Anglo Saxon

Fourteen Centuries of Learning

St Peters School in its present location outside the city walls.

Centuries before the British government’s decision to “fill the country with good schools”, the city of York contained many educational institutions, some of which are still in operation today.                   
Two schools were founded in York in the year 627: St Peter’s School and the Minster School. Both are run as boarding schools today, but 1400 years ago they were very different institutions. The Minster School was created primarily to train boys to sing in the cathedral choir, while St Peter’s taught Latin grammar.

Alcuin, best known as a scholar at the court of Charlemagne, was taken to the Minster School at a very young age. He learned the psalms, the gospels, and the writings of classical authors, which were his favourite subjects. The boys at the school would have participated in the liturgy and cathedral services, and studied the works of the Church Fathers, theology, history, poetry, and other Christian texts. Alcuin described the school in a poem, referring to the library of Christian and pagan authors housed at the school, and taught at the Minster School for over forty years, mostly teaching boys in their early teens.

Both of these schools remained in operation throughout the Middle Ages. The number of students who attended St Peter’s is hard to determine, but at least 100-150 might have been there at one time. All of these students were boys, since girls largely received their education at home. Poorer boys from the surrounding area were housed at St Mary’s Abbey, evidence that some students came to the school from outside York. School was not free, and people often left money in their wills for boys to attend. Initially St Peter’s was located in a room attached to the Minster, but by the fifteenth century it had moved to a much larger location in Petergate.

St Leonard’s Hospital not only looked after the sick and the orphaned, but also ran a grammar school for choirboys, boys from the hospital’s orphanage, as well as boys who lived on the lands owned by the hospital. Parish schools existed, for example at St Martin’s Coney Street, open only to the boys of that parish. Sometimes individual teachers or clerics might teach out of their home, and boys might be sent to the homes of relatives or family friends to receive an education.

Religion was a fundamental part of medieval education. The many York residents who could not afford to go to school took their only learning from sermons, church services and the annual religious plays.

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