William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, Sir Cuthbert Halsall of Halsall and a group of local leading figures in Ormskirk decided that the boys of the town needed to be educated.

A decree was made in the High Court on September 28th 1612, which initiated the formation of a charitable trust. It was known as the Foundation Governing Body of the Free Grammar School and funds were raised within the town for a building to be erected. These men became the first Foundation Governors, with Sir Cuthbert Halsall as the Chairman.

The school was built at Barkhouse Hill, in the grounds of the Parish church and remained there until 1828, when, due to its poor state of repair, it was condemned.


A new school was needed and so Edward Smith Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby, generously donated land at Ruff Lane. Thus Ormskirk Grammar School came in to being. It is remembered with fond affection by both staff and pupils.


It remained on this site until 2001, when it joined with Crosshall High School on Wigan Road to become the new Ormskirk School.


In 2004, Ormskirk School moved into a new building on Wigan Road, on the site of the old Crosshall High School.

From the time of the 6th Earl of Derby, and now the 19th, the Foundation Trust has always included the current Earl as a governor. Lord Derby laid the Foundation stone for the new Ormskirk School, continuing this tradition of supporting both the school and the Foundation Governing Body.

The Earls of Derby

The Story of William Stanley (1561-1642)

Henry Stanley, (1531-1593) the 4th Earl of Derby, was married to Margaret Clifford, who was the heir apparent to Queen Elizabeth 1st. On Margaret’s death, the heir then became her eldest son, Ferdinando, who later became the 5th Earl on his father’s death in 1593. His younger brother William had left the country and was travelling the world, having many adventures.

It was whilst he was on these travels, that in 1594 Ferdinando died in suspicious circumstances, only months after acceding to the title. Some say it was because he had become the male heir to the Queen and was therefore dangerous. Ferdinando only had daughters and so after, his death, all of his lands were quickly distributed amongst them, although William, unknowingly, had inherited the title.

Luckily for him, he met someone from England who informed him of his brother’s death and the events that had taken place. He was warned to return to England with utmost haste to claim his inheritance. He returned to find the estate settled on Ferdinando’s daughters and had to fight to get it reinstated. This he did, but it took him some time to regain the title, with the support of Queen Elizabeth 1st. He then became the 6th Earl of Derby.

In 1595 William married Elizabeth de Vere, a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth 1. It is said that William Shakespeare wrote ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the occasion of their wedding and it was performed for the first time at their wedding banquet. It has even been suggested that William was actually William Shakespeare himself!

He became very involved in local affairs and this is how he joined with other influential men from Ormskirk to create the Free Grammar School and the Foundation Trust.

In 1612, a local man called Henry Ashcroft had left £136.11.8d, for the use and maintenance of a Free Grammar School in Ormskirk. The Foundation was legally established by a decree on September 28th 1612 in the Chancery Court of the Palatine of Lancaster.

The Story of Edward Smith Stanley (1775-1851)

Edward Smith-Stanley was the 14th Earl of Derby. He was a politician who was Prime Minister three times. When he succeeded his father as the 14th Earl of Derby in 1834, he withdrew from politics to concentrate on local affairs and his natural history collection at Knowsley Hall. He had a large collection of animals that he had had transported from many countries by explorers.

He was also the patron of Edward Lear, who taught the children of Lord Derby at Knowsley Hall. He wrote ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ specifically for them.

By this time, the school bulidng located at the church had been condemned as unfit to remain an educational establishment. Edward then gifted land at Ruff Lane for a new school to be built and this opened to pupils in 1850.

The Story of Edward Richard William Stanley (1962 – )

Edward Stanley, the 19th Earl of Derby, acceded to the title in 1994 on the death of his uncle, also Edward Stanley. It was he who first opened Knowsley Safari Park, the biggest of its kind in the country.

Lord Derby has maintained his family’s connections with the Foundation Trust. He laid the Foundation Stone for the new building on July 1st 2003 and remains a Governor of the Trust.

In 2012, the Trust celebrated its’ 400th Anniversary and a number of events took place throughout the year, culminating in an exhibition at Ormskirk School on September 28th. Items in store at Lancashire Archives were brought out of storage and displayed for the people of Ormskirk to view. Many were photographed and will gradually be displayed on this page.

Lord Derby kindly allowed the Trustees to hold their 400th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Knowsley Hall, a fitting venue which confirmed the strong link between the Trust and the Stanley family. He was the guest of honour at what was a memorable evening of reunions of old school friends and staff from the former Ormskirk Grammar School.

On Founders Day, September 28th 2012, he visited the historical exhibition to celebrate the anniversary and signed the original ledger, which dates back to 1612. He also planted an oak tree to further cement this bond.

In July 2022 he allowed the Trustees to bring their chattels to Knowsley Hall for safekeeping.