Arthur H. Beavan made a survey of London’s most famous schools in Imperial London, published in 1901:
The Metropolis rejoices in many schools, public and private, some of the former ranking with the most famous in Great Britain.
About the oldest public school in London is the Mercers’, Barnard’s Inn, approached by a little narrow passage from Holborn.
It was founded and endowed by the Mercers’ Company, and amongst its earliest scholars were Bishop Wren, Sir Thomas Gresham, and Dean Colet, who originated St. Paul’s School, the trustees of which were the said City company. Removed from St Paul’s Churchyard, St Paul’s School, a large and handsome building, stands in ample grounds in the Hammersmith Road.
Its foundation provides for 153 scholars, the exact number of fishes enclosed in St. Peter’s net.
More than 600 boys are in the school, and more than 30 masters.
At St. Paul’s, the great festival is Apposition Day, July 25, when the great hall is crowded with parents and friends to hear the speeches and the addresses of the High Master, and to witness the distribution of the prizes.
St. Paul’s is famous for its athletics, and it is a noticeable feature that 95 per cent of the boys are proficient in swimming!
There are forty Queen’s Scholars or foundations, but as many sons of the nobility and gentry attend this school, it is looked upon as a kind of Metropolitan “Eton.”
The Westminster Annual Latin Plays, a course of three, given in the dormitory built in 1722 (the old one was formerly the monastery granary), begin on the second Thursday in December, and have attained to the celebrity of being invariably reported in the daily papers.
Another ancient custom religiously observed at Westminster, is the tossing of a pancake on Shrove Tuesday by the college cook over an imaginary bar in the great school-room, the boy who manages to catch the bulk of it claiming and receiving one guinea from the Dean as a reward.
Merchant Taylors’ and the Charterhouse Schools were both founded circa 1561, the latter by the rich philanthropist Thomas Sutton.
It flourished side by side with his “hospital for aged men” until 1872, when the school was removed to Godalming and its site sold to the Merchant Taylors, who erected upon it their new school, removed, circa 1873, from Suffolk Lane, Cannon Street.
(The old bedesmen still live in quaint red-brick buildings with their silent courtyards, and as they stroll about, or sit out of doors in their black gowns, make a picturesque scene. The Charterhouse itself is shown to the public as of yore; its great hall, chapel, and kitchen are intensely interesting relics of the past.)
The new building is approached from Charterhouse Square by a perpendicular arch with shelf above it supported by lions; and directly opposite is the brick gateway of the old Carthusian monastery.
Its great hall is very fine with its spacious roof pierced with windows, its projecting gallery over the entrance doors, and its immense carved and pillared stone fireplace.
About 500 boys are on the rolls of this noble school, one of the best in London.
A host of celebrated men have been educated here, amongst them Edmund Spenser (creator of the Faerie Queene), Bishop Juxon, Dr. W. Louth, and Charles Mathews the elder.
Christ’s Hospital, the Blue-coat School, owes its foundation to the citizens of London, who were greatly aided by Henry VIII, and by Edward VI, who gave it a charter in I553.
On its site once stood the monastery of the Grey or Mendicant Friars, and this building, surrendered to the king, was converted into a hospital to feed and shelter children rescued from the streets.
Within the precincts are many queer old detached boarding houses, but the noble hall, 187 feet long, seen through the tall railing in Newgate Street, is quite modern, though it looks venerable.
In front is the asphalted playground where the bare-headed boys in yellow stockings and blue petticoats can be seen periodically at football and other sports.
About 690 boys belong to Christ’s; and at Hertford there is a preparatory school for 500 boys, and another for 70 girls.
Many famous people have been educated at Christ’s Hospital – Richardson (the novelist), Leigh Hunt, Coleridge, Lamb, etc.
On the Speech Day, the Lord Mayor attends in state, and the prizes are given away.
There are many quaint customs connected with this school and the City which will shortly cease, for the school is to be removed to Horsham, in Sussex, where a grand building is being erected.
Signs of the change are already evident.
The picturesque old facade of the southern entrance in Christ Church passage, Newgate Street, has been taken down, and, with the statue of Edward VI in his robes that surmounted it, has been sent off to the new site.
On the 28th of March, 1900, for the last time was observed one of these customs, a peculiar ceremony known by repute to most Londoners, and which has survived for nearly three centuries.
A “goodlie companie” of officials and visitors gathered together in the great hall to witness the public supping of the scholars of this “religious, Royal, and ancient foundation,” as the old prayer puts it.
Many celebrated personages have in past years presided at this function, from the late Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Lord Mayors, Sheriffs, and Chinese Ambassadors.
Next year, Newgate Street will know Christ’s Hospital no more, and the boys, in their picturesque dress, will disappear from the famous playground for ever.
Another, and – for the boys – very important date is September 17th, known as “Housey” day, when the lads return to their scholastic duties.
Throughout the afternoon Blue-coat boys, laden with bags and other impedimenta, keep dropping in by twos and threes through the courts leading to the main entrance from Newgate and King Edward Streets, and cause much bustle and excitement in the cloisters and corridors.
By seven o’clock the bulk of the boys have reported themselves, and work is resumed early the following morning.
The City of London School is but of recent foundation (1834), but its funds are derived from a bequest made in the reign of Henry VI.
It has been removed from Milk Street, Cheapside, to the Thames Embankment, close to Blackfriars Bridge.
It is a day-school, and the scholars, numbering over 400, must be nominated by a member of the City Corporation.
An excellent practical education is given at this school.
At Dulwich, there are, under one roof, but quite distinct, the Collegiate School, and Alleyn’s School, both of them the outcome of the generosity, in 1614, of Edward Alleyn, actor, and proprietor of the celebrated Fortune Theatre in Whitecross Street.
The present building, new, and somewhat grandiose, in the midst of extensive grounds, is a conspicuous object from the L. C. and Dover Railway.
Some 600 boys are educated at the Collegiate School, and at Alleyn’s about 500.
King’s College School, associated with the College, occupies a portion of the eastern side of Somerset House.
It is for boys from nine to sixteen years of age, and numbers about 250.
The two Frances Buss Schools, Camden Road, for girls, were founded about fifty years ago by the late Miss Frances Mary Buss, whose life’s labours in the cause of women’s education have borne much fruit.
The Camden, the older of these schools, now boasts some 470 pupils, many of whom are candidates for University honours, and last year they received their prizes in Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, from the hands of Queen Alexandra, then Princess of , who is President of the Institution.
The London Board Schools, familiar objects in every part of London, recognizable by a certain family likeness, number about 300; and there are also, within the Metropolitan area, District, Parochial, Ward, Roman Catholic, Free, and Industrial Wales Schools – the total reaching fully 600 – so that, apart from numerous private academies, there is apparently sufficient accommodation for all the children whose parents will allow them to attend.
Of the London Training Schools, St Mark’s, Chelsea, so long associated with the name of Canon Cromwell, is an excellent type.
St. Mark’s College was founded in 1841 by the National Society for the training of school-masters.
The Model Schools, in which the practical side of the training is given, now hold nearly 600 boys, from six to seventeen years of age, and are included among the secondary schools in London.
The pupils are chiefly prepared for commercial pursuits, and special attention is paid to modern languages.
Last year, Owen’s School, in the north, and St Mark’s, in the south-west, each won ten scholarships out of fifty awarded by the Technical Education Board, of the value of £200 apiece.
There is a strikingly close bond of friendship between the old students and the old boys, and two flourishing Lodges of Freemasons have sprung from each branch.
In the professional and University examinations the pupils are very successful.
Another widely-known training college, also founded by the National Society, is Whitelands, in the King’s Road, Chelsea, for educating young women to be school-mistresses.
The great annual event at Whitelands is in May, when a May Queen is elected and crowned, and the prizes are awarded, some distinguished personage like the late Mr. Ruskin (who originated the custom) usually presiding.
A good example of the working of the Polytechnic system of tuition, now becoming so popular, is afforded by the London and South-Western Polytechnic Institution, Manresa Road, Chelsea.
Built at considerable cost, and endowed by the Charity Commissioners, its objects are:
1. To offer to artisans and others engaged in technical and commercial industries, the means of instruction in applied Science and Art; and to women opportunities of training in cookery, dressmaking, and household management.
2. To give instruction in such other branches and subjects of Art, Science, Language, Literature, and General Knowledge, as may be approved by the Governing Body.
3. To offer to its students abundant means of recreative instruction, recreation, and physical training; and to utilize the Institute during the day as Day Schools for boys and girls between thirteen and sixteen, in which Scientific, Commercial, and General Education will be given.
A dry subject is tuition, and the labours of the Board of Education are rather monotonous and wearisome, though occasionally lightened by the contemplation of the extraordinary blunders perpetrated in technical subjects.
In a recent examination, the examiners for the advanced stage of practical inorganic chemistry detected a general want of common-sense amongst the students whose papers came under their notice.
Not a few found more than 100 per cent of copper in the alloy, and one even returned 849 per cent, and did not notice that this was an extraordinary result!
Again, many thought that in order to try whether a bar of lead would mark paper, it must first be heated on charcoal with sodium carbonate.
Another class of students produced the statements that wood burns to carbon, and that charcoal does not burn, but glows, and combines with oxygen.
It would, however, be difficult to beat the following passage from an answer as to the carbon dioxide present in the air: “If you seal up in a tube a plant in one bulb and an animal in the other, the plant will produce the oxygen necessary for the animal, and the animal the C02 necessary for the plant, and they will go on living together for hundreds of years.”