Christ’s Hospital | A City Institution for 350 Years
Close to St Paul’s tube station you can find the wonderful garden of Christchurch Greyfriars, set within the former church that was gutted during The Blitz.
The church has its own fascinating history, but on the left hand side there’s a curious blue sculpture which reminds us of a City Institution that used to stand nearby; Christ’s Hospital.
Christ’s Hospital wasn’t a medical institution but rather a school, founded in 1552 by King Edward VI. Thanks to his father’s dissolution of the monasteries, London had lost a considerable proportion of the 16th century welfare state.
So to help the poor, fatherless and orphaned children of the City, a new school was founded on the site of the (newly vacant) Greyfriars monastery on Newgate Street.
You can find a City of London Plaque which recalls the history a little further along Newgate Street
In November 1552 Christ’s Hospital opened with 380 pupils, increasing to 500 within a year. You may also be surprised to learn that girls were included alongside boys from the very beginning. That is apart from 1707-1985 when the girls were educated at a separate site in Hertford.
For 350 years the school weathered the various disasters faced by the City, losing 32 children during the Plague of 1665 and rebuilding the entire school following the Great Fire the year after.
This rebuild was complete by 1705 and partially designed by Christopher Wren (who also rebuilt Christchurch Greyfriars next door).
This engraving shows the school in 18th century, the church tower of Christchurch is visible on the right hand side.
The school further expanded in the 19th century with the addition of a the New Hall, a Grammar and Mathematical School and the Grecian Cloisters.
An interior view of the Great Hall can be seen in this engraving from 1808, on the right hand wall you can see the large mural painted by Antonio Verrio in the late 17th century.
In 1902 the school was moved to Horsham, a far larger site surrounded by green space. This wonderful photo from Historic England shows the view from Newgate Street with the New Hall in the background. It was taken only a few years before they moved out of the City.
The New School in Horsham
The new site in Horsham was designed by Sir Aston Webb and made use of the historic fabric. This includes some of the archways that make up the Quad.
Also inside the Dining Hall they have reinstalled the huge mural by Antonio Verrio.
This was painted between 1684-90 and commemorates the foundation of the Royal Mathematical School. The Royal Charter was granted by King Charles II, shown sat on a throne in the centre.
Christ’s Hospital Scupture
In 2017 a new bronze sculpture, designed by Andrew Brown, was unveiled in Christchurch Greyfriars garden.
It shows the gradual development of children from scruffy maniacs to upstanding members of society.
The chosen colour is a striking dark blue, modelled on the traditional Tudor-style uniforms. In fact alumni are even known as Old Blues. What you can’t quite appreciate here are the fetching, knee-high mustard yellow socks which are also part of their historic uniform.
On the back of the sculpture is a map of the London site of Christ’s Hospital.
It’s a little hard to see but below is a similar image from the Agas Map (c.1550s) from layersoflondon.org
There is also a poem, ‘On Leaving School’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was a Old Blue and wrote this aged 18, reflecting on this thoughts about leaving the school.
Farewell, parental scenes! a sad farewell!
To you my grateful heart still fondly clings,
Though fluttering round on Fancy’s burnished wings,
Her tale of future joy Hope loves to tell.
Adieu, adieu! ye much-loved cloisters pale!
Ah! would those happy days return again,
When ’neath your arches, free from every stain,
I heard of guilt, and wondered at the tale!
Dear haunts! where oft my simple lays I sang,
Listening meanwhile the echoing of my feet:
Lingering I quit you with as great a pang
As when, erewhile, my weeping childhood, torn
By early sorrow from my native seat,
Mingled its tears with hers, my widowed parent lorn.
Christ’s Hospital retains close links with the City, always playing a prominent part in the Lord Mayor’s Show each year as well as many other annual traditions, so have a look next time you’re by St Paul’s Cathedral or St Paul’s Tube Station!
If you want to explore more of the City’s secrets I have a public walk; The City: Power and Sacrifice which you can book here and another tour that explores the Square Mile’s secret gardens here
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