Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School was founded in 1701 in accordance with the last will and testament of Sir Joseph Williamson, who bequeathed five thousand pounds “towards the building and carrying on and perpetual maintaining of a free school at Rochester for the instructing and educating of such youth there who were or should be the sons of freemen these towards the Mathematics and all other things which fit and encourage them for the sea service and arts and callings leading and relating thereto”.
Sir Joseph Williamson served as a leading politician and diplomat during the reign of King Charles II. He was first elected as MP for Rochester in 1690 and held various offices (including Secretary of State aged 41) until his retirement in 1699 when he settled to live at Cobham Hall. At one time he was President of the Royal Society, Keeper of the King’s Library at Whitehall and Editor of the Oxford Gazette. He receives mention in the diaries of Samuel Pepys.
Williamson’s life and work is not without controversy. He was an investor and administrator in the Royal African Company, a trading company set up in 1660 and led by the Duke of York (future King James II). This company held the monopoly of the English slave trade from Africa to the West Indies.
Professor William Pettigrew from Lancaster University, in his book ‘Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752’ (2016) writes that the Company ‘shipped more enslaved African women, men and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade’.
Williamson’s involvement in the slave trade is not in doubt, and we must therefore clearly contextualise his contribution to our school and be balanced in our views on his legacy.
Williamson’s connection to the slave trade allows the school to be particularly impactful in how we educate students about slavery, which is taught as part of the History curriculum in Year 8. It also allows us to help students in all year groups explore, through debate and discussion, the notion of making moral judgements about the past.
The school moved to its present site from its former building in Rochester High Street in the 1960s and enjoys the benefit of excellent sports facilities on its 30 acre site.
The school introduced a 7th House, Tower in September 2019.