Records of Children Back to the 1600s - Christ’s Hospital School
Benjamin Nicolas was six years old when his father died in 1721. Benjamin’s family struggled after that. But two years later, Benjamin was admitted to the Christ’s Hospital School. What an opportunity! Now he could be clothed, fed and educated, with a gift from Mr John West of £119. Benjamin was obviously unimpressed. Four years later the school discharged him ‘sent Home to his Freinds (sic) for having runaway 7 several times’.
Richard Dracott did better at the Christ’s Hospital School. He was admitted in 1728 from Newbury, Berkshire with a gift from Mr John West of £180. Richard left the School in 1735. By then 15 years old, he set sail for Jamaica to serve a London merchant called Florentine Vassall for six years.
How does the SoG have these details?
We hold a small set of 130 cards that record Christ’s Hospital School accepting poor children. The cards are held in a small brown envelope in the Blight Special Collection, given to us by John H. Blight, FSG. The collection holds many other papers relating to the West family, especially John and Frances West. If you’re looking for ancestors and know that they were probably very poor, then this set might provide exciting clues.
The generous benefactor, John West, was born in Twickenham and baptised in 1641. In 1665/66, he married Frances Mickell (nee Sakes) a widow, in the City of London.* John became a wealthy merchant in the City and he and his wife supported many charities. One of their gifts provided scholarships to Christ’s Hospital, for ‘poor kin’. Since the West’s had no children, they obviously wanted to make funds available for any other relations needing help. Probably Blight transcribed the details that our cards hold from the original registers held by Christ’s Hospital, at their Museum.
Christ’s Hospital has been a boarding school since 1552, starting in Newgate Street in London. You may know it as the Bluecoat School. In 1552, Edward VI asked the Lord Mayor of London to set up a charitable school to:
‘…take out of the streets all fatherless children & other poor men's children that were not able to keep them and to bring them to the late dissolved house of the Grey Friars which they devised to be a hospital for them where they should have meat, drink and cloths, lodging and learning and officers to attend upon them.’ **
The cards we hold give us two snapshots in time: the first shows a child being admitted to the school, with parents’ names and where they came from; the second shows us why the child left and where they went.
For example, in the card below, Joseph Prigg, aged about 8, is admitted after the death of his father, a London citizen and Combmaker. In 1684, John West petitioned Christ’s Hospital to accept Joseph and paid £79 towards his keep. In 1691, a 15 year old Joseph is discharged to serve seven years under Richard Poulter, a London citizen and founder.
Wonderfully, the West’s supported girls as well as boys. Great news for those of us on the hunt for information about an ancestress. In the card below, we see 11 year old Jane Richardson arriving at the school in 1694 after the death of her father, who belonged to the Merchant Taylors Guild. Four years later in 1698, Jane is apprenticed for five years to a Mantua maker in Bishopsgate Street.
The SoG also hold 57,000 microfilms given to us from FamilySearch (the genealogical arm of the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormons). When we checked, we found the original entries in the Christ’s Hospital Children’s Register. Here you can see the original image showing Jane being admitted to the school.
In the next image below, you can see Jane leaving the school for work.
1. The Christ’s Hospital cards are held in the Blight Special Collection (Box 2, Folder 1).
2. The original images of the Christ’s Hospital Children’s Register are part of our LDS film collection. Jane Richardson is in Volume 6-8, Nos 1067/97 and 1067/96.
3. We welcome anyone wanting to find out what our Special Collections or our LDS films hold. They are located in the Lower Library. You can ask a volunteer or member of staff to help you. If you are not a Member of the SoG, please note that there is a small fee charged to enable you to use our Library.
* Thank you to the John and Frances West Family Group website for this information.
** Taken from Christ’s Hospital Museum website, which celebrates the remarkable 465 year history of one of the oldest boarding schools in England.
- Sherryl Abrahart
A note from Else Churchill:
The John and Frances West Family Group is today a vibrant and thriving family history society of over 200 members worldwide, all of whom can claim kinship to the couple in whose name the Christ’s Hospital scholarships and pensions are still granted. They collaborate on the reconstruction of family trees, sharing research and family stories via a website, Facebook page and a newsletter. The Group organises an event every year where members can gather together in a location which has some relevance to the family.
The 2018 gathering was held at Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire and the Society of Genealogists was invited to be represented by Diana Swinfield who attended to present to Society’s Certificate of Recognition to Peter Pretlove, “in recognition of his skill and 13 years spent editing the newsletter of the John & Frances West Family Group”.
We have a complete run of newsletters from 1995 to date in the SoG library (FH/WES/PER) as well as an ongoing series of occasional booklets (FH/WES).