Follow the timeline from our foundation 500 years ago
Follow the timeline from our foundation 500 years ago
Richard Collyer becomes Third Warden of The Mercers' Company in London during reign of Henry VIII
Richard Collyer becomes Third Warden of The Mercers’ Company in London during reign of Henry VIII
The Old School is built with funds from the 'Key' and the 'Sunne' next to St. Mary's Church in HorshamMore Info
Richard Collyer’s widow remarried twice, first to Robert Packington, reputed to be the first person to be assassinated by pistol, and then to another wealthy merchant and Mercer Michael Dormer, previous Master of the The Mercers’ Company and subsequently Lord Mayor of London. As her children from her marriage to Richard Collyer had died, the company moved forward now to implementing the bequest in the will of 1532 and land was purchased next to St. Mary’s Church in the centre of Horsham to build the new school. The first master of Collyer’s School, Richard Brokebank, was selected by the Vicar, Churchwardens and ‘honest parishioners’ following apposition at St. Paul’s School.
James Alleyn, whose wife is daughter of the surgeon to Elizabeth I, becomes 5th Master, leading the school for 50 years from 1567 to 1617
James Alleyn, Master of the school from 1567-1617, raises a militia against the Spanish Armada
Old Collyerian Thomas Garnet executed by hanging due to alleged links with Gunpowder Plot conspiratorsMore Info
Thomas Garnet was a young Catholic who joined Collyer’s in 1587, aged 11. In 1593, Thomas moved to the English Jesuit College at St. Omer in France and became involved on his return to England in 1599 in the Catholic underground movement. His Jesuit uncle Henry Garnet was arrested for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot and Thomas was also imprisoned. Refusing to subscribe to a new Oath of Allegiance, he was sentenced to death as a traitor. He met his last moments with courage and spirit, claiming himself ‘the happiest man this day alive’. Thomas was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929 and canonized by Paul VI in 1970.
John Nisbet, 11th Master from 1648 to 1684, expands the buildings to accommodate 100 students
Whilst Collyer’s School was clearly far from the Great Fire of London, nonetheless as a Mercers’ School the impact of the disaster was felt close to home. The Great Fire destroyed much of Cheapside, though whilst Mercers’ Hall itself was razed to the ground the extensive archives survived including key documents referring to the first 120 years of the school’s history. Only Gresham Hall survived, which the Mercers moved to following the fire, with the company contributing to the re-building of the Royal Exchange as well as constructing a new hall to replace their lost home. Samuel Pepys wrote: ‘all the town burned, and a miserable sight of Paul’s church, with all the roofs fallen’.
Lord Keeper of the Great Seal settles dispute between Parish of Horsham and The Mercers' Company over willMore Info
At certain moments in history, Collyer’s School experienced different existential crises. The mid-1700s were no exception, with discussion between the Company and the Parish of Horsham coming to a head about costs for repair of the now more than 200-year-old building and concerns about the admission of fee-paying students and numbers on roll. Several years of legal considerations overseen by the Attorney-General were eventually settled by the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal who gave judgement on the terms of Richard Collyer’s will.
William Pirie becomes 22nd Master of Collyer's School from 1822 to 1868, lending his name to Pirie's Place in HorshamMore Info
Perhaps the most well-known headteacher of Collyer’s was William Pirie, 22nd Master of the school from 1822 to 1868. A popular retail and hospitality area in Horsham is named after him – Pirie’s Place – which houses a statue of the school leader with his donkey and cart. Appointed with some controversy, since the Parish favoured an alternative man of the clergy for the post, Pirie nonetheless presided over a long and calm period of the school’s history during which it thrived. A Company report of 1839 summarised the excellent education provided: ‘We saw an examination of the boys in History and Geography which evinced great proficiency in the scholars and reflected great credit on their instructors’.
By 1890 the population of Horsham had grown to over 10,000 and the ‘new school’ was proving too small to accommodate the demand on places. The town and the Company engaged in discussion about the preferred location of a new building – either central in the town or on land leased or bought from Mr. R. H. Hurst, a local landowner and school governor. Eventually it was settled that Collyer’s would move to a larger site between Hurst and Richmond roads on what was then the north edge of Horsham, and a new grammar school building was designed by Arthur Vernon and built by local firm Joseph Potter at a cost of £5,795.
Old Collyerians' Association founded as the alumni organisation for Collyer's School
Under the guidance of long-serving headteacher P. A. Tharp (1926 – 1956), Collyer’s experienced some major milestones in its history. Reaching its quadricentennial year since foundation in 1532, the school celebrated the event by making additions to its estate – a larger hall, four new classrooms and a sixth form laboratory. The programme for Founder’s Day 1932 reflected: ‘It is a day with a meaning for Governors and Masters, for Parents and Boys and Old Boys. It is a day of significance, too, for Horsham. By a thousand threads of relationship and friendship the School is netted into the life of the neighbourhood. It is a town event as well as a School event. All these points of view, and many others, have a part in the essence of Founder’s Day, 1932.’
Collyer's School welcomes students from The Mercers School in London as part of the evacuation efforts during World War IIMore Info
The outbreak of the Second World War brought the constant threat of aerial bombings to London and Collyer’s therefore welcomed boys and staff from the Mercers’ School as evacuees for the following three years to 1942. Students were billeted in local accommodation and joined Collyer’s boys for lessons and extra-curricular activities. Thus started a strong relationship between the two institutions that subsequent membership of the Guild of Mercers’ Scholars cemented. Mercers’ boys reminisced in their September 1942 school magazine marking the return to their London site: ‘we have been treated so kindly here, both by householders and by Collyerians, that we cannot leave without regrets. Each one of us will carry away his own memories and impressions.’
The closure of the Mercers School in London leads to alumni from fellow Mercers' schools including Collyer's to be invited to join the guild
The closure of the Mercers School in London leads to alumni from fellow Mercers’ schools including Collyer’s to be invited to join the guild
Collyer's School converts to become a sixth form college, The College of Richard Collyer, admitting girls for the first timeMore Info
Like many sixth form colleges in the country, Collyer’s converted from being a single-sex 11-18 school to a mixed voluntary-aided 16-18 college in 1976, marking an exciting new future for the long-standing town institution. The other secondary schools in the town (Forest Boys, Forest Girls and Horsham High School for Girls) became 11-16 comprehensives. In its first year as a college only a small number of girls joined from Horsham High School who wanted to choose A Levels not offered at their site, then over a period of a few years Collyer’s removed one by one its lower year groups by not recruiting new students and merging in new Year 12 students from its partner schools. In 2026 Collyer’s will mark 50 years as a forward thinking sixth form college proud of its past – representing one tenth of its history reaching back to King Henry VIII.
New £2M Collyer's library opened to provide state of the art facilities for modern learning and research