A remarkable school still making a unique contribution to society
On the 29th May 1902, 660 pupils arrived by train at Christ’s Hospital station for the first day of term in what was a brand new, unrivalled and purpose-built school building. Today, the school is home to 900 pupils (an equal mix of boys and girls) and continues to enjoy state of the art facilities and provide children from all backgrounds with an outstanding education that would otherwise be beyond their means.
Founded in 1552 with just 380 children, the school’s purpose from the outset was to address the needs of the poor but that provision quickly grew to include providing children with an education. In its nearly 500-year history since, Christ’s Hospital has survived the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, produced a list of notable Old Blues (former pupils) that runs into hundreds and has seen the likes of Samuel Pepys as a governor, Coleridge, Lamb and Leigh Hunt as pupils, and enjoyed visits from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II.
A bold vision for a dairy farm
It’s perhaps hard to imagine now what a momentous occasion it must have been when pupils marched up the hill to the new school building for the first time. The idea of moving the school out of London had been a bone of contention for those involved in the school’s governance for decades and when the 1,100-acre site at Horsham was eventually purchased in 1892 from a dairy farm, the project wasn’t without serious criticism and concern.
Construction of the magnificent, Tudor style building took 5 ½ years to complete, requiring 200 million red bricks, 100 miles of electric wiring, 40 miles of heating pipe and the construction of a system of underground tunnels (which still exist), a new railway siding and station, a water tower and a 300,000 gallon reservoir on top of Sharpenhurst Hill.
The beginning of a new era of excellence
The school’s move to Horsham undoubtedly marked the beginning of a new era. At the time, the school was split, with dwindling numbers of girls housed at a site in Hertfordshire and the boys housed in London. Despite a number of refurbishment programmes since the Great Fire of the 17th century, two hundred years on and the old school buildings in London must have felt a lifetime away from the state-of-the-art new facilities set in the heart of the Sussex countryside.
Inevitably, the school’s journey to the present day hasn’t been without its own challenges. In 1914 the school was briefly requisitioned as a Prisoner of War campsite, whilst some 400 Old Blues were lost in WWI with another 200 lost in WWII. A flying bomb was shot down close to the infirmary in 1944, the school succumbed to a flu epidemic in the 1950s and (of course a pandemic in 2020) and in the 1980s, a series of freak weather events battered the site including the great storm of 1987 which decimated many of the school’s trees.
An innate ability to innovate and improve
But Christ’s Hospital appears to have an innate ability to innovate and improve in the face of adversity. Maths, science and the arts have always been important at Christ’s Hospital and for over 100 years sport has been an integral part of life at the school. Since the school’s move to Horsham, improvements have included a new Science School, a Scout Hut, improvements to the library, a new Theatre and Arts Centre and a refurbished Music Centre. And of course, in 1985, 280 girls came from the school’s Hertford site to finally unite the school under one roof. Pursuant to a Master Plan for the Development of the School in 1999, this century has already seen a new Sports Centre, new sixth form accommodation and a refurbishment of the award-winning theatre.
A school without parallel
In 1846, the school was described as “a remarkable school” and “…a thing without parallel in this country”. And the same could still be said today.
The school’s mission is to challenge inequality by providing a nurturing, transformative education for young people from all backgrounds. At present, of the 900 pupils, over two-thirds receive a substantially reduced place and 11 % receive a place for free. The facilities and opportunities the school provides remain second to none, and the sporting and academic achievements continue to be outstanding.
A pivotal moment to reflect on a remarkable legacy
Speech Day is one of the pivotal moments of the school’s annual calendar and a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. Held in the summer term and always attended by the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of the City of London, it’s an opportunity to celebrate achievement with prize giving and awards and includes a traditional “March Past” by the school’s famous band when the drum majors lead a salute the Lord Mayor.
The highlight of the event is when a Senior Grecian (Head Pupil) gives an “oration” (speech) without notes, to which the Lord Mayor responds with his own speech. And there can be few more fitting a moment in this Jubilee Year than to mark and celebrate the many achievements of Christ’s Hospital, its staff and its pupils since those first tentative steps from the station 120 years ago.
For more information, please visit: https://www.christs-hospital.org.uk/
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