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Hawkshead Grammar School Museum

Main Street
LA22 0NT

Tel:- 015394 36735

Situated in the old Grammar School building, at the southern end of the village, the Hawkshead Grammar School Museum attempts, with some success, to recreate the atmosphere of school life in the 17th and 18th centuries. It features a layout of an authentic school room, complete with original desks and writing implements, a recreation of the headmaster's study, and displays of a unique collection of historic artifacts relating to the school, including the Charter signed by Queen Elizabeth I when the institution was first established in 1585.

Visitors are greeted with a short but very informative talk about the school and what there is to see, before being allowed to wander at their leisure through the downstairs schoolroom and the upstairs display room.

The lives of the pupils of 200 years ago are brought vividly to life, and it is not difficult to imagine the rows of pupils working silently under the gaze of a stern tutor. Hard work and discipline may have been the order of the day, but the pupils were allowed to do some things that would be frowned upon in our supposedly more liberated society. They were allowed to drink beer and smoke, and were encouraged to carve their names on their desks. Those very same desks form the display today, and still bear the carved names of the pupils that were educated here, including a certain William Wordsworth and his brothers.

Potted History

Hawkshead Grammar School was founded in 1585 by Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of York, who was born at Esthwaite Hall, just a mile south of Hawkshead. Not only did he petition Queen Elizabeth I for a charter to set up a governing body, he also endowed the school with sufficient land and property for it to offer a free education.

The school gained a reputation for sound teaching. It taught Latin and Greek, arithmetic, ancient history, science and geometry, subjects that at the time were deemed sufficient to meet the future needs of the pupils regardless of their ambitions.

Discipline was strict, with those boys stepping out of line very quickly becoming acquainted with the birch. The days were long, starting at 6 am in the summer months, and daily church attendance was compulsory.

In 1675, the old school building was demolished and the current building erected on the same site. The new building was capable of housing up to 100 pupils, and was frequently fully subscribed. Pupils from Hawkshead received a free education, but the school's reputation also drew pupils from further afield, each one paying 2 guineas a year.

The school thrived until the latter part of the 19th century, when pupil numbers started to decline, as did income from the estates supporting the school. The 1902 Education Act, which enabled County Councils to run secondary schools, was a landmark in education, and signalled the beginning of the end for Hawkshead Grammar School. With aging facilities and a dated curriculum the school could no longer continue, and it closed in 1909, after 324 years.

Not just a museum

Hawkshead Grammar School Museum is operated by the Hawkshead Grammar School Foundation, whose main purpose is to provide grants to young people to assist their further education, vocational training, or entry into work. They must come from the Ancient Parish of Hawkshead to be eligible.

The Wordsworth Connection

William Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School from 1778, along with his brothers Richard and John and Christopher. They were sent there following the death of their mother. The school was chosen because it had a strong reputation for a sound teaching and was considered good preparation for university entrance.

William enjoyed his time at Hawkshead. He was interested in the natural world and would spend his free time in the summer going for long walks alone on the fells around Hawkshead. In the winters he learned to skate on Esthwaite Water.

In educational terms he was, by all accounts, a model pupil, developing a love for Latin literature and demonstrating a high level of ability in mathematics.

The Wordsworth brothers boarded with a local quaker family, the Tyson's, first of all in a cottage in Hawkshead and later in a house in the nearby village of Colthouse, where there was a strong quaker presence. 150 years after William boarded there, the house in Colthouse was bought by another of Lakeland's literary giants, Beatrix Potter. It is now in private ownership.

The Christian family connection

Before the death of his mother, William Wordsworth attended Cockermouth Free School. Also a pupil there at the time was Fletcher Christian, of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame. Fletcher Christian's brother, Edward, was at Hawkshead Grammar School at the same time as Wordsworth, although not as a pupil. In 1781, At the tender age of just 23, he gained the position of headmaster. However, within a year he had returned to Cambridge to further his ambition for a career in law. He became a judge in 1782.


There are no catering or toilet facilities, however, there are public toilets 100 yards away and a number of cafes and inns in close proximity.

Park at the main car park in Hawkshead. (pay and display)

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