Bristol Grammar School was founded by Royal Charter, issued on 17 March 1532 by Henry VIII, for the teaching of 'good manners and literature'. It was endowed by Robert and Nicholas Thorne, wealthy Bristol merchants who wished to establish a school for the education of the sons of Bristol merchants and tradesmen. The School's motto Ex Spinis Uvas, which translates as "Grapes From Thornes", is a play upon the names of the School’s founders.
The School moved from its original home at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, near the bottom of Christmas Steps, to Unity Street in 1767, moving to its current location at Tyndalls Park in 1879. The Tyndall’s Park site initially consisted of the Big School, with its remarkable Great Hall, and the Headmaster’s House (now the Junior School). Further classrooms were added as the School grew, and a Gymnasium, Fives Court and a Rifle Range constructed. These have been rebuilt as cookery and rehearsal rooms, and a Junior School Hall, but the Winterstoke wing, added in 1914, still houses the Science Laboratories.
The Preparatory School began in 1900, and in 1928 moved into its own building on Elton Road, but this, with so much of Bristol, was destroyed on the night of 24 November 1940 by incendiary bombs. The Prep Hall, which survived, became the Mackay Theatre and the Elton Road ruin was rebuilt as classrooms under Headmaster John Garrett. More recently, as part of the 1532 Performing Arts Centre development (opened in 2016), the Elton Road block has been redeveloped to provide music teaching and practice spaces, and a drama studio. The Mackay was transformed into a recital space with attached recording studio and a new state-of-the-art theatre, seating 270 constructed, along with a dedicated dance studio.
John Garrett also added the University Road block and began to colonise the other side of Elton Road. Geography, Classics, Modern Languages, Art and Music have their own Elton Road Houses, and the former playing field is now the Technology Centre. The School has on on-site Sports Hall, while playing fields at Failand provide accommodation for team games and outdoor sports. In addition to two AstroTurf pitches, a new 3G pitch was constructed in 2017. The Don Pople Pavilion, completed in 2008, complements the impressive sports pitches and the Failand site also provides a low ropes course and woodland for Forest School lessons.
BGS became independent in 1979, following the abolition of the direct grant system. In 1980 the School became fully coeducational, having admitted girls to the Sixth Form for the previous two years. The development of the School has continued with the creation of the Infant School in 2010 which occupies two of the Elton Road houses. Bristol Grammar School today is a modern, thriving, coeducational day school with around 1350 students aged 4–18 learning together as part of a happy and vibrant community.