Christ’s Hospital

Christ's Hospital

Many regrets were expressed when it was found necessary to remove this ancient school from London, and to destroy the old buildings. Of course, "everything is for the best in this best of possible worlds." Boys, like plants, thrive better in the open country, and London fogs are apt to becloud the brain as well as injure health. But the antiquary may be allowed to utter his plaint over the demolition of the old features of London life. The memorials of this ancient school cannot be omitted from our collection.

Christ's Hospital.

We are carried back in thought to the Friars, clad in grey habits, girt with cord, and sandal shod, who settled in the thirteenth century on the north side of what we now call Newgate Street, and, by the generosity of pious citizens, founded their monastery. Thus John Ewin gave them the land in the ward of Farringdon Without, and in the parish of St. Nicholas Shambles; William Joyner built the choir; William Wallis the nave; William Porter the chapter house; Gregory Bokesby the dormitories, furnishing it with beds; Bartholomew de Castello the refectory, where he feasted the friars on St. Bartholomew's Day. Queen Margaret, the second wife of Edward I., was a great benefactor of the order, and advanced two thousand marks towards the cost of a large church, which was completed in 1327, and was a noble structure, 300 feet in length, 89 feet in breadth, and 74 feet high. "Dick" Whittington built for the friars a splendid library, which was finished in 1424. The church was the favoured resting-place of the illustrious dead. Four queens, four duchesses, four countesses, one duke, two earls, eight barons, and some thirty-five knights reposed therein. In the choir there were nine tombs of alabaster and marble, surrounded by iron railings, and monuments of marble and brass abounded. The dissolution of monasteries came with greedy Henry, and the place was rifled. The crown seized the goodly store of treasure; the church became a receptacle for the prizes taken from the French; and Sir Martin Bowes, Mayor of London, for the sum of £50, obtained all the beautiful tombs and brasses, marble and alabaster, which were carted away from the desecrated shrine.

But Henry's conscience smote him. The death of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, the King's boon companion, moved him "to bethink himself of his end, and to do some good work thereunto," as Fuller states. The church was reopened for worship, and Bishop Ridley, preaching at Paul's Cross, announced the King's gift of the conventual grounds and buildings, with the hospital of St. Bartholomew, for the relief of the poor. Letters patent were issued in 1545, making over to the Mayor and Commonalty of London for ever "the Grey Friars' Church, with all the edifices and ground, the fratry, library, dortor, chapter-house, great cloister, and the lesser tenements and vacant grounds, lead, stone, iron, etc.; the hospital of St. Bartholomew, West Smithfield, the church of the same, the lead, bells, and ornaments of the same hospital, with all messuages, tenements, and appurtenances."

It was a poor return to the Church for all of that the King had robbed her. Moreover, he did not altogether abandon a little profit. He made the monastic church, now called the Christ Church, do duty for the parishes of St. Nicholas in the Shambles, St. Ewins, and part of St. Sepulchre, uniting these into one parish, and pulling down the churches of the first two parishes. It would be curious to discover what became of the endowments of these parishes, and of the fabrics.

Carrying the Crug-basket

For some years nothing was done to further the cause of this charity, but in 1552, when Bishop Ridley, who was a mightily convincing preacher, was discoursing upon charity before Edward VI., the boy-King was so moved that he conversed with the bishop, and, together with the Lord Mayor and aldermen of the city, determined to found three hospitals—Christ's Hospital for the education of poor children, St. Thomas's for the relief of the sick and diseased, and Bridewell for the correction and amendment of the idle and the vagabond. Before his last illness, Edward had just strength enough to sign the charter for the founding of these institutions, ejaculating: "Lord, I yield Thee most hearty thanks that Thou hast given me life thus long to finish this work to the glory of Thy name." The good citizens of London, with their accustomed charity, immediately set to work, before the granting of the charter, to subscribe money for the repair of the old monastic buildings, and in 1552 three hundred and forty children were admitted, not so much for educational purposes as for their rescue from the streets, and the provision of shelter, food, and clothing. It must have been a welcome sight to the citizens to see them clothed in livery of russet cotton, the boys with red caps, the girls with kerchiefs on their heads, lining the procession when the Lord Mayor and aldermen rode to St. Paul's on Christmas Day. On the following Easter the boys and "mayden children" were in "plonket," or blue—hence the hospital derived the name of the Blue Coat School. The dress of the boys, concerning the origin of which many fanciful interpretations have been made, is the costume of the period generally worn by apprentices and serving men, consisting of a long blue coat, with leathern girdle, a sleeveless yellow waistcoat and yellow stockings, clerical bands and a small black cap completing the dress. "Four thousand marks by the year" from the royal exchequer were granted by the King for the maintenance of the school, which sum was largely supplemented by the citizens and other pious benefactors, such as Lady Ramsay, who founded "a free writing schoole for poor men's children" at the hospital. Camden says that at the beginning of the seventeenth century six hundred children were maintained and educated, and one thousand two hundred and forty pensioners relieved by the hospital in alms, and, later on, as many as one thousand one hundred and twenty children were cared for by this institution. The governors, moreover, started "place houses" in other districts—at Hertford, Ware, Reading, and Bloxburn—where boys were educated.

Wooden Platters and Beer Jack.

The buildings were greatly injured by the fire of 1666, when the old monastic church was entirely destroyed. The great hall was soon rebuilt by Sir John Frederick, and then the famous Royal Mathematical School was founded through the exertions of Sir Robert Clayton, Sir Jonas Moore, Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Charles Scarbrough, and Samuel Pepys. King Charles II. granted a charter and £1,000 a year for seven years, and the forty boys who composed the school were called "King's boys." They were instructed in navigation, and wore a badge on the left shoulder. A subordinate mathematical school, consisting of twelve scholars, denoted "the Twelves," who wore a badge on the right shoulder, was subsequently formed. Pepys took a keen interest in the school, and a series of a large number of his letters is in existence which show the efforts he made to maintain the mathematical school. He tells also of a little romance connected with the hospital, which is worth recording. There was at that time a grammar school for boys and a separate school for girls. Two wealthy citizens left their estates, one to a bluecoat boy, and the other to a bluecoat girl. Some of the governors thought that it would be well if these two fortunate recipients were married. So a public wedding was arranged at the Guildhall chapel, where the ceremony was performed by the Dean of St. Paul's, the bride, supported by two bluecoat boys, being given away by the Lord Mayor, and the bridegroom, attired in blue satin, being led to the altar by two bluecoat girls.

Piggin: Wooden Spoon. Wooden Soup-ladle.

A noble gift of Sir Robert Clayton enabled the governors to rebuild the east cloister and south front. The writing school was erected by Sir Christopher Wren in 1694, at the expense of Sir John Moore. The ward over the east side cloister was rebuilt in 1705 by Sir Francis Child, the banker, and in 1795 the grammar school was erected. Some of the buildings of the old monastery survived until the beginning of the last century, but they were somewhat ruinous and unsafe, hence, in 1803, a great building fund was formed. The hall erected after the great fire was pulled down, and a vast building in the Tudor style begun in 1825, which was so familiar to all who passed along the eastern end of Holborn. John Shaw was the architect. You will remember the open arcade, the buttresses and octagonal towers, and the embattled and pinnacled walls, and, above all, you will remember the crowd of happy boys, clad in their picturesque garb, kicking about the merry football. The dining hall was one of the finest rooms in London, being 187 feet long, 51 feet wide, and 47 feet high; lighted by nine large windows, those on the south side being filled with stained glass. There hung the huge charter picture, representing Edward VI. presenting the charter to the Lord Mayor, the Chancellor, officers of State, and children of the school being in attendance. This picture has been attributed to Holbein, but since the event occurred in 1553, and that artist could have produced no work later than 1534, the tradition is erroneous. Two portraits of Edward VI. are also in the possession of the hospital attributed to Holbein, but they have been proved to be the work of a later artist. Verrio's portrait of Charles II., and his picture of James II. receiving the mathematical boys, are very large canvases.

It is unnecessary to describe all the buildings which so recently existed, but have now been swept away. It is more interesting to note some of the curious customs which exist or formerly existed in the school, and some of the noted of the old "Blues." Christ's Hospital was a home of old customs, some of them, perhaps, little relished by the scholars. Each boy had a wooden "piggin" for drinking small beer served out of a leathern or wooden jack; a platter, spoon, and soup-ladle of the same material. There was a quaint custom of supping in public on Sundays during Lent, when visitors were admitted, and the Lord Mayor or president of the governors sat in state. Quaint wooden candlesticks adorned the tables, and, after the supper, were carried away in procession, together with the tablecloths, crug-baskets, or baskets used for carrying bread, bowls, jacks, and piggins. Before the supper a hymn was sung, and a "Grecian," or head boy, read the prayers from the pulpit, silence being enforced by three blows of a wooden hammer. The supper then began, consisting of bread and cheese, and the visitors used to walk about between the tables. Then followed the solemn procession of the boys carrying their goods, and bowing repeatedly to the governors and their guests. It was a pleasing custom, honoured by the presence of many distinguished guests, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on one occasion witnessed the spectacle.

Christ's Hospital: the Garden.

Then there were the annual orations on St. Matthew's Day, commemorating the foundation of the school, and attended by the civic magnates. A state service was held in Christ Church, Newgate Street, and, afterwards, the Grecians delivered speeches, and a collection was made for the support of these headboys when they went to the University. The beadles delivered up their staves to the Court, and if no fault was found with these officers their badges were returned to them. The Company was regaled with "sweet cakes and burnt wine."

At Easter there were solemn processions—first, on Easter Monday, to the Mansion House, when the Lord Mayor was escorted by the boys to Christ Church to hear the Spital or hospital sermon. On Easter Tuesday again the scholars repaired to the Mansion House, and were regaled with a glass of wine, in lieu of which lemonade, in more recent times, could be obtained, two buns, and a shilling fresh from the Mint, the senior scholars receiving an additional sum, and the Grecians obtained a guinea. Again the Spital sermon was preached. The boys were entitled, by ancient custom, to sundry privileges—to address the sovereign on his visiting the city, and the "King's boys" were entitled to be presented at the first drawing-room of the season, to present their charts for inspection, and to receive sundry gifts. By ancient privilege they were entitled to inspect all the curiosities in the Tower of London free of any charge, and these at one time included a miniature zoological garden.

Old Staircase.

Many are the notable men renowned in literature and art who have sprung from this famous school. Charles Lamb, S. T. Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and countless other men might be mentioned who have done honour to their school. Some of their recollections of old manners reveal some strange educational methods—the severe thrashings, the handcuffing of runaways, the confining in dungeons, wretched holes, where the boys could just find room to lie down on straw, and were kept in solitary confinement and fed worse than prisoners in modern gaols. Bread and beer breakfasts were hardly the best diet for boys, and the meat does not always appear to have been satisfactory. However, all these bygone abuses have long ago disappeared. For some years the future of the hospital was shrouded in uncertainty. At length it was resolved to quit London, and now the old buildings have been pulled down, and the school has taken a new lease of life and settled at Horsham, where all will wish that it may have a long and prosperous career. We may well conclude this brief notice of the old school in the words of the School Commissioners of 1867, who stated: "Christ's Hospital is a thing without parallel in the country and sui generis. It is a grand relic of the mediæval spirit—a monument of the profuse munificence of that spirit, and of that constant stream of individual beneficence, which is so often found to flow around institutions of that character. It has kept up its main features, its traditions, its antique ceremonies, almost unchanged, for a period of upwards of three centuries. It has a long and goodly list of worthies." We know not how many of these antique ceremonies have survived its removal, but we venture to hope that they may still exist, and that the authorities have not failed to maintain the traditions that Time has consecrated.