(1529 to 1593)
Original research by Gerald Carey visit his Aspects
History Web Site
Thomas Russell is clearly one of the most remarkable
sons of Barton-under-Needwood, for his achievements were due to his
own initiative and not as a result of patronage. By sheer hard work
and business acumen he became a wealthy and powerful Merchant Draper
in the City of London in the latter part of the sixteenth century,
owning a ĎGreate Warehouseí and a shop, together with a great deal
more property in the City and the surrounding area. The site of some
of his property now lies beneath Londonís Liverpool Street Railway
Although there is no proof of his date of birth, for
the Barton Church Register did not start until 1571 and there are no
contemporary written records, we can assume that he was born in 1529.
The first definite mention of Thomas Russell is in a ledger entry at
Drapersí Hall in London, dated 1543, which records him being bound
as an apprentice draper. Since the usual age of starting an
apprenticeship was fourteen, we can place his year of birth with some
How, then do we know that Thomas came from
Barton-under-Needwood? Well, the evidence, although
circumstantial, is nevertheless overwhelming.
One of Thomasís sisters, Joane, married Thomas
Bailey, a yeoman farmer, and they lived at Handsacre, near Armitage.
His niece, Margery, married Thomas Temple of Barton and they were
married in St. Jamesís Church in 1573. Thomas owned land in Barton
and Dunstall and, when he died, some of this land was left to John
Holland of Barton, and his executors sold the rest. He left money to
the churches at Barton, Colton and Blithfield for the purchase and
distribution of bread for the poor, and all three churches have
charity boards recording the details.
But, above all, we remember Thomas Russell for
providing sufficient money, fifty pound, in his Will for the building
and maintenance of a school in Barton, and for further providing the
necessary funds to pay for the salaries of the Master and the Usher.
The money for the construction of the school was
entrusted to the Rev. Adrian Saravia, the Rector of Tatenhill Parish,
(which then included Barton), and it was he who was responsible for
the school being built between Thomas Russellís death, in 1593, and
1595, when the school opened. The records of the Duchy of Lancaster
show that several loads of timber were brought to Barton from Needwood
Forest during the schoolís construction.
The Drapersí Company, in accordance with Thomas
Russellís wishes, until shortly after the 1870 Education Act,
administered the school. In the history of the Drapersí Company this
was very important, for Barton School was the first of many
educational establishments to be administered by the Company. Local
dignitaries were appointed as Ďvisitorsí and they kept the Drapersí
Company informed about the schoolís progress.
The following passage, taken from a letter written
from the Barton Ďvisitorsí to the Drapersí Company in London in
the year 1600, makes it quite clear that the people of Barton regarded
Thomas as a local man. It reads:
Thomas Russell, one of your companye latelie deceased, hath a greate
charitie towards his native countrey to his singular commendacon
erected a schoole heare at Barton in Staffordshire and given
continuall mayntenance for a Schoole Master and Usher..."
Of the Rector of Tatenhill, Adrian Saravia, there is
insufficient space here to do justice to his colourful and exciting
career; suffice it to say that he was a theologian, born in the
Spanish Netherlands. He became a Professor of Theology at Leiden
University and, later, itís Chancellor. He was well known to Lord
Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham and the Earl of Leicester. In 1588 he
had to make a sudden departure from the Netherlands, due partly to
religious and military turmoilís, but also to political intrigue. He
arrived in London and Queen Elizabeth, wishing to give him protection,
presented him with the living at Tatenhill. He remained there from
1588 to 1595, during which time he was involved with Thomas Russellís
school. As Thomas had mentioned Saravia by name in his Will, it would
be interesting to know whether the two men had ever met, for the Dutch
Church in London is only a short distance from Drapersí Hall.
The Rev. Saravia left Tatenhill in 1595 in order to
take up the post of Canon of Canterbury Cathedral. He was well known
for several theological treatises he had written in the latter part of
his life and, when King James I came to the throne, he was asked to
join a group of scholars in translating parts of the Bible for the
Thomas Russellís school became known as Barton Free
School and, if it was built according to his instructions, it would
have housed seventy pupils. He wanted it to be a copy of the recently
built (1573) Barnet Grammar School in Middlesex of which he himself
was a Founder Governor. The masterís desk from the Elizabethan
Thomas Russell Free School still stands today in the church vestry,
with the year 1689 embossed on the front.
Unless a picture of the school comes to light we shall
never know what it looked like, for it was demolished prior to 1885
and replaced by the present building. However, we do know its size,
because the 1883 Ordnance Survey map shows the ground plan.
Thomas Russell died on the 23rd July 1593 and, if his
declared wish was carried out, he was buried at the church of St.
Edmund the King in Lombard Street in the City of London. In his
lifetime he showed generosity and compassion to those less fortunate
than himself. He displayed great loyalty to his friends, relations,
employees and, especial to his place of birth. In providing
Barton-under-Needwood with a school, he showed a forward-looking
concern for the education and welfare of future generations. If Thomas
could see the schools we have in Barton today, he would be well
pleased, and this would provide him with some reward for his past
generosity. The village is very fortunate to have had such a
The Thomas Russell Infant School building was built in
1885 to replace the original Elizabethan school, which stood on this
site until 1884. William Sharp, who was a well-known local builder,
built the Victorian school at a cost of £2,785. The school was for
all ages and operated as two separate schools, a Boys School and a
Girls & Infants School, until 1926 when it became a mixed school.
It operated this way until 1957, when it became a Primary School after
the John Taylor High School was built, and then became an Infants
School in 1968 on the opening of the new Thomas Russell Junior School.
The Worshipful Company of Drapers presented a plaque
in 1993 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death
of Thomas Russell the founder and benefactor of the Elizabethan Free
Grammar School built in 1595 and demolished in 1884. The Drapers
Company had relinquished its direct control of the school in 1876, the
connection between them was re-established in 1993 and they have
instituted an annual bursary to all three schools in the village.
Page last updated
07 June 2002