A vertical tutoring system is in place at Hele’s, offering students enhanced opportunities and a more personalised and supportive pastoral programme. Students have positively embraced the change and we are very excited about the future, including upcoming House challenges and competitions, which will create a fantastic atmosphere across the school! Please click on the appropriate tab below to find out more information about each of the Houses.
Sir Francis Drake was a sea captain, privateer, navigator and politician in the Elizabethan era. Born around 1540 in Tavistock, he is one of history’s most renowned mariners and can be ranked alongside Christopher Columbus as a skilled navigator. His exploits, however, can also provoke controversy. To Spaniards at the time he was known as “El Draque” (the dragon) and regarded as a pirate, due to his raids on Spanish bullion ships.
Drake was the eldest of twelve boys in his family, and his first experience of living and working by the sea actually came in Kent, not Devon. The Drake family had moved to the port of Chatham to escape religious disturbances in Devon and for a time lived on an old, laid-up ship. At the age of 12 or 13, Drake began his maritime career as an apprentice on a small trading ship. He returned to Plymouth as a young man and took part in the first English slaving voyages with his second cousin and fellow navigator John Hawkins, a Plymouthian. On one of these expeditions, all but two of the ships in the fleet were lost due to a Spanish squadron attack, contributing to Drake’s lifelong distrust of the Spanish. Throughout the 1570s, Drake built a reputation as a brilliant privateer and a skilled navigator, conducting profitable trading voyages to the West Indies and raiding Spanish and Portuguese ports in the ‘New World’ (North and South America) and the Atlantic. He was twice married but did not have any children.
In 1577, Drake set out on an expedition against the Spanish colonies on the American Pacific coast, On board The Pelican (later renamed The Golden Hind), he left Plymouth with five ships, manned by 164 seamen. By October 1578, only The Pelican and its crew remained, navigating the western coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean. In reaching the Pacific, Drake had become the first Englishman to navigate the Straits of Magellan and his progress up the west coast of North America took him further than any European had previously been. He landed in California and claimed it for Queen Elizabeth I, renaming it Nova Albion (New England), before venturing south and west across the Pacific, gathering a rich cargo of spices and Spanish treasure from Java and the East Indies and rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The Golden Hind’s return to England in September 1580 gave Drake the distinction of being the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe and the voyage contributed greatly to the creation of a more accurate picture of the true geography of the world. Drake was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth I, on board The Golden Hind.
Drake is perhaps best known for his role in the Spanish Armada battles of 1588, as a Vice Admiral of the victorious English fleet. Popular myth suggests that Drake was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe when he was informed of the Armada’s approach and commented that there was plenty of time to finish his game and still beat the Spanish. He was responsible for the capture of the flagship Spanish galleon Rosario, along with her crew and the royal money chest, as the English fleet pursued the Armada up the English Channel in darkness.
Drake continued his seafaring career into his mid-fifties, with less successful campaigns against the Spanish. He died at sea on his final treasure-hunting voyage in January 1596, off the coast of Panama, having suffered from dysentry. His body was placed in a lead casket and buried at sea.
Sir Joshua Reynolds was the leading English portrait painter of the eighteenth century and a proper local lad: born in Plympton St Maurice in 1723. His father was the master of Plympton Grammar School (also known as Hele’s School), situated on Longbrook Street. The young Reynolds benefitted from varied academic and cultural influences, which informed his artistic talent.
His first recorded portrait took place in 1735, when his subject was a local clergyman named Thomas Smart. In 1740, he was apprenticed to a Devon-born portrait artist, Thomas Hudson, who was based in London. By 1743, Reynolds was already finding success as a portrait artist, later travelling widely in the Mediterranean and finding inspiration in old-masters paintings. He established a studio in St Martin’s Lane, London, where many of his high-profile clients lived.
As a well-regarded and successful portrait painter, Reynolds enjoyed socialising with the brightest and most significant intellectual figures of his day. It has been said, however, that he maintained his Devonshire accent throughout his adult life and he continued to have links with his home county, once living in a house in Devonport with his sisters and frequently visiting Saltram House, where he painted portraits of the Parker family. Two portraits by Reynolds are on display at Mount Edgcumbe House, just across the River Tamar in Cremyll: one is of Captain Edgcumbe, RN and the other is of Richard, 2nd Baron Edgcumbe. Notable subjects of Reynolds included some of the leading figures of the eighteenth century, for example Josiah Wedgwood, Lord Palmerston, Dr Samuel Johnson and David Garrick.
Reynolds’ reputation and talent (along with some highly-effective social networking skills!) saw him appointed as President of the newly-created Royal Academy in 1768 and in the following year he was knighted by King George III. In 1773 he was chosen as Mayor of Plympton and is reported to have told the King: “This gives me more pleasure than any other honour I have received – except that which your Majesty has graciously pleased to bestow upon me.” In his later career, Reynolds became the principal painter to the King, until his sight began to fail and he was forced to give up painting. He died of liver disease at his home in London in 1792.
Robert Falcon Scott, also known as “Scott of the Antarctic” was a British naval officer and explorer, born in Milehouse, Plymouth. The family home, Outlands House, is no longer standing but in its place is St Bartholomew’s Church, on Scott Road. Scott was part of a large family, which had a tradition of naval service. He became a naval cadet at the age of 13, and served on various Royal Navy ships in the 1880s and 1890s, progressing through the ranks.
In 1899, Scott was informed of an impending British National Antarctic Expedition, later known as the Discovery Expedition. He was appointed Commander of the expedition and between 1901 and 1904 his group, including the explorer Ernest Shackleton, reached further south than anyone had previously been before. The expedition was very challenging: few members of the group had any experience of Antarctic or Arctic waters and there was very little training in specialist equipment and techniques for coping with the ferocious weather conditions. Despite these challenges, Scott and his team returned to Britain as heroes in 1904, having undertaken groundbreaking scientific research into the structure of the Antarctic, fixed the position of the South Magnetic Pole and observed the continent’s natural life, including a colony of Emperor penguins. Scott’s reputation was enhanced through his demonstration of leadership skills and the value of the group’s scientific research.
Scott spent the following years eagerly fundraising for an expedition to become the first to reach the South Pole, with the objective of securing the honour of this achievement for the British Empire. The Terra Nova Expedition, pitted against a rival group led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, set out from New Zealand to the Antarctic on 29th November 1910. Amidst blizzards and temperatures as low as minus 23 degrees, Scott and his small team (Dr Wilson, Captain Oates, Lieutenant Bowers and Petty Officer Evans) spent early January journeying to the South Pole, only to reach it on 16th January 1912 and find a Norwegian flag, with a note from Amundsen stating that his team had reached the Pole on 14th December 1911.
The 1,500 km return journey to camp at McMurdo Sound started well, but soon the dreadful weather conditions, hunger, cold and exhaustion started to take their toll on the small group. Evans died in mid-February, and Oates, suffering from severe frostbite, walked out of the group’s tent on 17th March 1912, never to be seen again. The remaining three members of the group perished in their tent, unable to venture any further due to gale force blizzards, frostbite and exhaustion. It is thought that Scott was the last of the group to die, on 29th March 1912. He was an avid and eloquent diarist, and his accounts of his final expedition have endured in British history. Eight months later, a search party found the tent, the bodies, letters, scientific samples and Scott’s diary. The tent was buried under a cairn of snow and ice. In January 1913, before Scott’s ship Terra Nova left for home, a wooden cross was erected as a permanent memorial on Observation Hill, inscribed with the names of the deceased explorers and a line from the poem Ulysses by Tennyson: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Agnes “Aggie” Weston was a Victorian philanthropist, whose lifelong work was for the benefit of sailors and their families. A determined and compassionate lady, Aggie was a keen supporter of sailor welfare and the temperance movement from a young age, corresponding with sailors whilst they were away at sea and opening a coffee bar for the soldiers of the 2nd Somerset Militia brigade.
Aggie first visited Devonport in Plymouth in 1873. As a member of the Royal Naval Temperance Society she was allowed to visit sailors on warships and talk to the crews to promote temperance. Together with her friend and fundraising partner Sophia Wintz, she raised funds to buy a house outside the dockyard at Devonport, on Fore Street, and the first “Sailor’s Rest” was opened on 8th May 1876, with accommodation for 900 men. Similar Rests were subsequently established in other naval ports like Portsmouth and Portland, providing lodging, recreational activities and facilities for sailors: a “home from home”.
Aggie’s concern for the welfare of sailors extended to those serving at sea: she published a journal, Ashore and Afloat (still in publication today), with the aim of encouraging temperance and Christian beliefs and behaviour. Her monthly letter to sailors had a circulation of 60,000 by 1918.
Aggie’s outstanding work was formally recognised by Queen Victoria, who bestowed upon her charity the title of The Royal Naval Sailor’s Rests. Aggie was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1918 and died shortly afterwards, on 23rd October 1918 in Devonport. She was buried with full naval honours.