Mrs Harrington's Assembly

Monday 21st October 2013

Monday 21 October

As we go into this new week, we prepare for our service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey on Friday.

Queen Anne’s was founded by eight merchants (Samuel Boulte and Richard Ffyler were drapers; John Holmes a seller of soap and candles; Richard Maddock was a cheese maker; Samuel Michell a bookseller and John Webbe, John Wilkins and Thomas Wisdome were traders in brooms and leather goods) in Westminster, who set up the Grey Coat Hospital, a free boarding school for poor boys in Westminster.  Their uniform was a grey coat, although at first only worn on Sundays so as not to spoil it.

They met for the first time on 30 November 1698, in Broad Sanctuary in Westminster.  On the first day of school, there was a special service at St Margaret’s, Westminster; the church that sits beside Westminster Abbey. Following the service, the whole school was treated to a dinner at Hell in Palace Yard – this was a coffee house near Westminster Hall called Hell.  One pound was allowed for the sermon and two pounds for the food that day.  Once the annual processions of ‘Charity Children’ to St Andrew’s Church in Holborn were organised, the Grey Coat children always took part and were provided for their ‘comfort on the way home’ with £12.00 of gingerbread to be divided amongst them – with strict instructions that it was not to be eaten in church.  Somethings don’t change!
The Gingerbread Services, as they were formerly known, continued until 1877 and were succeeded, most probably, by the tradition of the Foundation schools holding their service in the Abbey, as we are going to on Friday. So perhaps we should start the gingerbread tradition again!

The Grey Coat School was at first housed in Broad Sanctuary, but outgrew this site and so moved to the site where our sister school, Grey Coat Hospital, is now located. This was when the school began its links with the Abbey as the Founders bought a piece of land that was owned by the Dean and Chapter of the Abbey. The turret for the clock at Grey Coat School was presented to the school by one of Queen Anne’s founders Thomas Wisdome.

The Founders did not have a lot of money and so they hoped to appeal to Queen Anne, the monarch at the time, to help support them.  So they arranged a sermon to be preached before her with special reference to the Grey Coat School children. The results were not quite as they expected – she was obviously listening but instead of receiving any financial contribution, they were given the names of two children who would, the Queen said, benefit from places in the school.  The Founders must have accepted the two children as their request for royal recognition of their charity was answered by the granting of a royal charter in 1706.  And so, the Foundation became the Royal Foundation of Queen Anne in Westminster, a title both Queen Anne’s and Grey Coat can still use with pride today. This is why Queen Anne’s portrait hangs in Grey Coat School, with an excellent copy made for Queen Anne’s School.

During the 18th Century, the Foundation grew, but living conditions were austere for the children.  In 1738, an inventory gave the number of beds for 100 children as 49 and they had 8 chairs for the whole school. Over the years though, trouble was brewing for many of the Endowed charity schools, as they were formerly known, and Grey Coat School was no exception. A Commission was set up in 1869 to look into the affairs of all Endowed Schools including, of course, the Royal Foundation of Queen Anne in Westminster.  As a result of this Commission, Queen Anne’s School was established in Caversham. The commissioners recognised that Westminster had seen many changes and that day schools for children in Westminster were more appropriate than boarding schools.  1870 also saw the introduction of free education for all children. The commissioners decided to sort out the mixed Grey Coat School by sending the boys to other Endowed Schools and establishing the Grey Coat Hospital School for 300 girls as a day school. The governors agreed to accept this and the scheme agreed between the commissioners and the governors also required the establishment of a boarding school not far from London. The fees were to be sufficient to cover expenses and the governors tried to establish a Westminster connection by insisting that a large proportion of children attended the school from the area.

So on a ‘piece of rising ground in the country’, where a current school for boys called Amersham Hall stood, the governors founded their new boarding school and named it Queen Anne’s.  The school was opened on Ascension Day 1894, with the same opening prayers used to open the Grey Coat Hospital School, which had become a day school.

When Queen Anne’s opened, it became clear that no one at the school had any experience of a boarding school! The story goes that on the first Saturday, the Headmistress, her staff and the senior girls all went off to Reading to see the shops, leaving the remaining children to their own devices. On the first day of term, they found that all the desks left behind by the boys were locked and they had to find the 100 keys to open them.

In 1898, 200 years after the beginning of the Foundation in Westminster, the Foundation stone for Queen Anne’s chapel was laid.

The Headmistress of Grey Coat Hospital School said at the time that Grey Coat looked upon Queen Anne’s as their younger sister. The parents of Grey Coat contributed gold and silver medals and a silver cup, which were transformed into Communion silver for Queen Anne’s.  Miss Day, the Head of Grey Coat and Queen Anne’s big sister school, also gave the school a Lectern Bible, which you can still see in the antechamber of Chapel. The cover is made from a beam from the original Grey Coat Hospital, with a cross on the cover made from Bulgarian Silver, a Spanish silver clasp and with the corners of the cover clamped in Dutch silver, the silver symbolises the union of Christendom through Europe.

Miss Holmes, the first Headmistress of Queen Anne’s, commissioned the stained glass windows and as many of you know, one of the windows is known as the Founders Window, donated again by Miss Day of Grey Coat, with the other window alongside donated by Miss Holmes – symbolising the two schools working side by side.

The main stained glass windows, which were designed by C E Kempe, include his trademark, a stook of corn. The windows also show Queen Anne’s connections with Westminster; the royal coat of arms of the Royal Grey Coat Foundation of Queen Anne, the arms of Edward the Confessor, the founder of Westminster Abbey, St Peter, to whom the Abbey is dedicated, St Margaret of Antioch and the Patron Saint of St Margaret’s Westminster, where that first service was held before the tea in Hell and used for many years by the Grey Coat children. So I hope you will take the opportunity to visit chapel and have a look at some of these wonderful gifts to our school which help us to remember the schools’ history.

So we return to Westminster on Friday, over three hundred years after the founding of the Grey Coat school in Westminster, to give thanks for our founding fathers, for the many people who have served the Foundation over the years and for the girls who have studied at Queen Anne’s. We also give thanks for our Foundation, which includes the Abbey, who still give us so much support today; seen in the many buildings we have been able to build, our governing body and their wisdom and the many opportunities we have through them – in particular the recent Model United Nations Conference with the other Foundation Schools, our annual art exhibition and numerous music concerts and sports days.

During the service on Friday, our choir will be singing a very special piece commissioned for us by British composer and conductor, James Whitbourn, who heard our choir perform a couple of years ago at St John Smith’s Square and was so impressed that he agreed to write a piece for us. This will be the world premiere of the piece so I hope you all enjoy the performance.