History of the School

In 1565, William Gilbert surrendered a cottage and lands in Duffield, Turnditch and Cowers Lane to a number of trustees for “providing and sustaining an honest and learned man at the Chapel of Turnditch or elsewhere within Duffield Firth, to teach and instruct boys in honest and pious discipline and literature.”

Thus, the Free Grammar School was founded, and sited in the centre of Duffield, as the village had the greatest centre of population in the area.

Little is known about the founder, but it is thought he may be Dr William Gilbert (1544 – 1603) the experimental philosopher and fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, who became physician to Queen Elizabeth I.

Encouraged by the Queen, William Gilbert was an outstanding scholar whose treatise on the properties of magnetism was the first scientific work published in Britain.  It appeared in 1600 and was the result of 17 years of study.

Click here for more information about William Gilbert

It is known that the school received a further endowment from the estate of a Joseph Webster in 1684, but by the next century the schoolmaster’s cottage in Duffield was in ruins.  This was rebuilt, along with a new school room to accommodate 40 pupils on a site near the River Ecclesbourne in Town Street.

The school remained there until the middle of the nineteenth century.  In 1843, the trustees purchased, for the princely sum of £350, a plot of land in King Street on which to build a new stone school room for 60 pupils and a house for the headmaster.

The reason for the move to King Street is not altogether clear.  Some authorities believe that the Town Street site was compulsorily purchased by the Midland Railway Company, while another theory maintains that the earlier building was plagued by damp, because of its closeness to the river.

By 1857 about 80 pupils were being educated in the damp free school up the hill, and in 1860 the endowment was placed in the hands of the Official Trustees of Charity Lands.  From that time the school became known as Duffield Boys’ Endowed School, open to any boy in the parish who parents were willing to pay 3d per week towards their education!

School life was again interrupted in 1865, when the Midland Railway Company compulsorily purchased the school and land for £1,600 to allow a cutting to be excavated through which the new rail line to Wirksworth would pass.  With the proceeds of the sale, another new school was built on the present site in Vicarage Lane and was opened in 1869.

The old school room remained near the top of the railway cutting and was used as the parish meeting room until 1960, when the building was demolished.  A bungalow now stands on the site.

In the same year that the Boys’ School in Vicarage Lane opened, the new Girls’ School in King Street opened its doors to 100 pupils.  It was mainly the result of an interest in education for girls shown by a local man, Parkin Jeffcock, a mining engineer, who lived at Tamworth House.

Jeffcock was killed while assisting at a mine rescue in 1866, but after his death his friends raised funds to buy the site from the Midland Railway Company and build the school in his memory.

Across the road from the Girls’ School, the Infant School was built by public subscription and opened in 1895.

Some years after the end of the Second World War, after lengthy negotiations between the diocese and governors, the Boys’ Endowed School became a voluntary aided school.

Amalgamation with the Girls’ School and the Infant School in King Street took place in the mid-1960s, but for many years the William Gilbert Primary (Aided) School operated on a split site, with the infant department in King Street, using the old girls’ school as an annexe, and the juniors in Vicarage Lane.

Infant classrooms were added at the main Vicarage Lane site in the early 1990s during a major building programme, and the remodelled school was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Derby and opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire in 1992.

To fulfil statutory requirements to redirect Key Stage One (Infant) classes to no more than thirty the school was awarded funding in 1999 to construct a fourth infant class.  This has resulted in the school operating two vertically grouped infant classes combining Reception and Year 1 pupils and Year 1 and Year 2 pupils.

In 1998 the Lord Bishop of Derby opened the purpose-built nursery classroom on the Vicarage Lane site, and in 2000 the new reception classroom and the millennium garden were also officially opened.

We are proud of our very old foundation and seek to enhance our reputation for academic, sporting and artistic achievement while preserving the traditions of the school known affectionately to many as “Willy Gilly”.


Whilst William Gilbert Endowed (C of E) Voluntary Aided Primary School is proud of its history and traditions; it is always looking to the future and how to improve standards in education.

From September 1993 until September 1999 the school had the benefit of Grant Maintained Status.  During this time, as shown below, the school was able to make many improvements.  It still remains the case whereby the board of governors, including the headteacher, have total responsibility for managing the school, and are committed to maintaining and improving standards and achievements in all areas of school life.

With the end of the grant-maintained status in Autumn 1999 the governors decided to become a Church Voluntary Aided School.  William Gilbert is a Church of England school, and aims to foster a Christian atmosphere, including daily Christian worship and prayer, within a happy, secure and caring environment.

The school’s links with the Church are reflected in the composition of the board of governors.

The Derby Diocesan Board of Education and Duffield Parochial Church Council, as well as the Trustees of the Duffield Endowed School Foundation, are involved in selecting foundation governors.  These are required to be practising Christians.

The Vicar of Duffield is automatically a foundation governor.  Other governors include teaching and non-teaching staff (elected by school staff), parents (elected by parents) and the headteacher.  Several of the governors have children who currently attend the school.

In addition to their regular meetings the governors hold an annual general meeting in order to discuss questions arising from their annual report.  Whilst this is also an opportunity to discuss governors’ responsibilities, time will always be found to address any other issues causing concern.

In March 2015, William Gilbert Endowed Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School became an Academy, joining the Derby Diocese Multi-Academy Trust (DDAT).