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Delve into the local history of the Bluecoat Boy statue

Most people know the little sculpture of the Bluecoat Boy which is on a brick pedestal in Cross Street. The plaque tells you that there was once a Bluecoat School here. The little sculpture was moulded from one at Reading Bluecoat school and shows the uniform worn by the boys.

The school was founded by a man called Richard Aldworth, who was born around 1576 in Reading. When he was quite young, he was apprenticed to the Skinners’ Company, which had developed from the medieval guild of furriers from as early as the 1320s.

Aldworth became a merchant, importing goods from the East India company, in fact he was called a ‘grosser’ - the origin of the word ‘grocer’ - importing bulk goods and selling them on. He lived all his life in London and made a great deal of money. When he died he left some very generous bequests amounting to around £1 million in today’s money.

His will was dated 1646. Among his gifts was a substantial amount for Christ’s Hospital School in London and money to fund two Bluecoat schools – one in Reading, which survives at Sonning, and the other to be in Basingstoke. He left money to Basingstoke because his mother, Jane South, was from Basingstoke. She was the daughter of Clement South, who had been a member of the Fraternity or Guild of the Holy Ghost in the town as well as town bailiff.

The bequest to Basingstoke was £2,000. It was sufficient to build a school where 10 poor boys would be housed, fed, clothed and educated and then, aged 16, apprenticed to learn a trade. The following would be provided;  ‘Five convenient bedsteds all fitted and furnished with decent boulsters sheets blanket and coverlets for the poore children’s lodging.’

The boys had to wear a blue coat – probably a long gown – and a blue cap. The school opened in about 1660 and closed in 1880.

Richard Aldworth left other legacies to the town – money for 10 gowns for 5 poor aged men and 5 women, given at the patronal feast of St Michael every year. A 1d loaf (one penny) was given out at the church door after the service and there was even enough to pay the Vicar to preach a ‘godlie sermon’ once a year.

When the school closed, the charitable funds were invested and provided money to pay for scholarships for 'poor clever boys' to attend the town’s Queen Mary’s Grammar school for boys, which had been founded in 1558 when Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain were monarchs.

The most famous scholar was John Arlott, poet and cricket commentator. When the girls’ High School was founded in 1908, a lesser number of girls could also apply for funds to pay their termly school fees. The children had to show their school reports to one of the charity trustees. It wasn’t until 1944 that children were chosen by the infamous 11+ exam to get a place in a grammar school, which would be free. Aldworth scholars had to reach a standard in tests and were awarded about £3 a term. George Willis was also an Aldworth Scholar and later became chairman of the trust for over 40 years. He was the founder of the Willis Museum. 

The charity still exists and is able to offer small amounts for educational purpose to young people in the Borough.

Guest blog from Debbie Reavell from the Basingstoke Heritage Society

March 2023

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