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Twelve Poor Scholars

The Founding of Alleyn’s School

Alleyn's was founded by Edward Alleyn, the famous Elizabethan/Jacobean actor, and contemporary of Shakespeare and Marlowe, led 'My Lord Admiral's Men', a celebrated company of players, and owned the Rose Theatre, the Bear Pit on Bankside, Southwark and the Fortune Theatre in Cripplegate.  He was also 'Master of the King's Bulls, Bears and Mastiff Dogs'. This lucrative appointment, together with other business ventures in Southwark, brought him the wealth which enabled him to purchase, for £35,000, the Manor of Dulwich for his retirement.

In 1605, determined to atone for a life of worldly preoccupations, he set about creating his great charitable foundation: ‘Alleyn's College of God's Gift', which was to consist of twelve poor scholars - six poor brethren and six poor sisters. The Master was originally to be chosen from a list of two, by lot (hence ‘God's Gift'). The original Foundation building, (still existing in the centre of Dulwich Village), consisted of a Chapel, with residences for the Master and staff in the centre, alms-houses to the left and a school to the right. It was opened with a great feast on 1st September 1616: Edward Alleyn's fiftieth birthday. Letters Patent to recognise the Foundation were granted by King James I on 21 June, 1619. Amongst the many statutes and ordinances signed by Alleyn that pertained to the charitable scheme were provisions that ‘the scholars were entitled to stay until they were eighteen’….’ to be taught in good and sound learning’…’that they might be prepared for university or for good and sweet trades and occupations.’

On 18 August, 1882 the Royal Assent was given to a reorganisation of the Foundation, and Alleyn’s School became an educational establishment in its own right, moving to our present site at Townley Road in 1887. 

Funding an Alleyn's School education  

Until the early 1930s the costs of educating Alleyn’s pupils were met by a combination of school fees, funds from the Foundation (the forerunner of the Dulwich Estate), grants from the Board of Education, and means-tested scholarships from the London County Council. Around 25-30% of the School’s pupils (including over 75% of the Sixth Form) received a free education, funded by Foundation and LCC scholarships. Nevertheless, Headmaster R.B Henderson found that the money combined from these sources was not enough to fund the School and its future developments and instituted a fundraising scheme, the Alleyn’s Association Fund.

In 1957, after a very lean few years following the Second World War, Alleyn’s financial position was made more secure when it was accepted onto the Direct Grant list, enabling it to offer the majority of its school places free of charge. Alleyn’s continued as a Direct Grant school until the Labour Government’s educational reforms and the withdrawal of ILEA support in 1970. At that difficult time the School was helped enormously (perhaps rescued) by the Worshipful Company of Saddler’s who instituted an annual grant to fund the Saddlers’ Scholarships and whose support of Alleyn’s pupils continues to this day.

In 1973, the School decided to remain independent of local authority control and to become a London’s first co-educational independent school. Alleyn’s admitted its first girls into the Sixth Form in 1975 and its first full mixed intake (in Year 7) in September 1976. From 1980 to 1997 the successor scheme to the Direct Grant system, the Assisted Places Scheme, ensured that Alleyn’s could still provide free places to those children who met the scheme’s requirement that they ranked within the top 10-15% of applicants in the School's entrance examination.

Today no form of government financial support is available to independent schools and Alleyn’s funds its costs through school fees, distributions from the Dulwich Estate, the continued generous support of the Saddlers’ and donations from our supporters.  

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Edward Alleyn

Alleyn's School is a charitable company registered in England and Wales. Company No. 09401357. Registered Charity No. 1161864.
Registered office: Townley Road, Dulwich, London, SE22 8SU. Tel. 020 8557 1500.