Reverend John William Caldicott – Renowned Head Master of Bristol Grammar School

The Reverend John William Caldicott was notable for many aspects of his life, political, in service to the Church, and to his communities, but he was probably most well-known for the 23 years he was the esteemed Head Master at the Bristol Grammar School.

John William Caldicott was born on 9th February 1829 to John and Anne Caldicott (nee Croydon) in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. He was the elder brother of Anne Croydon Caldicott and the nephew of Alfred Jolly Caldicott. He was baptised on 8th October 1829 at St Bartholomew Church, Edgbaston.

St Bartholomews Church Edgbaston
St Bartholomew’s Church, Edgbaston

His father, John Caldicott was later to become editor and publisher of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette.

John William was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham and then later went to Jesus College, Oxford where he graduated in April with second-class honours in classics and third-class honours in mathematics. He was also ordained in 1852. He continued at Jesus College as a mathematics lecturer and in 1854 he became a tutor.

In February 1854 he was appointed as Head Master of Preston Grammar School in Lancashire. However, in April, before he had even commenced the post, he resigned. This surprising reversal was due to a prestigious offer from his home of Oxford University which was too tempting to refuse. He was made public examiner inB Literis Humanitoribus (Classics) and in his letter of resignation to the Preston Grammar School Board he described the appointment as –

I explained to you when I had the pleasure of seeing you in Oxford that the position of an examiner is so distinguished, that nothing but the prospect of almost certain success could justify the voluntary loss of it.

On 20th July 1860 he was appointed as Head Master of Bristol Grammar School, a post which he held for over two decades.

Bristol Grammar School

Bristol Grammar School Great Hall
The Great Hall, Bristol Grammar School

Later that year, on 18th December 1860 at St Michael’s Church, Coventry, he married Hannah Caldicott, daughter of Richard Caldicott, esteemed ribbon manufacturer and Justice of the Peace of Coventry and Hannah Caldicott (nee Merry). Hannah went on to give birth to three children at Bristol Grammar School; on 12th January 1862, a daughter who sadly lived only a few hours, on 28 April 1866, a son called John Croydon Caldicott who was to become a barrister, and on 15th July 1867, another son called Arthur Henry Caldicott who was to follow in his father’s footsteps and was ordained as a priest.

During his time as Head Master of Bristol Grammar School, John William Caldicott made a huge impact, even if his methods were slightly controversial, as this letterB from a former pupil to the editor of the Western Daily Press describes –


SIR. – The record of the Bristol Grammar School is of supreme interest to all citizens of this ancient city, but particularly so to the past and present pupils.

I was one of those who was privileged to be at the school as a pupil, under the Head Mastership of the late Rev. John William Caldicott, D.D., and wish to make my tribute to this distinguished man who was a Head Master in every sense of the word.

He certainly ruled the school with a rod of iron, a method that probably would not be commended in these days – but nevertheless his personality was indelibly stamped upon most of us who were pupils under his regime. He was, indeed, a strong man, and in my humble opinion, the methods he adopted, by his ideas of discipline, punctuality and strict attention to duty had a markedly beneficial effect upon the youthful imaginations committed to his charge, this, quite apart from his scholastic attainments which were of a high order.

Dr. Caldicott was not only Head Master of our famous school; but in his day was a powerful light in the political world, as far as Bristol was concerned, and a man who commanded the greatest respect in our city.

I think I am right in stating that Dr. Caldicott conceived the idea of removing this school from Unity Street, where I was educated, to the present excellent site in Tyndall’s Park. At the time, I believe, it was looked upon as a dangerous venture, but subsequent events have, I think justified that the old Head Master was not wrong in his judgement.

In your history of the school sufficient tribute had not, I venture to submit, been paid to our old chief “Johnnie” as we affectionately remember him.

Widcombe, 22, Richmond Hill, Clifton.

Western Daily Press – Monday 21st March 1932, Page 9

During his time in Bristol, John William served as Mayor’s Chaplain and was an active Liberal.

In July 1883, he resigned as Head Master to become Rector of the churches at Shipston-on-Stour and Tidmington. On Wednesday 1st August 1883, a farewell dinner and presentation was held in his honour at the Clifton Down Hotel, Bristol. Amongst several esteemed guests were the Lord Mayors of both Bristol and Bath and many words of tribute and high praise of his service as Head Master were given. He was also presented with aB silver tray, coffee and tea pot, hot water jug, and basin (amounting to the value of 150 guineas).

John William Caldicott was Rector at Shipston-on-Stour and Tidmington for twelve years until he died in 1895. During this time he remained incredibly active, serving as chairman of the local school board and two charities, as one of the trustees for the Convalescent Home and Cottage Hospital, as Rural Dean for South Kineton Deanery and as Justice of the Peace for Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

On Sunday 3rd November 1895, whilst getting dressed he suffered a paralytic stroke rendering him unable to conduct the service that morning. He never recovered and remained unconscious with brief intervals for a few days. On Wednesday 6th November, he passed away at the age of 66 (6).

Church of Ascension Tidmington
Church of Ascension, Tidmington

His funeral was held on Saturday 9th November at the Church of Ascension, Tidmington and a memorial service was also held at Bristol Grammar School. Both were well attended by many colleagues, parishioners and former pupils who wanted to pay tribute to the much-loved and well-respected Vicar and former Head Master.

See also

Alfred Jolly Caldicott – A Pioneer in More Ways Than One!

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