In the 16th century Dedham, later made famous through the pictures of John Constable, reached a peak of prosperity thanks to the cloth industry and consequently saw the establishment of two schools by local benefactors: The Grammar School (later the Dedham Royal Grammar School) and The English School (later Sherman’s).
The Grammar School which derived from a school kept in a house given by Dame Joan Clarke (d.1541) was given a charter in 1575 by Queen Elizabeth. It originally provided education for up to 20 poor boys in classical subjects such as Latin and Greek grammar and took boarders who lived in the attics. In the 18th century the school was still a boarding school and in the 19th century it was attended by John Constable when Dr Grimwood was the Headmaster, although not as a boarder. The school closed in 1889.
This particular advertisement demonstrates the effort on the part of the present headmaster, Revd Mr William Colchester, who in 1765 sought to attract new pupils by emphasising the importance of writing. Writing was one of the requirements of William Littlebury who in 1571 bequeathed a farm to be used as a school building. The title of the advertisement thus reads ‘The Writing Masters � Invitation and Instruction’. The word ‘writing’ is mentioned several times and is associated with the idea of virtue. According to the author learning to write (and one assumes to read) at the Grammar School was supposed to bring social equality to the poor children of Dedham and its neighbourhood. Learning will ‘render(s) them equal…to those of honourable descent’. Reading and Writing will bring them knowledge ‘Tis to the pen and press we mortals owe all we believe and almost all we know’ claims the advertisement.
By the 18th century Grammar Schools such as Dedham’s were generally attended by the wealthier members of the community and followed the current wish for a more equal society. Thus children of all classes mixed together, however poor children were often not allowed to be with the more privileged outside school hours.
The Italianated illustrations used here also demonstrate on the part of the headmaster the wish to impress by alluding to the fact that he possibly went to Italy on a Grand Tour and was therefore well educated. Following the fashion of the mid eighteenth century for anything Italian, he has included a drawing of St Peter’s Square in Rome. The other illustrations are probably the products of the artist’s imagination.
Dedham in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Booklet published by the Dedham Vale Countryside Centre, Essex, 1999
Yearsley, Ian, Dedham, Flatford & East Bergholt, Phillimore & Co Ltd, Chichester, West Sussex, 1996