The recent announcement has left many concerned about the possible loss of centuries of history and tradition at two of Coventry’s oldest institutions. Both schools were born out of the post-reformation turmoil, with King Henry VIII established in 1545 and Bablake in 1560. However, it can be argued that these dates merely signal a ‘re-founding’ of much earlier institutions, with Bablake looking back to Queen Isabella’s gift to found a chapel in 1344 and King Henry’s the successor to the Grammar School of St Mary’s Priory, established by Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva in 1043.
As we dig through the records of each school, however, it is surprising how much history they share.
The original ‘merger’ of Bablake and King Henry VIII took place in December 1975 in response to the withdrawal of the Direct Grant Scheme. The Governors of both schools agreed to unite, forming ‘Coventry School’, rather than join the City’s comprehensive system. The Headmaster of Bablake, Mr Burrough, was appointed the first Director of Coventry School until his retirement in 1977, upon which he was succeeded by Mr Cooke of King Henry’s. Any fears that the loss of externally funded places would see a drop in pupils did not materialise, and numbers at both schools remained healthy throughout the 1980s. By the time Mr Cooke retired in 1992 the Governors had such confidence in the state of the Foundation, that the schools were formally separated, each appointing their own Headmaster once again; Dr Nuttall at Bablake and Mr James at King Henry VIII.
Few realise this was not the first time that the schools had shared a Headmaster!
In 1734 Rev Edward Jackson, the Headmaster of King Henry VIII (then known as the Coventry Free or Grammar School), was also appointed Rector of Bablake Church, and as such became Schoolmaster of the adjoining Bablake School. This relationship continued under Jackson’s successors, Thomas Edwards and William Brooks until at least the 1780s, and their three-way division of duties led to a period of decline at both schools.
In contrast to the difficulties of the 18th Century, the cooperation between the two schools during the Second World War was far more productive. After the Coventry Blitz of 1940, Bablake decided to evacuate to Lincoln, while King Henry’s offered pupils the choice to evacuate to Alcester or remain in Coventry. As such, an agreement was drawn up for 61 Bablake boys not wishing to move to Lincoln, to transfer to King Henry’s in January 1941. Further goodwill was in evidence after King Henry’s was all but destroyed in the air raids of April the same year. The Bablake Governors offered use of their Science Block, which King Henry’s upper three year groups then occupied until Bablake’s return from Lincoln in the summer of 1943.
So, while we might mourn the loss of decades of sporting rivalry, it is perhaps some consolation to know that we are not the first generation thrown together to ensure the survival of these two ancient institutions. Neither school is ready to write the final chapter in their long history just yet!
Authored by Peter Burden (Bablake school archivist) and Rob Phillips (KHVIII school historian)