READING in the Herald recently about the excellent exam results of Wallingford School, I was reminded of where it all really began back in the 17th century with the lucky life and legacy of a local boy called Walter.

It's a fascinating story.

Walter Bigg was born around 1605, son of a Crowmarsh cloth-maker.

His great-uncle Richard owned The Bell pub in Wallingford (on the site of the present Waitrose) but had made his fortune by becoming a brewer in London.

When Walter was 20 years old, he became uncle Richard's apprentice, moving to London but never forgetting his Wallingford origins.

Once qualified, Walter set up his own brewing business, married, had children and became a Freeman of the prestigious Merchant Taylor's Company, to which his uncle had fortunately introduced him. Life was good.

The Civil War changed that dramatically in 1642.

Walter supported Parliament, becoming a Major in the harsh war against the King; he was lucky to survive.

His Wallingford relations were on the other side, living in a Royalist stronghold.

After Parliament won the war, Walter kept in close touch with Wallingford: in 1650 the town Statute Book recorded him giving £20 towards the new town mace which cost £46. 18s.4d - it's still in use today!

In 1654 Walter reached the pinnacle of his career, being elected Sheriff of London and Master of the Merchant Taylors' Company.

Both were demanding roles - his inaugural ceremony as Master was unfortunately interrupted by a call to attend the Mayor of London in his capacity as Sheriff, so the inauguration had to be postponed.

These public roles took a toll on Walter's health and by 1658 he retired to his new Wallingford home, Castle Priory.

The next year he was elected MP for Wallingford but he died on August 5, 1659.

His memorial is in St Mary's Church.

But this was not the end – Walter Bigg left a legacy of £10 a year to pay for a schoolmaster to teach 'in a free grammar school thereafter to be erected in Wallingford'.

It was the beginning of schooling in Wallingford.

The money came from leasing Walter's London property, which significantly increased in value over the following years and centuries.

For 200 years it paid to educate six poor boys at the Wallingford Grammar School, which had many homes over the centuries.

It started in an upper room of Wallingford Town Hall in the 1680s, then moved to a house on St John's Green in the 1700s, and later moved to a third site at a house in St Martin's Street.

In 1877, with money from the sale of Walter's London property, a new Wallingford Grammar School, taking boys and girls, was built in Station Road.

It was used until 1999 (by then known as 'Upper Site'), when the school finally consolidated on its present location in St Georges Road.

The school still gets some money from The Walter Bigg Trust and maintains its links with the Merchant Taylors' Company, so Walter Bigg's legacy lives on!

If you would like to find out more about the history of Wallingford, including schooling in the town, go to Wallingford Museum at Flint House, 52 High Street, Wallingford.

Find out about our opening times at

You can also read a bit about the history of Wallingford School on the school's own website, where they say they are proud of their legacy and links to Walter Bigg and the Merchant Taylors' Company.