Founded on May 21, 1729, Wolmer’s Boys’ School can claim to be the oldest school in the West Indies. This was the day John Wolmer made his last will and testament, by which he left the bulk of his estate for the foundation of a free school in the parish in which he happened to die. The sum of the legacy was £2,360.
Little is now known of John Wolmer except that he was a goldsmith who had practised his craft in Kingston for more than 20 years. He died in Kingston on June 29, 1729.
There were some delays in giving effect to Wolmer’s will, but after many amendments and conferences between the House of Assembly and the Council, a law was passed and the Wolmer’s Trust, which would manage the affairs of the school, was established in 1736.
Before the end of the 18th century, in 1782, Wolmer’s began to enrol girls and had a record of 64 boys and 15 girls on roll. The staff consisted of a headmaster, a writing master and accountant, a teacher of mathematics and a teacher of the French and Spanish languages.
The Wolmer’s school was originally situated in downtown Kingston for most of its life, prior to the 1907 earthquake. Wolmer’s was located on Church Street at what is still known as the Wolmer’s yard, now a parking lot and vendors’ arcade beside the Kingston Parish Church. In 1896, the schools were separated and independent heads appointed for the boys’ and girls’ schools.
After the 1907 earthquake, which severely damaged most of the school buildings, the school was moved to its present site north of the Kingston Race Course, or what is now the National Heroes’ Park. In 1941, at the instigation of Mrs Evelyn Skempton, the then headmistress of Wolmer’s Girls’, the preparatory school was established to ‘feed’ the girls’ school. It opened its doors with six little girls in the area which now houses the canteen and art room.
Over the years, Wolmer’s Boys’, Girls’ and Preparatory Schools have had many benefactors who have contributed substantially to the growth and development of the institution. They have all helped to ensure that the schools, which in the closing years of the 20th century comprise some 3,000 students and 150 faculty members, have fulfilled the hope expressed in the law of 1736, that Wolmer’s would become “a very considerable and beneficial seminary of learning for youth”