What is now the main administrative building for the school used to be called “Nunthorpe Court”, a magnificent Victorian mansion built in 1856. Colonel Richard Frederick Meysey-Thompson (1847-1926), described by The Yorkshire Herald in 1920 as a “genial, great hearted Yorkshireman”, lived here with his wife Charlotte for over 30 years. An Old Etonian, Colonel Meysey-Thompson commanded 4th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment in campaigns on Africa’s Gold Coast, at one point with Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement. Colonel Meysey-Thompson was a baronet. He won a Royal Humane Society medal for bravery for his attempts to save his companions in an Ainsty Hunt ferry boat tragedy. At Nunthorpe Court the Colonel, a member of York Race Committee, kept and trained horses and was proud to achieve “more than his fair share of winners”. His wife Charlotte was one of England’s leading horsewomen and he was an accomplished rider himself. He was offered – but declined – £600 a year to ride for a particular stable. He published books on horses, shooting, fishing and fox hunting. After the sale of Nunthorpe Court, the Meysey-Thompsons moved to Scarborough. The Colonel died in 1926. His wife died in 1935.
Nunthorpe Court and its 11 acres of land was bought from Colonel Meysey- Thompson by York City Council in 1920 for £10,750. Even then this was considered a bargain – the cost of building a new school would have been £50,000. The school, for boys only, was considered necessary because Archbishop Holgate’s School was already “very much overcrowded” and a growing number of parents wanted their children to have secondary education. Only 4.4 per cent of children in York who attended elementary schools moved up to secondary schools – but a change in the law meant local authorities had to make secondary education available for those that wanted it. At the same time as buying Nunthorpe Court, the council paid £8,000 for Mill Mount House, another mansion, to be a girls’ school. Both schools could accommodate 200 children each. When Nunthorpe Court was first acquired, it was “crammed to bursting” with the sporting and military trophies of Colonel Meysey-Thompson. There was no electric lighting, only open fires for heating and only the rooms in the old building for teaching. The present dining hall was an open courtyard with stables on the side. The playing field had the remains of an artificial lake in the middle. York’s unemployed were drafted in to help level the playing fields.
Nunthorpe Court Secondary School for Boys’ first headmaster was Mr RJ Evans, formerly second master at Archbishop Holgate’s Grammar School, where he had been for 17 years. Forty nine boys (15 city scholars, seven pupil teachers and 27 fee paying) started on the first day, Tuesday 21 September 1920. Fees were £3/10s per term. Equipment was scarce: some chairs, a few trestle tables and two small blackboards. Staff comprised the headmaster, two full-time assistants and four part-time visiting teachers for art, singing, PE and woodwork. Three years later that had grown to 110 scholarship holders, 32 fee payers and nine pupil teachers. There were eight fulltime teachers and two part-time teachers. The start of the autumn term in 1939 was delayed because of the need to strengthen the cellars for air raid shelters. In the 1942 Baedeker air raid on York, most of the windows at the front of the old building were smashed. A member of staff was killed. The kitchen was damaged by the falling engine of a Halifax bomber which exploded in mid-air. One feature of the war years was increased co-operation with sister school Mill Mount. A joint dramatic society was formed in 1941 and in the same year the two schools celebrated their 21st birthday with a service of thanksgiving at York Minster. Nunthorpe became a grammar school in 1945. In 1957-58, the post-war bulge in birth rate resulted in large entry of first form boys. The whole of the first year had to have their lessons at nearby Scarcroft Primary School, with much tramping to and fro by masters and boys alike. During this trying time, the school lost a lot of its pleasant garden and lawn but gained a new library, new block of classrooms, art room and laboratories. There was a separate gym and improvements to the hall, with the construction of a new stage for the still flourishing dramatic society.
In 1985, as York went comprehensive, Nunthorpe and Mill Mount schools merged to become Millthorpe School.