Christ's Hospital, London: A School for Children
When someone mentions hospital records, the naturally assumption is a reference to clinical, administrative or personnel records. This is not the case with the records from Christ's Hospital in London. It is more like a boarding school than a hospital. It was also referred to as the “Bluecoat School” due to its distinctive uniform.
During the Middle Ages hospitals served different functions to modern institutions, being almshouses for the poor, hostels for pilgrims, or hospital schools. The word hospital comes from the Latin hospes, signifying a stranger or foreigner, hence a guest. Another noun derived from this, hospitium came to signify hospitality, that is the relation between guest and shelterer, hospitality, friendliness, hospitable reception.
Christ's Hospital was founded by a charter of King Edward VI in 1553. It was set up by various citizens of London to help poor children who seemed to have no chance of bettering themselves young. In the early years of its existence, children were sent to the hospital mainly from the London area, but by the 1800's children were admitted from across England and Wales, and a few from Scotland and Ireland. By 1818, there were 1156 children enrolled. The average enrollment was about 1,500 children, with a yearly turnover of 150 to 200. Children were sent to the hospital as early as 7 years of age and left no later than 15 years. Due to the original charter, the former hospital operates today as a charitable school.
In 1558 the hospital moved into the site of a dissolved Franciscan or Greyfriar's monastery. Other buildings were provided in the surrounding areas (i.e. Horsham and Hertford) where the younger children were kept before being sent to the hospital at age 12. The majority of the children were boys, however girls were also admitted.
Finances were collected from government contributions and private donations. In 1815 the cost per child each year was about £22. Money was left to the school in the probate records of various deceased benefactors.
Before a child was considered for admission to the hospital, the parent or guardian petitioned a member of the board of governors or a benefactor for help in educating a child. Governors were usually London City aldermen (officer). With board approval, and after meeting the criteria, a child of the appropriate age was accepted. Proof was required to verify their age and destitute condition. Proof came from parish documents and affidavits from the minister of the home parish, and from other witnesses. Many of the children were fatherless, but not all. A child could be admitted even if he or she had a sibling already enrolled. The information gathered about each child constitutes a set of records called Presentation Papers.
Upon acceptance, the child's name was entered into the Children's Register. Besides the name, the register called for the date of admission, date the child was given a new set of clothes, the name of the benefactor, birth date and place, the name of the father (if known), and other items. When the child was discharged, the date was entered along with a brief explanation about where the child went.
Older records are kept in the Guildhall Library Manuscript Section. Read more about these records in one of their guides. The Family History Library has some of these records in their collection. Additional information about Christ's Hospital can be found in the following sources.
- Carlisle, Nicholas. A Concise Description of the Endowed Grammar Schools in England and Wales; Ornamented with Engravings. Reprint. Richmond, Surrey: The Richmond Publishing Co., Ltd., 1972
- Allan, George A.T. Christ's Hospital. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1949.
- Wilkins, Harold T. Great English Schools. London: Whitefriars Press Ltd., 1925.
Family History Library [FHL] sources:
The Family History Library has the Children's Register 1563 to 1872 and the Presentation Papers 1674-1872.
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