In 1853 a group of clerks from the wholesale warehouses in the City of London put their heads together to see what could be done to help the widow and young family of one of their colleagues who had just died. They met in The George Hotel in Aldermansbury and set up a charity to look after orphan children from the families of their trade.
Within a year they had more than a thousand subscribers and a school was purchased in New Cross. Lord John Russell, who had recently been the Prime Minister, agreed to become President of the School.
Charles Dickens who published his book ‘Bleak House' in 1853, made the following comment about those who supported our school in a speech he made at the London Tavern in 1857. ‘This is a school which can provide such a home as their own dear children might find happy refuge in, if they themselves were taken early away. And I fearlessly ask you, is this not a design which has claim to your sympathy? Is it not the sort of school which is deserving of your support?'
By 1866 the school had grown considerably and moved to a new site in Russell Hill, Purley.
The school remained in Purley while, in 1924, Edward, Prince of Wales, laid the foundation stone for the current Chapel on the Coombe Lane / Ballards site. Initially it was only the boys who moved up to the new site, the girls remaining at Purley. During the second world war, the boys and girls changed venues as it was thought safer to have the girls further away from Croydon Airport. The school operated on two sites until it was decided to sell the Russell Hill site and combine girls and boys in 1961. It is very important that we recognise that until that time, most of the pupils who had attended the school had been paid for by generous contributions from members of the Drapery trade through a cycle of annual appeals.
The original school that was built on the Ballards estate was, in part, a memorial to the former pupils who sacrificed their lives during the war. The original mansion stood at the top of what we know as Cambridge slope and the current Headmaster's house is all that remains of it today. The Ballards mansion did not provide sufficient accommodation to house both teaching and boarding facilities so Sir Aston Webb was asked to design the new buildings. Sir Aston Webb was President of The Royal Academy and is famous for designing the front of Buckingham Palace, Admiralty Arch as well as other well-known landmarks in London. Parts of the new buildings were built due to the fact that various benefactors of the school raised large sums of money. Other monies were sponsored by the large drapery stores.
Sadly early in the 1970's the school fell upon hard times and the governors decided that it should close. This, for the staff and pupils concerned was devastating news and immediately prompted a new group, that eventually formed the new board of governors, to be set up. This group soon established that the school could survive and so started the new era.
Before the threatened closure, the Junior School had been phased out and there were very few fee paying day pupils. This soon changed as it was necessary to create more income for the school. The Junior School reopened, this time without boarders and many more day pupils were taken into the senior department.
At that time the senior school had three boys' house and just one girls' house. It quickly became apparent that this situation needed to be changed. With greater numbers in the school new day houses were created. Boarding house life was considered a more friendly and personal environment than the basic class system and this was the reason for maintaining the house system for the day pupils.
Since the 1970's, the school has gone from strength to strength. New and better facilities have been built, numbers of girls have increased and the academic record is one to be proud of. The status of being a HMC school is one to be admired and is testament to the dedication of all those concerned with the running of the school.
The school is now independent of The Warehousemen, Clerks and Drapers Livery companies and operates as a charity under the direction of its own Board of Governors.
The high quality of education, and the facilities now enjoyed by our pupils can, therefore, be traced back to the foresight of the founders who established the school and the dedication of the financial benefactors who provided for its development, and the well-being of all pupils, who have passed through the school.