2017 is certainly a year of anniversaries. Earlier this month we were delighted to welcome Sir Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Moscow, who talked us through the consequences of the two Russian revolutions of 1917.
A little to the west, Germany is currently finishing preparations for the 300th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and that seminal moment in Europe’s story when Martin Luther began his far-reaching dispute with the Catholic Church. Closer to home, Rugby School has just celebrated its 450th anniversary and we officially begin our 350th year next month.
The former headmaster of Rugby, Patrick Derham, now leads Westminster College. At Rugby he helped to set up a charity which works to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive a boarding school education. As a boy, Patrick himself was a beneficiary of similar charity. Last week in London his initiative, now known as the Springboard Bursary Foundation, merged with the Royal National Children’s Foundation (RNCF). The new charity will continue to offer young people opportunities to transform their lives through boarding. It is by far the biggest boarding charity in the country.
I was privileged to represent OSH last week in London and hear Patrick speak about his own story. I was equally privileged to introduce Princess Anne, who is patron, to some young people who have benefitted through these charities from the transformative impact of a boarding education. Rogan McGilp, who has written a blog for me on these pages, was one. Now an OSH alumnus, he wears his national engineering title lightly and is currently in the process of cracking the American market. Another was a young lady called Helen, RNCF’s first PhD, who now leads critical research into medical science. A young man called Shaun, meanwhile, was able to explain to Her Royal Highness how his next steps in sports science are directly attributable to his boarding school education.
Shaun’s alma mater, Eton College, has been contributing in this way since 1446 for Eton has behind it late medieval foundations and the direct support of the English kings.
Old Swinford Hospital, on the other hand, started making its distinctive impact some 350 years ago, but unlike Eton Thomas Foley established the school using his own resources. It was a sizeable undertaking. Thomas Foley is even mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys, researching a model for the new school, and paying to have a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren design and contribute to the construction of ‘Sturbridge new schoole’ on Catherwell Field, between Oldswinford and the town of Stourbridge in the summer of 1667.
The new school was founded to offer residential places to sixty boys so that they could eventually be apprenticed to a trade. 350 years ago this summer, the first beneficiaries of the boarding education which OSH delivers would have known they were coming to this school. Their names were William Perkes, Jon Beddall, William Walker, John Banks, Ralph Hudman, John Cheltnam and Thomas Cox.
Today, OSH supports boarders from all backgrounds and is a long standing partner of both Springboard and RNCF. The Feoffees of Thomas Foley’s own foundation have been supporting numbers of boarders in this way for 350 years. I think it is important that we are reminded at this special time of the instructions which Thomas Foley left for his foundation and which, along with Romans chapter 12 have been providing us with clear direction over the centuries. Thomas Foley left us an imperative, no less:
Suffer not … this house or the meanes therefore settled in you to be disposed of or otherwise than expressed …
And that no Boyes be chosen unto it but such be Reall objects of charity, and that they may be taught be such masters as may breed them up in the Feare of God.
Our 350th anniversary year begins at noon on Saturday 24th June 2017. We look forward to it with eager anticipation.