The College was part of the endowment for a chantry school by Dame Thomasine Percival, the widow of Sir John Percyvale or Percival, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1498. A ‘chantry’ was an institution where prayers were said for the souls of the dead, sometimes combined with education and often called a college. The College has special significance as one of the earliest schools in England to be founded by a woman. Certain features in its architecture are very similar to those of Wortham Manor, another Landmark property about 12 miles away on the Devon side of the Tamar and built by John Dinham, a relation of Thomasine’s.
Thomasine, whose maiden name was Bonaventure, was born in the village of Week St Mary around 1450. There is a romantic story that she met her first husband, a London wool merchant called Richard Bunsby, while she tended sheep on the moor. She further improved her position and fortune by two later marriages. This tale has been told by many Cornish writers but more recent research has revealed that Thomasine was of gentler birth, one of five offspring to Joan & John Bonaventure. She perhaps went to London in service to the household of a wealthy merchant, as many then girls did. Her first husband was not called Bunsby but Henry Galle, and he was a tailor rather than a wool merchant. When he died in 1466, she married within the year Thomas Barnaby, another tailor, but this too was a short marriage – he died in 1467. At an unknown date she married for a third time, to a third tailor, John Percyvale, whose ambition in City circles was noted by his contemporaries. In 1487 he was knighted and was elected lord mayor of London in 1498. He died in 1503, his will founding a grammar school in Macclesfield, where he was born.
This probably formed the template for Thomasine’s school in her own birth parish, which she endowed in1506. At Percyvale’s death, she became a very wealthy widow, left mistress of a ‘mansion’ in Lombard Street. Here she also housed and educated five ‘alms-children’, both boys and girls, as well as taking on apprentices. She had no children of her own, but clearly cared about the education of the young, and was conventionally pious, making her schoolmaster responsible for saying masses for her soul in the parish church of Week St Mary, as well as for her husband and parents. This made her school a ‘chantry school.’ The foundation deed specified that the schoolmaster was to be a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge, and was to be assisted by an assistant teacher or muncible, and a laundress. The school’s service buildings were set around a small quadrangle, like an Oxbridge college in miniature.
When Thomasine died in 1512, her will left the school to the discretion of her cousin John Dinham of Wortham as ‘he knoweth my mynde’. The school was successful at first and a valued element of the community, but its chantry role fell foul of the new religious practices after Henry VIII’s Reformation. In 1547, ten-year old Edward VI came to the throne with the reforming Duke of Somerset as his regent or Lord Protector. A 1548 Commission reported that the Week St Mary school was in decay. At the decree of the Lord Protector, it was merged with another school in Launceston.
From 1549-1725 the Week St Mary school buildings were owned by the Prideau family, who sold them in the early 18th century to Thomas Pitt, first Lord Londonderry. His sister Lucy married the first Earl of Stanhope in the early 18th century, and the property came through her to the Stanhopes. The 7th Earl of Stanhope sold it in 1910, together with his Holsworthy estate. Mr Colwill, from whom Landmark bought it, had lived at the College all his life, as had two generations of the Colwills before him.
The former College buildings had by now been partially demolished to suit changing functions, and pillaged for building materials for other village buildings but enough survives to give us some idea of the imposing group which stood on the site in the reign of Edward VI.
For a short history of The College please click here.
To read the full history album for The College please click here.
To download the children's Explorer pack for The College please click here.