Prince George starts school today at Thomas’ Battersea in the former Sir Walter St John’s School building, renewing a connection with Lydiard Park and the St John family.
On July 3, 1708 Sir Walter St John died peacefully at his home in Battersea, attended by his servants, just as Lady Johanna had requested in her will written in 1703.
‘I desire if Sr Walter St John outlive me him his old servants may be continued about him & that he may not be removed to Liddiard London or any other place from Battersea wher he has lived so long least he hasten his Death.’
The Manor of Battersea once belonged to Westminster Abbey but following the dissolution of the monasteries the manor returned to the Crown. In 1627 it was granted in reversion to Oliver St John, Viscount Grandison and later inherited by his nephew Sir John St John, 1st Baronet. Sir John’s son Walter and his wife Joanna lived mainly at the Manor House in Battersea, more convenient for Walter who served at various times as MP for both Wiltshire and Wootton Bassett between the years 1656-1690.
It was the feckless Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who sold the Battersea Manor to John Viscount Spencer in 1763 and less than 20 years later the greater part of Bolingbroke House, as it was then known, had been demolished.
But what has the education of the young Prince George got to do with Sir Walter St. John? Well quite a lot actually.
In 1700 St Walter founded a school for twenty poor boys from the parish of Battersea. The building that became the original Sir Walter St John’s schoolhouse was in existence before 1700 and perhaps leads credence to the belief that the school was up and running much earlier, possibly by 1650.
Sir Walter’s will, written on March 8, 1705/6 and proved three days after his death, included the following bequest:
‘I give and bequeath to the Minister of Battersea and the Schoole Master and Trustees for the time being for the Schoole of Battersea the summe of Two hundred pounds in Trust onely that the same shall as soone as Conveniently may be be layd out in the purchase of lands of Inheritance And the Incombe and Revenue thereof from time to time to be Applyed in binding and placeing out Apprentices of One or more Children to be taken out of the said Schoole Which said last mencioned Legacy or Charity of Two hundred pounds I doe Appoint shall be payd within Twelve Months next after my Decease.’
So Sir Walter left the school pretty well provided for.
A framed Abstract of the 1803 inrolment hung in the Headmaster’s study until 1988 when it was deposited in the Greater London Record Office (London Metropolitan Archives).
And whereas the said Sir Walter St John is minded to found and for ever to establish a Charity in the said parish of Battersea, wherein the said Sir Walter St John now dwelleth, for the benefitt of the said parish and towne of Battersea, and to erect and indow a schoole there for the education of twenty free scholars in manner as hereinafter is menconed, and that the said messuage or tenement shall for ever hereafter be used as a Schoole House for the teaching of scholars therein … (the transcript can be viewed in full in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 22 published May 13, 1989.)
The first addition to the school house was built in 1840, a two storey building consisting of one large room on each floor.
By 1858 the whole site was subject to a major rebuild. Sir Walter’s original school house was demolished to make way for William Butterfield’s Gothic Revivalist new building. A description of the building can be found on the Historic England website.
In 1977 Sir Walter St John’s Grammar School became a Comprehensive School and amalgamated with another local school, William Blake.
Following a major review of secondary school provision in Wandsworth Sir Walter St John’s amalgamated with Battersea County to become the new Battersea Park School in 1986.
The Grade II listed building was acquired by David and Joanna Thomas who founded Thomas’s London Day School. Their son Ben, was headmaster at Thomas’s Battersea from 1999 until recently when new headmaster Simon O’Malley was appointed. O’Malley was previously headmaster at Wellesley House School in Kent and starts at the school in September.
Speculation had been that Prince George would attend Wetherby, a pre-prep school in Notting Hill Gate, favoured by the Prince and Princess of Wales for the elementary education of Princes William and Harry. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have, however, decided to go for Thomas’s where the ethos places a greater emphasis on a set of core values, including kindness, courtesy, confident, humility and learning to be givers, not takers.
A lot may have changed since Sir Walter’s day, but how fitting that the young prince will begin his education in buildings that once housed the Sir Walter St John School.
Prince George can trace his ancestry back to Sir John St John, First Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton, his 12 x great grandparents and Walter’s parents.
Sir Walter’s charitable endeavour continues today with the Sir Walter St John’s Education Charity, which promotes the education and training of children and young people under the age of 25, who are in financial need. The Charity covers the London Boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth, with preference given to Sir Walter’s old patch, Battersea.