The history of Yarlet as a School dates back to 1873, when the Rev Walter Earle, who had been a housemaster at Uppingham, established in Staffordshire one of the first Preparatory Schools for the Sons of Gentlemen, as they were known to the Victorians. Very few such long-established prep schools still occupy their original site – and the site itself has an interesting history.
There are records of both Bronze Age and Roman settlements at Yarlet. The name itself has evolved from the Anglo-Saxon Erlide, which was the name used in the Domesday Book where the entry has been translated: "Yarlet, one hide* with appendages, is held under Earl Roger by Robertus. The 4 villeins and 4 bordars have one plough. There are 5 acres of meadow. It is valued at 20 shillings." *A hide is reckoned to have been about 120 acres
There are records of various owners between the 12th and 18th centuries, until White's Guide to Staffordshire included the following entry in 1834: "Yarlet is an extra-parochial liberty on the Stone road, comprising 21 inhabitants and 590 acres of land, all belonging to John Tunnicliffe Esq, who resides at the Hall (known as Yarlet House at the time), a neat mansion situated on a gentle declivity."
The Tunnicliffes had been corn merchants from Liverpool and John Tunnicliffe's son Henry, who had moved into Yarlet House after his father's death, wanted a larger and grander house. So in 1870 – in true Victorian style - he proceeded to demolish the old 17th century mansion and built the 55-room neo-Gothic, neo-Jacobean Yarlet Hall. Henry Tunnicliffe died before he could move into Yarlet Hall, which is how it came to be rented in 1873 by the founder of the School, the Rev Walter Earle.
Walter Earle soon became one of the leading prep school headmasters of his day. During his 14 years at Yarlet he sent over 300 boys to a range of more than 30 public schools, the principal destinations being Uppingham, Rugby, Marlborough, Repton, Harrow, Clifton, Charterhouse and Eton. By 1887 the Yarlet numbers had reached 90 and the entries for 1888 exceeded the capacity of the School, so he moved to Bilton Grange, near Rugby, where he founded a new school.
Walter Earle was succeeded by another clergyman, the Rev Clement Bode, who was headmaster for a similar period until 1902, when he left to found Beechmont, a prep school near Sevenoaks. He likewise sent boys on to a wide selection of public schools including Charterhouse (where his brother was a housemaster ), Blundell's, Marlborough, Uppingham, Cheltenham, Eton, Repton, Haileybury and Harrow.
In 1903 Andrew Fernie, the son of a surgeon in Stone, became the third headmaster of Yarlet when his father-in-law John Harris, the chairman of a local pottery firm, acquired the Yarlet freehold from the Tunnicliffe family ( who subsequently sold the adjacent Marston and Whitgreave estates to the Staffordshire County Council to create farm smallholdings for servicemen returning from the 1914-18 War ).
Andrew and Nell Fernie steered Yarlet through extremely challenging times over the period leading up to their retirement in 1929. School numbers had risen to 67 by 1921 but fell back to 41 as the Great Depression took hold. Just under 250 boys passed through Yarlet in the Fernies' time and moved on to rather less distant schools such as Malvern, Repton and Shrewsbury, though some went to Winchester, including their nephew David Harris as a scholar.
The Fernies were succeeded in 1929 by a partnership headed by Guy Mackarness and joined in 1931 by Keith Tarling, who after Oxford had been teaching at a prep school at Church Stretton in Shropshire. In 1934 Keith Tarling married Joy Harris, the grand-daughter of John Harris, and in 1937 they together took over both the School and the freehold estate, which remains in the family to this day.
During Keith Tarling's 39 years as headmaster, from 1931 to 1970, he played a unique part in strengthening Yarlet's reputation and standing as a leading prep school, leaving a fine record of scholastic and sporting achievement. The numbers rose from 27 to 84 boarders and there was not a single Common Entrance failure among the 500 and more leavers. The main destination schools were Repton, Wrekin, Malvern, Shrewsbury and Rugby. The 1950s saw 32 academic scholarships to 13 schools, mostly to Repton, Shrewsbury, Rugby and Winchester.
On Keith Tarling's retirement he was assisted by his son, Nick, a London solicitor who had been one of the Repton scholars from Yarlet in the 1950s, in establishing the School as a charity. The charity became known as The Yarlet Trust and took a lease of the School buildings and grounds from the Tarling family ( they having built a family house for themselves near the Chapel ). The first decision of the charity governors was to appoint Keith Tarling's joint headmaster, David Carr, as his successor. The second decision was to launch an appeal to build the Centenary Hall, which was opened by the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, in June 1973.
Like his predecessor David Carr had taught at another prep school – the Repton prep school at Foremarke – and he and his wife Angela continued to build Yarlet up strongly with outstanding academic and sporting results. Numbers reached 130 ( all boy boarders ) by 1982, a decade which saw 38 academic scholarships to 10 schools, more than half being to Shrewsbury, Repton or Eton. David Carr's tenure was also notable for its vigorous building programme which included a new swimming pool, science laboratory and art school as well as the Centenary Hall.
David Carr retired in 1989 and was succeeded by Richard Plant, who had taught at Yarlet for 18 years and been assistant headmaster for 10. It was during Richard Plant's headmastership that the governors decided to open a junior, pre-prep school and – almost as a direct consequence – to admit girls as well as boys to Yarlet. The process of co-education worked well under the careful supervision of Richard and Sue Plant, who achieved a smooth transition to a more modern, mixed school with a wide variety of new facilities.
Amongst these facilities were new tennis courts and an all-weather sports ground donated by the estate of Keith Tarling following his death in 1993, and a new, purpose-built pre-prep building which was opened in 1999. This was shortly followed by a sports hall incorporating two indoor cricket nets – a true rarity for a prep school. After this the Centenary Hall was wholly dedicated to the performing arts and has been extensively fitted out for this purpose.
In the first decade of the new millennium the numbers reached record levels, as many as 170 boys and girls, the majority of whom entered Yarlet through the nursery and therefore came from relatively short distances from the School. Full boarding was replaced by flexi-boarding, still offering an excellent preparation for boarding at major public schools.
Richard Plant retired in 2009, having witnessed more growth and change at Yarlet than any previous headmaster. He sustained the tradition of strong scholarships, some academic and some in other fields such as music or art, and these were supplemented by outstanding sporting achievements. Destination schools included local independent day schools, such as Newcastle High School, as well as Repton, Shrewsbury, Rugby and Denstone.
In 2009, for the first time, the governors looked outside to recruit a new headmaster to succeed Richard Plant. From a field of 35 applicants they selected Ian Raybould, the headmaster of the King's College Preparatory School in Madrid, with a mandate to continue to modernise and improve the School whilst maintaining its strong academic and sporting traditions. After 5 years Ian Raybould has more than measured up to this mandate and has already achieved the best school inspection results in Yarlet's history. Plans for the future include further improvement to both academic and sporting facilities.