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The Story of Christ's Hospital School

Christ's Hospital marching band


Christ’s Hospital School is unlike any other school in the world. It is traditional yet quirky, could reasonably be perceived as both charitable and privileged, while pupils dressed in the school uniform are treated by others with a mixture of respect, fascination or even bewilderment.

The majestic scale of Christ’s Hospital’s buildings, with sculptures and paintings which give a unique insight into Christ's Hospital's heritage, can surely either inspire pupils, or perhaps for some bright minds adds a burden of expectation on young shoulders.

Only an Old Blue can say – and there is not one here at AAH that qualifies. But we can say with certainty that a school day is unlike any other educational experience in the country. At lunch time, for instance, there is no mad rush to line up at the bell to make sure you can finish your meal quickly and hit the school playing field. Instead, pupils assemble by the Quadrangle  and march in orderly fashion into the Dining Hall to music performed by the school band. Senior pupils take great pride in teaching marching techniques to new pupils in order to uphold a tradition that has been going strong since the last quarter of the 19th Century.

On the day AAH chose to visit the school, a traditional Tudor ‘banquet’ was served for lunch as part of Living History Day, organised as part of a programme of workshops for Year 5 children. Pupils tucked into Taffaty Tarts and Tudor Meat Pie while staff, dressed as Henry VIII and members of the Tudor Royal Family, feasted on the top table.

In stark contrast, on that same day the Christ’s Hospital Combined Cadet Force carried out a range of exercises for a biennial inspection in the Quadrangle. In the morning, Royal Navy, Army and RAF Cadets formed under Contingent Commander, Major Matt Commander. Following lunch, Group Captain D. Robertson toured cadet activities.

Christ’s Hospital must surely be the only school where you can be taught by a member of the Tudor Royal family, play a French horn on your way to lunch before playing paintball in the afternoon! It is also one of the few school’s welcomed annually to participate in the Lord Mayor’s Show, held on 12th November 2011. The Christ’s Hospital Band has long been a feature of the parade, as the school has maintained strong links with the City of London since moving from the capital in 1902.

Even today, the band marches in the school’s traditional uniform, which is remarkably similar to how it looked when Christ’s Hospital was founded in 1552. In 2010, the school’s headmaster John Franklin quashed any anti-
uniform rebellion with a student vote. Almost all of the 800 pupils wanted to keep their 450-year-old Tudor-style uniform of long dark blue belted coat with knee breeches, yellow socks and white neck bands.

It’s certainly the topic of much debate at the Bluecoat School. Old Blues recall having to stay away from Horsham town centre so as to avoid ‘penguin bashing’ but few would change it for anything. There have been occasions
highlighted on the Old Blues’ unofficial forum (which we must mention has a game of Mallet’s Mallet that began on April Fools’ Day in 2006 and now has 30,120 replies) when pupils have been mistaken for monks, but perhaps the most common misconception relating to Christ’s Hospital is that it is a boarding school for rich children.

Christ's Hospital may well have a large Endowment but the income from this is used to fund the education of its pupils as it is fundamentally a charity school, giving bright children from poorer backgrounds the chance to have a better education. The average parental contribution is about £3,000 per year (the uniform costs about £300 but is provided by the school free of charge) but 16% do not pay any fees at all and a further 10% pay less than 10% of full fees. 95% of all pupils receive means-tested bursaries, with only about 5% of the school’s 800 children paying full fees.

It is almost unique for a British independent school in that it educates a proportion of its students free. Admission of pupils is either by open  examination or presentation with suitability judged according to criteria of need and parental income.

This may continue long into the future, but one tradition has been broken in recent times. In September 2011, Christ’s Hospital offered day places to pupils for the first time since the 19th Century.

John Franklin said: “Until now, Christ’s Hospital has been a full boarding school. Day pupils will naturally be fully integrated into school life and they will have exactly the same provision as boarders apart from a bed in the boarding house. These places do not attract bursarial support but by offering day places at Christ’s Hospital we are giving parents in the region more choice when it comes to the education of their child.

“Our decision is a sign of the times and we acknowledge boarding is not an option that appeals to everybody. This is a new chapter in the history of Christ’s Hospital as we continue to offer a first class education to children from all walks of life.”

In addition to the misconception of the wealthy family backgrounds of pupils, most people are unaware of the School’s long history and City of London roots. The school was originally founded in the 16th Century in the former Grey Friars' monastery in Newgate Street, London and existed there for 350 years, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral.

Christ’s Hospital’s beginnings go back to 1552, a year before its Royal Charter was granted by the youthful King Edward VI. Henry VIII had ordered the closure of monasteries during his reign and The Grey Friars had been forced to give up their property in Newgate in 1539.  In 1546, Henry gave the Grey Friars' buildings to the City of London in order to provide shelter for the increasing numbers of poor people.

History relates that as a result of a sermon preached by Bishop Ridley of London, King Edward VI founded three hospitals, including Christ’s Hospital, which was to be used for the care and education of children. The school soon blossomed and began to acquire a reputation for scholarship which it retains today. It is thought that St Edmund Campion, a Jesuit Catholic martyr, was educated at the School, whilst the likes of Camden the historian and George Peele the playwright were also to make names for themselves.

The school prospered but in1665 the great plague claimed the lives of 32 of its children. The following year brought more misery – the Great Fire of London. Although no children perished, the Hospital was severely damaged. It wasn’t until the end of the Century that the Hospital had been fully restored, with children moving to permanent accommodation in Ware and Hertford. Nothing remains of Christ's Hospital, and all that exists of Wren's stunning Christ Church is a tower and a few outer walls.

Towards the end of the 17th Century, The Royal Mathematic School was founded by Royal Charter as a separate school within Christ's Hospital. Notable figures at the school included the famous diarist Pepys and William Wales, who took up the post of Master of the Royal Mathematical School after returning from a second voyage around the world with Captain Cook.

The reputation and record of Christ’s Hospital continued to grow, although many changes were made throughout the next 200 years. The Taunton Commission of 1864 proposed that the school make more places available for girls – only 18 out of 1192 pupils were female at that time! Four years later, the Christ’s Hospital band was formed after some pupils, bored of drill, asked the treasurer to invest in some instruments.

In addition to leading the lunch time march, the band now leads the school on the St Matthew’s Day march and the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, and has also played at Lord’s and Twickenham. But undoubtedly the most important period in the history of the school came when The Royal Commission of 1877 reported that “for a thorough reform in the management and discipline of the school” Christ’s Hospital should move away from London.

The Duke of Cambridge, the President of Christ’s Hospital, was among the many that were appalled, and voiced the view that the school could not survive outside of the City. A farm site owned by the Aylesbury Dairy Company was bought in 1892 for £47,500 (about £4.5million in today’s money) and over the next five years an additional half a million pounds (perhaps £50million today) was spent. On May 29th 1902, an estimated 660 boys moved to the new site at Horsham, although it wasn’t until 1985 that the school once again became a truly co-educational foundation with the arrival of 200 girls from Hertford.

The architects, Sir Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, incorporated many features of the London design into the Horsham building (such as the Grecians’ Arch and the Wren arch) while the Old Science School on the east side of the quadrangle and the chapel were inspired by the abandoned London buildings.

But the new school did not impress everyone. Christ’s Hospital was labelled “an arrogant brick town” by E.V Lucas and The Buildings of England described the design of having ‘fatally low creative voltage’. Nowadays, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of one of the largest quadrangles in the country.

Some of the finest statues and paintings were placed in commanding positions. If the buildings do not grab your attention, the art and furniture surely will. Perhaps the most distinctive, at least in terms of location, is the fountain with a statue (1832) of Edward VI. The Chapel contains stained glass commemorative windows of leading benefactors of the Foundation and paintings by Sir Frank Brangwyn, depicting the spread of the gospel.

The Dining Hall on the North side has one of the largest paintings on canvas in existence – that by Antonio Verrio, depicting the granting of the Royal Charter to the Royal Mathematical School. On either side of the Verrio painting are pictures by Sir Francis Grant of Queen Victoria (a rare shot on horseback) and Prince Albert. Big School, placed between two of the classroom blocks, is on the south side and contains plaque recording all Presidents, Treasurers, Clerks and Headmasters of  Christ’s Hospital.

Statues dating back to the 17th century of Sir John Moore by Grinling Gibbons, and Charles II can be found on the front of Big School, while Edward VII – who in 1897 laid the Horsham Foundation Stone – and Sir Walter Vaughan Morgan – a former treasurer and Lord Mayor of London) are on the Old Science School.  An Elliot and Hill organ from 1829 that once stood in the Great Hall in London also now resides at the Big School. 

During recent times the cultural life of the school has greatly expanded, with the building of a new theatre/arts complex in 1974, which won the R.I.B.A award for the South Eastern region in 1975. A School Museum has been  created and features statues, uniforms, models, paintings, photographs, medals, books and manuscripts. Amongst the most striking exhibits is a large early 19th Century oil painting of the London School.

In the year 2000 Christ’s Hospital embarked upon a substantial programme of refurbishment of the old buildings and the creation of new ones at the site. Now the school looks forward to a strong future. John Franklin commented: “The past four years have seen quite a lot of change at Christ's Hospital. Much has been done to ensure that the pupils receive the very best pastoral care, while steady improvements in the teaching and learning programme saw the school’s best academic results in living memory last summer.

"In September 2011 the school introduced the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and, for the first time, took on a small number of very capable pupils from Germany and the Far East. Looking ahead, the main
challenge for Christ's Hospital will be to retain the extraordinary level of charitable support that it provides for needy pupils, along with its wonderful egalitarian ethos, while making the changes necessary to ensure that this
“religious, royal and ancient foundation” continues to flourish in the future.”

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