King Edward's School, Witley, near Godalming, Surrey
King Edward's School at Witley, Surrey, had its origins in the former Royal Palace of Henry VIII, known as Bridewell, which stood on the banks of the River Fleet. In 1553, Henry's son, Edward VI, gave Bridewell — or Bridewell Royal Hospital as it became formally known — to the City of London Corporation for use as a 'house of occupation' for idlers, vagrants and prostitutes, and also for housing the City's homeless children.
From late 16th century, the children were trained in various crafts by 'artsmasters' — skilled tradesmen, who lived alongside their apprentices. In 1632, a schoolmaster was appointed to teach the children reading and writing for short time each week. The children at Bridewell were frequently punished for absconding and rioting, which was said to come from their contact with the adult inmates of the establishment.
In 1830, the children were moved to new premises known as the House of Occupations, off St George's Road, adjacent to the Bethlem Lunatic Asylum. The establishment took boys and girls, aged from 8 to 18, from the City of London, Middlesex, and the Borough of Southwark. By 1837, the of apprenticeship training had ceased and the House of Occupations now focussed on the classroom education of its inmates.
In 1860, a new charitable funding scheme was established for the Bridewell Royal Hospital. Following on from this, the House of Occupations was renamed the King Edward's Schools, i.e. separate sections for boys and for girls. It could now admit children from anywhere in the country, girls from the age of 10, and boys from the age of 11. As well as classroom lessons in reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography, the children were given 'industrial training' to prepare them for employment. For the girls, this was primarily in domestic service, while the boys learned trades such as carpentry and shoemaking. Many of the boys from the School also entered the Royal Navy.
In 1867, the boys moved to new premises at Witley, near Godalming, while the girls remained at what became King Edward's School, Southwark.
The Witley School site is shown on the 1897 map below.
As well as the boys' school, the Witley site also incorporated a convalescent hospital for patients from the Bethlehem Asylum. The school and convalescent hospital are described in the report below from April, 1867.
The Governors of Bethlehem and Bridewell purchased some 27 acres land at Witley, one of the healthiest and most romantic spots in the county of Surrey. Their first object was to erect a training school for destitute and friendless boys, now finished, and is a building which reflects great credit on the architect, Sydney Smirke, Esq., and on the builders, Messrs. Mansell and Price. The structure itself has been raised for about £26.000. The architecture is a combination the Elizabethan and Italian styles. The building of red brick, with bathstone dressings. The grand entrance to the block is through a ponderous gateway and porch, surmounted with a lofty tower, containing bell and clock. In a niche of the tower there is a skilfully sculptured statue of Edward VI, the founder of the school, executed by Mr. Ruddock, to whom was entrusted the whole of the sculpture. Below this, and either side, there are two other statues: the one on the left being a representation of our Saviour rescuing a lamb from the brambles, and on the right Britannia rewarding young sailors. Besides these, either side, there is the representation of angel holding a scroll, upon which written "Peace be with you." Of the four gables there are coats of arms, namely, Royal Arms, the Bethlehem Arms, and the arms the President and Treasurer. Entering through the porch into a spacious yard are the dining hail, kitchens, and all the most approved modern appliances for cooking, the latter having been most efficiently erected by the Messrs. Haydon engineers, of Trowbridge, under the direction Mr. Blake. The wings to right and left contain class rooms, masters' apartments, and dormitories capable of containing 150 boys. The boys have all to sleep in hammocks, which present a peculiar appearance, but are undoubtedly conducive to health, and especially to fit them for the service for which so many of them are destined. The front of the building is devoted to the superintendent's residence, servants' apartments, offices, &c. One of the great inducements which led the governors fix on Witley was the fact that they could there obtain very abundant supply of excellent water. Water was found about 60 feet deep, and it was never brought down more than a foot during the whole process of the building. Such is a brief sketch of this building, which is now completed, and the foundation stone which was laid in the autumn of 1864.
All are aware of the vast advantages which have been conferred by the Bethlehem Hospital on many poor sufferers from insanity. It proposed when this hospital is completed, to bring down convalescent patients from Bethlehem to enjoy for a while the salubrious air of this part of Surrey, before returning them their friends "clothed and their right mind." The Convalescent Hospital will be built in the Tudor style, and erected at a cost of about £16,000. It will able to accommodate from 40 to 50 patients. Mr Smirk is the architect, and Messrs. Mansell and Price the builders.
In 1952, the Witley school became co-educational, with girls again being taught under the same roof as boys.
King Edward's School, Witley, continues todays as an independent co-educational boarding and day school for 11-18 year olds.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury, London EC2V 7HH. Admissions and discharge registers (1835-44; 1855-1900); Registers of inmates (1867-1927); Access to records less than 100 years old requires permission from King Edward's School, Witley.
- King Edward's School, Witley has post-1900 admission and discharge registers, photos, plans, and The Edwardian school magazine.
- Humphreys, Gordon Goodly Heritage: A History of King Edward's School, Witley, 1553-1953 — A Quater-Centenary Tribute to the Foundation of the Hospital of King Edward VI, King Of England, Bridewell (1953, Privately published)
- Humphreys, Gordon Shared Heritage: The History of King Edward's School 1553-1972 (1972, King Edward's School)
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.