Adams' was founded in 1656 by Alderman William Adams, a wealthy City of London merchant and haberdasher, who was born in Newport and whose younger brother Sir Thomas Adams became Lord Mayor of London. Adams had no children and never married, so therefore decided to leave a bequest for the foundation of the school, which was first opened on 25 March 1656, during the politically unstable and volatile period of the English Interregnum. Having received permission from Oliver Cromwell to found the school, Adams sought to further ensure the school's continued existence by appointing the Master and Wardens of the Haberdashers' Company as governors in perpetuity. As one of the few schools founded during the Interregnum period, the school's articles of foundation were reconfirmed by Act of Parliament in 1660, upon the Restoration of the Monarchy; a copy of which is held in the school archives.
Adams endowed the school with a large agricultural 900-acre (3.6 km2) estate at Knighton in Staffordshire, providing income for future generations, as a result of this Knighton was exempt from all land taxes until 1990. This estate was eventually sold off in several portions over the course of the twentieth century, and the proceeds of the final sale were used by the Haberdashers' Company to purchase Longford Hall as a boarding house for the school. The grammar school was initially endowed with 1,400 books just after its foundation, this at the time represented one of the largest libraries in England, the average Oxbridge college then having only circa 1,000 books. Only seven of these 1,400 books are still in the school's ownership, with the rest having been sold at various times when the school has suffered financial hardship.
Adams' developed slowly, and did not expand beyond its original building, now known as Big School, until the turn of the last century when Main School (also known as the S-Block) was built in the 1920s. Over the course of the next 90 years Adams' expanded rapidly, acquiring a number of buildings on Lower Bar in Newport for use as boarding houses; this in turn greatly expanded the school's town centre site. In the 1960s a new science block, connected to Main School was built, whilst a senior boarding master's house was created on land adjacent to Big School. During this period the school also acquired a new gymnasium, which was subsequently converted into a theatre in the mid-2000s.
In 1950 the school became a voluntary aided school then after a brief spell as a grant-maintained school in the 1980s, Adams' again faced threat of closure or conversion to co-educational comprehensive status in the early 90s; this was avoided by a successful campaign, organised by parents and governors, against the wishes of Salop County Council. In the late 1990s and 2000s Adams' again began to flourish after having been awarded voluntary-aided status; throughout its history the Haberdashers' Company has been key in supporting the school and providing financially for many of the more ambitious construction projects. The 1990s saw the construction of the Wood and Taylor Centres for the study of Design Technology and Maths, whilst with the coming of the 2000s the school began to raise funds for he construction of a new state-of-the-art Sports Hall and Fitness Suite. Perhaps the most important development in the school's recent history came in 1993 when girls were admitted to the sixth form for the first time, thus ending Adams' long tradition of educating boys only.
In 2002 a history of the school by former headmaster David Taylor and his wife was published.
The late 2000s saw the school celebrate its 350th anniversary (in 2006), completion of a new science block and conversion of the former gymnasium into a performing arts centre (this, in turn, was converted into a Sixth Form Centre, which opened in 2013). The music department was condemned in 2006; The Coach House, on Salters Lane, which backs onto the school grounds, was acquired by the Haberdashers' Company and converted into a new music department, which opened in 2013 alongside the new Sixth Form Centre.
During World War I, 362 Old Novaportans served in the Armed Forces of whom 45 died and 77 survived wounded. After the War a memorial fund was set up to assist the sons of alumni, whose appeal raised £1,000, and a tablet listing those who died was unveiled in Main School building in 1921. In 1948 the Old Boys' Club erected another tablet alongside this to those who died in World War II. Both memorials are now displayed in the School Library.
Under the headmastership of the Revd Samuel Lea, the school survived turning down the services of Dr Samuel Johnson, who was later to be the pre-eminent scholar of the 18th century.
Adams' is a selective state school which admits both boarding and day pupils, with ever increasing numbers of foreign students, especially from Hong Kong. Adams' is a specialist Technology College as well as a Language College and a Training School.
The school, including the sixth form, has approximately 800 pupils, all of whom wear a common uniform, with the exception of sixth formers (both Upper and Lower) who wear a navy blue, as opposed to maroon blazer. It is however, of essentially the same design, with the exception of the addition of gold blazer buttons in the place of plastic maroon ones.
Adams' Grammar School regularly places in the top 50 schools throughout the country and top 20 state schools nationally based on GCSE and A-level results. The school has developed a reputation for consistently having a high number of sixth formers gain access into the Russell Group and Golden Triangle universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. A high proportion of pupils also go on to study highly competitive subjects including the Law, Dentistry, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.
Adams was rated by Ofsted as a Grade 1 outstanding school during 2013 and the school has also been scored as average with a Progress 8 score of -0.02 by the Department for Education.
The current headmaster is Mr Gary Hickey.
AGS operates an extra-curricular house system and is the basis of inter-house sports competitions, traditionally a source of pride for pupils of their respective houses (all named after Shropshire-born notables):Clive House, named after Robert Clive of India (born near Market Drayton) sports scarlet as its colours.
Darwin House, traditionally sports royal blue and is named after Shrewsbury-born Charles Darwin, the celebrated 19th-century naturalist.
Talbot House, the last of the three original "Salopian" houses, traditionally displays black and white (arranged in hoops, e.g. on rugby jerseys) as its sporting colours; it is named after Whitchurch-born "Old Talbot" (Sir John Talbot, later Earl of Shrewsbury) of the famous local Talbot family and one of the foremost English military commanders of the French medieval wars.
Webb House, the newest house at Adams' founded in 1994, assumed emerald green as its distinguishing colours; it is named after Dawley-born merchant naval officer and accomplished swimmer, Captain Matthew Webb.
Throughout the academic year there are many house events, revolving around the Arts, sports or academic subjects. These include the House Music Competition, Dixon Cup (drama), Smedley Cup (rugby), House 7's, House Netball and Public Speaking (now incorporated into Dixon Cup). Intra-house Geography and Languages competitions also take place.
The school owns a number of dedicated boarding houses, which play a significant role in school life being the residence of AGS' 150 or so junior and senior boarders. The present junior hall (Longford Hall) is located by the school's playing fields about a mile away whilst the three senior boys' boarding houses (Beaumaris, Roddam and Picken) are to be found situated in large Georgian townhouses facing the High Street just 50 metres away from the main gates on the same side of the road as the main school (often referred to as Big School).
Longford Hall was built in 1785 for Colonel Ralph Leeke, political agent to the British East India Company; the building was designed by Joseph Bonomi, who was an associate of Robert and James Adam.
The hall is located on top of a low rise and overlooks farmland towards the Lilleshall Monument. As with many such buildings, the first 100 feet in front of the hall comprises manicured grass, bordered by a ha-ha to prevent animals from entering; today the ha-ha is best known amongst pupils for forming a part of the school's annual house cross-country course. There are a small series of formal gardens, including a "Quad". Behind the hall is a selection of buildings around a central square including a dovecote, once part of the estate's home farm. These buildings were renovated and sensitively converted for residential use between 2001 and 2004, with the circular dovecote being a sought-after dwelling.
Upon entry into the school in year 7, boarders are assigned to dormitories; upon moving to senior boarding houses at the schools main, town centre sites, boys are often assigned to double or, in some cases, single rooms. In every Upper VI year there is a dedicated Boarding Captain (in addition to the four House Captains and School Captain); collectively the school's captains are traditionally referred to as the front benchers as they often sit in a line facing the rest of the student body at full school assemblies.
Adams' CCF plays an integral role in school as a result of which, the school sends many recruits to Sandhurst, Royal Air Force College Cranwell and the Britannia Royal Naval College. The CCF also plays a role in Newport civic life, parading every year on Remembrance Sunday. The CCF recruits each January from the Second Form and with cadets passing out in May of the same year.
The Corps has its own building, commonly known as "Noah's Ark", where its stores are housed and NCO meetings and some lessons take place. The Corps frequently holds Overnight Exercises where battle drills and fieldcraft are practised; these are held either at Longford Hall, Nesscliffe Training Area or ROF Swynnerton. When the Sixth Form goes on study leave, the CCF prepares for the Annual House CCF Competition, known as The Thompstone Trophy, after Lt-Col Brian Thompstone; this entails a Drill Competition, Shooting, Command Tasks, Memory Games, Forces-related Quizzes, Section Attacks, CQB and an OBS course. The Corps is inspected every two years (the Biennial Inspection) by a senior Army or RAF officer.
Both the Army and RAF sections of the CCF hold Summer Camps every year, visiting working military bases such as RAF Cranwell and MOD Barry Buddon. Cadets can also attend Adventure Training Camps held annually at Llanbedr and Windermere, Easter Camps at RAF Akrotiri, Summer Camps at Ramstein Air Base and Leadership Courses at RAF Cranwell, Nesscliffe Training Area or at Frimley Park. CCF Band members are invited to attend Music Camps at Britannia Royal Naval College and Altcar. The school also sends a small contingent of cadets to the Annual Nijmegen March. Additionally, cadets also have the opportunity of attending special events such as the 65th D-Day Landing Commemorations and the Cadet 150 Celebrations.
Through the Cadet Vocational Qualifications Organisation (CVQO), the AGS CCF offers its cadets (aged 16–19) the opportunity to obtain internationally recognised BTEC First Diploma qualifications in Public Services. Each BTEC First Diploma is the equivalent of 4 GCSEs, grades C – A*.
Adams' has traditionally been a rugby school, and as such requires all boys play rugby through Years Seven and Eight during the Autumn and Spring terms. Upon entry into Year Nine, pupils are presented with the option of continuing to play rugby, or switching to hockey. Cricket and athletics are the main sports disciplines undertaken during the shorter Summer term. In Year 11 and the Sixth Form, boys are often presented with the opportunity to take part in any sport of their choice, provided they can receive permission for such an activity. With the exception of those activities not provided by the school, all sporting events, and training therefore takes place at the school's Longford Hall playing fields; for this reason, few visiting sports teams ever see the Main School site. Adams' operates a system of games afternoons, a system by which each individual year group is assigned a specific day of the week to attend afternoon physical activity sessions at Longford (for this purpose the VI Form is combined with Year 11).
In recent years football has been reintroduced to the school after a hiatus of almost a century.
As with many private and grammar schools, Adams' organises biennial Summer Tours abroad for its senior rugby, hockey and girls netball teams. Recent tours have included rugby tours to South Africa, South America, Australia and Singapore, and a hockey and netball tour to Barbados.
Adams' currently runs student exchange programs with the following schools in France, Germany and Poland:
AGS also corresponds with Ringwood Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia.
The School supports the Old Novaportans' Club which organises many reunions, dinners and sporting events throughout the year to which its members are invited. Upon leaving the school, all students are encouraged to join and stay in contact with its alma mater.
Former pupils are known as "Old Novaportans" (initialised as "ON").Revd Robert Charnock (1663–1696) – Dean of Magdalen College, Oxford, conspirator who planned to kill King William III
Prof Donald Court CBE (1912-1994) – James Spence Professor of Child Health at Newcastle University (1955–72) and former President of the British Paediatric Association
William Cureton (1808-1864) – orientalist
Prof Dave Goulson – Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment) at the University of Sussex (born 1965), world-renowned expert on Bumblebees and founder of the British Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Thomas Hollis FRS (1720–1774) – benefactor of Harvard University, political propagandist, patron of Canaletto among other artists
Prof William Holmes – Professor of Physiology at the University of California
Very Revd Keith Jones – Dean of York
Prof Helmut Koenigsberger – Professor of History from 1973 to 1984 at King's College London
Rt Revd Gerald Lander (1861-1934) – Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong
Sir Oliver Lodge – inventor & first principal of Birmingham University
Dr James E. Quibell – archaeologist and leading British Egyptologist
Prof Maurice Stacey CBE (1907–94) – worked alongside Sir Norman Haworth to artificially synthesize Vitamin C
Dr Peter D Wootton – recipient of the 1st Deans' Commendation from Manchester Metropolitan University and active coordinator with the Unite Against Fascism Movement.
Michael J. Bassett – film director and scriptwriter
Simon Bates – radio disc jockey
Barrington J. Bayley – science fiction author
Tom Brown – satirist
Radzi Chinyanganya – TV presenter
Ben Day – radio and TV presenter
Ben Gernon – conductor
Ewen Henderson – sculptor
Norman Jones – actor
Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore – poet, editor and author
Nick Snaith – radio disc jockey (Heart Network)
Richard Burge FZS – chief executive of Wilton Park since 2009, and of the Countryside Alliance from 1999 to 2003, and Director-General of the Zoological Society of London from 1995–99
Nick Jenkins – chief executive of moonpig.com, former Glencore commodities trader
Peter Butler (born 1951) – former Conservative MP for North East Milton Keynes from 1992–7, and current chief executive of Flying Scotsman plc
Jeremy Corbyn (born 1949) – Labour MP for Islington North since 1983, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party since 12 September 2015
John, Earl Gower (1694-1754) – Lord Privy Seal 1742–54, and first senior Tory member of government since King George I's coronation in 1714
Revd Jon Green – local fame within Cardiff for work with the homeless and poor
Thomas Hanmer (1648–1701) – MP for Ludlow, Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire
Revd Silvester Horne (1865–1914) – MP for Ipswich, Congregationalist Minister, and father of Kenneth Horne
Peter Price (born 1942) – Conservative MEP
Thomas Parker, Earl of Macclesfield (1666–1732) – Lord Chancellor and Acting Regent of Great Britain
Sir Richard Whitworth JP MP – High Sheriff of Staffordshire aged 21, MP for Stafford 1774–1780, and nephew of Charles, 1st and last Baron Whitworth.
Frank Armstrong QPM – Assistant Commissioner of the City of London Police from 2006 to 2012
Captain Thomas Ashburnham (1855–1924) – 6th Earl of Ashburnham
General George Colt Langley KCB (1810–96) – General, Royal Marines
Major-General Sir James Lumley KCB – Adjutant-General
Matthew Smith – 17th-century spy, intriguer and writer
Sir Charles Buckworth-Herne-Soame Bt (1864-1931)
Major-General Francis Ventris CB – General Officer Commanding British Forces in China
Rear-Admiral Harry Wilson – Rear-Admiral, Royal Navy
Philip Gittus – manager of the Philippine National Rugby Team
Charlie Huxley – professional jockey and 2008 winner of the Scottish Grand National
Graham Kitchener (born 1989) – rugby player for Leicester Tigers and England
Dan Redfern (born 1990) – cricket player for Shropshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire county cricket clubs
Peter Short (born 1979) – rugby player for Bath Rugby and England Saxons
Colonel Reginald Tewkesbury-Thwaites – manager of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club from 1903 to 1912.
Revd John Heawood – housemaster, mathematician and father of Percy John Heawood
Ryan Palmer – Maths teacher and ex-Jamaican National Chess Champion
Agnes Miller Parker – former Art teacher, engraver and illustrator
Alec Peterson – former headmaster, founder of the International Baccalaureate.