The former School House at St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate

The Gentle Author wrote at Spitalfields Life on 15.4.14:

“If you want to know the story of the splendid pair of statues of schoolchildren upon the front of the former School House at St Botolph’s in Bishopsgate, Reg the Caretaker is your man. “When this was a school, these statues used to be coloured – the children repainted them each year – and, recently, we sent them away for a whole year to get all the layers removed,” he explained to me with a sigh. “When they came back, people tried twice to nick them, so then we put them inside but the Council said, ‘They’re listed,’ and we had to send them away again for another year to get replicas cast.”

Old photographs show these figures covered in gloss paint and reduced to lifeless mannequins, yet these new casts from the originals – now that the paint has been removed – are startlingly lifelike, full of expression and displaying fine details of demeanour and costume. The presence of the pair in their symmetrical niches dramatically enlivens the formality of the architecture of 1820 and, close up, they confront you with their implacable expressions of modest reserve. Quite literally, these were the model schoolchildren for the generations who passed through these doors, demure in tidy uniforms and eagerly clutching their textbooks. Their badges would once have had the image of a boy and a sheep with the text, “God’s providence is our inheritance.”

“It’s Coade stone – the woman died with the recipe, but now they’ve rediscovered it again,” added Reg helpfully and – sure enough – upon the base of the schoolboy are impressed the words “COADE LAMBETH 1821.” Born in Exeter in 1733, Eleanor Coade perfected the casting process and ran Coade’s Artificial Stone Manufactory from 1769 at a site on the South Bank, until she died in 1821 aged eighty-eight – which makes these figures among the last produced under her supervision. Mrs Coade was the first to exploit the manufacture of artificial stone successfully and her works may still be seen all over London, including the figures upon Twinings in the Strand, the lion upon Westminster Bridge and the Nelson pediment at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

Reg took me inside to show me St Botolph’s Hall, lined two years ago with oak panelling of 1725 from a demolished stately home in Northamptonshire, where the two original statues peer out from behind glass seemingly bemused at the corporate City functions which commonly occupy their school room now. The Bishopsgate Ward School was begun in 1820 by Sir William Rawlins, a Furniture Maker who became Master of the Worshipful Company of Upholders and Sheriff of the City of London. In twenty years as Treasurer, he  had lifted the institution up from poverty and it opened on 1st August 1821 with three hundred and forty pupils, of whom eighty needy boys and girls were provided with their uniforms…”

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