] and was described by F. A. M. Webster in his book Our Great Public Schools as, "one of the most splendid in the country."[23]

There are four coats of arms attached to the exterior of the dining hall to commemorate the various families associated with Rossall over the years; The Allen Family for the medieval and renaissance owners of the site, The Hesketh Family for the Anglican family who acquired the sequestered property of the Roman Catholic Allens during the English Reformation, The Fleetwood family who intermarried with the Heskeths and became the most recent owners of the site prior to the original loan of Rossall Hall for the opening of the school by their last representative, Sir Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood and The Beechey Family for the founder of the school, The Revd. St. Vincent Beechey.[24]

Canberra Grammar School

Stone from Rossall can be found in the cloisters of Canberra Grammar School along with stones from Eton, Westminster, St Paul's, Charterhouse, Uppingham, Clifton, Tonbridge, Shrewsbury, Sherborne, Wellington, Cheltenham, Repton and Radley.[25]


The school has specialist sporting, scientific and cultural facilities, including:


  • Observatory with 12' Victorian Telescope
  • Astronomy Centre and Starlab Planetarium


Rossall today

The school offers both A-levels and the International Baccalaureate IB Diploma Programme for Sixth form students.[26] The Preparatory School operates on IB Primary Years Programme.

Extra-curricular activities


Ross Hockey
The Museum Theatre

There are 64 clubs and societies currently in operation at Rossall. Amongst them are the more traditional such as Rugby, football, Fives and Hockey. There are also numerous other unique clubs such as the Croquet Club. As well as competing in sporting competitions around the country, Rossall plays host to a number of inter-school tournaments throughout the year. In recent years these have included hockey, preparatory school rugby and basketball. The most notable tournament is the fives competition which attracts the likes of Lancing College, Malvern College, Uppingham School and Shrewsbury School.[27]

Combined Cadet Force

Rossall was the first school in the United Kingdom to form a Combined Cadet Force (CCF).[28] It was founded in February 1860 when the threat of a French/Irish Catholic invasion was at its height.[29] Although Rugby School claims to have raised a company of Volunteer Riflemen in 1804[29] Rossall's is the oldest contingent continually in existence and the one from which many other schools drew the inspiration of founding theirs. Other schools such as Eton College formed their corps a few months after Rossall. From 1890 to 1908 the corps was affiliated to the 1st Lancashire Engineer Volunteers.[30][31] The institution is still present in the school today with around 100 cadets currently enlisted. In recent years the shooting team has excelled with notable victories in the Home Guard Cup and Loyal’s Regimental Cup.[32] The CCF at Rossall received the Queens colours on Tuesday 29 June 2010, to celebrate its 150th anniversary and to acknowledge its status as the oldest cadet corps in the UK.

Through the Cadet Vocational Qualifications Organisation (CVQO) the School CCF offers cadets (aged 16–19) and above the opportunity to gain internationally recognised BTEC First Diploma qualifications in Public Services and Music. Each BTEC First Diploma is the equivalent of 4 GCSEs, grade C - A*.


Other societies include the Astronomy club which makes use of the school's telescope and planetarium[33] and the Literary Society, called the Farrell Society, after the writer J.G. Farrell, which meets on Friday evenings to discuss different genres of literature.

School terms

The Chapel of St. John the Baptist, Rossall School
The "Dick Richards Pavilion"
  • Rossall Fives - Rossall's unique version of fives[29] - an amalgamation of Rugby, Winchester and Eton Fives - though it resembles Rugby Fives more than the other two codes.
  • Rossall Hockey (Ross Hockey) [34] - A relatively famous[29][35] game unique to Rossall - a cross between Rugby and Hockey, originally derived from the Eton Field Game, played on the beach in the harshest winter months.

Old Rossallians

Rossall Prep School
The Old Rossallian Tie

Many notable people have studied at Rossall over the years.

The school alumni society is called the Rossallian Club. The Rossallian Club has gatherings every year all over the UK and, with the advent of a large international boarding contingent in recent years, all over the world - the first OR meal in Germany took place in 2006. The school also has its own masonic lodge, founded in 1928, that meets three times a year at Freemasons's Hall in London. It is part of the Public School Lodges Council and is open to any Old Rossallian who wishes to join.[36]

Rossall's alumni are one of only nine schools to have won the Halford Hewitt Public Schools Golf Tournament more than twice. The schools are (in order of victories): Charterhouse (16), Harrow (11), Eton (10), Tonbridge (6), Rugby (5), Watson's (4), Rossall (3), Shrewsbury (3), Merchiston (3). Rossall is also positioned 8th overall in the Anderson Scale of past performances in the competition.[37]

Headmasters of Rossall

First year at Rossall Final year at Rossall Name Education Other notes
1844 1849 Dr John Woolley University of London & University College, Oxford First Principal of the University of Sydney.
1849 1869 Rev. William Alexander Osborne St Paul's & Trinity College, Cambridge Retired from education after Rossall
1870 1875 Rev. Robert Henniker Charterhouse & Trinity College, Oxford Retired from education after Rossall
1875 1886 Dr. Herbert Armitage James Abergavenny Grammar School, Jesus College & Lincoln College, Oxford Headmaster of Cheltenham and Rugby. President of St. John's College, Oxford.
1886 1896 Rev. Charles Coverdale Tancock Sherborne & Exeter College, Oxford Headmaster of Tonbridge
1896 1908 Rev. Dr. John Pearce Way Bath College & Brasenose College, Oxford Retired from education after Rossall
1908 1932 Rev. Canon Edward John Walford Houghton Sherborne & Christ Church, Oxford Retired from education after Rossall
1932 1937 Harold George Michael Clarke St Paul's & Trinity College, Cambridge Headmaster of Repton
1937 1957 Rev. Charles Edgar Young Charterhouse & Exeter College, Oxford Retired from education after Rossall
1957 1967 Geoffrey Sale Berkhamstead & Lincoln College, Oxford Director of Studies, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
1967 1972 Roger Wykeham Ellis Winchester & Trinity College, Oxford Headmaster of Marlborough and Head of the HMC
1973 1987 Dr John Sharp Keighley Grammar & Brasenose College, Oxford Retired from education after Rossall
1987 2001 Richard David Walton Rhodes Rossall & St John's College, Durham Retired from education after Rossall
2001 2008 Timothy Wilbur Kent & Loughborough Headmaster of Wanganui Collegiate School
2008 2013 Dr. Stephen Charles Winkley St. Edward's and Brasenose College, Oxford Previously Head of Uppingham School
2013 Present Ms Elaine Purves University of Durham| Previously Head of Ipswich High School

Lawrence House Astronomy and Space Science Centre

The refurbished Rossall Observatory. (Inset - the observatory before restoration)

Rossall is also home to the Lawrence House Astronomy and Space Science Centre - the only centre dedicated solely to the teaching of Astronomy.[38] The project consists of the telescope in Rossall's Assheton Observatory as well as a building of its own containing a lecture theatre, classrooms and a portable planetarium. The telescope is of particular note - being 12 feet (3.7 m) long, 18 inches wide and dating from 1870.[39] The objective diameter of the telescope is 6.5 inches and it has a focal length of f/13.5.[40] The project has been funded by the Lawrence House Trust and predominantly run by Dr. Nick Lister, originally the head of D.T. at the school and now Astronomer in Residence. Dr Lister studied at Plymouth University before getting his PHD from University College London. He is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was recently appointed as vice-president of the Association for Astronomy Education, where he succeeded Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, who has now become president of the organisation.[41]

When initial assessments were being made for the feasibility of restoring the observatory, both the telescope and observatory were in a poor condition as a result of years of neglect and an arson attempt by some local children. The telescope is made predominantly from brass and thus suffered minimal corrosion and damage. Most importantly the lens of the telescope survived unscathed allowing for restoration.[40] This was carried out at first by several dedicated parents and governors of the school, amongst them Syd Little. Soon after the basic restoration ideas were raised for a larger project allowing the teaching of astronomy on a larger scale. After getting clearance from the original owners of the telescope to go ahead with the project, Rossall was given funds from the Lawrence House Trust, an educational charity, to go forward with their plans. The centre had an official opening on 26 September 2006 with Old Rossallian and former Astronomer Royal Sir Francis Graham Smith in attendance.[42] The centre's motto is 'Astronomy For All' meaning that it offers courses to Rossall Students but also at a small cost to the general public. Courses also range from beginner to advanced to ensure that anybody who wishes to study Astronomy can do so.

Possibly because of its emphasis on practical astronomy as a subject, Rossall School was depicted as the school attended by Dan Dare, the fictional space hero in The Eagle comic who was a favourite character of boys of the 1950s–60s.


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Further reading

  • 'Rossall School, Its Rise and Progress' - Canon St Vincent Beechy (1894)
  • 'History of Rossall School' - John Frederick Rowbotham (First ed. 1895, John Heywood)
  • 'The Centenary History of Rossall School' - W Furness (1945, Gale and Polden)
  • 'A Very Desolate Position' - Peter Bennett (1977, Rossall Archives)
  • 'Rossall Will be What You Make it' - Peter Bennett (1992, Rossall Archives)
  • 'The Tide Flows On' - Derek Winterbottom (2006, Manx Press)
  • 'A Short History of the Rossall School Corps.' - Lt.-Col. L. H. Trist (1960, pp. 27. Fleetwood Chronicle: Fleetwood)
  • 'Alleyn’s and Rossall schools : the Second World War, experience and status'- Donald Leinster_Mackay (1990, Leeds : Museum of the History of Education, University of Leeds.)
  • 'Hymns for use in the chapel of Rossall School' - Herbert A. James. (1880, R. Clay, Sons, & Taylor: London)
  • 'Rossall. An Ode, by O. Seaman ... for the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the School' - Charles Harford Lloyd (1894, London & New York : Novello, Ewer and Co)

External links