London On The Ground
The City of London's only modern sculpture of school children
Andrew F Brown's bronze on Newgate Street immortalises the 470 year old 'Bluecoat school'.
The sculpture commemorates Christ's Hospital, founded as a charity school by King Edward VI in 1552 to house, feed and educate needy children. The independent school left London in 1902, but still broadly follows its original purpose and 75% of its pupils receive a free or subsidised education.
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The work was created in 2017 by artist Andrew F Brown and stands just outside the south wall of what was Christ Church Greyfriars on Newgate Street. The church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century, was damaged in World War II and a park was laid out inside its ruins in 1989.
Originally, this was the site of a Gothic church at the heart of a medieval monastery of Franciscan friars. The grey mantel worn over their habit led to the name 'Greyfriars'.
After King Henry VIII closed down England's monasteries, the Greyfriars buildings were given to the City of London in 1546. Renamed Christ Church, the old Greyfriars church was reduced in size and became the local parish church, before eventually being destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666.
One of the consequences of the Dissolution of the Monasteries is that orphans and the children of the poor were no longer looked after in the religious houses. Under Henry VIII's son and successor, a number of schools were established across the country to address this problem and there are still many schools named after King Edward VI to this day.
The school founded here in the City of London took the name Christ's Hospital. Located in buildings of the former Greyfriars next to Christ Church, which became its place of worship, the word 'hospital' referred to the provision of shelter, food and care, more than to today's narrower meaning concerning the sick.
It was granted a second royal charter in 1673 by King Charles II, which also created the Royal Mathematical School within Christ's Hospital. Wren, a governor of the school in the 17th century, helped with new school buildings in addition to rebuilding Christ Church.
The girls of Christ's Hospital moved to Hertford in 1707, while the boys moved to Horsham in West Sussex in 1902 after 350 years in the City of London. The Hertford campus closed in 1985, when the girls' school rejoined the boys in Horsham.
The school retains strong links with the City of London, marching through the City on St Matthew's Day and in the Lord Mayor's Show. The Lord Mayor of London attends the annual speech day parade in Horsham.
All pupils wear long blue coats, leather belts, yellow socks and white shirts with 'bands' at the neck. Girls wear pleated skirts, while boys wear knee breaches. The uniform, which is largely unchanged since 1553, has led to the school's nickname "Bluecoat School".
The gently curved bronze by Andrew F Brown depicts the progress of children through Christ's Hospital. Starting at the right hand end of the work, a young girl and boy are plainly dressed and enjoying their childish play.
Progressing across to the left, the children move up through the school in the traditional uniform, forming friendships while growing in maturity and self assurance. The two at the left hand end look very adult and must hold senior positions among the school's prefects. They are marching, as often seen in the City of London today. In spite of their Tudor uniforms, they look quite modern.
To guide his clay modelling work prior to making the bronze cast, the artist used photographs of two senior pupils in their uniforms in 2017. The girl held the position of Second Monitor, while the boy was the school's Senior Grecian (Sixth Form pupils are known as Grecians).
Across the reverse side of the sculpture, there is a verse written about the school by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a depiction of the medieval buildings that once stood just inside the City walls.
Coleridge, who was a poet, philosopher and theologian, is best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and Kubla Khan. He attended Christ's Hospital from 1781 to 1791 and was a schoolmate of Charles Lamb, who also gained fame as a writer. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner gave us the phrases 'albatross about my neck' and 'water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink'.
The poem reproduced on the back of Andrew F Brown's sculpture is a sonnet entitled On Leaving School, written by the 18 year old Coleridge in 1791. It captures a mix of hope for the future and nostalgia for the passing of his school days. The inscribed reproduction of the sonnet on the bronze can be a little difficult to read, so I have transcribed it at the end of this post.
The sculpture was unveiled on 6 November 2017 by Alderman Sir Alan Yarrow (former Lord Mayor and member of the School’s governing Council). It was selected following an open competition run by The City of London Corporation.
It was Andrew Brown's first commission in London and the artist saw it both as a great opportunity and a great challenge to combine the school's traditions and history with the forms of a modern urban environment.
"The fusion of the figurative, with the more abstract form of the background, combined with the very traditional and yet reflective bronze finish has, I hope, successfully tied these elements together," he said.
In my opinion, Andrew Brown was very successful in achieving his aims.
On Leaving School by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Farewell, parental scenes! a sad farewell!
To you my grateful heart still fondly clings,
Though fluttering round on Fancy’s burnished wings,
Her tale of future joy Hope loves to tell.