A rich history of care and education

"A place to lodge Christ in"

The vision came from Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, who convinced the boy king Edward VI to grant his palace at Bridewell, on the banks of the Thames, to the Lord Mayor of London, so creating our parent foundation, Bridewell Royal Hospital, as a place for the training and education of poor children in 1553.

Bridewell Palace burnt down during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was subsequently rebuilt. In 1830 a new House of Occupations was opened in St George’s Fields, Southwark. Here there was more emphasis on education rather than reform of character. Children aged from 8 to 18 were accepted from the City, County of Middlesex and the Borough of Southwark.

1860 saw the setting up of a new charity scheme for Bridewell Royal Hospital and the House of Occupations was renamed King Edward’s School. Now boys and girls could be admitted from the age of 10 from anywhere in the UK. The pupils were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and history as well as being trained in occupations. On leaving, girls went into domestic service and the boys into city firms, factories and the armed forces. 

The boys moved to the newly built accommodation on the 100-acre Witley site in 1867 and it was not until 1952 that King Edward’s became co-educational again. The boys wore naval uniform and slept in hammocks. Discipline was harsh with drills and inspections the norm. Part of the curriculum was still to learn a trade and be in workshops. The chapel was the focus for religious education.

During World War II the School was requisitioned by the Admiralty Signals Establishment, renamed HMS Mercury, and used for top secret war work to develop naval radar. It has been said that ‘the Battle of the Atlantic was won on the playing fields of Witley’.

Since the School’s return to Witley in 1949 it has gone from strength to strength as a flourishing co-educational boarding and day school. The School has been privileged to have royal patrons including Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who opened the Science school in 1965.

In January 2006 HRH The Duchess of Gloucester accepted an invitation to become the next President of the Bridewell Royal Hospital, taking over the position formerly occupied by HM The Queen Mother. Born Birgitte Eva van Deurs in Denmark, the Duchess is the wife of HRH The, Duke of Gloucester, who is a cousin of the Queen. The Duke and Duchess undertake royal duties on the Queen's behalf and are patrons of many organisations with medical, educational or welfare connections. Her Royal Highness visited King Edward's and opened the astro turf in 2006 and then again in 2013 for the re-opening of the refurbished Ridley House.

Tradition is greatly valued at King Edward’s Witley and close links with the City remain through the Court of Governors. The Lord Mayor attends our annual Service of Thanksgiving at St. Bride’s Church and Admissions Day, while pupils participate in a range of events and activities associated with the City of London, perpetuating the links of our historical roots.