King Edward’s Witley opened its doors to the general public last weekend to share its rich history with visitors, as part of the established national Heritage Open Days initiative. The event marked the first time the school has taken part in England’s favourite heritage festival and was particularly apposite given this year’s focus on the 150th anniversary of the school’s move to Witley.
Led by the School’s Archivist, Marilyn Wilkes, around 40 people took part in two tours on Sunday, September 10, providing a unique opportunity for visitors to behold the local landmark architecture as well as the imposing Bridewell and Selborne Rooms, which both house original paintings of historic interest. The Bridewell Room, part of the original 1867 complex of buildings housing the School, is used for receptions, Governors’ meetings and meetings of the School’s pupil council. The Selborne Room – originally built in 1876 as the Dining Hall – was named after the 4th Earl of Selborne, (Treasurer of Bridewell Royal Hospital from 1972 to 1983) and is now used for exams, conferences, seminars and other functions. Guests also had a private view of Charter Hall, the scene for all school productions and awards ceremonies, which was formally opened by the President of Bridewell Royal Hospital, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, in 1958, and which houses the original and enormous 17th Century Charter Portrait.
Other highlights of the tour included the beautiful on-site Chapel, first consecrated in 1868; the School’s own museum which houses numerous original artefacts and photographs (including a real hammock used by boarders until the 1940s); the War Memorial erected in honour of the Masters and former pupils who fell in the 1914-1918 war; and the statue of the young King Edward VI, who originally granted his palace at Bridewell, on the banks of the Thames, to the Lord Mayor of London, creating the School’s parent foundation (Bridewell Royal Hospital), as a place for the training and education of poor children in 1553.
Throughout the tours, Mrs Wilkes, provided a potted history of King Edward’s Witley, from its original origins as a Tudor orphanage in the City of London through to the world-class school it is today.
Mrs Wilkes said: “We are immensely proud of King Edward’s long history and it was wonderful to provide our visitors with an understanding of the School’s exceptional heritage. Even for those living locally, many were surprised at the size of the school behind the road-side façade and all enjoyed hearing about the fascinating journey from 1553 to the current day.”