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 the foundation of Repton School in 1557 on the site of a former Augustinian priory. But how the school came to be, and how the property fell into the hands of a Shire knight, is a story worth telling.
England found itself in a state of significant religious upheaval in the 1500s. Once a strongly Roman Catholic society, citizens suddenly found themselves under the foresight of the new Church of England, which answered directly to its new leader and ruler, King Henry VIII. The king took extreme measures to separate himself from the Roman Catholic Church and created 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 lover, Anne Boleyn. The impact on the rest of the country was less favourable. Properties owned or affiliated with the Catholic Church were reclaimed, redistributed, and reallocated by the king and his subordinates. This was the case of the Augustinian Priory located at Repton, which was dissolved, its inhabitants expelled, and sold to the private individual Thomas Thacker.
Meanwhile, Sir John Port was gaining prominence in all the changes to the monarchy and religious structure in England. The son of a Cheshire judge and benefactor of Brasenose College, Sir John Port himself attended Brasenose, after which he rose in service to the crown and to Thomas Cromwell. With his father’s accomplishments and his own accomplishments, Sir John began to amass a considerable amount of land and wealth, becoming the largest landowner in the county. Despite the turmoil and shifts in religious prominence across 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 to create his own family, Sir John’s main home 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 died as children. A second marriage later in life produced no heirs, leaving Sir John to get creative with his will. Died on 6 June 1557, Sir John Port left his legacy by requesting the founding of a grammar school at Etwall or Repton using the funds and lands he had amassed during his lifetime. The philanthropist also bequeathed funds to distribute to the poor through hospices, prisons and wedding gifts to those living in poverty.
The executors soon found that the school could be founded much more quickly if they used an existing building, rather than erecting one specifically for the task. What they found was the availability of the old Repton Priory, allowing them to open the new Repton School in just two years after Sir John Port died. The land was purchased from Thomas Thacker’s son Gilbert in 1559. Today Repton School stands as a monument to Sir John’s generosity and the exemplary education pupils received there for over 460 years consecutive.
Repton School is a coeducational independent school for boarders and day students aged 13 to 18. The school’s values of respect, integrity, truth and excellence create a foundation designed to inspire the well-being and development of students from all backgrounds. Aiming for critical, socially aware, and confident thinking helps cultivate teamwork, leadership, and resilience skills that can enable students to thrive beyond graduation.