The nineteen year old Henry VI founded King’s College, Cambridge and its choir school in 1441. College records reveal that there were already sixteen choristers in residence by 1447, one of whom, Thomas Roke, left on a scholarship to the sister college of Eton that year.
The statutes of 1453 laid down that these sixteen choristers were to be ‘poor and needy boys, of sound condition and honest conversation, being ascertainable under the age of twelve years, knowing how to read and sing’. Their duty was to ‘assist daily the priest …. celebrating in the chapel …. and also in the hall to assist the other servants of the King’s College by humbly and honestly ministering and serving the said fellows at table.’
Although the intention was for choristers to reside in College, by the late sixteenth century there is evidence that many, if not all, of the choristers resided with lay clerks, fellows, friends or relatives in nearby houses. Their education was to be received from the Master of the Choristers, normally one of the clerks, or a junior fellow. Where the schooling took place is rarely clear, although in the late 17th century a brick house just outside the present porter’s lodge served this function.
Only a handful of non-chorister pupils were enrolled, one of whom was James Essex, a noted 18th century architect.
In 1878 the school was reconstituted as a boarding preparatory school, and moved to its present West Road site. Since that time all choristers have been required to board. Probationers (junior choristers who act as reserves) have progressively increased to the present total of 8, and the admission of large numbers of non-chorister boarders and day pupils have swollen the school numbers to 40 in 1911, 80 in 1939, 130 in 1959 and 188 in 1970.
Girls were first admitted in 1976 and a pre-preparatory department was opened in St. Martin’s, a Victorian building acquired in 1952, in 1992. As a result the school roll is almost 300. The most impressive of recent building developments is the Briggs building, a well equipped classroom block with interactive smartboards in all teaching rooms, which was opened in 2004.