Botesdale sign

Botesdale Chapel Of Ease

The Botesdale Chapel Of Ease was endowed as a Chantry (an endowment founded for a priest or priests to celebrate masses for the soul of the founder) in the 16th century by John Sherriff with income to pay for a priest and prayers for him and his wife.

The chapel fell into disrepair and Queen Elizabeth gave it to Sir Nicholas Bacon of Redgrave Hall to found a free grammar school for the education of poor local boys. The school opened in the 1560s and six scholarships were endowed to Bennett College (now Corpus Christi) at Cambridge for boys from this school. The school was successful for 100 years, sending many scholars to Cambridge.

In 1668 William III succeeded to the throne. The Rector of Wortham, Samuel Leeds (headmaster of Botesdale School) and the citizens of Eye were among the supporters of King James and they held a meeting on Botesdale Market Place, where they drank confusion to King William. Samuel Leeds was sacked by Sir Nicholas Bacon and pilloried at Bury.

The usher took charge of the school but was dismissed for theft of school property. In 1698 only ten boys attended the school. Samuel Malbourne then took over and raised the school to among the finest in East Anglia, filling the school with paying boarders to the exclusion of poor local boys. The disgruntled parishioners sought councel’s opinion, resulting in six boys again being admitted.

Things went downhill until the appointment in 1791 of Rev. William Hepworth as headmaster. He ran the school as the founder had prescribed, reviving days of Malbourne and taking his quota of free scholars.

A commercial school had recently opened not 100 yards away under Rev Haddock (on the site of Simonds Garage). In 1822 the six free boys were sent to this school and Rev Hepworth closed the school but continued to live in the free school house and drew both the master’s and the usher’s salaries until he died in 1841! He was buried in Wattisfield Church. His son then held office until he died in 1869, having never taught the boys!

Meanwhile the Commercial school gained in prestige and efficiency. Mr Laker was appointed headmaster by the Marquis of Lothian and allowed the school to be called “Botesdale Grammar School founded by Sir Nicholas Bacon”. This school closed in 1878 at Laker’s death.

The Charity Commission then became involved resulting in The Bacon Exhibitions Establishment Scheme being approved by Queen Victoria in 1881. The 400 year old chapel was restored to the parish and the school house was sold and became a successful private girls school, then a doctor’s residence. The proceeds of the sale and a charge of £30 p.a. provided help in school and university education for boys in Redgrave, Botesdale and contiguous parishes.

A famous old boy was “Phiz”, (Hablot Browne) the illustrator of Dickens.

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Page last updated: 12 Jul 2022
© Diss Family History Group & Nigel Peacock 2021