History of the Gilberd


The school originally opened on 12 July 1912 in buildings on North Hill, Colchester. During the 1930s the school became known as the North East Essex Technical College and School of Art. In 1957 the County High School for Girls (which shared the North Hill site) moved to new buildings in Norman Way where it remains to this day as one of Colchester's two remaining Grammar schools. In 1959, a new Technical College opened in Sheepen Way and the School of Art became a part of this. The remainder of the school was subsequently renamed the Gilberd County Technical School after Dr William Gilberd (also incorrectly known as William Gilbert), the "father of electricity and magnetism" and medical advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. (The Technical College into which the school of art moved later became the Colchester Institute).

The school was one of three selective schools in Colchester: the Royal Grammar School (boys), Colchester County High School (girls) and The Gilberd School (co-educational).

The first students to pass the 11 Plus examination were admitted to the school in 1949 with entrants coming from geographical area that spanned the whole of North Essex. Registers dating back to 1918 are held in the school archives to this day and show that many students had to travel considerable distances to and from school each day.

Educational re-organisation in the 1960s and 70s aimed to change all schools into co-educational establishments and many Grammar schools into comprehensives. The last 11 Plus students to leave The Gilberd departed in 1986 from the upper Sixth Form and by this time The Gilberd’s North Hill site had closed its doors for the last time and was converted into the Colchester Sixth Form College. The Gilberd School moved to new premises on farmland on the undeveloped northern fringe of Colchester beginning in the early 1980s; the last students had transferred from North Hill by 1985. The new Brinkley Lane site was of a modern design which today boosts excellent facilities (even if it does lack some of the charm of the old North Hill campus). Since the new campus was in a rural setting, students were drawn from a wide catchment including a significant number from Wivenhoe. From the early 2000s the school has drawn its entire intake from the St Johns, Highwoods and Mile End areas of northern Colchester.


Mr. H. Wilson, Headmaster 1914-35

Mr. M. Garside, Headmaster 1935-42

Mr. E. Enoch, Headmaster 1942-53

Mr. R. Sprason, Headmaster 1953-67

Mr. J. Glazier, Headmaster 1967-71

Mr. K. Dodsworth, Headmaster 1971-72 (interim appointment)

Mr. C. Firth, Headmaster 1972-77

Mr. D. Rowe, Headmaster 1977-1994

Mr L Brazier, Headteacher 1994-1997

Mrs V Cresswell, Headteacher 1997-2007

Mrs L Exley, Headteacher 2007 –

Recent Developments

The school converted to academy status on 1 March 2012.

Since the move to the Brinkley Lane site, The Gilberd School has been steadily developing its facilities as the population of the Highwoods catchment area grows. New teaching blocks and a state-of-the-art Performing Arts theatre were added in the early 2000s. Most recently, a new subject block and sports hall were completed (in Summer 2015) in preparation for the increased roll which is projected to be around 1600 students by 2019). The new facilities include 10 additional teaching classrooms, a new music room with adjacent practice rooms and an outdoor education facility. The new sports Hall also contains a large climbing wall.

Highwoods Sports Centre (a part of Colchester Leisure World) make use of the school's sports facilities in the evening and at weekends.

School Colours

Since the time the school adopted the name ‘The Gilberd County Technical School’, the uniform had consisted of a bottle green blazer adorned with the Gilberd School crest (an eagle). Ties  (worn by both boys and girls) carried red, pale gold and green diagonal stripes. In 1986, the traditional green blazer was made optional (at a time when many schools were relaxing their uniform policies) and a bottle-green V-neck sweater was worn in its place. The traditional red, gold and green stripe tie endured until 2013 when it was replaced with a black tie. By 2013, the only element of the original uniform still evident was the school crest. Blazers were however reintroduced in 2005 (albeit in black) and an updated version of the traditional stripe tie was introduced for Prefects in 2017. Tartan kilts in Black, white and red are an optional uniform item for girls. From 2017 all new students wear a red tie.

History of William Gilberd
William Gilberd was the pioneer of the study of magnetism in England and he lived in Trinity Street, Colchester.It is a common misconception that William Gilberd, used a 't' at the end of his name. In the few remaining signatures, we can plainly see that he was William Gilberd. For this reason he is always refered to as Gilberd in Colchester, and not the commonly held belief, Gilbert - Information helpfully supplied by Kirsty at Colchester Castle Museum
Part of his house, pictured right, survives as Tymperleys, the town's clock museum, and the Gilberd School in High Woods, Colchester, is named after him.

William Gilberd (or Gilbert) was the pioneer of the study of magnetism in England and he lived in Trinity Street, Colchester. 
Part of his house, pictured left, survives as Tymperleys, the town's clock museum, and the Gilberd School in High Woods, Colchester, is named after him.
Gilberd is buried at Holy Trinity Church, Colchester, and his statue looks over High Street from the Victorian town hall.
Gilberd was born as the scientific renaissance, led by Copernicus and Vesalius, began in Europe.
His work on electro-magnetism was a landmark in the science and he was also court physician to Elizabeth I and James I and president of the Royal College of Physicians. 
Gilberd is credited, with William Harvey, as playing a major role in the reintroduction of the experimental method into science.
His De magnete, magneticisque corporibus is generally regarded as the first great scientific book by an Englishman and came as other great men of the Tudor period, like Francis Bacon, Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh pushed forward the frontiers of the known world.
Gilberd's theory was that the earth was a lodestone with north and south magnetic poles, influencing the solar system. His work helped to lead to the concept of gravity as an attracting force between masses. He was also among the first to distinguish magnetism from static electricity.

1. Dates Born: Colchester, 1544 Until this century, Gilberd's birth was universally placed in 1540. 1544 has now been established on good evidence

Died: probably London, 30 Nov. 1603 Dateinfo: Dates Certain Lifespan: 59

2. Father Occupation: Magistrate

Jerome Gilberd was the recorder of Colchester. One source listed him as a merchant. Clearly his own forebears were merchants and made a fortune at it. None of the good sources says a word about Jerome Gilberd being a merchant.

Evidently prosperous.

3. Nationality Birth: English Career: English Death: English

4. Education Schooling: Cambridge, M.A., M.D.

St. John College, Cambridge, 1558-69 or 70; B.A., 1561; M.A., 1564; M.D., 1569.

He was also educated at the Royal Grammer School, shortly before it moved locations. With thanks to Kirsty at Colchester Castle Museum.

5. Religion Affiliation: Anglican

By assumption. He was buried in an Anglican church in Colchester.

6. Scientific Disciplines Primary: Magnetism Subordinate: Electricity, Natural Philosophy

De Magnete, 1600, is the enduring basis of Gilberd's fame.

Posthumously, De mundo nostro sublunari philosophia nova was published in 1651. This is really two works put together as one from Gilberd's manuscripts by Gilberd's half brother; he himself never intended them as parts of one book. More than De Magnete, the two treatises that make up De mundo strove toward a general natural philosophy.

7. Means of Support Primary: Medicine Secondary: Academia, Personal Means, Patronage

At Cambridge he became a Junior Fellow of St. Johns in 1561. He was the mathematics examiner in the college, 1565-6 and bursar, 1569-70. He became a Senior Fellow in 1569.

Nothing is known about his activities from 1569 (or 70) until the mid or late 70s. There is good evidence that De Magnete was completed quite a few years before it was published, and possibly Gilberd devoted these unknown years to his magnetical research. Something would have had to support him. He is known to have inherited property from his father, and it is possible that he inherited Wingfield House, his residence in London, from his step-mother (a Wingfield), sometime before 1583.

Medical practice, from perhaps 1577 to 1603. He was one of the prominent physicians in London, consulted among others by the aristocracy.

One of the personal physicians to Elizabeth I, 1600-03. He received a persion of L100 (which is hard to distinguish from a salary) from the Queen. Note that this relation to the court came only near the end of Gilberd's life.

Physician to James I, 1603.

8. Patronage Type: Court Official

He obtained his grant of arms from Elizabeth in 1577.

He was appointed physician to Elizabeth in 1600 and kept the position until Elizabeth died.

After the death of Elizabeth he became James I's physician and held the position until his own death.

Note that Gilberd, a promient and probably wealthy physician, did not dedicate De Magnete to anyone. On the contrary, it is dedicated to Gilberd by Edward Wright, who wrote the dedicatory epistle.

9. Technological Involvement Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology, Navigation, Instruments

He participated in the compilation of the College of Physicians' Pharmacopoeia.

He specifically proposed the use of magnetic declination and dip to determine longitude and latitude. Thomas Blundevelle describes the two instruments of Gilberd's invention intended for these purposes.

The Versorium for magnetic investigations, and a similar device for electrical.

I considered briefly adding Cartography to this list because Gilberd did prepare a map of the moon (in De mundo). However, recall that this was before the telescope. I have seen the map. It is more a sketch than a map, and does not involve any of the skills of cartography.

10. Scientific Societies Membership: Medical College

Informal Connections: He knew Thomas Wright and William Barlowe. The older literature on Gilberd abounds in stories of a proto-society that met in his home, Wingfield House. This has been shown to rest on no solid evidence whatever. The older literature also credits him with correspondence with Giovanfrancesco Sagredo (Galileo's friend and patron) and Paolo Sarpi. These correspondences are likewise figments of the imagination.

Royal College of Physicians, before 1581; Censor, 1581, 1582, 1584-87, 1589-90; Treasurer, 1587-94, 1597-99; Elector, 1596-97; Consilarius, 1597-9; President, 1600.



  1. Duane H.D. Roller, The DE MAGNETE of William Gilberd, (Amsterdam, 1959), pp. 50-91. QC751.G47R7. This is far and away the best source on Gilbert that I have found.
  2. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 7, 1217. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 4, 2202-3.
  3. William Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (London, 1878), 1, 77-80.
  4. Suzanne Kelly, The De mundo of William Gilbert, (Amsterdam, 1965).
  5. Silvanus P. Thompson, Gilbert of Colchester; an Elizabethan Magnetizer, (London, 1891).
  6. Bern Dibner, Doctor William Gilbert, (New York, 1947).
  7. Rufus Suter, "A Biographical Sketch of Dr. William Gilbert of Colchester," Osiris, 10 (1952), 368-84.
  8. John Aikin, Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain from the Revival of Literature to the Time of Harvey, (London, 1780), pp. 175-81.

Not Available and Not Consulted

  1. Charles Singer, "Dr. William Gilbert," Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service, Oct. 1916.
  2. Richard H. Jarrell, "The Latest Date of Composition of Gilbert's De mundo," Isis, 63 (1972), 94-5.
  3. There is a surprising dearth of information about this prominent scientist.

Compiled by: Richard S. Westfall Department of History and Philosophy of Science Indiana University Reproduced with thanks from Albert Van HeldenCopyright © 1995


  • The Staff at the Opening in 1912
  • The Builders
  • Class photograph about 1927 with Mr. Enoch
  • Coronation decorations - 1938
  • Mr. R. Sprason.
  • Mr. J. Glazier.
  • Mr. C. Firth.
  • Mr. D. Rowe.
  • Miss A. Twyman.
  • Mr. N. Curd.
  • Mr. M. Rouse.
  • Mr. J. Powell Davies (Mathematics Master and former prisoner of the infamous Colditz Castle in World War 2) 
  • Hats and legs. Mr. MacAleavey, Mr. Ross and Mr. Dixon in Switzerland.
  • The Staff circa 1938.
  • The first Eleven Plus intake in 1949 with Mr. Cooper.
  • James Raven, National Winner of the English Speaking Union,with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1976.
  • A product of the Metalwork Department in 1965.
  • Form 1G in 1966.
  • The Upper Sixth of 1968.
  • Hockey Team 1949.
  • Tennis Team circa 1968.
  • Athletics Team 1946.
  • Football Team 1948.
  • Second Year Rugby Team 1967.
  • Third Year Cricket Team 1964.
  • Farewell to North Hill Reunion, 6 July 1985, with a youthful Mr. Anderson, former Deputy Head.
  • In the Small Hall.
  • The last pupils at North Hill. Staff and pupils of the Lower Sixth, July 1985.






This was officially opened on Friday 12th July 1912.

The building was to house schools of science, art, commercial and domestic subjects as well as housing the County High School for Girls.

The College was built because it was felt that the Albert School (now the Co-op Bank) was too small and not well enough equipped.

The Essex County Standard of that week carried a long report on the opening of the College, which included a detailed account of the layout of the school, of which the following is a summary:

As now, the College was built over three main terraces, though in 1912 all three were grassed. The Lower Paddock was for the sole use of the Girls' High. The other two terraces were grassed tennis courts which were not concreted over until the 1960s.

On the ground floor of the building was a carpenters' and joiners' room (now the Library) and nearby was a "pleasant" dining room for 80 or 100 pupils (this is now room 10,). What is now the Domestic Science room was also in 1912 a cookery room and there was a laundry room for use by both day and evening classes, (this is presumably room 5).

Also on the ground floor was an engineers' drawing office (room 4) which had a wooden partition, dividing it in two. On the other side of the corridor was the lab for practical applied mechanics (room 3). The report glowingly describes the equipment for the room which included a 9.5 h.p. engine. It's not surprising the room was probably the most expensive to equip at £500!

Upstairs on the first floor were the offices and committee rooms of the local Education committees (now staff rooms); The Assembly Hall; an advanced science lab, five classrooms and a common room for the Girls High (rooms 19 and 24). The present offices for the Heads and the Careers Room were the original staff rooms, ladies at the west end, gentlemen at the east. It is interesting to note that there were then two more rooms on the first floor than at present. This floor, the Girl High floor, was presided over by their Head, Miss M. Collins B.A.

In addition, during- the evenings it -.was used for evening classes for the Commercial School which taught subjects such as French, German, Typing and Book-keeping.

The second floor had a chemistry lecture theatre with fume cupboards, and a demonstration bench complete with gas and water laid on. This room (29), has hardly changed since 1912. There were also a physics/electrics lab and a dark room. The paper stresses how modern and well equipped the labs are, for example the electrics lab had three generators. On this floor there was also a needlework room and a building construction room. The Science supervisor was Mr. H.P. Wilson F.C.S.

The third floor was dedicated to the Art School whose Head was Mr. P. Moore Gordon A.R.C.A. The Standard said "One of the most striking features on this floor is the very wide corridor", which could be used as a museum of sorts to display students work or works from South Kensington.

There were three main art rooms, the light in which was excellent which was enhanced electrically if needs be. The other rooms were an artistic crafts room (now a pottery room) and a clay modelling room (room 39).

Finally the Report does not omit the fact that the school was heated by hot water at low pressure and lit electrically throughout. Both of these things were quite remarkable at the time.