Dewhurst St Mary JMI School
A Short History
By Jane Ruffell
A Short History and Some Childhood Memories of the Dewhurst St Mary JMI School, Churchgate, Cheshunt
In 1640 local lawyer Robert Dewhurst opened his school in Churchgate so that the poor boys of the parish of Cheshunt could receive an education in reading, writing and arithmetic.
In an Indenture date 31st December 1642 the school was handed over to a board of 12 trustees. The Dewhurst family have long-standing connections in the area and were a prominent family. Robert’s father, Barnard was secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, who also owned Theobalds Palace and Hatfield House. Robert himself was born in Wormley and followed a legal career, at his death he was the Keeper of the Brief’s in the King’s Bench, a distinguished role. He had 3 wives, but no heirs.
The main building, built in 1640 was originally one large school hall (now the Dining Hall) with a Trustees Room and Headmasters quarters upstairs – these areas underwent re-development in the mid-80s and were turned into residential properties.
In 1873 St Mary’s School for Girls (named after the local St Mary’s’ Church) was built adjacent to the 1640 building and was extended in 1913. The schools were merged into the now Dewhurst St Mary’s JMI School in 1958.
Having taken a keen interest in local history whilst a pupil at the school in the late 70s/early 80s, my friend and I were privileged enough to be given a special guided tour of these areas prior to their re-development by the then Headmaster, Reginald Brandling. Un-lived in since the 50s, they were at the time somewhat derelict and I remember the floors were lined with newspapers from the 1940s and 50s. As a 9 year old obsessed with history, these were things I considered to be real treasures and I grabbed myself a souvenir or two!