Sexey's history: Where does the name come from?

We often get asked about our school name. Sexey’s School is named after Hugh Sexey, who was born into a humble background in or near Bruton in the mid 16th century.

An element of mystery surrounds his origins. A baptism of a ‘Hugh’ is recorded in Bruton Parish Church on 18th November 1556 and early Twentieth centrury scholars had suggested this was Sexey. However records of land conveyance suggest his birth was more likely to have been c.1540.

Although Sexey received some education, mainly in Latin, probably at the local Free School (now King’s School), he was apparently largely self-taught and, despite his humble origins, rose to important government positions. Some time probably in the 1570’s Sexey was appointed as a clerk within the Exchequor during the reign of Elizabeth I and later rose to become an Auditor to James I in 1603.

Through these influential positions Sexey became a rich man, amassing a fortune mainly through fees, revenues, property dealings and money lending. During his life he undertook many charitable activities in the Bruton area and to ensure these continued after his death most of his estate was transferred to twelve Trustees in 1616.

Sexey’s Hospital: the site of the first Sexey’s School

After his death in 1619, in absence of any instruction, Sexey’s Hospital was established by the Trustees to care for twelve poor, elderly persons, an institution which still flourishes today catering for 30 independent elderly persons. The Hospital was formally incorporated in 1638. Sexey's students receive a flag from the residents of Sexey's Hospital

As well as caring for the elderly, the Trustees’ original intention was also to house and educate a number of boys and girls within the hospital. The cost of construction, coupled with the upheaval of the English Civil War, meant that it was not until the 1660’s that the first boys from local, poor families were admitted to Sexey’s. They were to be housed, maintained, clothed in blue, educated in religion and the three R’s, and controlled by a Master. At the age of 14 the boys were then to be apprenticed to local craftsmen for 7 years. The school, in the Hospital grounds, was to be “as well for girls as boys”. This sentiment seems to have not borne fruit as the school appears to have existed for boys only.

Two hundred years later the demand for apprentices had declined sharply and the Trustees closed the school, replacing it with a Domestic Training School for girls to train them in Domestic Service, a group in short supply. This school also closed in 1911.

Henry Hobhouse: 1870 onwards

The 1870s and 1880s saw much renewed interest in education at a national level and the current Sexey’s School was the inspiration of the Right Honourable Henry Hobhouse of Hadspen, who was the first Chairman of Governors. Hobhouse was a leading national politician who was M.P for East Somerset from 1886-1906, a Privy Councillor and Chairman of the County Council between 1904-1924. Hobhouse was a great believer in technical education and drafted the 1902 Education Act. After lengthy negotiations with the Visitors, Trustees and Charity Commissioners of Sexey’s Hospital and Estate, it was agreed in November 1889 to build Sexey’s Trade School on the outskirts of Bruton on land they owned alongside Cliff House with Cliff House subsequently becoming the first accomodation for boarders.

Building work started in 1891 and while it was still underway the first Head Master, W.A Knight, opened the school with 15 boys at temporary premises in ‘The Glen’ on Quaperlake Street on 6th April 1891. The new buildings (today’s Old School House) were formally opened on Prize Day, 19th April 1892.

The school later became a boys grammar school and established a reputation for academic excellence which has been its hallmark to the present day. After the 1944 Education Act the school became Voluntary Controlled, reflecting the Anglican character of its foundation, religious education and collective worship at the school being based on Christian values, derived from the Tenets of the Christian Faith.

State boarding

In 1977 the school decided to return to the original intention of the Founders by accepting girls and, in the first half of the 1980s, expanded boarding provision to become one of the largest state boarding schools in the country. At the same time, the Sixth Form expanded as a major provider of post-16 education in South Somerset. In 1991 the school assumed Grant Maintained status and in September 1999 became a Voluntary Aided School. September 2003 marked a total return to Hugh Sexey’s original concept when children from Bruton were once again able to attend their local secondary school on a daily basis.

The school crest

The school’s emblem of a two headed spread eagle is taken from the seal used by Hugh Sexey later in his life which can be seen on his memorial on Sexey’s Hospital, the Sexey’s blazers and on the school’s honours boards. The seal is a simplified form of his coat of arms. The school’s uniform uses the seal as the blazer badge, including a pair of spread eagles above a bar of Or (gold) on a field of deep red, whilst the crest used on all school stationery and branding is a modernised, minimalist interpretation of a single double headed spread eagle, inspired by those on the original Sexey’s coat of arms.

Traditionally the spread eagle was considered a symbol of perspicacity, courage, strength and even immortality in heraldry. Prior to notions of medieval heraldry, in Ancient Rome the symbol became synonymous with power and strength after being introduced as the heraldic animal by Consul Gaius Marius in 102BC (subsequently being used as the symbol of the Legion), whilst it has been used widely in mythology and ancient religion. In Greek civilisation it was linked to the God Zeus, by the Romans with Jupiter and by Germanic tribes with Odin. In Judeo-Christian scripture Isa (40:31) used it to symbolise those who hope in God and it is widely used in Christian art to symbolise St John the Evangelist. An heraldic eagle with its wings spread also denotes that its bearer is considered a protector of others. Sexey’s seal and crest may have included the spread eagle to symbolise the family’s Germanic heritage.

The school song

Hear mighty Lord,

Thy Sexeian’s humble cry:

Hear, mighty Lord,

Inspire with motives high.

For work and School,

For students here and past

Grant thankfulness,

And endless rest at last.

Anon, 1949