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When is a Hospital not a Hospital?

Find out about a “hospital” for poor children set up by Edward VI, still providing private education to less well-off children who wear a Tudor uniform.

When it’s a school founded by a Tudor king. In the Middle Ages a hospital was not what we think of today. The word has the same origins as hospitality or hotel, coming from the Latin hospes meaning both guest/visitor and host. A medieval hospital could be almhouses for the poor, a hostel for pilgrims or a school for the poor.

The sculpture by Andrew Brown commemorates the founding of Christ’s Hospital in 1552 by King Edward VI on part of the site of Greyfriars, a Franciscan monastery in the City of London, which had been dissolved by his father Henry VIII. Having heard a sermon about the plight of the poor, Edward galvanised the City of London to raise money to set up Christ’s Hospital to provide food, clothing, lodgings and a good education for poor children. The school still has close links with royalty, the Queen being its patron.

Children of all ages were accepted and, somewhat unusually for the time, girls. Until the age of 10 they were looked after at sites in Hertfordshire. Then the boys moved to the London school where, until they were 15, they were educated for a career in commerce or trade. A few, presumably those seen to have real potential, continued beyond 15 preparing for university (the first pupil went to Oxbridge in 1566) or in the Royal Mathematical School (part of the school from 1673) with a view to serving at sea – luminaries such as Sir Isaac Newton, Sir John Flamsteed and Samuel Pepys were involved with the school.

Like so many other buildings in the City of London the London school was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire but all the pupils survived. The children moved to a new site in Hertfordshire until the rebuilding of the London site was completed in 1705 when the older boys moved back. In 1902 all the boys moved to a new site in Horsham and the school finally became co-educational in 1985 when the girls joined them there.

The sculpture marks the original site of the school. It shows the distinctive Tudor, possibly most famous school uniform in the world which the pupils wear to this day – long navy blue coat with leather belt, matching knee breeches (or a skirt for girls), yellow socks and white neckband. There were thoughts of modernising the uniform but the pupils voted overwhelmingly in 2011 to keep the traditional one.

The school is renowned for its musical education and traditions. If you have ever been to the annual Lord Mayor’s Show you will have seen the school’s marching band which was formed in 1868 and has been part of the parade since 1974.

Although an independent school, Christ’s Hospital continues with its original charitable ethos with the majority of its students receiving bursaries, so those less well-off continue to be able to receive a private education over 450 years after the school was founded.

When Is A Hospital Not A Hospital

Susan Baker is a qualified City of London Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Susan’s walking tours.

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London History Podcast:
November 5, 2021
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