Ipswich School – a brief history

Senior School

The first hard evidence of Ipswich School is a bill, sadly unpaid, from 1399, though the school was probably in existence well before this date.

From these humble origins the school’s early history took on a very different course with the rise to power of former pupil Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey set about refounding the school with a view to providing pupils for his college in Oxford. Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s trusted adviser, took on the task and dissolved twelve local monasteries to pay for the school.

However, just over a year later Wolsey, unable to secure a much-needed divorce for Henry VIII, fell from grace and the monarch was keen to close his new school. Stones intended for new school buildings were shipped from Ipswich to London and used to build what is now the Palace of Whitehall. Against the odds Ipswich School survived. Cromwell persuaded
Henry to grant the school its first charter, which was later confirmed by Elizabeth I.

By the nineteenth century Ipswich School moved to its current site next to Christchurch Park. Prince Albert laid the foundation stone of the main school building in 1851. Shortly after this in 1883 the Prep School was
established for children aged 7 to 11 years, providing a stepping stone to the Senior School. It moved to its striking new building in 2006.

Ipswich School can claim a number of distinguished former pupils: Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII, almost certainly attended the school. Eminent men of action include Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, the English commander at the battle of Flodden, and Rear Admiral Sir Philip Broke. He captained HMS Shannon in a celebrated engagement with the USS Chesapeake. The novelist Henry Rider Haggard was a pupil here in the 1870s and distinguished artists such as Sir Edward Poynter, President of the Royal Academy, Charles Keene of Punch, and Edward Ardizzone attended the school. In the field of science, the pioneering neuro-physiologist and Nobel Prizewinner Sir Charles Sherrington is the most distinguished Old Ipswichian to date.

Distinguished pupils

Find out how we marked the hundredth anniversary of the armistice, which brought the Great War to an end and the role played by pupils of Ipswich School.


Among many interesting facts about Ipswich School is that it is the only school which is mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s works. The reference is in Henry VIII, Act iv, Sc. 2, in a reference to Cardinal Wolsey. Queen Catharine (Catharine of Aragon) is in her apartments at Kenilworth with her attendant, Griffith. They are speaking of Wolsey’s death and Katharine describes what she sees as the corruption of the man responsible for her divorce from the King. Griffith, however, speaks well of Wolsey and describes his commitment to education. The ‘twins of learning’ were the school in Ipswich, the Cardinal College of St. Mary, built by Wolsey to give his old school a grand home and its sister, Cardinal College, Oxford.

Click here for a link to our online Museum and Archives: http://www.ipswichschoolmuseumandarchives.co.uk/