The school opened at Apperley Bridge, W. Yorks, in 1812 for the sons of Methodist preachers. (A school for the sons of itinerants in the north of England had been suggested by Adam Clarke as early as 1806.) The first headmaster, John Fennell, was the godson of the Rev.John Fletcher and the Rev. was appointed examiner. The school developed under the headship from 1817 of Samuel Ebenezer Parker, before his 'clandestine departure' in 1831. Inadequate premises and poor sanitation, leading to frequent epidemics and some deaths, were dealt with under William Grear, headmaster from 1838 to 1854. In 1875 the school was reorganized as the junior department of Kingswood School, but was closed by Conference eight years later and immediately reopened by popular demand as a proprietary school for sons of middle-class Methodists, together with a few ministers' sons. Under the headship of Arthur Vinter (1883-1914) it enjoyed increasing success. With improved boarding accommodation, a house system and an extended curriculum, it established a sound academic reputation, broadened its intake and became a Direct Grant school in 1907, accepting public grants mainly in support of local elementary school boys. Among its later headmasters were Clifford W. Towlson (1922-1950) and Frank C. Pritchard (1950-1972). After the withdrawal of state support in 1976 it reverted to full independence and in 1985 became co-educational. In 2007 it had 1,025 boarding and day pupils of both sexes, aged 3 to 18.
To counter dropping numbers in the main school, Brontë House was opened in 1934 as a preparatory school, in the former Ashdown House and with F.C. Pritchard as its first Master-in-Charge.
Notable among former Woodhouse Grove pupils were J.M. Strachan, bishop of Rangoon, the artist John Lockwood Kipling, George Scott Railton, associate of William Booth in the formation of the Salvation Army, and George Morley FRCS, discoverer of the qualities of strychnine and pioneer in the field of forensic medicine.