King Alfred's - a brief history

The school’s foundation and charter mentions money being left by ‘sundry persons’ for providing a schoolmaster in the town in the reigns of Henry VI and VII (between 1422 and 1509). John Leland, ‘the father of local history’, who travelled up and down the country on behalf of Henry VIII in 1534 assessing local centres of learning, describes two churches in the churchyard;‘one of ancient building, now used as a school’.

Empowered by a specific Act of Parliament, the Norman chapel of St Mary, which had existed since at least 1351, was converted to a school, referred to as the grammar school or the Latin School, in 1597.

Work was started on the English School; sited in St Mary's churchyard; it took 15 years to complete.

The original grammar school was discontinued when only one pupil attended. Between 1832 and 1850, it merged with the three local elementary schools; Latin was no longer taught.

July 1850
The corner stone of The Alfred Grammar School was laid to commemerate the 1000th anniversary of the birth of King Alfred the Great. The sketch right shows the school room on the left, dining hall / kitchens / offices / dormitory in the centre and a rather grand house for the master on the right.

A contemporary view of the entrance gate.

7th May, 1851
The Reverend Edmund John Smith, MA, Scholar of Worcester College, was unanimously elected as the first Headmaster. He was required to teach 12 foundation scholars for free and 12 others at a fee of £5 per term - others could be taught on his own terms. 42 pupils were on the roll - some were day pupils and some were boarders.

1868 - 1884
The school prospered under the headship of Henry Cook , who was married to the well-known artist Jane Robins. Pupil numbers rose to 70; the North Wing and the New Schoolroom (now the Resource Centre) were added, the latter opening in 1872.

The old boys thought so highly of Henry Cook that they subscribed to pay for the building of ‘Highfield House’, on the corner of Portway/Priory Road, for his retirement.

Unfortunately he died before he could take up residence, but his widow lived there until her death in 1920. It then became one of the school’s boarding houses. Jane Cook corresponded with many Old Alfredians after they left Wantage for employment further afield, often in the British Colonies.

The Lych Gate was presented to the school by the old boys in remembrance of those Old Alfredians who lost their lives fighting with the British and Colonial forces in The Great War.

The First World War memorial, presented to the school by the Old Alfredians

But the 1920s and 30s were difficult times for the school; it suffered from a lack of funding, until...

1944 Education Act
King Alfred's became Wantage Grammar School. Fees were abolished and pupils were admitted by examination.

Began to share facilities and teachers with the town's two other schools, Icknield Comprehensive and Segsbury Secondary Modern.

The school goes co-educational; girls are taught for the first time in its history. Boarding facilities were phased out at this time.

The three schools merged to become a single comprehensive school, know as Wantage School; the first principal was Michael Jones. After a period of some experimentation, it was decided to revert to the old name of King Alfred's School, a change that coincided with a new uniform and the introduction of the current logo.

1999 - King Alfred's Community and Sports College
The school became Oxfordshire’s first Sports College, and today specialist coaches, as well as highly qualified teaching staff, are involved in coaching 90 KATS (King Alfred’s Talented Sportspeople) students, including several currently representing their country in a variety of disciplines and aiming towards competing in the 2012 Olympic Games.

King Alfred’s gained Foundation Status. This is only granted to schools with a consistent track record of good results and means that, as in the rest of its long history, King Alfred’s is once more free to make its own individual stamp on Wantage and the surrounding area.


The School's architect was J B Clancy of Reading; this sketch appeared in the Illustrated London Evening News in 1850.

King Alfred - a truly Great heritage

Alfred is the only English monarch known as "the Great" - a title afforded for very many reasons. Though admittedly not much of a cook, factoids for all Old Alfredians to be be proud of their educational heritage include:

King Alfred the Great was born in 849 in the royal palace at Wantage. Aged four, he was sent to Rome to stay with the Pope; by the age of five, he could read.

Aged 19 and an excellent scholar, Alfred fought in Mercia against the Danes, alongside one of his older brothers.

His father and all four older brothers having been killed defending the kingdom against the Vikings, Alfred, aged 22, was elected (they didn't necessarily follow blood lines in those days) King.

There were many skirmishes and battles against the invading Danes, culminating in a decisive victory in 878. Then, as now, England was going to the dogs; the education system had failed, mainly due to the pillaging of monasteries by the Vikings. After this victory, Alfred declared that "all the youth now in England may be devoted to learning".

Alfred personally translated five books from Latin into English. For his dedication to literacy and learning, he became known as the Education King.

He also collected and ordered to be written the first legal code, based mainly on old Saxon laws, but including some of his own creation.

Alfred ordered the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - a history of England, starting from 1 AD - to be compiled. The Chronicle records that, in 879, there "assembled a band of pirates, and sat at Fulham by the Thames". It mentions that their leader dressed in outlandish garb; you'd think they'd have been moved on by now. Said Vikings were so miffed at being bested in battle by King Alfred that they pulled down London Bridge.

Setting sail from Portsmouth, Alfred was victor in two sea battles in the Solent against the Danes, capturing twenty of their ships in the second. Portsmouth has been the home of the English Navy ever since.

Alfred died and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester, then later moved to the New Minster. His tomb was despoiled during the Dissolution of the Monasteries; his bones may now be in Winchester Cathedral.

Another iconic figure from history, Winston Churchill, on being told that he must be the greatest Englishman that ever lived, replied "No! The greatest Englishman that ever lived was King Alfred".

King Alfred the Great - a major influence on Wantage and England