Repton School

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Repton School

DE65 6FH

Coordinates52°50′27″N 1°33′04″W / 52.8409°N 1.5510°W / 52.8409; -1.5510Coordinates: 52°50′27″N 1°33′04″W / 52.8409°N 1.5510°W / 52.8409; -1.5510
TypeIndependent, day and boarding school
MottoLatin: Porta Vacat Culpa
(The gate is free from blame)
Religious affiliation(s)Christian
  • Bequest made: 1557 (1557)
  • Land acquired: 1559
FounderSir John Port
Local authorityDerbyshire County Council
Department for Education URN113009 Tables
HeadmasterMark Semmence[1]
Age range13–18
Enrolment640 (2018)[2]
Colour(s)Navy and yellow
AlumniOld Reptonians
Preparatory schoolRepton Preparatory School

Repton School is a mixed co-educational independent day school, for pupils from ages 13 to 18, in Repton, Derbyshire, England.

The school admitted only boys for its first 400 years, but started accepting girls in its sixth form early in the 1970s, and within 20 years became fully co-educational.[3]

The school's motto, Porta Vacat Culpa ("the gate is free from blame"), is a quotation from Ovid's Fasti.[4] "The gate" (Porta) refers to the school's arch and, by a synecdoche of pars pro toto, the school itself, whilst also being a pun on the name of the school's founder, Sir John Port.[5][6][7]


The school was founded by in a bequest of Sir John Port of Etwall in Derbyshire, who died in 1557 leaving funds to establish a grammar school at Etwall or Repton, provided the students prayed daily for his family's souls.[8]

In 1559, Gilbert Thacker granted buildings at the site of Repton Priory for the school, but lawsuits quickly began between the School and the Thacker family focusing on use of the approach to their home.[9]

Relations with the Thackers deteriorated such that, by the 1650s, the school and the family were embroiled in litigation. In 1642, the school commenced an action against the Thacker family and, in 1652, the family also brought an action against the school which was settled out of court. The atmosphere around the dispute was aggressive and on occasion the Thackers diverted drains into the school's buildings by constructing dams. In 1670, a wall was built to keep the parties apart.[9]

Pupil numbers swung between 80 and 200 in the first hundred years, but as the school was free until 1768 it is unclear how teaching was afforded. The headmaster was free to keep cattle in a room within the school in this period.[9]

A pupil's letter home in 1728 relates to his father that the headmaster, George Fletcher, would withhold meals from the boys if they were unable to recite scripture.[9]

Repton Grammar School, Repton, Derbyshire: gateway. Tinted lithograph by Hullmandel & Walton
Repton Grammar School gateway: tinted lithograph by Hullmandel & Walton

The school declined in the 1700s and the 1800s. Pupil numbers were under 50 by 1833, and a former pupil recalled after leaving:

"even more than the paucity of its numbers, was the almost total absence of all those facilities... cricket ground we had none. Football was played upon the gravel, between the Arch, and the broken pillars...No gymnasium, no fives court, no racquet court...No French, no German, no Music, no Natural Science... No chapel, no master's house beyond the Arch, no bridge (at first) across the Trent, no railway.... Why did even 50 boys resort to Sir John Port's old School?"[9]

Although by the 1830s some of the reforms of Dr. Thomas Arnold were being put in place at the school,[9] the school declined further in the following decades. Decline was paused by headmaster Steuart Pears, who worked hard to raise the school's status and reputation.

A big effort was made with Charity Commissioners and the Clarendon Commission to have the school accepted as one of the great public schools.[9] However, Repton was excluded from their 1864 report (which included only nine schools), and the school was thus excluded from the Public Schools Act 1868.[10]

In 1884, a chapel was added to the school's buildings.[11]

Harold Abrahams, joined the school in 1914
Harold Abrahams joined the school in 1914

Between 1900 and 1914, the "Black Book" (the school discipline record) recorded 38 instances of immorality within the pupil community. Punishments for this activity ranged from caning to expulsion.[12] Most of the activity was performed in groups, with research concluding "what we are seeing here is [not] the victimisation of couples, but the periodic purges of small cadres of peers".[12] Immediately after this period, when Fisher became headmaster in 1914, an account was as follows: "homosexuality was rife. Fisher immediately expelled two senior boys and began to rule with a very firm hand".[13]

Harold Abrahams CBE, the Olympic champion in the 100m sprint in the 1924 Paris Olympics, depicted in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, joined the school in 1914. Recalling his time at the school, Abrahams said he encountered antisemitism, often feeling bullied and alone.[14]

In 1907, a gymnasium was added. This building is now listed at grade II.[15]

A reforming master, Victor Gollancz, established evening class in political education for the boys in the early 1900s. The school considered that this tended to "undermine the authority of the teachers by encouraging the pupils to ask questions and work with the boys in a colaborative way", so he was termed a "traitor" and a "pacifist" and was dismissed form the school.[16]

1,912 former pupils of the school served in the First World War, of whom 355 died in service.[17] A war memorial was added to the school's site in 1921.[18] In 1917, the writers Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward (one of the most outspoken political novelists of the era), were sent to Repton, where they formed a friendship in the sixth form, which continued when they both attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Commenting on his time at Repton, Upward reflected "everyone was homosexual, up to a point, at Repton" and the two boys revolted against everything associated with the establishment, which they called "the other side".[19] The friendship endured until Isherwood's death in 1986.

In the 1920s, the poet Vernon Watkins was sent to Repton. His quiet, gentle character provoked regular bullying in his early years, but in his last years he attained more popularity once he was able to show ability in sports. When he died, the school wrote that he was "perhaps the best poet Repton has had".[20]

The writer and painter Denton Welch was a pupil in the 1930s, and his account of running away from the school, subsequent return and miserable final term there forms the first part of his autobiographical novel Maiden Voyage (1943).

Hubert Parry originally wrote the music for what became the tune Repton in 1888 for the contralto aria "Long since in Egypt's plenteous land" in his oratorio Judith. In 1924, George Gilbert Stocks, director of music at the school, set it to the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" in a supplement of tunes for use in the school chapel. Despite the need to repeat the last line of words, Repton provides an inspired matching of lyrics and tune.[21] In the Second World War, 188 former members of the school died serving their country.[22] The school itself struggled before and during the war: the school owed £50,000 and, in 1941, the Board of Education said its "future is doubtful".[23] One boarding house (The Cross) was closed in 1938 and a second (Latham House) was closed in 1942. The total number of pupils was 353 on the outbreak of war but only 273 in 1943. Numbers then recovered. The Cross was reopened in 1945 and Latham House in 1947. By the time the school celebrated its quatercentenary in 1957, it was full with 470 pupils.[24]

In April 2018, the Charity Commission, which regulates Repton, expressed "serious concern" after four safeguarding issues came to light in as many months at the school. The Commission urged reporting safeguarding concerns to Derbyshire Constabulary.[25]

In January 2020 it was announced that the school planned to merge with Foremarke Hall School from September 2020.[26]. Repton Preparatory School, was originally founded in 1940 as Repton Preparatory; it moved to nearby Foremarke Hall in 1947.

The school employed a two-time Olympian swimmer, Scot Talbot, as its Director of Swimming in February 2020. [27]

Corporal punishment and fagging[edit]

Historically, physical chastisement of pupils was part of the culture of the school. A prefect, F. C. Freeman, wrote to The Spectator magazine about the the use of this system in 1939 as, " no "barbarous type of bullying practised by older adolescents upon younger adolescents." It is a mild type of punishment, the threat of which enables the prefects to keep perfect discipline with very little exertion[28]

The writer Roald Dahl attended in the 1930s. His experiences are related in his semi-autobiographical book Boy, in which he describes an environment of ritual cruelty, fagging and beatings: "I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely... I couldn't get over it. I never have got over it. This was echoed by Jeremy Clarkson a few decades later:

As the years dragged by I suffered many terrible things. I was thrown on an hourly basis into the ice plunge pool, dragged from my bed in the middle of the night and beaten, made to lick the lavatories clean and all the usual humiliations that... turn a small boy into a gibbering, sobbing, suicidal wreck.

In the first two years the older boys broke pretty much everything I owned.
They glued my records together, snapped my compass, ate my biscuits, defecated in my tuck box and they cut my trousers in half with a pair of garden shears.[29]

Clarkson has said that as he entered the sixth-form he was expelled for "drinking, smoking and making a general nuisance";[30]. Today, corporal punishment is no longer permitted at the school.[31]

Fagging is recorded as having taken place at Repton as recently as the 1970s[32] and 1980s, when Chris Adams was at the school and subsequently observed:"the ingrained hierarchy whereby the older boys would subject the younger pupils to a lot of misery through the system of fagging. It was basically a system of slavery and I hated seeing the young lads literally trembling with fear"[33]

In the early centuries of the school's development, a pupil role called "Cock of the School" was accepted within the pupil body. The title was conferred on a boy after fighting between likely candidates. Once a boy was incumbent in this role, the younger boys were regarded as his "slaves" and custom required them to defer to him and to do his work. Writing in 1907, G. S. Messiter described the practice as an "ancient custom".[34]


The school is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. An integrated inspection took place in March 2014, finding the school to be "exceptionally successful in achieving its aims... the quality of the pupils' achievements is excellent".[35]


In 2019/20, fees were £36,783 for boarders and £27,207 for day pupils per year.[36]

There are scholarships available for drama, sport, art, music, academic capacity and "all-rounder talent"; these do not exceed 20% of the school's fees.[37] There is also some bursary assistance.[38]


Repton Priory was a 12th-century Augustinian foundation dissolved in 1538. After dissolution, the Thacker family lived at the priory until 1553 when, fearing the priory would be recommissioned under Queen Mary I, Gilbert Thacker destroyed the church – a task almost entirely completed in a day,[39][40] – stating:

"He would destroy the nest, for fear the birds should build therein again."[39]

The School Arch, formerly part of Repton Priory, was moved to its current site in 1906.[41]

Accordingly, only parts of the original buildings remained when the school was established. These comprised:[42][41]

  • the footings of areas of the priory remain in some areas, uncovered during construction work in 1922;
  • the bases of a cluster of columns of the former chancel and chapels;
  • fragments of an arch belonging to the former pulpitum, moved to their current position in 1906;[41]
  • fragments of the door surrounds of both the chapter house and warming room.[42][43] and
  • largest surviving portion of the priory known as "Prior Overton's Tower", which is post 1437; largely altered, it has been incorporated into a 19th-century building.[44]

The 1957 400 Hall theatre was transformed and extended by Bryan Avery in 2011 following a £3.3million project.[45]

In 2013, a £9 million science priory was built. During the preparations for the building work, archaeological digs were undertaken which indicated the site had been occupied in the Roman period.[46]

Houses and pastoral arrangements[edit]

A little over two-thirds of pupils are boarders.[47] The school has 10 houses: six for boys and four for girls.


  • The Abbey
  • The Cross
  • Field House
  • The Garden
  • Latham House
  • The Mitre
  • New House
  • The Orchard
  • The Priory
  • School House[48]

Former houses[edit]

Houses that have been redeveloped or renamed include:

  • Brook House
  • The Hall (at one time divided into A-K and L-Z) – now known as School House.

Although the school is in a low crime area, there are occasional incidents. For example, in May 2015, a cache of laptops and mobiles was stolen from pupils in a boarding house,[49] while a further theft of a valuable chalice from the chapel occurred in March 2016.[50] In contrast to its twentieth century history, the school now has strong anti-bullying policies.[51]

There is an Anglican chapel which in foundation.[52]

Sports and clubs[edit]

The school competes in various sports.[53] Notable sporting former pupils include the 1932 Wimbledon tennis finalist, Bunny Austin, and several first-class cricketers.[54] In 2013, six former pupils played together in an international hockey match.[55] The school has a Combined Cadet Force and a music school, as well as various after-school clubs.[56]

Adam Peaty, the Olympic swimmer, attended the school for a period on a scholarship after his potential was identified.


Sexual abuse[edit]

In 2018 the Charity Commission expressed serious concerns about the school's safeguarding arrangements.[57] Incidents concerning that topic in recent years have included:

  • A former head of physics, John Mitchell, who was found to have abused a position of trust contrary to s.16(1)(a) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 on 6 December 2014 when he engaged in sexual activity with a female between the age of 13 and 17 and he did not believe that she was 18 or over. He also communicated in a sexual way and with sexual motivations to this same pupil.He was disqualified from teaching indefinitely by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, following a finding that this was unacceptable professional conduct.[58]
  • In October 2017 a former pupil began proceedings against the school, claiming negligence on the school's part, in connection with an alleged rape of that pupil by another pupil in 2014, when a 17-year-old pupil was arrested on suspicion of carrying out two rapes at the school;[59] in this action it is understood that it was claimed that the school failed to supervise or discipline its pupil. The claimant made a request of the Derbyshire Constabulary for the papers from its investigation, which the police refused to provide without a court order.[60]
  • In 2018 four members of the school's staff were subject to police investigation for inappropriate sexual conduct towards children, specifically: olice arrested a member of staff on suspicion of attempting sexual contact with a child;[61] a few weeks later, a second police investigation into a staff member, relating to safeguarding concerns, was launched;[62] shortly after this, a further two members of staff were reported for misconduct allegations. Local police commented: "Officers from Derbyshire Constabulary are working as part of a multi-agency team to deal with safeguarding concerns at Repton School".[63] In August 2018, one of these individuals, Jeremy Woodside, a 28-year-old former organist at the school, was placed on the Sex Offender's Register.[64][65]
  • In April 2019 a 53-year-old former teacher appeared in court after being charged with a number of sex offences against underage girls who were pupils at the school at the time of the alleged offences, including indecent assault and gross indecency with a child.[66] He is to stand trial for 11 charges in December 2020[67] [68].

Health and safety offence[edit]

Criminal enforcement proceedings were brought against the school by the Health and Safety Executive in October 2014.[69] Magistrates fined the school £10,000 following a guilty plea to a health and safety charge after an incident of negligence which resulted in a grandmother sustaining serious back, head and hand injuries.[citation needed]

Gender Pay Gap[edit]

Women on the staff were paid 56-7% less than their male coworkers at the school in 2018,[70][70] and 50% less in 2019.[71] This is about 3 times higher than the UK average gender pay gap.[72]

Failed Inspection[edit]

An emergency inspection in January 2015 was ordered by the Department for Education reviewing welfare and safeguarding compliance under the independent school Standard Regulations (ISSRs) and the National Minimum Standards for Boarding (NMS). The school failed to meet these national minimum standards at that inspection.[73]

However, the school implemented an action plan to address this.[citation needed]

Motoring incident on campus[edit]

In April 2019 a teacher at the school was convicted of driving with excess alcohol and banned from driving for 20 months. In the incident, he attempted to escape the police by darting through the school campus and mounting the pavements.[74]

Safety Incidents[edit]

A chemical spill at the school, in June 2019, resulted in nine individuals needing medical intervention and support as a result of a dangerous leak in new sports facilities requiring the attendance of several ambulances and fire appliances.[75] Fire broke out in this same sports centre in January 2020,[76] the fire was the result of faulty electrical systems, with the school being disconnected from the grid following the incident.[77][78]

Overseas Schools Licencing the Repton Brand[edit]

The school set up Repton International Schools Ltd (RISL) in 2013 to establish, develop and maintain the highest quality British international schools. The client schools are generally funded by partners, sometimes private equity firms, who are licensed to use the Repton School "brand".[79] RISL covenants its profits to Repton School Trust in the UK, which helps fund capital projects and bursaries.

Client schools comprise: Repton School Dubai, which opened in September 2007 and is situated on a site in Nad al Sheba;[citation needed] Repton School Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2013 on Al Reem Island, Abu Dhabi; Foremarke Dubai opened in 2013 and is located in Dubiotech, Al Barsha South and the Repton New English School in Amman, Jordan.

Further relationships are in development in, amongst other places, Oman, India and China.[80]

Yet another overseas offshoot was set to open in Bulgaria in August 2018.[81]

Social action[edit]

In May 2016, the school made defibrillators on its site available to the local community.[82] Some of the staff at the school have been vocal about the issue of speeding traffic in the village of Repton and have participated in public speed gun enforcement.[83]

Many of the school's facilities are used by the wider community. The Olympic gold medal and world record holder Adam Peaty used Repton's swimming pool as a training facility. His coach, Melanie Marshall, teaches swimming at the school.[84]

Cultural References[edit]

The school has twice, in the 1930s and 1980s respectively, represented the fictional Brookfield School in a 1939 film and a 1984 BBC version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips.[85]

Around 200 pupils were extras in the 1939 film.[86] Similarly, pupils appeared as extras in the 1984 BBC version.

The "Stig" character in Top Gear is said to have been named after the school's pejorative slang term for new boys, a private reference with the producer Andy Wilman, who attended Repton with Clarkson.[87]


Notable alumni[edit]

Roald Dahl gives accounts of his time at Repton in his book 'Boy'
Roald Dahl gives accounts of his time at Repton in his autobiography

Alumni of Repton School are known as Old Reptonians.



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  93. ^ "Mr Mark Semmence Appointed Headmaster at Repton School". Attain. Retrieved 5 August 2018.

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