A brief history of the School
City of London School was founded by a bequest from John Carpenter in 1442 which was used in various ways for the benefit of local children. Eventually, under the management of the City of London Corporation a purpose-built school was opened in Milk Street in 1837.
The new School was somewhat radical in approach:
- Allowing pupils from various religions to enter
- Including science on the curriculum
- Allowing boys to study commercial subjects
It was also notable as, although there were a few boarders, it was primarily a day school.
The School rapidly gained a prestigious reputation leading to higher admissions rates and a demand for better facilities. Ignoring the trend of schools moving outside the capital, a larger site was secured on Victoria Embankment where the new School was opened in 1882 by Edward VII (then the Prince of Wales).
Many former pupils lost their lives during the Great War, leading to the acquisition of a new sports ground and pavilion at Grove Park as a memorial. World War II saw the whole School evacuated to Marlborough College for several years under the guidance of Headmaster FR Dale. Again, many alumni were lost during the war and are remembered on the Memorial in the current School.
Having recovered from the war the School continued to expand until, once again, a new building was required and, after many years of effort, opened in its current location in 1986. Throughout its history the School has been committed to offering scholarships and bursaries to boys from all backgrounds which has led to its continued ethos of inclusion and generosity.
For a more in-depth account of our School history, please select the History tab above.
While the School has moved with the times, its values have held true throughout.
History of the School by Lionel Knight MBE
John Carpenter, Town Clerk of London in the reign of Henry V, was famous as the author of the Liber Albus, a compilation of the laws, customs and privileges of the City, the memory of which had been threatened by the depredations of the plague. Property left on Carpenter’s death in 1442 was devoted to the education of four boys who were attached to the Chapel of the Guildhall, whose library Carpenter had helped to found. After the suppression of the Chapel in 1546, these ‘Carpenter’s Children’ led a wandering existence, being educated for a time at Tonbridge School.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the accumulated funds greatly exceeded the cost of their education. Warren Stormes Hale, a future Lord Mayor, worked for the creation of a permanent school. In his negotiations in the City, Hale drew support from progressive educationalists such as George Birkbeck, and, above all, the Whig Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, a radical patrician with the vision and drive to push the necessary Act through Parliament in 1834.
In the Act, the Corporation of London took over the Carpenter Estates and created a School Committee as the governing body. Unusually, there was to be no religious test for either boys or masters. The curriculum laid down by the Committee broke with the customary monopoly of classics, and specified science and a range of modern languages, taught by native speakers, and Hebrew. The new School, a neo-Gothic structure designed by J B Bunning for 400 boys opened its doors in Milk Street in 1837. Unfortunately, the new headmaster, J A Giles, an astonishingly prolific author, was temperamentally unsuited to his post and was soon replaced by Rev Dr Mortimer (1840-65).
Mortimer, with a youthful anti-slavery publication to his credit, embraced the openness of the School, welcoming Dissenters and, uniquely for the time, Jewish boys. In 1857, Richard Cobden praised the school in the House of Commons as an example of religious tolerance in education. From the City fresh scholarships flowed, most generously, the awards for mathematics and English literature from the distinguished engineer Henry Beaufoy. Success in the new Open Scholarship examinations, notably at Trinity College, Cambridge established the School’s reputation, especially in mathematics. The science teaching and, particularly the first practical chemistry lessons in England, from 1847, produced a crop of eminent scientists. The first was William Perkin, discoverer of aniline dyes and of ‘mauve’.
By the mid-century 637 boys paying £8:5s p.a. –with a waiting list of 240- were studying a three-term year in separate, gas-lit classrooms. Organized games began with rowing in 1859 and cricket in 1861. To overcome practical difficulties, Mortimer turned to the old boys; the John Carpenter Club had been founded in 1848. When the Taunton Commission reported in 1867, it noted how the science-based curriculum helped to integrate the wide social intake. It found the school ‘by far the best among the secondary schools of London’.
Mortimer was succeeded by a former pupil, Edwin Abbott (1865-89), a scholar of remarkable range and a great teacher. With J R Seeley, the future eminent historian, he taught English grammar and literature. Equally innovative was the approach to classics. The older boys studied it within a philological context, with Sanskrit as an optional subject. Both approaches produced a crop of nationally known writers and scholars. For the former one might mention Sir Sidney Lee, Sir Israel Gollancz and Sir Walter Raleigh. Among the orientalists were C R Wilson, historian of India, Sir T Arnold and the great sanskritist, Cecil Bendall. Abbott promoted two features which have been very important ever since: debating and representative institutions, with the School Parliament dating from 1885. Saturday school was ended in 1886. He responded quickly to changes around the 1870 Education Act and secured places for Board Scholars, forerunners of the Local Authority scholarship boys who were to contribute so much to the school over the next century. The School had become a founding member of the Head Masters’ Conference in 1869.
Abbott managed to hold the School at a maximum of 630, but the cramped conditions called for a new building. Despite the advice of Mrs Beeton, a neighbour in Milk Street, the feeding arrangements were equally inadequate. At this time other public schools were leaving London, but the identity of CLS was bound up with the stimulating environment, as Asquith described it, of the sound of Bow Bells and the roar of traffic in Cheapside. The future prime minister recalled once passing five hanged criminals as he walked by Newgate on his way to school. At last, a much larger site on the recently reclaimed Victoria Embankment became available. In 1882 the School moved to the new building designed by Davis and Emanuel. Pevsner described the façade of the magnificent hall as ‘amazingly unscholastic, rather like a permanent Exhibition Palace.’
The turn of the century saw consolidation of the innovative trends in the curriculum. In 1897 the chemists Perkins, father and son, and the astronomer Sir William Huggins joined with the City to celebrate fifty years of science teaching by raising more investment. In that year there were five other Old Citizen Fellows of the Royal Society, with Gowland Hopkins, Nobel-prizewinning discoverer of vitamins, yet to come. English teaching and the School’s strong links with publishing and journalism were reinforced by the Northcliffe grants to commemorate the death in the Boer War of G W Steevens, the pioneer war reporter. The illustrator Arthur Rackham and the publishers G Newnes, T Unwin and the map maker E Stanford all belonged to this generation; as did C T Ritchie, creator of the LCC, and Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Salisbury’s governments. At this time the CCF was revived and, adapting to changed times, has flourished ever since. In 1907 the School was reorganized into houses, and in the same year was begun the Mission, ancestor of the present Annual Charity Appeal.
The School War Memorial remembers the horrors of the Great War, recorded in a different way by C E Montague of the Manchester Guardian. As well as the prime minister, Asquith, another eminent Old Citizen of the time was the liberal-minded Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, the only Jewish member of the cabinet and the only opponent of the Balfour Declaration. Among the bravest of the brave was the Old Citizen volunteer, the Rev T B Hardy, VC, DSO, MC, who died of his wounds on the eve of his fifty-fifth birthday.
The wish for a practical memorial took the form in 1925 of the pavilion, designed by the Old Citizen Ralph Knott, in the new grounds at Grove Park for field sports and athletics. A magnificent swimming pool followed on site with a custom-built fencing sale in 1956. The fives courts were always well used, and in the 1970s produced John Reynolds, the most successful Eton Fives player of all time. If these have been the scene of consistent sporting triumphs, Grove Park has offered excellent facilities for most of the School, with intermittent distinction, such as provided by a future England cricket captain, J M Brearley.
In the Second World War few can have contributed as strongly as the Old Citizen mathematician, Max Newman, the creator, with Alan Turing, of the Colossus computer at Bletchley Park. The likelihood of evacuation had been anticipated by the much admired headmaster F R Dale(1929-1950). His pupil, Kingsley Amis, wrote of him:’if ever a kind of man vanished for good, his did.’ Thus the move to Marlborough College was accomplished rapidly, though the war years were not easy, adjusting to the culture of a boarding school, and cut off from sources of recruitment.
The fortunes of the School, somewhat depleted by the years of exile, were rapidly restored under the stern and energetic guidance of Dr A W Barton (1950-64). Julian Barnes’s novel, Metroland, catches the flavour of CLS life at that time. A neighbouring bomb site allowed for the construction of a separate Junior School, and a new Art area, in 1956. More laboratories were added in 1958. Drama and music began to flourish again. The School has had the advantage of special entry arrangements for choristers from the Temple, since 1900, and from the Chapel Royal since 1926. Ernest Lough’s ‘Hear my Prayer’ was the first record to sell a million copies, and made school music known to a wider public.
His successor, J A Boyes (1964-84) modernized the style of the school. He developed a Community Service Organization as an alternative to the now voluntary CCF, and introduced a large choice of non-examined general studies courses which took a quarter of each sixth-former’s time. The back-wash of the world-wide student disturbances of 1968 were turned to constructive purposes by Boyes’s wisdom and the strength of the school’s representative institutions. Though denied the promised land himself, Boyes worked tirelessly for the new school, designed by T Meddings, on a larger river site below St Paul’s Cathedral. A large Design and Technology centre was added in 1990.
In the splendid new building headmasters came and went with a rapidity hitherto unknown: M Hammond (1984-1990); B G Bass (1990-95); R J Dancey (1995-98); D R Levin (1998-) Luckily, all were successes, and their different styles kept the School in a state of healthy self-examination at a time of rapid social and educational change. The fruit was seen in the outstanding inspection report during the interregnum of D. J. Grossel in 1998. Most recently the focus has been on raising money for those unable to afford the fees. Many benefactors, above all HSBC, help a third of all pupils with nearly a tenth on full support. If the socially inclusive traditions of the School are to be maintained, it is a programme which must continue.
Lionel Knight MBE
Former Head of History
Admissions ledgers from 1837
Letter-books from 1835
Records of the John Carpenter Club
Uniforms, medals and other memorabilia
Architectural plans and drawings of the various school sites
Papers of individual former pupils and staff
Archive material is stored at the School, Guildhall, and the London Metropolitan Archives.
Research & Enquires
How can we help?
Any enquiries should be sent to the Archivist, including as much detail as possible. We aim to respond to all queries as promptly as we can, although staff time is limited. Information is made accessible at the discretion of the Archivist in compliance with the Data Protection Act.
- Katherine Symonds, Archivist, City of London School, London EC4V 3AL
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Telephone: 020 3680 6317
(A telephone answer machine takes messages when the office is unmanned)
We aim to respond to all enquiries as promptly as possible.
We welcome archive items
The Archive is delighted to accept items to further enrich our collections. For enquiries please get in touch.
We are always interested in:
- Written accounts of events
- Old cine, or video footage
- Surprise us!
The most surprising items bring memories flooding back.