I may as well say it at the beginning. Thomas Seckford did not found Woodbridge School. There – that’s done!
This year we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Seckford’s birth. There will be activities throughout the year, and Woodbridge Town is running a week of special events. I know this because I am doing a lecture on the Life and Legacy of Thomas Seckford. If there is one mistaken view out there it is that Thomas Seckford was responsible for the school’s birth in 1662. He was not, but he fully deserves to be thanked by pupils past and present because the school they attended would not exist today had it not been for his extraordinary generosity.
Seckford lived and worked during the Tudor era, and rose to become one of the two Masters of the Court of Requests for Queen Elizabeth. He was at the centre of government, and in many ways he played a part in sustaining the achievements of that first Elizabethan Age. He made quite a lot of money, too, and because he was fond of his Suffolk roots, having been born at Seckford Hall, throughout his life he improved Woodbridge. The Shire Hall was one of his gifts to the town. He also chose to live there, building the Abbey in 1564 as his town house. He owned the Tide Mill too so he was very much involved in the life of the townsfolk.
With old age he turned his attention to the poor of Woodbridge, founding an Almshouse for 13 poor men. Using the rents from property he owned in Clerkenwell he provided for it even after his death in 1587.
A school had been founded in the town in 1577 by Thomas Annot of Lowestoft. But it did not last long, and a decade into the 17th century it had ceased to exist. Had Thomas Seckford thought about providing a Grammar School in the town he would have dismissed the idea because there was one there already.
In 1662 local worthies – Marryott, Burwell, Seckford (Dorothy) and Willard got together and established a school which occupied a building in Seckford Street opposite the King’s Head. It is still the Seckford Foundation HQ. So how did Seckford become involved – after his death?
To be brutally honest, the school was all but finished at the beginning of the 19th century. It had massive money problems and its reputation was not good either. At the other end of Seckford Street the Almshouse (or Hospital) was embarrassingly successful: After a massive rebuilding and enlarging programme there was still lots of money unspent. It was suggested that the two charities (Hospital and School) should be combined, by Act of Parliament, so that the school could be saved. In 1865 the first pupils arrived in the new schoolroom on the Bredfield Road site. They were taught in what is now the Staff Common Room, and the boarders lived in Marryott House. The rest, as they say, is history.
So it is right that the school celebrates the life of Thomas Seckford. Everything we enjoy today derives from his generosity. Of course he had no idea he was doing any such thing, but I like to think he would be proud of his old town and if he walked around it he would agree his money had been well spent.
May I wish you all an enjoyable and successful 2015.