Under the leadership of the late Archdeacon Samuel Edmund Branch, the Antigua Grammar School was founded as an Anglican learning institution on April 16th 1884. There exists, however, empirical evidence that this date marks only a re-establishment of the school as it seemed to have been in existence prior to the year 1837.
In 1884, however, the Antigua Grammar School embarked upon its journey to provide young men with first-class academic education. Located at Mrs. Woodcock’s house at the top of St. Mary’s Street, the Antigua Grammar School was founded as an Anglican institution under the motto, the Latin term, “Semper Virens.” The school opened its doors to 11 boys, and up to 1927 never exceeded 80, as the requirements to attend this admirable institution were so strict that any “unpromising” student whose ways were not yet ours were quickly gotten rid of.
The Antigua Grammar School was run on British public-school lines and owed its existence to the Middle-class Education Act of 1882. This Act afforded parents at the time to pay the pricey fee of 5 pounds sterling, affordable to the island’s coloured middle class.
At first, the school’s curriculum consisted of subjects such as Greek, Latin, Divinity, French and the English Language. This however did not stay for long as Archdeacon Branch wanted to ensure the boys were well rounded in all facets. He went on to introduce a few more subjects to the curriculum that included vocal and instrumental music, drawing and bookkeeping. Sports such as cricket, football and shooting were even made compulsory to help achieve this goal. He seemed to have exerted a forceful and positive influence when he taught and monitored the boys.
From the very beginning, the school was nurtured on strong Christian principles. Being an Anglican school, the boys were educated on the basic law of Christianity and, therefore, the utmost reverence for God. Every student had to participate in daily prayer sessions conducted by the bishop – a practice we still maintain to this day – every Monday morning at general assembly. Focusing on Christian principles, this man was able to produce proud, professional young men, and he governed this institution for 43 years from 1884-1927. Founder’s Day, the birth date of our founder, is celebrated today every year on March 25th with a march from the school to the St. John’s Cathedral in commemoration of our founder, Archdeacon Edmund Branch. Today we celebrate 135 years under the theme “Sustaining a legacy of excellence.”
Another major component of Grammar School’s history is inter-house competitions. In the schools earlier years, the house names boasted today did not exist. What did, however, were simply House A and House B. Games were compulsory from Monday to Friday and had to be attended at least two afternoons per week. It was the duty of the house captains to discover the athletic ability of each member of his house. Decades after, there was a vision to birth six houses over the entire school population. House A and House B were not substantial names for the vision to become reality, so in 1943 Branch and Hutson were named. Between 1945 and 1947, School and Phillip were added and, in 1966, Nanton and Auchinlech.
Most of these names were for past principals of the school. Branch, decked in dark green after Archdeacon Branch, founder and first headmaster; Phillip laced in yellow, in remembrance of Reverend Phillip, headmaster of the first Grammar School, the establishment of which was attempted although it failed to take root, which explains why we’re famous for losing (the Phillip curse). Then there was School, in raging red, dedicated to the school itself, and Hutson, in light green in reverence of Archbishop Hutson. A purple house also emerged in tribute to Gilbert Auchinlech and Nanton (blue) in honour of Patrick Nanton, Old Boy and World War II veteran.
During the amalgamation of the Antigua Grammar School and the Antigua Girls High School in the 1970s, Worrell, a black house emerged in homage to Sir Frank Worrell, first black West Indies cricket captain. In recent years, the number of sports houses have diminished and only four remain; Branch, Hutson (now blue), School and Phillip.
In 1910, the Antigua Grammar School moved to its present site in the area known as Lady Nugents, on a small hill overlooking Old Parham Road, where the alms house or “poor house” was previously located. The story is told by J.R.A Branch, a former Commissioner of the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda, and the son of Archdeacon Branch, that when the site was acquired by the founder, Mrs. Branch, his wife, exclaimed: “Edmund, I always knew that we would end up in the Poor House, but I did not think that it would be so soon.”
It was around 1939 when students began to storm secondary schools. The time of democratization of the school had come, and with it the end of the limitations imposed by Archdeacon Branch.
Under G.G. Auchinleck, Branch’s successor, the school now accommodated 232 students and erected six classrooms in his term as principal. Since the early days, the school accepted boarders from the French and Dutch Antilles, British Leeward and Windward Islands, and the Danish, later US Virgin Islands. To say the least, everybody wanted to step foot on the sacred grounds of the highly coveted AGS.
During the 1970’s, a change of government in Antigua brought rise to the decision to amalgamate the Antigua Grammar School and the Antigua Girls High School as a coed institution. A change that us Grammarians want more than Mr. Roberts wants his five Grade 1’s from each fifth form student. Forms 1 to 3 sat at Nugent Avenue while forms 4 to 6 sat at the Antigua Girls High School, Newgate Street. This combination was viewed by many as chaotic and ill-conceived, and the experiment lasted only until 1976 when it reverted to an all-boy institution. Regardless of these changes, the Antigua Grammar School remains at its rightful place on top, and it has stayed on top.
It isn’t easy to be at the top though, to be held to the mold that society places you in. That’s exactly what each and every Grammarian has and is going through. They are placed on a pedestal, not only by teachers, but society. The best and only the best was and is expected. Any young man associated with the royal green was already deemed educated, disciplined, and well groomed. This would not be so if it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of past school leaders who have carried the mantle of Grammarian pride. Several headmasters and headmistresses, or principals to which they are now referred, have been inducted in the annals of the Grammar School from 1884 to present, and have been loved and feared out of respect by students. We honour them all: Archdeacon Edmund Branch, Rev. Martin Vonberg, Archdeacon J. F. Pilgrim, Mr. Graham Gilbert Auchinlech, Mr. Jack Foote, Father Ralph Brown, Father Hatch Syrett, Dr. Leonard Shoery, Mrs. Cicely Lynn, Dr. Alfred Blackett, Sir Reginald Samuel, Mr. Leonard Benjamin, Mr. Alphonso Osborne, Mr. Clare Brown, Mr. Patrick Saunders, Reverend Everton Thomas, Mr. Casey Philip, Ms. Myrna Isaac and presently Mr. Samuel Roberts aka Big Rob.
Amid all the bad, the school has successfully engraved its name in the very fragment of Antigua and Barbuda. The school boasts some of the finest leaders of this country in addition to men who have been at the very forefront of many endeavours. In both World Wars, its students have carried the flag of Britain upon whose public school system its traditions have been formulated with outstanding distinction. The names of Lieutenant Colonel Reginald Branch in World War I, Pat Nanton, Rowan Henry and Leo Gore in World War II. “They will grow not old, as we that are left grow old.”
Others include old boy and the undoubted greatest sporting luminary to have graced the portals of the Antigua Grammar School, Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. Son Mercier who dominated heavyweight boxing in the Eastern Caribbean as a student. Walter Etinoff, who not only won the bodybuilding title of Mr. Antigua while still a student, but if our weights had been officially calibrated, would have surpassed Tomy Kono of Japan as the best middleweight weightlifter in the world. AGS old boy Paddy Winter won the annual Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition five consecutive times in Britain. Sir Lester Bird, our three-term Prime Minister, was once the best long-jumper in the world and one of the quickest fast bowlers in the West Indies. Coordinator of our National Anthem (Sir Novelle Richards); composer of the music of our National Anthem (Walter Chambers); designer of our National Flag (Sir Reginald Samuel) and designer of our National Coat of Arms (Gordon Christopher), are all old-boys of the Antigua Grammar School. Our Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams, can also proudly claim the AGS as his alma mater. Several graduates of the Antigua Grammar School have overcome by leaps and bounds and have even gone on to Cambridge, Oxford, Yale and Harvard Universities, and served with distinction, of which we can cite valedictorian, Dr. Gregson Davis of Harvard, who has carried the flag of Semper Virens proudly. This is surely not the end of the greatness to come out of the Antigua Grammar School.
The school doesn’t fall short in academic competitions whatsoever. We have made our mark in various debates and the junior science quiz, portraying nothing but sheer excellence. We can’t forget the school’s rich musical background. To preserve our culture, the Antigua Grammar School has maintained music as an integral part of its school curriculum. Last year we placed 2nd (1st Runner Up) in the Secondary Category of National Junior Panorama Competition to prove the sound of sweet Grammarian music will never die. Furthermore, art has become another portrayal of Grammarian excellence. Nowadays when you hear art, right off the bat you think of the Antigua Grammar School due to our supremacy in local art competitions. Some of our prominent artists include Tahron Peters, Dasani Benjamin, Kobe Tittle, Calvin Richards and the list goes on, all thanks to the AGS Fine Arts Department whose aim is to continue to expose the students to the various forms of Art (Visual and Performing). We also cannot forget the introduction of a new sport to the school, table tennis, in which names such as Jaylen Francis, Tahron Peters, and Calvin Richards have already progressed to masters and continue to persevere. This school year also marks the formation of the Antigua Grammar School Chess Club, spearheaded by Mr. Elton Isaacs. In athletics, the volleyball team has proven to be a persistent force as they proceed to the finals. Additionally, the school’s cricket team is heading to the finals for T20 and 2day in which we look forward to their victory. We would also like to congratulate Fifth Former and Prefect, Cedric Park on emerging the National Tourism Cadet of the Year 2019.
The Antigua Grammar School, the oldest surviving institution in the state of Antigua and Barbuda, has and will continue to achieve greatness. It has had icons of every kind, has stood the test of time, and has emerged with flying colours to remain as the sole colossus that has shaped the educational and political landscape of this country.
Today on its 135th birthday, I encourage you the students who make up the very fabric of the Antigua Grammar School, that in order to sustain a legacy of excellence, to make it your daily reminder that “We lead and they follow.”
Semper Virens! (Always flourishing!)