Dame Elizabeth Periam was a local worthy and sister to the then Lord Chancellor, Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon himself was a well-educated man; having entered Cambridge at age 12, and by age 23 was already in the House of Commons. Elizabeth was married three times: to Robert D’Oyley, Henry Nevill and finally William Periam. The marriages left Elizabeth a rich widow, who chose to put the money to good use in local education.
The original Free Grammar School was founded by James 1 in 1604, and was housed in the upper floor at the Chantry House by St Mary’s Church (pictured). In 1609 Dame Periam founded her own Charity School in the lower floor of the Chantry House. The school was for the education of no more than 20 local poor boys to teach them reading, writing and practical skills for apprenticeships, but not grammar.
The boys were accepted at about age 9 or 10, and then stayed until they were about age 16. Dame Periam also endowed the school with land, and provided clothing and shoes for the pupils.
During the resoration of the Chantry House some original items including fragments of quills and spinning tops were retrieved from under the floorboards. One item of great interest was the discovery of a Latin book dated 1624 (pictured at the top of this page).
The two schools eventually merged by the end of the eighteenth century, yet Dame Periam’s contribution is still celebrated today. Dame Periam is commemorated in an alabaster monument in St Mary’s Church, and The HENLEY College hold an annual Dame Periam Lecture in memoriam. Past visiting speakers have included Lord Robert Winston, Terry Waite and Professor Joseph Rotblat.