Repton School has a long and storied history spanning centuries of educational excellence in Derbyshire. The School itself owes its existence to the bequest of Sir John Port of Etwall, which enabled Repton School’s founding in 1557 on the site of an old Augustinian priory. But how the School came to be, and how the property fell into the hands of a Knight of the Shire, are a story much worth the telling.
England found itself in a state of prominent religious upheaval in the 1500s. Formerly a heavily Roman Catholic society, citizens found themselves suddenly under the prevue of the newly founded Church of England, which answered directly to its new head and leader, King Henry VIII. The King took extreme measures to separate from the Roman Catholic church and set up his own in the new Protestant tradition after his divorce was denied by the Pope. The results for the King were as desired: he was able to marry his new love interest, Anne Boleyn. The impact on the rest of the country was less amenable. Properties formerly belonging to or affiliated with the Catholic church were reclaimed, redistributed, and repurposed by the King and his subordinates. Such was the case with the Augustinian Priory located in Repton, which found itself dissolved, its residents evicted, and resold to the individual Thomas Thacker.
Meanwhile, Sir John Port was rising to prominence within all of the changes in the monarchy and religious structure in England. The son of a Cheshire judge and benefactor to Brasenose College, Sir John Port himself attended Brasenose, whereafter he rose to service to the crown and to Thomas Cromwell. With his father’s and his own achievements, Sir John began to amass a sizeable amount of land and wealth, becoming the largest landowner in the county. Despite the turmoil and changes in religious prominence throughout the country, with the rise of King Edward VI and, later, Mary I, Sir John remained popular at court and held in high esteem in Parliament.
Settling in to create a family of his own, Sir John’s main house was established at Etwall, just four miles from present day Repton. His first marriage to Elizabeth Giffard gave him five children, but sadly both sons passed away as children. A second marriage later in his life produced no heirs, leaving Sir John to get creative with his will and testament. Having passed away on June 6, 1557, Sir John Port left his legacy by requesting the founding of a grammar school in either Etwall or Repton using the funds and lands that he had amassed during his lifetime. The philanthropist also bequeathed funds to be distributed to the poor through almshouses, prisons, and marriage gifts to those experiencing poverty.
The executors of his will soon found that the school could be founded much quicker if they used an existing building, rather than erecting one specifically for the task. What they found was the availability of the former Repton Priory, allowing them to open the new Repton School within just two years from Sir John Port’s death. The land was purchased from Thomas Thacker’s son, Gilbert, in 1559. Today, Repton School stands as a monument for Sir John’s generosity and to the exemplary education that students have received there for over 460 years running.
Repton School is a co-educational independent school for boarding and day pupils aged between 13-18. The School’s values of respect, wholeness, truth, and excellence create a foundation designed to inspire wellness and development for students from all walks of life. Aims in critical, socially conscious, and confident thought help cultivate skills in teamwork, leadership, and resilience that can equip students to thrive beyond graduation.