The Royal Hospital School is often mistaken as some sort of medical establishment. In fact it is an independent HMC boarding school, the largest of its kind in East Anglia. It is so titled because of its links to the Greenwich Hospital charity. The school can accomodate up to 700 pupils, aged 11 to 18, and both boys and girls are admitted (since 1991 - before then it was an all boys school). The school was originally founded for the orphans of seafarers, and retains its strong naval links to this day. In fact, til the late 1980s it was compulsory for leavers to enter the navy immediately - the practise was only stopped due to the increased unpopularity of British boarding schools at this time and the (now seemingly unreal) possibility that the school might even have to close.
The institution was founded as Greenwich Hospital in 1694 by William and Mary, the reigning monarchs. The school was originally sited at Greenwich in London, in the same buildings that today house the Painted Hall and the National Maritime Museum in the center of London. For those interested, this former palace is well worth a visit. The Hospital cared for the sons of sailors killed or wounded in Britain's Navy and trained them for automatic induction into the navy on leaving. Upon moving to the present site, kindly donated by the wealthy landowner Gifford Sherman Reade in his will, all boys still went directly into the navy on leaving and so the curriculum was heavily influenced in this direction (navigation and sailing featuring heavily, for example).
Location and Grounds:
The Royal Hospital School is located on a 200-acre site overlooking the River Stour (also known as the Stour Estuary), near the villages of Holbrook and Stutton, themselves near the town of Ipswich in the county of Suffolk, England. It has been located here since 1934, building having begun in 1932 when the old site at Greenwich became untenable. The school was renamed the Royal Hospital School at this time, with Greenwich Hospital remaining as the school's owner and main benefactor. The port of Harwich, which is in Essex, can be seen across the river from the school, which faces south. Alton Reservoir is located nearby, enabling the school to retain a strong sailing tradition.
Pupils are accommodated in 11 boarding houses, all arranged symmetrically except for the Upper Sixth house, which is located at the east end of the Sixth Form (Queen Mary's) terrace. This terrace separates the upper and lower levels of houses on both sides of the school. Boys houses are located on the upper level (three to each side) and girls on the lower (only two to a side). The houses are split into the east and west sides, each opposite sides of the large parade ground and school block. The architect who designed the (now listed) buildings had symmetry on the brain, as the entire (original - not including more recent additions) site is reflected on the axis of the prominent clock tower when seen from the air. The clock tower is around 200 feet high and can be seen for miles around, especially at night when it is lit up by spotlights. The bells in this tower chime every quarter of an hour, from 6 in the morning until 11pm at night.
Since 1933 the school has seen several additions and alterations to the buildings. A new library, opened by the Prince of Wales, has been built adjoining the main school block, along with two corridors for English classrooms, replacing the quadrant area where boys used to perform the naval hornpipe. A biology/physics corridor has also been built off the main block on the east side to accomodate new laboratories. In 1991 a new art and technology center was built on the west side, and a large part of the school block on that side was converted into a new computer suite, food technology and business classrooms. More computer areas are constantly being added, the latest in early 2002, and a cafe/shop facility for students has more recently in the building adjoining the swimminmg pool, where Catholic worship formerly took place. The Upper Sixth house has experienced notable change, two entire wings (one girls and one boys, in 2001 and 2002 respectively) having been added to allow a much larger number of pupils to remain in the sixth form to study A-Levels. The main block is being carpeted stage by stage (slowly) also, and several fire doors have been added into the main block to annoy pupils who have to push open five sets of doors to get from one end to the other of the 200 meter corridor (and even more on the upper storey).
There are six boys houses and four girls houses at RHS, and the Upper Sixth house. Each is named after a famous British Admiral
and have their own house colours
. The west side houses have plain colours, whilst those on the east side have two colours - a main one striped with navy blue.
West side houses, Boys:
- sky blue.
- navy blue.
- light green.
East side houses, Boys:
- dark green and navy.
- light (not sky) blue and navy.
- white and navy.
- red and navy.
- yellow and navy.
(All from west to east, so Hawke is the eastern most boys house and Blake is the western most girls house).
Pupils in Nelson, the upper sixth house, play for their junior house in inter-house competitions such as rugby sevens and football knockouts. Otherwise Nelson would win everything, and that wouldn't be fair.
One of the main features of RHS is that it is a prominently naval school. This is expressed in the architecture of the place, its history and in the traditions that continue today. These include marching in a squad to "mess", the dining hall ("DH") for meals, although this has been diluted so that only those in years 7 to 9 (the "juniors", aged 11 to 13) have to do this. Terminology is also slightly military, for example the term "civvies" is used for normal clothing, as uniform is worn during the school day. There is also a naval rank structure to the prefect system, the lowest prefect being known as the APO (Assistant Petty Officer) or more colloquially as "badgies". The next rank up is the PO (Petty Officer), with SPOs (Senior) and CPOs (Chief) only present in the upper sixth (e.g. the heads of school).
A major part of the school calendar are the Divisions. These take place on Sunday mornings throughout the school year, on around 10 occasions (with a break over the winter poerio for around 12 weeks). Again a naval tradition, the whole school parades in their "Divisions" (houses) and go through a 20-minute routine consisting of the March-on, the Inspection, the Marchpast, the National Anthem and the March-off. Needless to say, this is fairly unpopular with many pupils, but as they say, live with it or go to another school. Divisions also involves the school marching band, approximately 100 strong, and the Guard, who parade with the Cadet GP rifle. Parents often come along to witness the spectacle.
The Chapel is also a major part of school life at RHS, with 20-minute services from Tuesdays to Thursdays and a longer service every Sunday (either after Divisions or in the evening). This forms part of the schools commitment to turning out young people with "good, Christian values and a sense of responsibility". It is no longer compulsory for leavers to join the navy, of course. The chapel also hosts the large choir and the third largest pipe organ in Europe on the balcony. Standing on this balcony during a service is undertaken at the risk of your eardrums.
The school is also the only one in England to have its own Coastguard unit, manned by staff and pupils, and responsible for the Shotley peninsula, forming part of the successful CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at RHS. The CCF also has strong Navy, Marine and Army contingents. Apparently the school provides the highest proportion of naval officers than any school in England, and the highest proportion of army officers in East Anglia, which is interesting. Also, chances are if you ever meet a naval surgeon (all commando trained, with a green beret), he'll be an "Old Boy" from RHS, or will know one.
School fees are income-based, at a maximum of around £10' 000 per year. Pupils from all backgrounds, not just naval, have been accepted since the late 1990s. However, preference is still given to those with relatives in the navy, past or present, with reduced fees available to these pupils. Scholarships are also available at the ages of 11 and 16 (into the Sixth Form; many leave after their GCSEs), entitling another 10% or so off fees if awarded. The subsidies are provided by the Governing Body, Greenwich Hospital.
Being located in a fairly remote location does have its disadvantages to pupils, however. It can lead to institutionalisation, in addition to the expected homesickness experienced at boarding school. There is a real danger of being too distanced from the outside world during term time (much shorter than state schools as there are lessons on Saturday mornings) and then being out of touch during the extended holidays. Overall, though, the Royal Hospital School remains a disciplined, educationally excellent institution.
An interactive tour of RHS and many other details (mainly for prospective parents) can be found on the school website, royalhospitalschool.org.