Christ’s Hospital Museum

A museum ‘like no other’

For the past 18 months I have had the pleasure of being the Collections Assistant at Christ’s Hospital Museum, a museum run by a dedicated team of part-time staff and volunteers. Located on the top floor of the old school Infirmary, the museum represents and celebrates the 467 year history of one of the oldest boarding schools in England and highlights the many achievements of past pupils, named ‘Old Blues.’ The museum has over 100,000 objects in their collection relating to the school’s rich history. Some objects are displayed across the school site and others in the London Metropolitan Archives and Ironmonger’s Hall in London.

History of Christ’s Hospital

Having been moved by a sermon, preached by the Bishop of London, about the needs of the city’s poor, King Edward VI founded Christ’s Hospital in 1552. The school is one of the famous Royal Hospitals of London established “to take out of the streets all fatherless children and other poor men’s children that were not able to keep them.” It was a place where children were fed, clothed, sheltered and taught and marked the beginning of the social services in England.

In November 1552, the school opened to 380 pupils, which increased to over 500 within the year. Many of the children were infants and were sent to Hertford and looked after until they were 10, when they returned to the London site.

Originally located in London, Christ’s Hospital moved from the city to Horsham in 1902 and is currently situated in 1,200 acres of Sussex countryside. The independent school now has over 820 boarding pupils with an equal number of boys and girls, and also takes day pupils. Since its foundation in 1552, over 65,000 pupils have been educated at Christ’s Hospital.


Christ’s Hospital was initially financed through benefaction of London’s citizens and from the City of London. These benefactors have made a significant impact on the school through large donations or legacies. Today, the majority of pupils have been financed in similar means either wholly or in part.

The criteria for admission to the school has varied, but the most common method of entry was through Benefaction Governors, known today as Donation Governors, who ‘presented’ children on payment of a donation. Children are also presented by Livery Companies, Charitable Foundations and other institution, signified by the badge worn on their left shoulder, such as the badge of the Benevolent Society of Blues, the RAF Foundationer’s Trust and the Sue Thomson Foundation.

Why is the school called Christ’s Hospital?

The name derives from being founded in the parish of Christchurch, London. At the time of the Middle Ages, hospital meant a charitable institution for the needy, aged or young. Medieval hospitals were also hostels for pilgrims or hospital schools, since the word “hospital” derives from the Latin noun hospitium, meaning hospitality.

Today if you walk along Newgate Street in London you will come across a sculpture of Christ’s Hospital pupils marching. The public sculpture was unveiled by Sir Alan Yarrow, former Lord Mayor, on 6th November 2017 to commemorate 350 years of the schools presence in the City of London (1552-1902). This is where the original site of Christ’s Hospital school was, from its foundation to when it moved to Horsham. It is now occupied by offices belonging to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The sculpture has given the school a permanent presence in the city, enabling its history to live on.

‘Linking present with the past, Old world habit, civic glory, Time worn customs newly cast.’

Words from the Foundation Hymn by the Ve. A W Upcott, DD

(Headmaster 1902-1919)

When I first started at Christ’s Hospital in May 2019, I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a tour of the school site, given to all new members of staff and the public. Known as the ‘Verrio Tours,’ it gave me the opportunity to see the school’s magnificent buildings, take a historical tour guided by the pupils themselves and watch the school Band. It is a long standing tradition that every lunch time all pupils march into lunch to the accompaniment of the Band, which was first formed in 1868.

The highlight of the tour was the massive eighty-six foot long painting by Antonio Verrio situated in the Dining Hall, which commemorates the foundation of the Royal Mathematical School in 1673. The painting, known as The Verrio, along with several other paintings of Christ’s Hospital’s past royal patrons, head teachers and serving officers, has long watched over generations of pupils and staff as they dined.

© Christ’s Hospital

Visitors to Christ’s Hospital Museum are welcomed with a display, which provides a quick and intriguing insight into the history of the boarding school, before they walk up the stairs to explore the rest of the museum. With 467 years of customs, traditions and a Tudor uniform that remains unchanged, the display touches on a few artefacts from the collection that makes Christ’s Hospital ‘a school like no other.’

Oil painting of Susannah Holmes, painted in 1829 by Archer James Oliver for the Royal Academy exhibition.

Susannah was a Christ’s Hospital pupil at Hertford and 12 years old at the time of painting. The girls’ uniform was plain but functional displaying this air of charity.

It had changed little since the school was founded and remained the same until the mid 1870s when a new uniform was introduced. This consisted of a navy blue serge skirt and grey stockings, blue cloth coat and cape.

Hertford became solely a girls’ school in 1902 until September 1985, when 230 girls and 640 boys started term together at the Horsham site.

©  Image Christ’s Hospital

The uniform is one of the School’s most distinctive features. 

It is remarkable that the uniform’s outer long blue coat, belted with a girdle at the waist, distinctive yellow socks and white neck bands have remained virtually unchanged for 467 years!

The yellow socks along with the blue coat were colours thought to have been chosen to distinguish the children within the care of Christ’s Hospital from those attending other schools.

The yellow dye was originally made from onion and saffron. It was thought that this smell deterred fleas and rats and so they were used because it supposedly helped prevent disease!

© Image Christ’s Hospital

An early 19th century oil painting of a boy attributed to Margaret Carpenter.

The blue coat and yellow socks provided the origin of the name ‘The Bluecoat School.’ The uniform has a strong claim to be the oldest school uniform in existence, dating back to 1552. It is given the nickname of ‘Housey,’ which is thought to have derived from the Boarding Houses.

© Image Christ’s Hospital

This silver badge was worn on the left shoulder by the 40 boys in the Royal Mathematical School (RMS).

It was established in 1673 for selected Christ’s Hospital boys to learn navigation in preparation for a career at sea. They would go on to become apprentices to the captains of ships in the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy.

Badges were worn to represent the institution, which has presented them – this still continues today.

© Image Christ’s Hospital

From 1710 Christ’s Hospital pupils drew the winning tickets in the English State Lottery.

There are two known attempts of the boys being the subject of bribery! The 1817 cartoon on display by George Cruikshank is a satirical look at the effect on CH boys of drawing tickets. 

© Image Christ’s Hospital

Roll of original stamped toilet paper, which was used by the boarding pupils.

The bathrooms at the end of the dormitories were referred to as the ‘lav-ends.’ Christ’s Hospital slang has developed over the years and has been around for the past 250 years. Some of the phrases are still used today.

©  Image Christ’s Hospital

Wooden implements including the piggin, were used until mid-19th century as shared drinking vessels in the wards and in the Great Hall until they were replaced by ceramic mugs.

Pupil carrying piggins, © Image Christ’s Hospital.

Crested China of bowls, plates and mugs were especially made for Christ’s Hospital in the 19th century. They were often transfer printed with a crest and a ward number. The earliest examples are decorated, but the ones on display are from the 20th century and have a simple green border and the school’s crest.

‘The Religious, Royal and Ancient Foundation of Christ’s Hospital; May those prosper who love it and may God increase their number.’

Words from the ‘Housey Toast,’ used at every Amicable Society of Blues dinner. The society, dating back to 1629, is a group of mainly former pupils of Christ’s Hospital which meet three times a year to dine.

There are a number of publications about Christ’s Hospital written by the museum’s wonderful volunteers, which are sold in the museum shop and can be found online here.

Christ’s Hospital Museum is currently closed to the public due to the Covid-19 restrictions and hopes to reopen later in 2021. Normal opening hours are Tuesday and Thursday, 10am-4pm. You can still explore the school’s rich history by visiting their website or contacting

© Sophia Marion Patel

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