Abbey House has been in continuous use as a school boarding house since 1868, but was also used for a brief period from 1835 to 1849.
This area lay within the precinct of Sherborne Abbey, which had been founded as a Benedictine institution in 998, hence the house’s modern name.
Abbey House is the combination of two separate properties. On the east, the private side of the house was built in the first half of the 19th century by Mr Simmonds, a well-to-do confectioner whose business premises were in Cheap Street. The property passed into the hands of the Digby family, from whom the School Governors rented it between 1835 and 1849 to accommodate Thomas James the usher and a few boarders. This part of the house served the school once again in 1860-1861 when the Headmaster H.D. Harper and his family lived there during the building of the present School House.
The adjoining building to the west was, until 1861, the National School, also known as the Abbey School for the Poor. In 1868, the two properties were combined and enlarged by pulling down the coach house and stables and building new studies and dormitories, and it was reopened as a school boarding house. Additions to the building have included in 1887 an addition to the west wing (by architects Carpenter & Ingelow), the Reading Room in 1935, and the studies in 1958 (on part of the garden of Abbey Grange given by Geoffrey O’Hanlon). In 1931, the premises were purchased by the School Governors. On the night of 7/8 July 1962, a fire swept through the western end of the building destroying a 50 foot stretch of the roof and a second-floor dormitory. In 1996, a new west wing was opened by Michael McCrum, a former Abbey House boy and late Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University.
Former Abbey boys have included Tom Bradby (journalist and novelist, presenter of ITV News at Ten and The Agenda), John Buchanan (Ireland Rugby International), Norman Campbell (Scotland Rugby International), Peter Candler (England Rugby International), Jack Grayburn VC, Robert Hands (journalist, Executive Managing Editor, The Times and Sunday Times), Jeremy Irons (actor who has appeared in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Brideshead Revisited, The Mission, The Lion King), David Leakey (Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod), Michael McCrum (Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University), Robert McCrum (writer, journalist, broadcaster, Associate and Literary Editor of The Observer, Editor-in-Chief of Faber & Faber), Littleton Alfred Powys (priest), Littleton Charles Powys (author and Headmaster of Sherborne Prep School), Henry Raby VC, Theophilus Aneurin Rees (Wales Rugby International), Dyne Fenton Smith (England Rugby International), David Spedding (MI6 Chief), Harold Temperley (historian, special adviser to Arthur Balfour at the 1921 League of Nations, founder of The Cambridge Historical Journal), William Eldon Tucker (England Rugby International), Peter Twiss (test pilot and the first man to break the 1000 mph speed barrier), Leonard Watkins (Wales Rugby International), Michael Wright (journalist).
House letter: b.
House colours: purple and black (formerly blue and white).
House magazine: The Purple Band.
1835-1847 Thomas James (1794-1866)
1868 Arthur Mapletoft Curteis (1834-1922)
1876 Rev. Alexander Wood (c.1839-1917)
1888 Charles Selby Whitehead (OS) (1852-1934)
1893 William Beauchamp Wildman (1852-1922)
1908 Godfrey Mohun Carey (OS) (1872-1927)
1928 Percival Edward Holland Parry-Jones (OS ) (1892-1942)
1942 Max Westlake (OS) (1895-1987)
1955 Michael Walford (1915-2002)
1971 Christopher Knott (OS)
1986 Peter Wellby
1998 James Murphy-O’Connor
2005 Mark Pryor
2009 Ben Ryder
2011 Michael McGinty
2019 Hugh Tatham
- Abbey House photographs
- Abbey House roll of honour
- Abbey House boys’ accounts of the bombing of Sherborne on 30 September 1940
- The Abbey House fire, July 1962
- History of Sherborne School’s boarding houses
For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist
Return to the School Archives homepage