The school is believed to have been founded in 1509, the first year of the reign of King Henry VIII, by Thomas Stanley, second Earl of Derby, as a chantry school. It was situated adjacent to Blackburn Parish Church.

The school survived the Reformation and in 1567 was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth I. It thus became the “Free Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth in Blackburn in the County of Lancaster”. One of its pupils in the late 16th Century, Robert Bolton, was said to be the most famous classical scholar of his time.


In August 1819, the decision was taken to demolish the old parish church and rebuild it (the new church of St Mary the Virgin is now Blackburn Cathedral) and the school moved to a temporary home in nearby Market Street Lane until 1825.

Its new site from 1825 was in the Bull Meadow area (“in the fresh air of the country”) but, as Blackburn itself expanded during the Industrial Revolution, the school there became too cramped. In 1884 the Blackburn Grammar School, as it was still then known, made one final move.

The new site was on the west side of the town’s Corporation Park, close to Alexandra Meadows, the home of the East Lancashire Cricket Club and also the venue for a number of the early fixtures of Blackburn Rovers Football Club.


At the dawning of the 20th Century, the Grammar School still had well under 100 pupils. Yet it achieved the distinction of producing a number of boys who went on to attain national and sometimes international distinction in their chosen field, John Garstang, the archaeologist, Sir Harold Derbyshire, barrister, Sir Ernest Marsden, physicist, to name but three.

From these modest beginnings on the West Park Road site, the Grammar School grew quickly both in size and in the space it occupied. It also began to be referred to increasingly as “Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School”.

From 1919 until 1947, its Head was Arthur Holden, a former pupil, and it was under his headship that the school’s Harrison Playing Fields at Lammack were opened (in 1920). The Junior School moved into premises known as “Horncliffe” (1925) and installation of the impressive stained glass windows in “Big School” was completed (1930). In 1944, the school adopted independent status under the provisions of that year’s Education Act.


1950 onwards saw a period of considerable development at the school, with new laboratories, classrooms and a new assembly hall and gymnasium all completed in a 20-year period. The school produced more pupils who achieved renown, Brian Mercer, the inventor, Peter Hall, the Bishop of Woolwich, and Russell Harty, the TV personality.

In 1976, the ending of the Direct Grant scheme saw the school become independent once more and in the same year girls were admitted into the Sixth Form for the first time.

Further adjustments and improvements to the QEGS estate culminated in November 1987 with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to open the Queen’s Wing. This was followed in 1989/90 by the new Sports Hall at Lammack and the swimming pool at West Park Road and in 1995 by the new Sixth Form Centre, Singleton House.

In the modern era, QEGS former pupils to become famous after their schooldays include designer Wayne Hemingway, film director Michael Winterbottom, and golfer Nick Dougherty.


The school had grown to a roll of around 1200 in the mid-1990s, due in part to a positive approach to the government’s Assisted Places scheme. When this was ended by the incoming Labour Government in 1997, the school had to adjust to operating at a much-reduced size, with some rationalisation of outlying properties.

Curriculum changes in the late 1990s saw a number of progressive moves, including the introduction of Complementary Studies, which includes religious, civic, health, personal and social education and which acts as a fulcrum both to the curriculum and to the ethos of the school.

In 2001, the school moved to a fully co-educational entry, partly in response to parents’ requests but also in the firm belief that co-education is the best preparation for the world beyond school. In 2002 QEGS opened an Early Years Department (later renamed “Infant School”), bringing the age of the youngest pupils down from 7 to 4 (and subsequently to 3 in 2005).


After 500 years of history, from September 2014 QEGS became a Free School and continues to educate pupils to the highest academic standards, in accordance with a clear moral code. The programme of redevelopment and improvement at the West Park Road site remains ongoing, as the school continues to offer the best possible education and preparation for life to children from throughout the Central and East Lancashire area. The latest enhancements to the site include new facilities for Biology, Mathematics and Complementary Studies, all brought into use in the autumn of 2008, and a new extension to the Sports Hall at the Harrison Playing Fields at Lammack, opened in March 2011. In 2012 the old art block at Brooklands was renovated to become the new nursery school, taking children from 3 months to 4 years which operates as a seperate business. This is a private nursery and as such there is no priority for children applying for places at Queen Elizabeth’s.

“After 500 years of history, QEGS continues to educate pupils to the highest academic standards.”