History of The Grey Coat Hospital which merged with the United Westminster Schools on 31st March 2019 to become the United Westminster Grey Coat Foundation

History of The Grey Coat Hospital

This charity School was founded in 1698 by 8 local tradesmen of St. Margaret’s, Westminster and supported by voluntary subscriptions. Their aim was to educate “40 of the Greatest Objects of Charity (orphans and neglected children) in the principles of the Christian religion, teaching to read and instructing them in the Church catechism, the discipline of the Church of England as by law established, and for teaching to write and cast accounts” and (when fit) “binding them apprentices to honest trades and employments”. The School opened with only 11 boys.

Girls were admitted in 1701, when the Governors took over the premises of the Elizabethan workhouse from Westminster Abbey in Tothill Fields, and it became a boarding establishment. This is still the main school site today.

Royal Charter

Queen Anne granted a Royal Charter to the School on 19th April 1706 and the School was known as “The Royal Foundation of Queen Anne in the Parish of St Margaret’s Westminster”. Its popular name became The Grey Coat Hospital after the colour of the clothes provided for the children.


The girls were taught needlework trades and were mostly placed in domestic service. The boys were employed in a variety of occupations and a number went to sea, either apprenticed to naval officers or to the trading companies. For this purpose they were taught mathematical skills, including the art of navigation. Selected The Grey Coat Hospital boys attended a Mathematical School in Covent Garden for 3 days a week. A mathematical master was appointed to the staff of the Hospital in 1739. One of the boys who benefited from this education was David Thompson, admitted in 1777 and apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company for seven years in 1784. He became a famous explorer and had a river in the Rockies named after him in recognition of his contribution to the mapping of Western Canada. More recently he was commemorated on a Canadian postage stamp.

Famous Alumni

One of David Thompson’s contemporaries was John Hatchard, founder of the oldest bookshop in England, in 1797. Jumping forward a century or two, the Hospital has been associated with other famous people, in particular, Ho Chi Minh who was a labourer at the Hospital in 1913, whilst a student in London before he became the first President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and had a city named after him. Old Grey, Eleanor Thornton has been immortalised in the Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy mascot since 1911.

During the late eighteenth century we learn from the archives that the Hospital became a den of vice rather than a centre of virtue. Pupils eloped to escape the tyranny of the dishonest and incapable masters and mistresses. It was not however, a Grey Coat boy who was tried for robbery and the murder of Mrs Martin, the Infirmary Nurse, but an apprentice from Christ’s Hospital. Her ghost was said to walk the corridors for decades.

Education Act of 1870

By the time the provisions of the Education Act of 1870 came into force, the days of the old boarding School were numbered and The Grey Coat Hospital became a day School boosting its number by taking in girls from Emanuel Hospital and other charity schools in Westminster from the tender age of 7. The Grey Coat Hospital boys transferred to the Emanuel School which was a boarding school at that time.

The new day School which was opened on 15th September 1874 under the headship of Miss Elsie Day, went on to become one of the pioneer schools for the education of girls.

The Governors had pledged to establish a boarding school for girls, so early in 1894 they purchased Amersham Hall, near Reading, which had been a non-conformist boarding School for boys. It opened in May 1894 with 39 girls and to this day maintains close links with The Grey Coat Hospital.

Until 1894 The Grey Coat Hospital had been self-supporting through its endowments and termly fees. That year grants in aid were received from the London County Council for LCC scholars. In 1908 the school was placed on the grant list of the Board of Education and, in 1920, became an LCC assisted school, without relinquishing any of its distinctive character.

20th Century

The 1944 Education Act meant the end of the Hospital’s preparatory department after almost 250 years, and the School became entirely non-fee paying. Seven years later the School became an Aided Grammar School.

The school was evacuated twice during World War II, first to Brighton then to Farnham, Surrey. While unoccupied, the old seventeenth century building was almost completely destroyed during an air raid on the night of 10th – 11th May 1941. After the war the school continued in temporary accommodation while rebuilding took place. The new School, behind its magnificently restored original façade was opened by H R H Princess Alexandra in July 1955. Bishop Curzon wrote the following prayer for the laying of the Foundation Stone

” O Heavenly Father, Giver and Rewarder of truth, give to me an honest and good heart, that learning here to hate all shams, deceit, lies and pretence, I may be free to serve Thee, and to be used by Thee to hold up Thy cause of truth in the world, and the honour of Thy Son Jesus Christ.” Amen

In 1977, The Grey Coat Hospital merged with St. Michael’s, a Secondary Modern School in Sloane Square to become a Comprehensive School. The St Michael’s building in Regency Street was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1998 as part of the tercentenary celebrations.

Present Day

The Grey Coat Hospital became an Academy on 1st July 2013 with 1064 pupils including 40 boys in the Sixth Form.