The Thomas Hardye School
"Knowledge and Truth"

The Origins of The Thomas Hardye School

Who was Thomas Hardy(e)?

We first meet our branch of the Hardye family after the death of Thomas Hardye of Sydling, father of our Thomas, in the early 1540s (dates are vague at this point, and so are worked backwards from later, known, dates). When he died, he was in the process of selling the lease on a property which he had obtained from John Browne of Frampton, who subsequently married Thomas's widow, Joan Feret of Nether Cerne, and thus became our Thomas's stepfather.

Our Thomas had an older brother, Edmund, who lived at Toller Whelme, and a sister, Agnes, who married Ellis Kymer of Cheselborough and had a daughter called Joan, after her grandmother. Edmund was married twice; Francis, his son by his second marriage, owned the leases of property in Sydling and Yetminster, and was the ancestor of the two more recent famous Thomas Hardys, the admiral and the novelist.

The Hardye Tomb

The Hardye tombs in the churchyard at Sydling St Nicholas

Being the second son, Thomas was in need of a career, which he found in the service of Sir John Paulet, son and heir of the Lord Treasurer of England, Sir William Paulet, first Marquis of Winchester. Until Sir John's death in 1576, Thomas therefore would have been involved in the various duties both at Court, and in the administration of Hampshire, where the Paulets had a number of fine houses, including Netley Abbey on the Hamble and the great Basing House near Basingstoke. It is highly likely that Thomas would have met Queen Elizabeth on one of her visits to Paulet properties.

Netley Abbey

Netley Abbey, one of the houses of the Paulets in Hampshire

Thomas is first heard of buying a house in Werymouth in 1566; he had married into the Adyn family of Dorchester and had only one child, a daughter called Thomasina, suggesting that his wife died after Thomasina was born. Thomas seems to have returned to Dorset after the death of his patron, and appears, along with his relatives the Brownes and Adyns, in a series of documents from 1579 onwards which record the birth of a strong Protestant movement in Dorchester, involving the provision of a master for the Free School and a preaching ministry at Holy Trinity church, for which he donated most of his modest estate in the area.

Hardye purchased or leased a range of property in the area, including Corfehill House in Radipole, and what is now the 'White Hart' in Melcombe Regis; the latter he gave to his nephew, Sir John Browne, a Vice-Admiral of Dorset, whose portrait is to be found in the Dorset County Museum. He retired to his other nephew's house at Wolcombe, but appears to have died in 1599 at Frampton. He is buried in St Peter's church in Dorchester.

Sir John Browne

Thomas Hardye's nephew, Sir John Browne

Tradition has it that the Hardye family came from Jersey. The le Hardy family migrated to Jersey from Normandy in the twelfth century, owing to their pro-English sympathies, which appear to have continued to cause problems - an Edmond Hardy is recorded as being ‘ostage des peskeuers de Grantchamp’ in 1419! A Jean le Hardy migrated to England in about 1490, and is supposed to be the link with our Hardyes, as our Thomas's grandfather. The Dorset historian (and former pupil of the Free School) John Hutchins suggests the coat of arms which the two families have in common as evidence, though that is all we have to go on. The arms now associated with Hardye are not mentioned in the 1565 heraldic Visitation of Dorset, though they appear to have been added at some point afterwards – Hutchins suggests 1586 as a date, and so probably at the instigation of Hardye's nephew Edmund. The arms first appear in relation to Thomas Hardye on the memorial plaque erected by his great-nephew John Browne in St Peter's church in 1629.

The Hardye Arms

The Hardye arms from Jersey on the school gates

If the Hardyes were descended from Jean Le Hardy it is strange that they did not use the connection with Jersey gentry if they were aware of it - it was a good way of claiming a Norman pedigree, the aim of aspirational gentry at the time. The problem here may be that one Clement le Hardy, father of the Jean who migrated to England, appears (at least according to the strongly Yorkist 'Chroniques de Jersey') to have ended his days in a verminous prison after a disagreement with Matthew Baker, Henry VII's choice of governor; if the pedigree had so black a sheep lurking in the immediate past, it was perhaps best avoided!

The White Hart

Thomas Hardye's house in Melcombe Regis around 1590

If there was no actual connection, the best explanation so far for the adoption of the Jersey arms in Dorset is a link whereby Hugh Paulet, relative of Thomas Hardye's patron John Paulet, was governor of Jersey from 1559, and may have suggested to Hardye at some point that his family was 'entitled' to appropriate the arms of the Jersey family. This might also explain the delay in establishing the claim after the 1565 Visitation, as well as the fact that the Hardyes seem ignorant or incurious about the pedigree which it would have been easy enough for them to establish in Jersey. Whatever the case, the arms became associated with the family, and so, at some indeterminate (probably quite late) point, with the school.

Commemorative Plaque to Thomas Hardye

Commemorative plaque to Thomas Hardye in St Peter's church

Hardye spells his name differently in each instance we have of it; standardised as 'Hardy' for centuries, it only acquired its final ‘e’ permanently in 1861, courtesy of Messrs. Shipp and Motson, editors of the third edition of Hutchins’ History of the Antiquities of the County of Dorset.

How did the school come into being?

The Dorchester Free School was built in 1567-9, (on the site of the Hardye Arcade in South Street) by the efforts of the townspeople, as a Protestant grammar school, designed for the free education of local boys in (Latin) grammar prior to university.

It could not hope to rival Sherborne or Wimborne Free Schools, with their considerable private and royal endowments, and it was not until 1579, and Hardye's deliberately Protestant statement in providing funds for the support of teaching staff, that the school appears to have become what was intended. Although Robert Napper, one of the Feoffees, donated property adjoining the school to house an usher, or under-master, no-one else followed Hardy’s example, with the result that the school was generally short of funds throughout its history.

Crickmay’s drawing of the Free School

Crickmay’s drawing of the Free School (west front) before its partial demolition in 1880

The Free or Grammar School

The Free or Grammar School during the Mastership of Maskew

The school, which incorporated materials from ‘Chubb’s school house’, was a substantial stone building; the walling stone of the street front came from the Portland beds at Upwey and the freestone for the schoolhouse behind came from the recently opened Poxwell quarry. This quality of building did not prevent it from being badly damaged in the fire of 1613. By 1618 it had been rebuilt by Robert Cheeke, one of the two Puritan leaders of Dorchester, again largely at the town’s expense, but also at his own. At this time the oak screen was added to the west end of the schoolroom, and the Queen’s arms restored to the exterior; these two items, now on display at the Thomas Hardye School, are all that is left of the C17th school. In the room above the schoolroom, (after Cheeke’s widow was found alternative accommodation!) the town library was installed, which was catalogued in 1631, and which contained a number of valuable works which unfortunately began to disappear quite quickly!

After the Restoration, the last Puritan master, John Stephens, was ejected (he had already been ejected from Bristol Grammar School!), and the Free School became a small Anglican country grammar school run by a series of pluralist clergymen who seem to have paid little attention to the state of the buildings, which were almost in ruins by 1824, and seem to have required almost continuous repair for the next fifty years. During the first half of the nineteenth century, in competition with the Academy of William Barnes, and later the County School at Charminster, the school with its predominantly classical curriculum suffered, though, unlike many grammar schools at this time, managed to keep going. The last Master of the Free School, from 1846-1879 was Thomas Ratsey Maskew; he gave his name to two characters in Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner who attended the school for a year in 1869.

Year Number of pupils
1569 5
1678 11
1783 40
1823 12
1885 73
1912 100
1927 160
1937 305
1951 476 (including 87 boarders)
1979 820 (The School becomes comprehensive)
1986 730
1993 1200 (The School becomes a mixed comprehensive)
2003 2007
2004 2370
Jacobean Screen

The Jacobean screen in the schoolroom in South Street

The Dorchester Grammar School

Postcard showing Crickmay’s rebuilt Grammar School

Rebuilt Grammar School

As was common during this period, the school was from time to time almost entirely devoid of pupils, and was lucky to survive; it was eventually closed for rebuilding in 1879 by the Charity Commission. It re-opened in 1883 with the official title of Dorchester Grammar School, with an imposing new Tudorbethan front by Crickmay, but retaining the original schoolroom behind, with a further storey on top. This school was not demolished until 1965. It had been known as ‘Hardy’s Grammar School’ in the nineteenth century to distinguish it from other schools in the town – after 1885 this became ‘Hardye’s’ with the newly-added final ‘e’, in local directories. Slowly the school grew, building more accommodation including science labs, on the premises between South Street and Charles Street.

Following the Balfour Act of 1902, as education was increasingly funded by the State via the newly- formed County Councils, the school gradually prospered, and eventually moved from the increasingly crowded site in South Street to a healthy site on land purchased from the Duchy of Cornwall, on the hill at Fordington: in 1928 the new school buildings were opened by the Prince of Wales.

Secondary Education in Dorchester

‘Hardye’s’ continued on the Fordington site as a boys’ grammar school matched by the ‘Green School’ or girls’ Grammar School in Queen’s Avenue, in about 1930. The Butler Education Act of 1944 gave rise to the Dorchester Secondary Modern School in 1945, at the end of Queen’s Avenue. The three schools became two comprehensive schools, Hardye’s boys’ at Fordington and Castlefield girls’ on the Secondary Modern site, in 1980; these were fed by the two Middle Schools, Dorchester Middle School taking over the Green School site, and St. Osmund’s being purpose-built on the SW edge of the Hardye’s site.

The Prince of Wales opens the new school at Fordington

The Prince of Wales opens the new school at Fordington in 1928

It was not until 1992 that the merger of the two comprehensive secondary schools created The Thomas Hardye School on the Castlefield site which fulfilled the dream of the sixteenth-century Burgesses of Dorchester in offering, in the one school, ‘the necessary education and instruction of Children in all degrees in good Discipline’, as had been proposed in the Deed of Endowment 430 years ago in 1579.

Thomas Hardye's signature

Thomas Hardye's signature two years before his death in 1599