Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School was founded in 1527 by John Harman (otherwise Vesey) a native of Sutton Coldfield (born around 1462, died also at Sutton Coldfield in 1554).
Vesey was Bishop of Exeter from 1519 to 1551 and from 1553 to 1554, and was a close adviser to King Henry VIII, a friend of Cardinal Wolsey and a tutor to Princess (later Queen) Mary. In the original Foundation Deed Vesey gave the yearly rent of £7 payable out of some properties and land in Sutton Coldfield to 21 private trustees to pay a fit person to teach grammar and rhetoric to local boys. In another Foundation Deed of 1540 the private trustees were replaced by the members of the Town Council and in a further Foundation Deed of 1543 the properties and land out of which the rent was payable were transferred to the Town Council. In the late 16th century the School had a national reputation as a first class boarding school, but then the Town Council failed to fulfil its obligations, until 1636 when the Headmaster instituted proceedings in the Chancery Court and the Council was ordered to transfer the School funds to 14 private trustees. From then to the present day new trustees (renamed Governors in 1844) have been appointed when vacancies occur.
The original School was off Blind Lane (later Trinity Hill) near Holy Trinity Parish Church, but in 1729 a new School was built on its present site in Lichfield Road.
By the early 19th century the School’s annual rental income was £333, but the School’s popularity declined as by sticking to a strictly classical curriculum and not offering lessons in English, Mathematics or Modern Languages the School was out of touch with pupils’ expectations. In 1840 there was only one pupil at the School. In the same year the Grammar School Act, introduced to the House of Commons by one of the School’s trustees who was an MP, was passed to ensure that all grammar schools had schemes, incorporating a modern curriculum, approved by the Court of Chancery. The School’s new Rules and Regulations were approved by the Court of Chancery in 1844, which laid the foundations of a modern educational establishment. The first Clerk to the Governors was appointed and pupils were charged fees (strictly speaking the teaching of Latin grammar and rhetoric was still free).
In 1846 the Governors bought land at the rear of the School House, and in 1861 there was an extension on the north side of the School House. A more substantial extension was built on the south side in 1887 and a further extension to the rear of the 1887 building was added in 1906.
The number of pupils at the School increased from 51 in 1866 to 105 in 1875.
In 1882 a new Scheme was approved by the Charity Commission, and in view of grants becoming available from the Sutton Coldfield Town Council Governors appointed by the Council and the Ratepayers were added to the Board. In 1899 Governors were appointed by Warwickshire County Council, Mason College (later Birmingham University) and the five parish vestries of Sutton Coldfield (in place of the Ratepayers).
In 1909 a new Scheme was approved by the Board of Education and the School was divided into Upper (from age 11) and Junior (from age 7) Departments. Further land to increase the size of the School Playing Fields was purchased in 1910 and 1929, and in 1924 the Governors bought the land between the School House and Boswell Road.
The number of pupils rose from 250 in 1921 to 365 in 1929 and to 532 in 1943. The Games Pavilion was built in 1938 and the following year Big School and other buildings behind the School House were opened.
Lady Agnes Bennett was appointed as the first woman Governor in 1941.
School fees were abolished following the passing of the 1944 Grammar School Act and in 1952 the School became a Voluntary Aided School under the 1944 Act (i.e. a school set up by private donation but largely supported by public funds). The Junior Department was closed and the School became a selective school for boys who passed the 11 plus tests.
A new science block was built in 1955, and the school dining-hall and the northern block linked to the rest of the School by a covered bridge were opened in 1967. Pupil numbers increased from 602 in 1954 to 750 in 1958 and to 865 in 1971.
In 1957 the Governors sold the School Farm Estate for development (256 houses in Honeyborne Road, Carlton Crescent, Birch Croft Road, Cotysmore Road and Moor Meadow Road).
In 1962 the School’s Local Education Authority became Sutton Coldfield Borough Council in place of Warwickshire County Council, but when the Borough Council was abolished in 1974 the School’s Local Education Authority became City of Birmingham District Council (Birmingham City Council from 1986).
The boarding establishment, on the top floor of the Old School House, was finally closed down in 1969 following decades of a precarious existence.
In 1972 the age of entry was raised from 11 to 12, an educational experiment carried out in Sutton Coldfield but not in Birmingham which soon proved to be a failure, as boys came from the Middle Schools at the age of 12 no better educated than they had previously been at 11, but it was not until 1992 that the age of entry reverted to 11. In 1977 the Labour Government’s Secretary of State for Education served a notice requiring all schools in Birmingham to abolish entry by selective tests. The validity of the notice was challenged by the Conservative Birmingham City Council and the status of the School was preserved when a general election resulted in a change of government. Girls were first admitted to the School as Sixth Form students in 1983 and six years later Mrs M.E.Clarke was appointed as the first (and so far only) woman headteacher.
In 1990 and 1991 the Governors sold land behind the Guildhall (formerly the Headmaster’s orchard) and 2.73 acres of land off Tamworth Road for development and with the money were able to build the Randon Design Centre, which was opened in 1992. A new library was added in 1993 and in 1999 the Sports Hall was built.
In 1999 a new Instrument of Government brought to an end the appointment of Governors by the local parish vestries and by Birmingham and Aston Universities, but required three Governors to be appointed by the parents and three by the staff.
In the 21st century the School continued to grow in size, with over 900 students, almost one hundred full- or part-time members of the teaching and non-teaching staff and a budget of over £4 million (a far cry from the original £7 given by Bishop Vesey).