The school recently celebrated its 400th anniversary. In 2017 there were a wide range of events that marked the occasion, rightly so to celebrate a special anniversary for the school.
In 1617 Richard Hale, a grocer from London, secured permission from King James I to found a school in Hertford. Official recognition of the school was granted on the 29th April 1616 in the Letters Patent which safeguarded the right of the patron to appoint a Master and Usher. The Foundation Deed, Richard Hale’s will and the Orders of the Free Grammar School of Hertford followed in 1617 as the school came into existence. Richard Hale’s, “Fair Free School,” was built on its own land, next to All Saints Church. The original school is still there and can be seen today.
When the school opened, it was, as is now, a boy’s school. Students studied Latin, established religion and Greek. Students attended school 6 days a week and were expected to have their own text books, paper, ink, a bible and a satchel to keep them in and as now, the students were expected to do homework. The school rules insisted on students being dressed in, “clean and comely apparel,” that students had to play within the grounds of the school and could not, “swear, lie, fight, steal or bully and were expected to avoid bad company outside of school.” Students were expected to provide their own candles in winter and each day began and ended with a prayer.
The school has a unique ceremony that is conducted every year, this is the White Gloves Ceremony which was set up by the third Headmaster of the school, Ralph Minors in 1657. This unique ceremony is held each year at the school at Christmas and is attended by the Mayor of Hertford who receives a pair of white gloves. The ceremony was originally set up to ensure the dignitaries of Hertford attended the school each year in order for them to retain an interest in it. The last payment for the gloves was made in 1752. In 1912 Major Kinman, the Headmaster of the school, decided to reinstate the tradition and the ceremony took place in school once more. In the ceremony a student greets the Mayor in Latin and asks that the lost money be investigated, which the mayor agrees to do. The White Gloves Ceremony was at first reinstated in July but now takes its appropriate place in December.
During the First World War many students from the school fought for their country. Their names adorn the war memorial at the front of the school and on the 11th November each year the school remembers them. The visits to Ypres and the Somme enable students to also see the names of past students on the Menin Gate and at Thiepval bringing history to life. The names of men from the Second World War are also on the memorial as a reminder of what members of the school have contributed in these conflicts, these were added in 1996.
In 1930 the school moved to its current location. The original door was moved to the main foyer and can be seen as you walk up the main steps into the building. It now had on roll 250 students, a significant number above the 32 in 1642. In 1975 the school took in its first comprehensive intake increasing the roll to 750. The school has continued to grow and currently has 1180 students on roll including a number of girls who join in the 6th form. In 1967 the school was renamed to Richard Hale School as part of the 350th anniversary celebrations.
The school has been an influence in Hertford over many centuries, it has educated thousands of students and has impressive alumni, that consists of scientists like Alfred Russell Wallace, artists, actors, musicians, archbishops, scholars and Lords. The school has existed through a Civil War, the plague, industrialisation, World Wars, countless Governments, Kings and Queens and still continues to adapt to the changes that it faces in the 21st Century.