The Oldest Church School in the Diocese of St Albans
The Robert Dewhurst School Foundation was created in an indenture dated 31st December 1642 by which Robert Dewhurst handed over the school he had previously established for poor boys of the parish and its endowing property to the first body of twelve trustees. The Dewhurst family had been associated with the parish of Cheshunt at least since the end of the 16th century. Barnard Dewhurst, Roberts father, was secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh – Lord High Treasurer of England in the reign of Elizabeth I.
Robert was born in Wormley and was destined to follow a legal career, rising to some eminence, since he was keeper of the Briefs in the King’s Bench at the time of his death. Although Robert had three wives, he had no children; his benevolence through his school, however, has benefitted numerous generations of children.
In 1640 Robert Dewhurst founded his school for boys at Churchgate, Cheshunt. He was a lawyer and purchased land and built the school there. He handed over its management to trustees in 1642, three years before his death in 1645. Twelve trustees were appointed who still support the purpose of the school which was set out in the trust deed as follows: “The school to remain for ever for the benefit of children of the parish for the teaching of them there to read English, so that they may know God the better, and also to write and cast accounts so that they may be better able to be appreciated to some honest trade or mystery”
The legacy survives today in the form of the Robert Dewhurst Trustees, which administers finances to be used for educational and charitable purposes for the children in the local community.
The original school building still stands. In 1640 it comprised a large school-room and accommodation for the Master and his family. There was also a room for use by the Trustees. This building is now used by the current school as its dining-room.
St Mary’s School was built in 1873 and extended in 1913. Both Dewhurst and St Mary’s came together in 1958 to form the present Dewhurst St Mary Church of England Primary School.
*With thanks to Dennis Cracknell, Clerk to the Robert Dewhurst Foundation.