The remarkable history of Stoke College
Early History, 11th – 19th Centuries
A Benedictine monastery was initially founded in 1090 by Geoffrey de Clare, at nearby Clare Castle, but then moved to Stoke-by-Clare in 1124. Remaining under the patronage of the powerful de Clare family, it was a place of monastic prayer and community worship, and became one of the wealthiest monastic houses in Norman England, until a disastrous fire in the 1390s.
The name ‘Stoke College’ first appeared in 1415, when a scholarly college for priests was re-founded on the site. In 1534 Dr Walter Haddon, writing in a letter from Cambridge University, said of the College: “That place seemed in a manner to be made on purpose for scholars, both to learn themselves, and to teach others: and that its situation was such that above all others it is best suited for honest and ingenious pleasures.” The last Dean was Matthew Parker, Master of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, who as Guardian to Elizabeth I, was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury on her accession and helped to establish the Church of England.
The buildings of College were abandoned after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s; the site was bought by the Sir Gervase Elwes around 1660, who created the surviving main house and stables. The Elwes Family did not always keep the premises in fine style – indeed, one member of the family, John (Meggott) Elwes was so mean that he served as Charles Dickens’ model for Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol!
Modern History, 20th Century – Present Day
In 1897 the estate was bought by Henry Loch, 1st Baron Loch, a Victorian army officer and colonial administrator. He brought in his wife’s nephew, the noted architect Edwin Lutyens, to add a wing in his distinctive Arts and Crafts style, as well as gardens in the style of his friend and co-designer Gertrude Jekyll. The Lochs struggled to keep up the estate during and after World War Two; in 1950 they abandoned the house.
In 1954, the manor house became a small independent school, initially known as Grenville College, led jointly by two highly respected educationalists, Miss Elliot and Miss McLoad, who had previously been senior lecturers, training teachers at Bingley College in Yorkshire. They wished to educate children using more enlightened methods than those current at the time. In 1969, Miss Elliot retired and Mr. Keith Gedney was appointed Headmaster. The ensuing years were a period of significant change and in 1973 it was decided that the name of the school should be changed to Stoke College. The School continued to grow under the leadership of Mr. Gary McCellan who continued to emphasize the importance of a caring place to study and learn.
The school motto (a banner first attributed to Emperor Constantine), Sub hoc signo vinces – Under this sign you will conquer – has inspired generations of Stokians, the student body of Stoke College, to strive to achieve their best, and to be a positive influence locally, nationally and globally. Divided into two Houses, the Lions & Unicorns, students embody the spirit of these wondrous creatures: strength of character, courage, quickness of thought, respect for all others, and a deep pride and self-worth. Following a modern curriculum that embraces the best of British tradition yet balanced with an internationally minded and creative approach, today’s students continue to walk across the medieval flagstones to their lessons. They thrive in a setting that is encircled by the longest Tudor wall in England, enjoying grounds that boast an equally ancient dovecot, its own Secret Garden, tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, a croquet lawn, an extensive orchard, and a river that is teeming with trout, perch and pike. There is an abundance of birds within the estate, including swans, pheasants, tawny and barn owls, while rabbits and wild deer are frequently seen crossing the lawns. The school has hosted countless village country fairs, attracting artists and agricultural competitors from across the land. We hope to welcome you to our beautiful school, and to become part of our unique history.
Dr Gareth P. Lloyd,