Manchester’s Grammar School spent four centuries alongside the Collegiate in Long Millgate; the road that led to the mill on the Irk, owned by the lords of Manchester a flat windowed building founded by Hugh Oldham in 1515, it was decided in the 1920’s to move it to Fallowfield. School inspectors deciding that its gloom, its noise and its size were unable to handle twelve hundred pupils.
Hugh Oldham, a native of Crumpsall like Chetham whose library shares the site, was said to be a typical Lancashire man, a rough tongue but a kind heart. Surviving testimonies say that whilst he was not a man of great learning, he had a passion to provide the means of learning to others.
The boys had to rise at 6 a.m. in the summer and 7 a.m. in the winter and those that could were obliged to use Latin at all times. It had a great reputation for the classics and in its early days, three heads of Oxford had been former pupils. It would remain strictly for English, Latin and Greek until the middle of the nineteenth century when science, modern languages and literature were admitted.
It had been a free school to this time, based on the revenues from its founders shrewd purchases but profits from the mills on the Irk were falling and the High Master F.W. Walker persuaded the governors to admit fee paying scholars and extend the curriculum. There had been great masters before Walker’s time, Purnell who took office in 1726 and remained for forty two years, introducing amateur acting and out of hours modern languages as well as a holiday library where the modern works of Pope, Defoe, Dryden and Swift were to be found and later J.L. Paton under whose tutelage three preparatory schools would open.
Something of the old building was carried to the new, its motto “fit mutatio loci non ingenii” which roughly translates as ‘We’re after the old things in a new spot’, the famous stone medallion of an owl, the symbol of Hugh Oldham.
The new building was opened in 1931 by Lord Derby, the High Master recalling that the school was returning to its origins, built in green fields with streams running by. Today it remains the largest independent day school for boys in the country, celebrating its quincentenary in 2015.
It was decided in 1968 that Chetham’s Hospital school would become a junior music school for three hundred and fifty pupils and for the first time in history co-education. Unique in size, there were only two similar schools, both in the South of England, it would compete with the best in Eastern Europe and attempt to fill the dearth of highly trained musicians in the country at the time. It was an easy decision as the school had since the war, been developing the musical talents of its pupils and supplying members of the choir for the Cathedral next door. Over the next few years it would expand into the premises of the former Palantine Hotel and purchase the former Grammar school buildings.