Francis Thomas de Grey, seventh Earl Cowper KG (1834-1905)


Francis Thomas de Grey, was an heir-at-law of Richard Hale, the founder of the School.A Register of Charities and Gifts in the Town of Hertford states that in 1616: “Richard Hale Esq … gave an endowment of £40 per annum (£20 to the Master, £10 to the Usher and £10 for repairs) and reserved the choice of a Master to his Heirs …” Even with tuition fees, boarding fees and public subscriptions the income, by 1900, was insufficient for the maintenance of the School. Earl Cowper produced a lump sum of £1,600 in place of the old rent‑charge of £40 per annum and he sold the Master’s House in Fore Street for £1,200. With these moneys, added to by public subscription, he bought the Queen Anne mansion, Bayley Hall, as a residence for the Headmaster and boarders. In 1904 after negotiations with the Governors, Charity Commissioners, County Council and Board of Education, Cowper gave up his right to appoint the Headmaster and all Governors save one. In return the School received financial assistance from the County Council and the Board, and Cowper contributed to the ensuing success by endowing the School with £4,800 in government securities, yielding an income equal to half the annual maintenance grant from the County Council. Earl Cowper’s skilful negotiations and benefaction helped to reconstitute the School, of which he was the first Chairman of the new Governing Board.

For two centuries the Cowper family played an important role in the local area, initially living at Cole Green and then, in 1801, building Panshanger House. The seventh Earl was active in the service of Hertford Infirmary (later the County Hospital), opened his park for the camps and field days of the South Hertfordshire Rifle Corps, of which he became Lieutenant-Colonel, and was responsible for building the tower and spire of St Andrew’s Church, Hertford and rebuilding Hertingfordbury Church. He was variously Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, High Steward of Hertford and Colchester, Deputy Lieutenant of Kent and of Nottinghamshire.

From 1880 to 1882 he served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during a very troublesome time. He left Dublin two days before Burke and Cavendish were murdered in Phoenix Park and he was one of those responsible for negotiating Parnell’s release from prison. He was Chairman of East Herts Quarter Sessions for many years and Chairman of the County Council 1889 to 1901. He was honoured Knight of the Garter and, a few months before his death, Francis Thomas de Grey, seventh Earl Cowper KG, was given the honorary Freedom of Hertford.