The foundation stone of Ellesmere College, formerly known as St. Oswald's School, was laid on St. Oswald's Day, August 5th, 1879, and the school was opened on the same date in 1884.
The founder was Canon Nathaniel Woodard who began a chain of Woodard Foundation Schools, beginning with Lancing College in Sussex. The land upon which the College is situated was provided by Lord Brownlow, whose wife laid the foundation stone.
The school originally opened with 70 boys and four masters. The school was organised in three parts - a grammar school, Servitors' School, and Training School for Masters. It was originally intended to meet the wants of persons of very small means whose sons may be boarded, and educated in the subjects necessary for them, at an expense little exceeding the cost of food.
Boys whose parents had not even "very small means" could join the Servitors' School, who assisted in the domestic work of the school in return for their education. The Training School generally trained former pupils, aged between 17 and 20, who had guaranteed to serve the College as Masters for at least two years.
In 1909, the first son of an Old Ellesmerian entered the school, the same year that "Servitors'" were withdrawn and replaced by maids in the Dining Hall.
The educational bias of all Woodard Schools was on religion, but until 1926 there was no permanent chapel. A temporary chapel was provided in the crypt beneath the Dining Hall.
In 1926 a chapel was designed by Sir Aston Webb, but only the first portion was built in 1928. This section commemorates the Old Boys of the Midland Division who died in the 1914-1918 war. Modified plans were drawn up in 1932 by Sir Charles Nicholson and building was completed in 1959 following funding in memory of those former pupils killed in the 1939-1944 war. The Lady Chapel is dedicated as a memorial to them.
A disastrous fire destroyed entirely the newly completed Chapel, and Dining Hall in 1966; both being reopened in 1969. In 1981 the College, through a separate trust, acquired a splendid Schulze Organ of 1864 from St. Mary's Tyne Dock, and this was installed in Big School.
A classroom block was completed in 1957 Biology laboratories followed in 1964, along with a new Study Wing and Library. The Dining Hall was entirely remodelled after the fire of 1966 and the opportunity was taken to add additional boarding accommodation for Talbot House above, and a sports hall below in the former crypt. In the early 1970s, nine houses were added for married masters. Then Secretary of State for Education, Margaret Thatcher visited the school in 1973 to perform the Opening of Ceremony of Additional Studies, and the completed Talbot House.
Quickly becoming the focus in North Shropshire for concerts, exhibitions, films and talks, an Arts Centre was added in 1976, with auditorium, exhibition foyer and music school.
In 1981 the Nankivell Sixth Form study wing was added, now renamed "St Lukes'" Sixth form boy's boarding house. This addition was opened by the Duke of Westminster, whose family attended the school. The name Nankivell is synonymous with the College. James Nankivell was a pupil and one time Captain of School. He returned with his wife Kathleen in 1935, and they were Housemaster and Matron of the Junior School. Also in 1981, a Design and Technology Centre was opened comprising workshop, project area, metalwork facilities, hobbies room and technical drawing office.
St Oswalds Sixth Form Girls boarding house was opened in 1984 and has been much extended since.
Former students of Ellesmere College are referred to as "Old Ellesmerians". Here are a few notable Old Ellesmerians;
- Martin Aitchison; Wakeman '32 - '35 - Illustrator
- Bill Beaumont CBE; Meynell '65 - '69 - Chairman of the Rugby Football Union
- Ralph Benjamin; Woodard '39 - '40 - Scientist
- Robert Godwin; Wakeman '71 - '75 - Author
- Frederick Harvey VC MC CBE - Ireland rugby player and recipient of the Victoria Cross
- Chris Hawkins; Derry '86 - '93 - DJ, Television and Radio Presenter
- Peter Jones - actor, broadcaster and screenwriter
- Marty Natalegawa; Wakeman '76 - '78 - Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Chris Moncrieff; Woodard '44 - '48- Journalist
- Geoffrey Ellis; Meynell '40 - '48 - Business Manager for Brian Epstein and The Beatles
- Bryan Oates; Talbot '59 - '63 - Oscar Winning Film Editor
- Lord Freddie Farrow; Woodard '44 - '48
- Sir Noel Davies; Talbot '44 - '50 - Engineer, CEO of Vickers Engineering creating the first British Nuclear Submarine. Also President of the Engineers Employers Federation.
- Ian Beer; Honorary OE - Former Headmaster