Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Perse, Stephen

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PERSE, STEPHEN (1548–1615), founder of the Perse grammar school at Cambridge, born in 1548, was son of John Perse (‘mediocris fortunæ’) of Great Massingham, Norfolk. He was educated at Norwich school, and on 29 Oct. 1565 was admitted pensioner of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. 1568–9, and proceeded M.D. 1582. He was fellow of the college from October 1571 till his death, and bursar in 1570 and 1592. Perse was a practising physician, who became rich before his death, as his will shows that he held considerable landed property in the town of Cambridge. He died unmarried on 30 Sept. 1615, and was buried in the college chapel. His will, dated 27 Sept. 1615, gave 100l. towards the building of the new library should it be commenced within a definite time, which it was not, and Perse also founded six fellowships and six scholarships at Caius College; but the bulk of his property was left to found a free grammar school for the benefit of the town of Cambridge, with one lodging chamber for the master and another for the usher. In his will he also laid down certain provisions for the conduct of the school, to be carried out by the master and fellows of his college. A suitable site was found in what is now known as Free School Lane, at the back of Corpus Christi College, and buildings were erected. The first master was Thomas Lovering, M.A., of Pembroke College, who, as he was afterwards said to have made the boys of Norwich grammar school ‘Minerva's darlings,’ was probably competent. He occurs as master in 1619. Among the pupils who passed through the school was Jeremy Taylor. At the beginning of this century the school had decayed. From 1805 to about 1836 no usher is recorded to have been appointed. From 1816 to 1842 the large schoolroom was used as a picture-gallery to contain the Fitzwilliam collection. A print is extant of the school when thus employed. In 1833 an information was filed in the court of chancery by the attorney-general against the master and fellows of Gonville and Caius College with a view to the better regulation of Dr. Perse's benefactions. The cause was heard before Lord Langdale, master of the rolls, on 31 May 1837. By his lordship's direction a reference was made to one of the masters of the court, who approved a scheme for the administration of the property and application of the income on 31 July 1841. Under this scheme new buildings were erected, and the school became a flourishing place of education. In 1873 a new scheme was approved by the endowed schools commission, in virtue of which, among other changes, a school for girls was established. In 1888, on the removal of the school to a more convenient position on the Hills Road, the old site and buildings were bought by the university for 12,500l. (3 May). The buildings, which at first were only adapted to the purposes of an engineering laboratory, have since been in great part pulled down; but the fine Jacobean roof, part of the original structure, has been carefully preserved. Perse also founded almshouses, which have also been rebuilt; they are now situated in Newnham.

[Information kindly supplied by Dr. Venn and J. W. Clark, esq.; the Perse School, Cambridge (notes by J. Venn and S. C. Venn); Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, iii. 93, &c.; Bass Mullinger's Hist. of the Univ. of Cambridge, ii. 551; Blomefield's Norfolk, iii. 302–3; Willis and Clark's Architect. Hist. of the University of Cambridge, iii. 36, 199, 202.]

W. A. J. A.