Chapter 5. Under Royal Patronage

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Plan of the School on completion of rebuilding in 1838. Taken from the title deed of the building. (Permission of the NAAFI)

On her accession to the throne in 1837, Queen Victoria became Royal Patron of the school.

For many years after the rebuilding, the school improved and progressed as all good schools should. Life around London, however, was not progressing quite as well.

In 1847 and 1853 there were two severe outbreaks of cholera which put the school into quarantine for the safety of the children. Those responsible for the public health of the city did not, however, learn much from these outbreaks, and in 1858 the open sewers still existed. These sewers, and a particularly hot and dry summer, produced what has come to be known to historians as the ‘Great Stink’, when an unbelievable nasty stench hung over the city for weeks.

In 1851 the children visited The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. The building housing the Great Exhibition was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, who, ten years earlier, had also designed the grounds of the Royal Hotel in Slough.

The war of 1854-1855 in Crimea claimed the lives of several of the old boys, and held the interest of those children still in the school.

The move into the new building had not altered the day to day running of the school much. The holidays remained as few as ever: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Michaelmas Day and Christmas Day, only one of which could be overnight. The children, however, did have much more reasonable holidays from schoolwork, but at these times they remained at school.

Since its establishment in 1803, 995 children had entered the school and were catalogued on leaving as follows:
Apprenticed                                        248
Sent to service                                    403
Taken by relatives and friends       200
Died in school                                     22
Expelled                                              10
In school                                             112
Total                                                     995

At this time the staff consisted of two masters, two mistresses and the matron.

The VIP Visitors Book was started in 1843 and remains in perfect condition to this day. It contains the names of all the leading brewery families from that day to this, as well as the other important visitors to this school.

One of the most distinguished of the school’s visitors was the Nawab of Bengal in 1870.

Prince Ali Kuhr Baldoor and his brother Soliman Kuhr Baldoor wished to “express the great satisfaction they had experienced in visiting this noble institution. They had been particularly struck with the cleanliness of the rooms and every arrangement for the comfort of the children, the admirable ventilation and accommodation supplied throughout the building and with the healthy and intelligent appearance of the children.” (VIP Visitors’ Book entry.)

In 1857, the School gained the freehold of the land from the Duchy of Cornwall, at a cost of £3,500. This meant that both the land and the building on it were the property of the school.

To celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales, (later Edward VII), to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, the children were treated by the governors to a dinner of “Olde English Fayre” – Brash Beef and Plum Pudding. In honour of the occasion, the Prince of Wales became Royal Patron of the school.5

Plan of the building in 1870 from London County Council survey of London 1956

Note the disproportionate size of the boardroom compared to the boys and girls’ schoolrooms, and the high wall which divides the playground at the rear.

Mr Hammett was appointed head teacher in 1880 after a number of staff dismissals. In 1881 he was replaced by Mr Whitmore, whose wife became matron. Under Mr Whitmore, mark books were issued to the staff for the first time, to keep a record of the children’s work. Entry for the College of Preceptors Examination was considered, since there had been no public examinations in the school. There was a suggestion that French might be added to the syllabus, but this was considered “unwise” and the plan was abandoned.
Doctor Monday was appointed school doctor and held this post for many years. One former pupil describes him as a ‘dirty greasy old man, who diagnosed all manner of illness by examining only the backs of the children’s hands’. His cure-all was a noxious brew known as the “black draught” which had rather dramatic after-effects.6Engraving of an Anniversary Dinner in the Victorian era.

The children are seen in procession in the centre

In 1882 the ‘Smalley Prizes’ were presented for the first time; let the inscription on the Smalley Tablet tell the story.

“To the Memory of William Smalley, for 36 years Secretary to the Incorporated Society of Licensed Victuallers. Born 25th Oct 1809, Died 5th Nov 1880. Educated at the school, he devoted a lifetime to its service and by his energy ability and industry, as well as by his constant benefactions, earned the respect and gratitude of all friends of The Institute. This Tablet Commemorative of his honourable and useful career and of his untiring solicitude for the interests of The Society was erected by The Governor and Committee. A.D. 1882”

This tablet was erected in the schoolhouse in London and later transferred to Slough. The date of his death has led to a great deal of invention by the children, of gruesome tales of death by fireworks, but the truth bears no relation to the legend.

After the Great Exhibition building had been moved to Sydenham Hill to become the Crystal Palace, it was visited annually by the schoolchildren until it burned down in 1936.

Around, this time (1882) came the first idea of building a swimming pool. In addition, the former objection to the teaching of French was reviewed and both French and Latin were added to the subjects taught.7

View of the school prior to 1888, as the shop on the left was purchased by The Society in that year and demolished to make way for the swimming pool.

In 1884 a set of dummy muskets was purchased and a drill instructor employed to drill both boys and girls. He was a veteran of the Crimea, Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, and held his instructor’s post for the next 24 years.

On one visit to the School, the dentist extracted 106 teeth from 54 girls and 59 boys without anaesthetic.

In 1886, Mr Wallis gained the headship. The subjects examined at this time were: reading, spelling, writing, mental-arithmetic, English grammar and scripture.

(Note: no French or Latin examination.)

One year later, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, the children were each presented with a special Jubilee shilling and a pocket handkerchief by the Governor.

In the same year the school leaving age was raised to 15 years. The buildings and land of Young’s Marine Store next to the school were bought and the buildings pulled down to make way for the proposed swimming bath, which was to cost £2,500 plus £70 for the heating.

In 1890 the Head’s salary was raised to £120 and an ex-Royal Horse Guardsman appointed to be bandmaster for the school’s brass band.

The standard of education had improved to such an extent since the early days in the school that in 1891 the boys were given the highest grade of ‘Excellent’ in the College of Precentors examination; a distinction they attained 20 times in the next fourteen years.

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After 1890, with the swimming pool on the left

The swimming pool was opened on the 16th of April 1891, at a final cost of £3,248:17s:4d ,which was just a “little” more than originally estimated, even though the heating was provided by the laundry boiler.

A man and a woman were appointed to teach the children how to swim. Not only did the children have the pride of owning one of the few indoor swimming pools in London, but the boys were also allowed to use the nearby Oval Cricket Ground on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

President’s Day, the school prize day, is mentioned in the school records for the first time in this same year. The prizes in those days were not books, as now, but medals for good conduct and work.

Although the school had by this time reached a position not unlike today, it was not until 1891 that free and compulsory education became a fact throughout the nation at last

An applicant for the post of first assistant mistress mentioned qualifications including Scripture, Physiology, Botany, Geometry, Blackboard Drawing, Music, Drill, Needlework, Cutting Out, Cookery and Domestic Economy. All this for £60 per annum. (She got the job.)

One master, who was found to have been educated at a Wesleyan college, was dismissed the moment this came to light. The reason for this seemingly harsh act was that he might not follow “the doctrines and forms of the Established Church” adhered to in the school

Another surprising dismissal, in the light of earlier examples of beating, was that of a master for using corporal punishment.

In 1893, the Headmaster gained the title of Superintendent, which he holds to this day, and for the first time carried sole responsibility for the running of the School

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The clothes in 1897 at the time of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

Again paintings of dolls by Maung Tin Aye.

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