The Preston Grammar School

The Foundation of the School


The Preston Grammar School building stands in College Square at the east end of Stokesley and according to its foundation stone was erected in 1832.

The founder was a local attorney, John Preston, whose will specified (amongst other bequests) that the sum of £2000 be left in trust to Christopher Dobson, John Gillson and Richard Rooke, on trust to be invested in "Government or other real securities at interest" and then called in and used in part as necessary for the "rebuilding or enlarging the old schoolhouse formerly erected in the town of Stokesley by subscription". Failing that the Trustees were to "apply so much of the said sum of £2000 as may be found necessary in purchasing such a lot or piece of ground as may be thought convenient for building a new schoolhouse within the said township".

The money that was not used in the building was to be invested and the interest used as "a stipend or salary to such schoolmaster from time to time to be elected". Preston further stipulated his desire that the schoolmaster "may always be a person duly qualified for teaching the Classicks, English, writing and Arithmetick"

The school was to provide free education for twelve or more poor children of the township of Stokesley…whose parents may be thought so poor as not to be well able to pay for their learning" Preston went on to say that the "committee" (see below) of the school might increase or decrease this number as they "think proper".

Any candidate for the position of Master of the School had to be examined by the Rector of Stokesley or his representative, and successful candidates would then be given a certificate to show that he was a person in every respect duly qualified to be appointed master of the said school"

The initial Trustees of the school were to be the three persons named above together with the Churchwardens and the Overseers of the Poor of Stokesley. On the death of the three named men or any one of them, the Trustees could nominate and appoint Three or more substantial householders within the said township to act along with them as trustees. The Trustees were to form a committee which would have full power to make rules, orders and regulations for the proper management of the school in order to benefit it. The Committee was also given the right to dismiss and replace any master found guilty of misconduct or irregularity in his behaviour" and to replace masters who had died.

The Court of Chancery and Delays in Opening the School

The founder, John Preston, was born in 1725. He was the son of John Preston senior, also an attorney, and his wife Jane (nee Johnson). Through Jane the Prestons were connected with the Ingilby (or Ingleby) family of Ripley Castle (pictured below right), when Mary Pritchard (nee Johnson) married Sir John Ingilby. John Preston junior had two sisters, Jane and Mary, perhaps named one for her mother and one for the wife of Sir John Ingilby, and we have no evidence of tensions between the families. It was however the Ingilby family that eventually challenged the will in the Court of Chancery.

John Preston junior died in 1814 and the following death notice appeared in the York Herald and Advertiser on 16th April of that year:
“On Wednesday week at Stokesley, John Preston Esq aged 89, deservedly respected for his benevolence, which he has crowned by bequeathing 2000L (£2000) for the establishing of a charity school at that place”

However, more than 3years later, there were details remained to be resolved - as illustrated by the following notice:
“The first and second cousins of John Preston, late of Stokesley in the North Riding of the County of York, Gentleman, deceased, and as such claiming to be intitled to a Share of the residue of his Effects are desired to send forthwith to William Powell, Solicitor, Stokesley an account specifying their Names, Places of Abode, and other requisite Particulars, the Executors intending to make distribution of such residues immediately.
York Herald and Advertiser, 23rd August, 1817

The planned 'distribution' never took place, however, as the will was referred to the Court of Chancery, which dealt with inheritance cases. This Court was renowned for its slowness in dealing with claims (as parodied in Dickens' Bleak House) and the case of John Preston’s will was no exception.

The case was still unresolved in 1826 when the London Gazette, 18th August, published the following:
“Whereas John Preston, late of Stokesley, in the County of York, Gentleman, by his will dated the 19th day of November 1805, after sundry legacies gave all the residue of his estate unto Christopher Dobson, John Gillson and Richard Rooke, his Executors named therein, upon trust, as to one moiety thereof, to be paid to Sir John Ingilby, Baronet, the Reverend Henry Ingilby, Clerk, and Mary Richmond, relations on the part of his mother, and to such other of his relations as should be his own cousins on the part of his father, and should be living at the time of his decease equally between and amongst them; and as to the other moiety thereof upon trust to pay the same to all such persons as should be his (the testator’s) half cousins on the part of his father, and should be living at the time of his decease equally between and amongst them. And by an order of the High Court of Chancery made in a cause wherein Sir William Ingilby, Baronet and others1 are plaintiffs, and Christopher Dobson and others are the defendants it was referred to Sir Giffin Wilson, Knight, one of the Masters of the said Court, as to inquire and state to the Court who were the persons answering the description of residuary legatees under the will of the said testator, living at the time of his death and if any of them are since dead who are their personal representatives -. All persons claiming to be such residuary legatees and to have been living at the time of the said testator’s death (which happened on or about the 6th day of March 1814) or to be the legal representatives of any of them who have since died are forthwith, by their solicitors, to come in before the said Master at his Chambers in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, London, in order that they may not be excluded the benefit of the said order”

Possible Explanations of the Referral to Chancery

It should be noted that the Court of Chancery was an unusual institution in that it sought to reach a fair conclusion to cases placed in its jurisdiction rather than to follow the letter of the law. For this reason alone proceedings were frequently protracted as consideration was given not just to the intent of a testator, but to the fairness of that intent.

In John Preston's will there were several bequests, one of which was £2000 for the founding of a charity school (i.e. later known as Preston Grammar School), and the residue of his “estate” was divided into 2 equal halves (2 moieties). One half went to 3 relatives of his mother and to John’s cousins (which included the Ingilbys), while the other half was to be divided equally between John’s half or “second” cousins. It is quite possible that the Ingilbys felt that the proportions were unfair, and hoped to gain a larger share. Moreover, the will of John Preston senior (which had been made in 1767 and had only recently been 'discovered') had not been acted upon when HE died. This meant that part of the estate that was being dealt with under Preston junior's willcould arguably rightfully belong to other persons who should have benefited under the will of Preston senior. This would have afforded plenty of opportunity to challenge John Preston junior's right to bequeath property inherited from his father.2


Due to the contestation of the will none of the estate including any bequests could be distributed. Therefore until the challenge had been settled in Chancery the school could not be set up.

Go to:
John Preston Senior and the link with the Ingilby Family
Establishment of the School and its Rules of Governance
Preston Grammar School - the Headmasters and their Work
Foundation Boys
Appendix - the Will of John Preston senior

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