History of the school

Christ’s Hospital’s history, one of the oldest boarding schools in England

In 1552, the young King Edward VI responded to an impassioned sermon on the needs of London’s poor, and summoned the preacher, the Bishop of London, to talk more about this pressing situation. It was suggested that Edward should write to the Lord Mayor of London, to set in motion charitable measures to help the poor.

Christ’s Hospital was consequently founded in the old buildings vacated by the Grey Friars in Newgate Street, London and provided food, clothing, lodging and learning for fatherless children and other poor men’s children. The children were not only cared for but prepared for future careers. Money for such reform was raised by the City of London. The Church, businesses and householders in London were asked for donations. Governors were elected to serve the school and in November 1552, Christ’s Hospital opened its doors to 380 pupils. Within a year, the number had increased to over 500.

Our timeline of history

The first 380 children are admitted to Christ’s Hospital in November
Edward VI signs the Royal Charter founding Christ’s, St Thomas’s and Bridewell Hospitals
First CH Scholar goes to Oxbridge
Christ’s Hospital is given charge over licensing Cars and Carts in the City of London (ended in 1838)
The Amicable Society of Blues is formed (the oldest dining club in the world still in existence)
London Buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of London. All children survive
Royal Mathematical School (RMS) is given its Royal Charter by King Charles II
Samuel Pepys, instrumental in the early development of the RMS, is made a Governor of Christ’s Hospital
Site is acquired in Hertford which was to remain as a CH boarding school for 300 years
South Front is rebuilt, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. His entrance portico survives at Horsham
The Parish Church of Christ Church, adjoining Christ’s Hospital and used for its worship, is rebuilt to designs by Sir Christopher Wren. The spire, added in 1704, is the only part which survives
Antonio Verrio completes his massive painting celebrating the founding of the RMS. It still hangs in the Dining Hall, and gives its name to the Verrio Tours of the school for members of the public
The Writing School is built at the expense of Sir John Moore, President of CH from 1684 to 1702
The rebuilding after the Great Fire of the main parts of the London site is completed
John and Frances West, who feature amongst the school’s greatest benefactors, fund the continuing Wests’ Gifts
All girls join the younger boys in Hertford, where all CH girls were to be educated until 1985
Start of the Golden Age, when Coleridge, Lamb and Leigh Hunt are at CH
Start of the second great rebuilding of the London site, which was completed in 1836
Christ’s Hospital introduces its own currency (known as Housey Money) which was used until 1862
RMS boys draw the tickets at the State Lottery for the last time, having done so since at least 1710
Opening of the Great Hall. An organ is acquired for the Great Hall, now in Big School at Horsham
Senior Grecian gives a Loyal Address to Queen Victoria in accordance with ancient custom
Visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to a Public Supper at Christ’s Hospital
George, Duke of Cambridge, is appointed the first Royal President of Christ’s Hospital
The School Band is formed
New Scheme of Administration for running Christ’s Hospital is introduced
System of fees being paid for education is first introduced
Foundation stone is laid at Horsham by Edward, Prince of Wales
All boys move to Horsham and girls take over the whole of the Hertford site
Corbett Wilson, aeronaut, lands at Christ’s Hospital on his way from Paris to Farnborough
Frank Brangwyn begins to paint the 16 murals in the Chapel, completed in 1923
War Memorial is unveiled. At least 358 Old Blues and 25 members of staff gave their lives
New Science School is opened by the Prince of Wales
Dominions Library is opened by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Maurice Jenks
First memorial Service for those who died in the Second World War. 213 Old Blues gave their lives
First full Beating Retreat ceremony takes place at the school, a continuing tradition
CH wins the Public Schools rugby sevens tournament
Senior Grecian gives Loyal address to Queen Elizabeth II
Preparatory School for boys under 11 is closed and is renamed Leigh Hunt
Demolition of the original Christ’s Hospital station buildings
The band plays at the Lord Mayor’s show for the first time, a continuing tradition today
The Theatre building is completed
Closure of school at Hertford and the merger of the girls’ school with the boys’ school at Horsham
The school’s Community Action Programme is established
The Sports Centre is opened by the Duke of Gloucester, the President of Christ’s Hospital
The CH Museum is opened by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
The Housing development at Bluecoat Pond is established
Separate Houses are built for the Grecians
Visit to the school by its Patron, Her Majesty the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh
Language and Resource Centre (LARC) opened
150th Celebration of the founding of the CH Band
1552
1553
1566
1582
1629
1666
1673
1676
1682
1682
1687
1690
1695
1705
1720
1778
1781
1793
1800
1826
1829
1837
1845
1854
1868
1891
1892
1897
1902
1912
1913
1920
1930
1932
1946
1948
1951
1953
1966
1972
1974
1974
1985
1987
1990
1994
1998
2001
2003
2015
2019

Go to the beginning

Go to the present day

Early History

King Edward VI became patron and founder and a Royal Charter was signed to this effect by Edward just eleven days before his death in 1553.

Many children, including 100 of the first 380, were infants who were sent away to Ware, Hoddesdon or Hertford to be looked after by nurses, who were paid a weekly allowance, and to attend local day schools. When they reached 10 they would return to London to be educated.

Girls were admitted from the beginning, and in 1563, when the first children’s register was compiled, there were 132 girls out of 396 children, although the proportion thereafter was usually smaller.

In London, the great majority of children were educated in the Writing School for a position in commerce or trade, leaving when aged 15. The few who stayed on beyond the age of 15 studied either in the Grammar School for University or, from its foundation in 1673, in the Royal Mathematical School (RMS) for service at sea. The RMS received its Royal Charter from Charles II, with Samuel Pepys, Sir Isaac Newton and Sir John Flamsteed being influential figures in its early years.

CH lost 32 children in the Great Plague of 1665, but did not lose any children to the Great Fire in 1666, although most of the buildings were burned down. With only a few children able to return to the ruined buildings, many were sent out to be billeted in Hertfordshire. In 1682 a site in Hertford was acquired for a self-contained boarding school, which CH was to own for over 300 years.

Later History

Thanks to the great generosity of benefactors, the rebuilding of the school in London after the Great Fire was completed in 1705, with Sir Christopher Wren designing the South front as well as Christ Church, the parish church immediately outside the walls of CH, which the school used for its worship. A second major rebuilding took place from 1793 to 1836, including a Grammar School completed in 1793, a new Great Hall in 1829, Grammar and Mathematical Schools in 1834 and the cloisters known as the Grecians Cloister in 1836. The bordering watercolour, by Arthur Ellis, shows the 1836 Grecians Cloister, the central arch of which was brought to Horsham and now forms the outside halves of the archways to the main quadrangle. In the background are the two Wren spires of Christ Church and St Paul’s.

In 1902 all the boys from both the London and Hertford schools transferred to a new site in Horsham, and the school at Hertford became a girls-only school. In 1985 the Hertford site was closed and the girls transferred to Horsham, once again to form a co-educational school.

Christ’s Hospital and the slave trade.

Today CH has 830 boarding students, with an equal number of boys and girls, and 70 day students.

Traditions

Christ’s Hospital has always enjoyed a close relationship with both Royalty and with the City of London, and many of the more enduring customs and traditions which are unique to CH originate from these connections. Until 1854 the President of CH was always the Lord Mayor, or an Alderman, of the City of London, and since 1854 there has been a long succession of Royal Presidents, and The late Queen was the school’s Patron.

The Royal Mathematical School

With an incredible journey of exploration that started 350 years ago in 1673 the Royal Mathematical School (RMS) at Christ’s Hospital has been transforming the lives of its students for generations.

The RMS was established at Christ’s Hospital in 1673 by King Charles ll and went on to be shaped by some of the world’s foremost intellectuals, including Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren.

Related content

Head Teacher’s welcome

Find out more

Job vacancies

Find out more

History of the uniform

Find out more

Royal Mathematical School

Find out more

Pioneering Science Education

Find out more

Virtual tour

Find out more

Order our prospectus

Our School Prospectus provides an introduction to life at Christ’s Hospital. You can request a printed copy which includes an application form by completing the form and/or you can download a pdf of the prospectus.