College History

Foundation of the College

The West Berkshire roots of Bradfield College (then St. Andrew’s College) are entwined with those of the village of Bradfield. However, much of the original architecture was born of a relationship formed in the workhouses of Victorian Britain.

It was there that the Reverand Thomas Stevens, Lord of the Manor and Rector of St. Andrew’s Church and an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner met the great Victorian architect, Sir Gilbert Scott. When he wasn’t designing the Albert Memorial, St. Pancras Station and Glasgow University, Scott earned his keep by building workhouses.

Stevens engaged Scott initially to enlarge his village church and then decided that as the village choir was not quite up to scratch he would start a Choir School. The manor house, Bradfield Place, situated in what is now the north-east corner of the present Quad, became home to the new College for ‘the careful education of boys as loving children of the Church of England’.


The first pupil arrived at the College in February 1850. By August of that year there were six boys, still not quite enough for Stevens to form his choir. By 1853 there were more than sixty boys at the College and over the next five decades, the numbers grew to around 400.

The introduction of girls into the Sixth Form in 1989 and the subsequent transition to full co-education in 2004 led to a period of considerable and sustained growth. Today there are around 770 pupils comprising 480 boys and 290 girls. The College plans for this number to reach and then restrict numbers to 800 through extensions to a couple of the boarding houses.

From College to village

From humble beginnings in the north-east corner of Quad, the College has gradually  spread through the village of Bradfield.

Building by building the College has taken over the village. For example, the Old Mill now houses the Art Department with many buildings in the village now involved in College life in some way. The Headmaster’s House, Crossways, sits at the very centre of the campus overlooking the crossroads in the middle of the village. 

The Manor House was originally extended in 1853 with the Dining Hall added three years later, modelled on a tithe barn with elm cut from the estate. As pupil numbers increased, buildings grew on three sides of the Quadrangle (Quad) – a misnomer, as no fourth side was ever built, ending in 1870 with the building of Big School.  

Meanwhile the Founder, Thomas Stevens decided he wanted his own Chapel. Begun in 1892 and completed in 1903, it was designed by J.O. Scott, son of Sir Gilbert, and one of Bradfield’s first pupils.  

In the following years, more boarding houses were added and in 1933 Gray School (the current home of Business Studies, Politics and Economics) was opened as part of the Memorial to the 279 Old Bradfieldians killed in the Great War.  

More teaching blocks and a Music School followed, and all of the Boarding Houses previously based in Quad moved to new premises. The College expanded further and further up the hill with 11 state-of-the-art boarding houses and the addition of Faulkner’s, a Year 9 house where pupils joining in Year 9 spend their first year at Bradfield. Nearly all the teaching staff also live in the village.

Supported by the Bradfield Foundation, the College has undertaken an increasing number of developments in recent years to add to the rich portfolio of outstanding facilities. These include the Sports Complex (1994), the Garrett Library (1996), a 9-hole Golf Course (1998), indoor Tennis Centre (2000), the School of Music (2004), the Big School Studio Theatre (2008), and the Blackburn Science Centre (2010). 

The Greek Theatre - 'Greeker'

The heart and soul of Bradfield lies in a disused chalk pit in the centre of the village. The totemic Greek Theatre, known affectionately as 'Greeker', was the brain child of former Headmaster Dr Herbert Gray.  

Headmaster, Warden and part-time Bursar for the best part of 30 years, Gray had introduced the first Greek play, Alcestis, in 1882 and six years later set about transforming the chalk pit into a Greek Theatre. With the help of pupils and later professional workmen, ten tiers of seats were cut into the chalk and shaped an orchestra on the model of that at Epidaurus.

Sophocles’ Antigone was presented in 1890 and from 1892 onwards, classical Greek tragedies were performed every three years in the theatre until modern safety and access requirements led to the closure of the theatre. The Save Greeker Appeal raised £1.2m to restore the theatre which re-opened to a packed house in May 2014.

The fame of the Bradfield Greek plays spread far and wide over the years. Prime Ministers, poets, generals, archbishops, writers and actors have all supported this unique event. TS Eliot, Sybil Thorndyke, Agatha Christie, Lord Asquith, Field Marshall Lord Montgomery, Sir Peter Hall and Enoch Powell were all faithful pilgrims.