27 July 2023

Sevenoaks School in Literature

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During the early modern period, Sevenoaks School came to the attention of antiquarians after featuring in William Lambarde’s chorographical work A Perambulation of Kent (1576). Lambarde described the history and work of William Sevenoke in founding the school and almshouses. Since then, Sevenoaks School has continued to feature in historical studies and topographical guides, but has also attracted the attention of writers of fiction, memoir, journals and even graphic novels.

William Camden mentions the school and almshouses in Britannia (1586).

William Sevenoke is one of Richard Johnson’s Nine Worthies of London (1592), in which a fictionalised account of Sevenoke’s life recounts him not only serving as Mayor and founding a school and almshouses, but also travelling to France with Henry V and even defeating the Dauphin in single combat.

The antiquarian John Stow refers to William Sevenoke’s civic roles and the founding of the school and almshouses in his Survey of London (1603), as does Anthony Munday in A Brief Chronicle (1611).

Daniel Defoe refers to the school in A tour through the whole island of Great Britain (1724–27).

John Wesley preached ‘at an open place near the Free-School’, on Saturday 4 October 1746, recording it in his journal. (Journal of the Rev John Wesley, 1740-89)

William Harrod’s poem, Sevenoke, A Poem Humbly Inscribed to His Grace the Duke of Dorset (1753), describes the school as a ‘stately seminary’, the founding of which he erroneously credits to Elizabeth I.

Charles Wordsworth credits his schooldays at Sevenoaks for instilling in him an enjoyment of cricket, in Annals of my Early Life (1891).

Boys reading the popular periodical Boys of England in 1868 would have noticed a reference to the school in the ripping yarn Jack Cade, Rebel of London, by Captain Mayne Reid.

The prolific but now largely forgotten novelist and poet Maurice Hewlett reflects on friendships of his schooldays in Lore of Proserpine (1913).

The Sevenoaks education of Huang Ya Dong (Wang Y Tong) and the son of John Frederick Sackville and Giovanna Baccelli is mentioned in Vita Sackville-West’s Knole and the Sackvilles (1922), and also in Robert Sackville-West’s Inheritance: The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles (2010).

Charlie Higson’s fictional boarding school, Rowhurst (The Dead, 2010) was inspired by Sevenoaks.

In Ian McEwan’s novel Sweet Tooth (2012), the character Tom Haley is described as ‘the product of a good grammar school, Sevenoaks’.

Sevenoaks has even featured in two graphic novels by Kevin Sacco (OS 1970). A modern-day Bildungsroman, The Plane Story (2011) looks back at Kevin’s days at the school, in particular the time he enjoyed in the Art department. His second book about the school, Sevenoaks (2021), takes a deeper look, from the summer of 1966, when learns that his family is moving from New York City to London and that he will be attending Sevenoaks, a traditional boarding school in the English countryside.

Mad about Shakespeare: From Classroom to Theatre to Emergency Room by Jonathan Bate (OS 1976) touches on the author’s schooldays and his father’s career as a Classics master at Sevenoaks, exploring Shakespeare and memoir.

Social history and local studies

You can read about William Sevenoke and the history of the school in the following:

  • Sevenoaks Essays, by Gordon Ward (1931, republished Sevenoaks, 1980)
  • Sevenoaks School and its Founder 1432-1932, by J T Lennox (Sevenoaks, 1932)
  • At Honour’s Game (Sevenoaks School, 1957)
  • Social Institutions in Kent 1480-1660, by W K Jordan, in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol 75 (1961)
  • The Pleasant Town of Sevenoaks, by Sir John Dunlop (Sevenoaks, 1964)
  • Sevenoaks School, A History, by Brian Scragg (Bath, 1993)
  • A biography of William Sevenoke in The History of Parliament online and The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed J S Roskell, L Clark, C Rawcliffe (1993)
  • Medieval Schools, by Nicholas Orme (Yale, 2006)
  • Educational Provision and Piety in Kent, c1400–1640, by G M Draper, in Pieties in Transition, ed Robert Lutton and Elisabeth Salter (Ashgate, 2007)
  • The Almshouses and Sevenoaks School, by Mike Bolton (Sevenoaks, 2010)
  • A History of Music at Sevenoaks School, by Peter Young (Sevenoaks, 2010)
  • Sevenoaks, An Historical Dictionary, ed David Killingray and Elizabeth Purves (Andover, 2012)
  • Sevenoaks War Memorial: The Men Remembered, by Matthew Ball (Stroud, 2014)
  • A School Transformed: Sevenoaks School 1898-2002, by Mike Bolton (Bognor Regis, 2019)


Lord Burlington’s designs for the school and almshouses are described in the following:

  • The Designs of Inigo Jones, William Kent (1727)
  • Lord Burlington’s Town Architecture by Pamela D Kingsbury (RIBA, 1995)
  • The School and Almshouses at Sevenoaks, Richard Hewlings, The Georgian Group Journal Vol XI (2001).

Image above from The Plane Story © Kevin Sacco

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