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The Westminster School Archives

NicolBarengo28 August 2019

The Huguenot Library holds the archives of the French Protestant School of Westminster.

The school was founded in 1747 by a group of wealthy Huguenots who became increasingly concerned about the fate of the Huguenot orphans sent to workhouses or growing up illiterate and without any form of education. The institution they planned to create would feed and clothe the children, teach them basic numerical skills, how to read and write in French and English, sing the Psalms, and provide them with a sound religious instruction. Furthermore, the girls would be taught to sew and knit their own clothes as well as the boys’. In order to attend the school one had to provide proof of either being a French Protestant or being a descendant of one. As a result, baptism certificates, parents’ marriage certificates and information on Huguenot descent are often available in the students’ files.

Baptism certificate of Jacques Bellanger, 6 June 1778.

The institution occupied two houses in Windmill Street, near Tottenham Court Road, until 1846, when it moved to a newly built house in Plumtree Street, next to the French Savoy Church. The number of pupils in the school varied throughout the years, mainly depending on the sums that could be raised from the institution’s benefactors. Generally, about thirty students divided in equal numbers between boys and girls were admitted up to 1813. At this date, the financial difficulties that recurrently plagued the school from its creation, intensified. Therefore, the Directors decided to close the boys’ section, sublet one of the houses occupied by the former students and dismiss the Master, whose services were no longer required. The change is illustrated in the surviving receipts, which went from depicting a boy and a girl wearing uniforms to two girls.

Receipt to Lady Ravensworth, on engraved form showing a boy and girl, 1791.

Unused receipt form showing two girls, post 1813.

This drastic measure was just the last in a series of decisions aimed at reducing expenses, such as buying poorer quality bread and changing the girls uniform from blue to the cheaper grey fabric. This was more hard-felt than it would initially appear, as the institution was known in the Huguenot community as the ‘Blue Coat School’.

The minutes shed light on some of the students’ misbehaviour, such as hitting one of the teachers, in 1783; burying letters in the fields instead of delivering them, in 1793, and climbing on the church’s roof next to the school, in 1868. In 1783, a number of boys managed to throw stones and break one of the neighbouring property’s windows, whilst the Directors were meeting and witnessed the entire event. One wonders if the students were rather unlucky or very brazen! The entry in the minutes pictured below recalls the event, as well as the punishment imposed.

Minutes of the Directors’ meetings, 25 October 1783

Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the institution had a good reputation and was well liked. It is indeed common to see several generations of the same family attending it.

The main aim of the school was to enable the children to become apprentices when they left at 14. This was achieved successfully and many of the boys were given apprenticeships in trades typical of the Huguenot community, such as tailors, cobblers, weavers, jewellers and watch makers. Many of the girls would, on the other hand, be placed in domestic service, or as lace-makers, menders and dressmakers.

The school finally closed in 1924.

More information about it can be found in three articles published in the Proceedings of the Huguenot Society: William Morris Beaufort, ‘Records of the French Protestant School, founded by Huguenot refugees, 1747’, vol. IV, and Susan Minet, ‘Ecole de Charité Française de Westminster’, vols XII and XIII.

The school’s archives are fully catalogued online here. Researchers can arrange to access the collection by contacting the Huguenot Library here.

 

Beethoven, Orwell and more on display – Tuesday 6 June, 12-4.30pm

TabithaTuckett26 May 2017

You are warmly invited to this year’s Treasures Of The Written Word on Tuesday 6 June, 12 to 4.30pm, in the Roberts Building Foyer. The event is open to all, and booking is not required: just drop in.

This annual event is a chance to see some of the treasures held in the library’s Special Collections, Archives and Records, and to talk to the staff who work with them. This year we’ll also have students and volunteers talking about their Connected Curriculum projects with the collections, and our popular conservation demonstrations. See below for the full programme.

poster

Highlights will include a letter by Beethoven, George Orwell’s notes for his novel 1984, miniature children’s books from the 1700s, one of the first printed anatomy text books with pop-up diagram from the C16th, illuminated Mediaeval manuscripts in Hebrew and Latin, some of the earliest European music notation to survive, model furniture belonging to archives on the history of school education, documents on the history of UCL itself, radical design from rare C20th magazines, newly discovered Bentham manuscripts describing a dramatic prisoners’ escape, and selections from the fascinating Huguenot Library.

volunteers with Bible

You’ll also be able during the first session to ask our students to look up your favourite words in early dictionaries, or find out whether your favourite area of London was anything more than fields in our C18th London maps. In the second session you can have a go at transcribing Jeremy Bentham’s handwriting, or at other times during the event hear how digitising rare materials can aid research.

Timetable

12 – 1.30pm

  • Rare printed books
  • Mediaeval manuscript fragments
  • Institute of Education rare books
  • History of UCL
  • Digitising rare materials

1.30 – 3pm

  • Orwell collections
  • Educating children – archives from the Institute of Education
  • Hebrew and Jewish collections
  • Bentham manuscripts
  • Transcribe Bentham

3 – 4.30pm

  • Mediaeval and Renaissance books
  • Archives and manuscripts
  • C20th poetry and small-press collections
  • Huguenot Library
  • Digital collections

12-4pm

  • Live conservation demonstrations

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Special Collections, Archives and Records team.