History & Archive
The school recently celebrated its 475th anniversary – as you can see we are no ordinary school and have a rich history, which our students learn about during their time with us.
The Nicholas Gibson Free School was founded in 1536 by a prominent London citizen who earned his living as a grocer. On his death in 1549 Gibson’s wife, Avice, took over the running of the School which could take up to sixty boys, although only 30 were free scholars. In 1552 she asked the Coopers’ Company to undertake this task for her and thus the School included the Company’s title in its name. The School was situated in Ratcliffe, a small parish bordering the Thames and the original site of the School is still traceable, fittingly in School House Lane in Stepney.
In 1574 Henry Cloker, another grocer, left to the Coopers’ Company some London property, the proceeds of which were to be applied in part to the augmentation of the salaries of the schoolmaster and the usher; with additional gratuities from the Company their salaries had risen to £23 6s. 8d. and £9 13s. 4d. by 1596, but for long after that date there was no further change and the holders had to rely increasingly on fees from private pupils and other perquisites.
About 1590 the permanent association between the Coopers’ Company and the charity was symbolised by the removal of the arms of the Grocers’ Company from the outer wall of the schoolhouse and the substitution of those of the Coopers.
In 1654 it was decided that in future the thirty free scholars were to be chosen not by the schoolmaster but by the Company, and that admission fees were not to exceed 18d. Since it was claimed that the founder had intended that instruction should be limited to Latin, reasonable fees might be demanded for teaching writing and arithmetic. Additional private pupils might be taken and the usher was permitted to continue the practice of teaching girls and ‘incidental’ scholars after school hours.
A pupil of the period was Charles Smith (1713-77), who later wrote tracts on the corn trade which were highly praised by Adam Smith.
The School remained there until 1892 when it moved to premises in Tredegar Square in Mile End, where it remained until the move to Upminster. Prisca Coborn, the widow of a brewer, founded a School for both boys and girls in 1701, as a result of the terms of her will published in the year of her death. The School was first housed in a site east of Bow Church, but it soon moved to a site between the church and Bow Bridge. In 1814 the School moved to a site bounded by Old Ford Road and Fairfield Road, part of which was later to become the Bryant and May match factory (now a housing development), visible from the Eastern Region railway line into Liverpool Street. In 1870 the School moved to the site in Tredegar Square, later to be occupied by the Coopers’ Boys’ School. In 1891 the two Foundations were united. As the boys moved to Tredegar Square, Coborn, now an all-girls’ school, moved to 86 Bow Road. In 1898 this school was relocated at 29-31 Bow Road, where it remained until the move to Upminster.
One important aspect of our history is the contribution that the school made during the two World Wars in the 20th Century. Many of our students fought (and died) in the First and Second World Wars and this is an important part of the school’s history. On the links on the right you will find some of the documents from our archive from this time. There is a commemorative list of the those members of our school community who gave their lives in the First World War. You will also find copies of the annual magazines from 1916, 1919 and 1921, similar to our School Newsletter, which is still produced today. The school has a rich archive and museum both in the school and in Coopers’ Hall at Devonshire Square.
As a result of the amalgamation of the two schools, the new site was first occupied at Upminster in 1971, and by 1973 the whole school had moved onto the suburbs, where there are now over 1300 pupils. New buildings have regularly been erected – The McEwan Building for ICT in 1986, The Ratcliffe Building, housing the new Science Block, was opened in 1996; Science gained further accommodation with the Ansell Building added in 2006. The Prisca Coborn Building for Languages was opened in 2002, The Nicholas Gibson Building for Music and The Palmer Pavilion in 2004, and a 6th Form Art Studio Extension in 2007. Most recently of all our Sixth Form Centre was opened in 2011.