A friary had been established in Bangor by the Dominican Order, or Black Friars, in the 13th century. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the friary was wound up in 1538. Geoffrey Glyn bought the site with a view to establishing a Grammar School. In his will dated 8 July 1557, he left the property and endowments towards establishing the school.
The will had left the property to his brother William Glyn, Bishop of Bangor and Maurice Griffith, Bishop of Rochester to execute his wishes. Unfortunately both of these were to die in the following year, but they further transferred the will to Sir William Petre, a former Secretary of State, Sir William Garrard, a former Lord Mayor of London and Simon Lowe, a London merchant, who were able to execute Geoffrey Glyn's intentions.
Although a school had been meeting in the city before this date, the new school was only formally established when it received letters patent from Elizabeth I in 1561. The school was to be known as The free grammar school of Geoffrey Glyn, Doctor of Laws, but because of the connection with the Black Friars, quickly became known as "Friars School". The letters patent established the Dean and Chapter of Bangor Cathedral as the corporation to govern the school. In 1568, statutes were adopted to regulate the schools, based closely on the statutes of Bury St. Edmunds School in Suffolk, founded a few years earlier.
The school has been established to provide a free grammar school education for the boys of the poor. This comprised a classical education, in Latin and Greek only. The children who benefited were not the most poor, but the middle class preparing for a career in the ministry or the law like Geoffrey Glyn himself.
The school continued in the old friary, close to the banks of the River Adda for over two centuries.
Under the patronage of John Warren, Bishop of Bangor – a colourful and controversial character – the school was transferred to a better site, a little further from the river. This was financed partly by closing the school in 1786, an accumulating the money saved from the endowment for a building fund. The new school was built for £2,076 12s 5½d, and opened in 1789 on a site closer to the High Street and the present Glynne Road.
The curriculum slowly developed to include mathematics, writing and other subject more familiar to today’s school students.
The school’s fortunes were varied. The move boosted the school. But by the middle of the 19th century, under the headship of Totton, the schools’ reputation suffered, and ultimately lost so many pupils that it was forced to close in 1861. It re-opened in 1866 and a new headmaster, Lewis Lloyd appointed in 1872, when a new secular governing body was introduced in place of the Dean and Chapter.
In 1881, an epidemic of typhoid in Bangor caused the school to move to Penmaenmawr to avoid the disease. The bottom of the valley, especially close to the river, was unhygienic, and this episode engendered consideration of moving away to a fresh site.
At this time, too, the Welsh Intermediate Education Act introduced a state system of secondary education in Wales. Some charity and private schools were exempted from its provisions and there had been advocates for Friars, too, to be exempted, but ultimately this brought Friars School into the state system, under Caernarfonshire County Council.
With contributions from Caernarfonshire County Council, the proceeds of selling the old site, together with a public appeal for funds, a new school was built on Ffriddoedd Road for a cost of £11,600. The architect was John Douglas of Douglas & Minishull, and builders Messrs. James Hamilton & son of Altrincham. A foundation stone was laid by Watkin Herbert Williams, Bishop of Bangor on 12 April 1899, and the building was opened in December 1900.
In moving to the Ffriddoedd site, the intention had been to move out to the countryside. After the typhoid outbreak, and with the unsanitary condition of the lower Adda valley, Ffriddoedd was seen as a healthy rural alternative. However, the development of the city was to catch up. In order to preserve a little of that rural idyll as the area developed, Dr. R. L. Archer, a former Chairman of the Governors, in 1955 bequeathed to the school a small plot of land. Known as "Dr. Archer’s plot", this was to be planted with flowers and kept for ever green.
In 1957 there several events commemorated the fourth centenary of the school. A new stained glass window was installed in the building to mark the event.
A significant reorganisation in 1971 combined three schools – Friars School, the Bangor County School for Girls (also a grammar school), and Deiniol School, a mixed Secondary modern school. The three schools brought together formed a new comprehensive school , under the Friars name, but on three sites. The former girls’ school became the Tryfan site, a Welsh language medium for the lower years, while the Ffriddoedd building was the location of the English language medium lower years. The senior years came together at a new building, built for £300,000 on a new site at Eithinog.
A further reorganisation in 1978 split the school in two: Ysgol Tryfan was formed as an 11-18 Welsh medium school on the Tryfan site. Friars School became a mainly English-medium school on Ffriddoedd and Eithinog sites.
Shoddy building practices of the 1960s meant that the Eithinog building had to be almost completely rebuilt over the following few decades. These were gradually replaced and expanded, until the whole school was able to relocate to Eithinog in 1999. The final contract for completing the school was valued at £5.4 million.
In that year, the former Friars building at Ffriddoedd was sold to further education college Coleg Menai and continues in educational use.
It is a comprehensive school for the 11-18 age group, and draws pupils from a wide area around Bangor. The current headteacher is Neil Foden.
For a considerable period of Friars School’s history, its running costs were supported by rents on land in Southwark. A primary school now stands on part of those lands – and records the connection in its name of "Friars Primary School".
The coat of arms is a double-headed black eagle on a yellow shield. This was taken from the arms of the Glyn family of Glynllifon, in the mistaken impression that these were the arms of Geoffrey Glyn. Despite this error (Geoffrey Glyn’s arms having been three saddles), the double-headed eagle survived.
The Latin motto, Foedere Fraterno - “On with the brotherhood" – again recall the Black Friars.
These symbols, which once graced the caps and blazers of grammar school boys, are today seen on polo shirts and sweatshirts of the modern school.
This is the current logo.
The school's Air Training Corps squadron was granted the number '1557' in recognition of the school's year of foundation. The Air Cadets squadron, which is still located within the school ground is officially known as '1557 (Friars) Squadron'.
Clarke, M.L. (1955). The Elizabethan Statutes of Friars School, Bangor, Transactions of Caernarfonshire Historical Society, Volume 16, pp. 25-28
Griffith, W.P. (1988), Some Passing Thoughts on the Early History of Friars School, Bangor, Transactions of Caernarfonshire Historical Society, 49, pp. 117-150
Jones, E.W. & Haworth, J. (Eds.) (1957) The Dominican, Friars School
Davies, Gareth Alban (2007), Maurice Griffin (?-1558), Esgob Rochester, Transactions of Caernarfonshire Historical Society, 68, pp. 13-50
Clifford M. Jones (Ed.) (2007), Friars School, Bangor 1557-2007: The Effect of the Reformation on Education in North Wales Mostly reprinting earlier articles referred to above, but with some new material.