Survey of London: Volume 10, St. Margaret, Westminster, Part I: Queen Anne's Gate Area. Originally published by [s.n.], [s.l.], 1926.
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LXIII. BLUE COAT SCHOOL: (Now part of the Christchurch, Caxton Street, Public Elementary School).
History of the School.
The Blue Coat School, Westminster, was established by voluntary subscriptions about the year 1688. (fn. n1) An old parchment roll, written probably in 1700, contains the following statement on the point:—
"In the late reign, when the Roman Catholick Priests and Jesuites were busie in making Proselytes and to that end set up Free Schools in the Savoy and other places in and about the City of London inviting all poor children to be educated by them gratis.
Divers well disposed persons Inhabitants of ye Parish of St. Margaret Westr, and communicants of the new Church therein, to the honour of God and for preferring and promoting the Religion by law established in the Church of England, did by Charitable and Free Benevolance enact and continue a Free School at their own annuall expense, wherein fifty poor boys of the said Parish, whose Parents were not able to be at the charge of their teaching, were and still are carefully taught to read, write, cast accompts, and also catechised and instructed in the Principles of our most Holy Religion, and put out when fit to trades whereby they might act honest livelyhoods in the World.
At first the school was held in hired buildings in Duck Lane, but in 1709 William Greene, who held a lease, at an annual rent of 2s. 6d. from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, of a piece of ground in what is now Caxton Street, built thereon a school and schoolmaster's house. (fn. n2) In 1727 he assigned his lease, which was then for 36 years from 1723, to trustees, upon trust, to suffer the school, school-house, gardens and premises comprised in the lease, to be used for educating and instructing poor children, and for the master. The lease was subsequently renewed on several occasions by the Dean and Chapter, until 9th March, 1869, when the latter conveyed the freehold to the Governors, subject to the right to nominate to the school from time to time two poor boys and two poor girls. (fn. n3)
In 1898 the Governors obtained an Order authorising them to close the school and dispose of the site and buildings to the Vestry of St. Margaret and St. John, Westminster. On 31st March, 1899, the Vestry entered into an agreement with the Trustees of the Christ Church National Schools, whereby the latter exchanged the site of their schools and the piece of land adjoining for the site (fn. n4) and buildings of the Blue Coat School, the Vestry first having adapted part of the existing buildings and erected others for elementary school purposes.
Description of the Structure.
There is no record of the name of the architect employed to design the building. The date (1709) of its erection, however, one year before the final stone of the lantern of St. Paul's Cathedral was placed in position, naturally suggests the possibility of the same great architect being responsible for both buildings. Such an attribution, indeed, has occasionally been made, (fn. n5) although the material evidence in support of it is the slightest. There is no doubt, however, that the building is treated definitely in Wren's manner, and it may be regarded as possible that he was either responsible for, or considerably influenced, the design of this interesting structure, erected nearly 14 years before his death. Since that time, the setting or environment of the school has altered considerably. It is now to a large extent enclosed by uninteresting modern buildings, with which, however, its simple dignity of treatment contrasts most favourably and sustains the note of old-world distinction that invariably attaches to work of the Wren period. The school is thus an historic record of great value in a quarter of London where relatively few structures of its age remain. It consists of a oneapartment structure about 42 feet long by 30 feet wide internally, with its floor raised several feet above the surrounding road and ground surfaces, and having a low basement storey beneath. (fn. n6) In internal effect it is beautifully proportioned, and in every way attractive and suited to the purposes for which it was built. At the entrance end, from Caxton Street, is a Corinthian-columned vestibule (Plate 131) carrying the original external clock chamber, and adding considerably to the dignity of the interior.
The entablature is carried round the room, and above it, pierced by a range of windows, springs the coved junction with the flat ceiling. This internal "order" is about 15 feet in height, the total height of the room being rather more than 19 feet. The walls are panelled in wood to a height of 7 feet 6 inches, with semicircular niches formed at intervals, and this dado treatment connects with, and is completed by, a pleasing treatment of the linings, seat and window back of the window recesses, the heads of which finish at the underside of the architrave of the entablature surrounding the room (Plate 134). On the end wall, opposite the entrance from the street, is a simply-treated chimney-piece with an architectural framework superimposed which encloses painted panels embodying the Ten Commandments (Plate 132). The whole effect of the room is somewhat marred by the introduction of a modern dividing screen that cuts across it, but, despite this disadvantage, its general appearance is very attractive.
Externally, the building is finished in brickwork and has, to each elevation, three main vertical divisions, determined generally by the arrangement of the windows, with, in each case, an enriched treatment, architecturally, to the central bay. A reference to the drawings and photographs (Plate 127, 128, 129, 130) will explain this. The angles of the building are strengthened, in effect, by slightly projecting square pilasters with a short portion of entablature immediately above them, (fn. n7) of which the cornice division is carried round the whole of the exterior. The entrance doorway from Caxton Street is treated with a bold and effective wooden door casing in the Roman Doric "Order," with a simplypanelled door opening in two leaves (Plate 133). The break from the front of the doorcase is continued up in slightly projecting brickwork, having as a central feature a round-headed niche in which, on a pedestal, appears the figure of a scholar in the dress of the period (Plate 127 and 128). Above is a clock face, now disused, with a broken pediment and side scrolls, which latter, with the parapet itself, conveys in parts the suggestion of not being contemporary work. The southern end of the block has the central bay more definitely projecting, with greater emphasis given to its main stage by an "order" of coupled pilasters and entablatures, roughly corresponding with the spaces between the lower and upper windows of the main floor, and with a recessed arched niche with plastered background on which appears the painted representation of a scholar. This, whatever the merits of the original representation, is now rather crudely executed. Above the projecting "order" are other rectangular panels with plastered backgrounds, and below the curved pedimental termination is a record of the founding of the school in the year 1688. Emphasis is given to the central bay of the side elevations, in which windows occur, on lines somewhat suggestive of the treatment of the secondary pilaster stage of the southern elevation.
Though portions of the brickwork show evidence of having been renewed or restored at intervals, it retains generally the excellent character of the work of the period in which it was originally constructed, and, as such, is well worthy of study.
In the Council's Collection are:—
(fn. n8) General exterior (from a water-colour drawing by T. H. Shepherd in the Crace Collection, British Museum) (photograph).
(fn. n8) North elevation (photograph).
(fn. n8) North elevation (measured drawing).
South elevation (photograph).
West elevation (photograph).
Interior, looking west (photograph).
Interior, looking east (photograph).
(fn. n8) Interior, looking north (photograph).
(fn. n8) Interior, looking south (photograph).
(fn. n8) Plan, section and south and west elevations (measured drawing).
(fn. n8) Detail of wood entrance doorway (measured drawing).
(fn. n8) Details of wood panelling (measured drawing).
General exterior from the north-west, from a water-colour drawing by J. P. Emslie in the Westminster Public Library (photograph).
General exterior showing entrance gates and front wall, from a water-colour drawing in the Westminster Public Library (photograph).