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School House

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 4 months ago

1 – 9 Market Square, Amersham, formerly called the Church House or Town House and then later the School House


Location – north side of the Market Square, close to St Mary’s Church



Construction – The building appears to have grown up around a late 15th century timber-framed building of 5 bays, approximately 70 feet long by 24 feet deep. It had a jettied first floor room over an open space at ground floor level. This space may originally have been created to provide a covered market area. The building has been considerably altered over the centuries, including enclosing the open ground floor area, adding extensions and tiling the roof. It is thought that the roof was originally thatched, as in the 17th century bills for the repair to the thatch have been found in the Church records.


Please add photographs.



History of the building


The earliest use of this building may have been as the meeting room for the fraternity of St. Katherine. This guild was an organisation of local craftsmen and tradesmen who paid fees to the guild so that in times of hardship there were funds available to help the families of members who had died or who were unable to work. The guild carried out a number of civic and charitable activities. The Fraternity also maintained the altar to St Katherine in St Mary’s Church. Evidence from wills of local men shows that money was often left to buy candles or pay for a priest to say Mass at St Katherine’s altar for the soul of the departed. This practice was usual in the period before the dissolution of the Chantry Chapels by Edward VI around 1540.


The first floor may originally have been one large room. It was probably the venue for meetings of the fraternity. When there was a chantry priest for the altar of St Katherine, he may also have had lodgings here.


When the Fraternity was disbanded, following the dissolution of the Chantries, it appears that the Church took over the building as it features in their records for the years 1539 – 1541. In 1541 it was let to William Evans, who is referred to as the ‘tenant of Church House’. Later records refer to the building being let out in 1597 and in 1605, when John Sutton, the overseer of the poor had part of the building. An act of parliament in 1572 first enabled parishes to appoint an official, known as the ‘overseer of the poor’ to collect donations for the poor. Later legislation in 1597 converted this into a poor rate and the act of 1601 allowed parishes to build workhouses.


By 1617, the ‘Linnen Workhouse’ was established in the eastern end of the building that had been separated by a brick wall from the rest of the building. Bill totalling £6 4s 1d have been found from this date for repairing the ‘Town House’. John Gregory the tenant was described as ‘Church Warden and Overseer of the Workhouse’. He supervised four ‘godly widows’ who carded, spun and wove the linen fibres into cloth. At about this time a gabled extension was added to the rear of this bay of the building.


During the early years of the 17th century the Rector of Amersham was Dr. Robert Challoner. In his will of 1620, Challoner directed that the rent from a farm in north Buckinghamshire should be used to erect a free grammar school in Amersham, which would be held in the Church House. He also provided £20 per annum to pay the schoolmaster.  When Challoner died in 1624, the school was established, with the Curate acting as schoolmaster. The school used the upper room in the central part of the Church House, which became known as School House. The west end of the building was extended, the ground floor enclosed and a gable added to the front in 1624 to create a house for the schoolmaster. Bills from this time include one for a thatcher who received one shilling and eight pence per day.


The middle three bays at ground floor level were probably enclosed in the late 17th century, between 1689 and 1699. The central door to the school was added at this time, although the carved inscription of “Grammar School 1624” looks more recent. A bill for three shillings and six pence for repairing the chimney top in the free school suggests that chimneys and fireplaces were also added during the 17th century.


Challoner’s School was closed from 1642 – 1650 during the Civil War and again in 1658 due to lack of money. A chancery case in 1676 restored the schools funds, but it did not attract more pupils. In 1699 Cheyne’s writing school was established in Amersham, sharing the school room occupied by Challoner’s school. Cheyne’s taught reading and writing in English and casting accounts, more practical subjects for the sons of tradesmen. Cheyne’s school took over the entire school house in 1736 when Challoner’s moved to 111 High Street.


A map of 1742 shows both a school and a workhouse in the building at this date. By 1780, two hundred children are thought to have attended Sunday school in this building.


The building is currently divided into several shops.

Wall paintings


A number of wall paintings have been found inside this building. The largest is a depiction of Hercules. Small doodles of a 17th century face and a dove were found in an attic.

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