The School was set up in 1509 after Robert Beckingham, a Freeman of the City of London, left a bequest in his will to establish a free school in the historic town of Guildford.
In 1512, Beckingham’s executors formally conveyed the lands in the bequest to a body of trustees consisting of the Mayor of Guildford and four ‘sad and discrete men’ who had formerly been mayors. With the rents they were to provide a free grammar school in Guildford with a ‘sufficient schoolmaster’. The architectural heart of the School has remained unchanged for nearly five hundred years: an outstanding and imposing Tudor school house at the top of the High Street continues to be one of Guildford’s most iconic and instantly recognisable landmarks.
The granting of the Royal Charter
The Mayor and Approved Men of Guildford petitioned Edward VI to grant them further endowments for maintenance. In January 1552, Edward VI ordered that there was to be “one Grammar School in Guildford called the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI for the education, institution and instruction of boys and youths in Grammar at all future times forever to endure” and the School acquired the right to style itself Royal Grammar School.
Ever since, the Tudor rose has been symbolic of the RGS and the School’s pride in its royal origins, wholly appropriate for an institution whose architectural heart is its historic Tudor buildings and where the royal charter is, to this day, proudly displayed.
The Chained Library
The Chained Library is notable as one of the few original chained libraries remaining in a school. The practice of chaining books to shelves traditionally allowed important or valuable books to be placed in communal areas for public perusal rather than being locked away; this paved the way for the public library system.
John Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich (1560 – 75), was born in Guildford and left in his will, “the most parte of all my Latten bookes whereof shall be made a catalogue as shortelie as I may God sendinge me lief.” Most of the books reached the School and were housed in the newly-completed gallery where they still remain.
The gallery was enlarged in 1650 by Arthur Onslow and the present bookcases date from 1897. The oldest book in the library was printed in Venice circa 1480. The oldest English book was printed circa 1500 with the imprint of Wynkyn de Worde. It escaped the fire of 1962 with some damage and was restored in 1965.
The library contains two early editions of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia.