Wilson's School

History and Heritage

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  • The History of the School
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    The school was founded by Edward Wilson in 1615 and was located in Camberwell, now part of Greater London but at that time a small village of cottages, homesteads, inns and larger buildings grouped around a village green. Wilson was born around 1550 in Cartmel, Lancashire, which had its own grammar school, from where he passed on to Cambridge University. No record remains of him taking a degree, although it is known that he went into the Church, being appointed Deacon at Ely in Norfolk in 1576. He subsequently became Vicar of the Parish of Camberwell, which was presented to him by Elizabeth I of England in person. This would indicate that he favoured the settlement of the Church of England which Elizabeth was resolved to make. His nephew Peter Danson became a governor of the new school at its founding. Danson was also vicar of Carshalton in Surrey, ironically only one mile from the present site of the school. A further member of the Wilson family, a namesake of Edward Wilson, is named in the Charter of the School as the Master.

    At the time, the establishment of a grammar school in England required the assent of the crown. This was obtained after the first school buildings were constructed. The original Charter bearing this assent has since been lost, although in 1929 the governors of the school obtained a certified extract from the Patent Rolls. This requirement for the agreement of the Crown explains the legend Founded in 1615 by Royal Charter displayed near the main entrance. This charter was granted by King James I, who had succeeded his cousin Elizabeth by this time.
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    Above: an extract from the matriculation record of Trinity College, Cambridge, for the year 1571. Edward (Ed) Wilson's name is listed bottom right. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.
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    In 1845 the school was forced to close as a result of a financial scandal. Following an Order in Council of Queen Victoria in 1880, which superseded the previous Royal Charter, the school was rebuilt on a different site in Camberwell, opening in 1883. It again catered to the need for schooling of boys in Camberwell, which by this time had grown considerably from its rustic origins. Its working population largely consisted of men working in the professions, clerks, journalists, tradesmen and labourers. Naturally, a grammar school provided an asset to the neighbourhood, with the prospect for boys to go on to University education.

    In 1961, using the assets from the Greencoat School, a mixed elementary church school which had closed (having shrunk to a non-viable size during the second World War), a new science block was opened opposite the main school site in Wilson Road and named the Greencoat Building.

    The 1883 building continued to be used until 1975, when the school moved south to Wallington. This was motivated by growing dissatisfaction with the school's buildings (the Great Hall could only accommodate half the school) and the plans of the Inner London Education Authority to force all grammar schools to become comprehensive. Fortunately, the growing London Borough of Sutton, which continued to operate the 11+, wished to introduce another grammar school and provided an ideal opportunity for the school to relocate. The original 1975 building in Wallington was phase I of what was intended to be a larger school built in three phases, but the original plans for the second and third phases were never put into practice. Instead there have been various additions made when funding has allowed: the Mary Datchelor wing for Music, the Art and DT block, the Sixth Form Centre, Foundation Building and Junior School.

    The school was one of the first to be designated a specialist college in Mathematics and Computing in 2002. This status was re-awarded in 2007 along with a second specialism in the Arts.

    The school acquired its officially sanctioned Coat of Arms in 1985.
  • Wilson's School in Camberwell
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      The old grammar school building in Wilson Road

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      The old school shield above the main door

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      The Headmaster's study above the main door

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      Playground with fire drill positions

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      The Greencoat Building

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      The Great Hall

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      The main staircase

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      St Giles' Church

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  • The Coat of Arms
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    From 1883 the school was accustomed to use as coat of arms the version of the Wilson shield used by Edward Wilson (as seen above the main door of the old school building). Very many coats of arms associated with the name Wilson have a wolf salient as the main feature (salient means that the animal is shown leaping up with both hind paws on the ground). Different members of the Wilson family introduced various objects above the wolf, such as a row of three mullets (five-pointed stars). The version of the shield used by the Founder (though probably without any proper authority) was that of a Wilson from Didlington in Norfolk; Edward Wilson distinguished his coat of arms by replacing the three mullets with a silver fleur-de-lys and two bezants (gold coins, originally of Byzantium).

    In 1985 the then Chairman of Governors, Lt. Col. W. R. Bowden, obtained a Grant of Arms from the College of Arms. The new officially authorised shield introduces a silver bar between the wolf and the objects above and a gold border around the edge of the shield; a crest is added above the helm in the form of a black wolf holding a silver fleur-de-lys in his paws with a black and gold mantle. The blazon reads as follows:

    Arms: Sable a Wolf salient Or and a Barrulet enhanced Argent in Chief a Fleur de Lys also Argent between two Bezants all between a Bordure Gold. And for the Crest upon a Helm with a Wreath Or and Sable a demi Wolf salient Sable holding between its paws an Ogress charged with a Fleur de Lys Argent Mantled Sable doubled Or.

    Motto: NON SIBI SED OMNIBUS ('Not for self, but for all': sadly Wilson's cannot claim a monopoly on this maxim as it is used by several other schools and institutions.)
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    Badge: Within a voided Hexagon Sable charged with three Fleurs de Lys Argent and three Bezants a Wolf salient Sable armed and langued Gules. A lapel badge of this design is worn by senior prefects.
  • The School Hymn

    Our Father, by whose servant
    Our house was built of old,
    Whose hand hath crowned her children
    With blessings manifold,
    For thine unfailing mercies
    Far-strewn along our way,
    With all who passed before us,
    We praise thy name today.

    Four hundred years unresting
    Their silent course have sped,
    New comrades ever bringing
    In comrades’ steps to tread:
    And some are long forgotten,
    Long spent their hopes and fears;
    Safe rest they in thy keeping,
    Who changest not with years.

    They reap not where they laboured,
    We reap what they have sown;
    Our harvest may be garnered
    By ages yet unknown.
    The days of old have dowered us
    With gifts beyond all praise;
    Our Father, make us faithful
    To serve the coming days.

    Before us and beside us
    Still holden in thine hand,
    A cloud unseen of witness,
    Our elder comrades stand;
    One family unbroken,
    We join with one acclaim,
    One heart, one voice uplifting,
    To glorify thy name.

    Words: G. W. Briggs
    Music: 'Wilson's' by H. Murrill

  • Kipling's 'If'
    While not officially the 'school poem', Rudyard Kipling's 'If' was a favourite of the late Chairman of Governors and Old Wilsonian Lt. Col. Reggie Bowden (after whom the Bowden Room is named). He was so convinced of the poem's inspirational value to young men that at one time he had it printed up on cards and distributed to all the boys in the school. Sadly, not enough cards were printed for subsequent generations to have a copy, but you can now read it here and download a copy of the original to print and keep. (With thanks to Stuart Smith.)
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  • Old Wilsonians
    The school has a large number of distinguished old boys. A great many have gone on to make significant contributions in a wide variety of fields and some have even become famous. The guest speaker at the annual Prize Giving is always an Old Wilsonian.
    Entertainment
    Sir Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, better known as the actor Michael Caine
    Stephen Jenkins, stage name Stephen Beckett, actor with regular roles in Coronation Street and The Bill
    Andrew Kazamia, actor with a regular role in London's Burning, playwright and film-maker
    Tim Hudson, actor

    Academic and Arts
    John Galliano, CBE, RDI, fashion designer
    Mark Stone, opera singer (baritone)
    Pascal Anson, artist and designer; mentor on BBC TV's The Big Painting Challenge
    Simon Furman, comic book writer, particularly associated with Transformers
    Harry Golombek, OBE, Chess Grandmaster
    Roy Porter, historian
    Sir Norman Reid, former director of the Tate Gallery
    Peter Walcot, Professor of Classics
    Matthew Todd, playwright, comedian and journalist, editor of Attitude magazine 2008–2016
    Martin Hemming, Tim Rayment and Ben Webster, feature writers at the Sunday Times

    Science
    Stephen Barker, MB BS BSc MS FRCS, Senior Lecturer in Surgery and Consultant Vascular Surgeon, University College London
    Dr Nicholas Losseff, MD FRCP, neurologist
    Paul Deegan, mountaineer and environmentalist
    Dr Alisdair Harris, conservationist; founder and director of Blue Ventures
    Sir Lewis Fermor, OBE DSc FRS
    Sir James Jeans, OM, MA, DSc, ScD, astronomer
    George Barker Jeffery, mathematician
    Dr George Druce Lander, FRS, chemist
    R. H. J. Swan, FRCS, eminent surgeon of Guy's and the Royal Cancer Hospital

    Law
    Trevor Hunter, QC and County Court Judge
    Alexander Walker, Assessor of the City of Glasgow

    Military
    Capt. Harold Auten, VC, DSC, RD, "Q-Ship" commander in the First World War, author of "Q" Boat Adventures and later executive Vice-President of the Rank Organisation
    Sir Alan Cobham, KBE, AFC, pioneer aviator (first flight from Britain to Australia in 1926 and pioneer of air-to-air refuelling)
    H. E. Funnell, DSO
    H. Harbord, DSO
    Major-General H. A. J. Sturge, CB, former Vice-Chairman of the Governors

    Business and Politics
    Lt. Col. W. R. Bowden, Founder Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors
    F. L. Brown, CMG, MC and bar, secretary to the Duke of Windsor during the Duke's period as Governor-General of the Bahamas
    Mr Deputy C. G. Dickson, former Sheriff of the City of London
    Charles Samuel Garland, MP and industrialist
    Paul Geddes, CEO of Direct Line Group
    B. A. Glanvill, JP, former mayor of Bromley and High Sheriff of Kent
    Ernest Partridge, MP and industrialist
    Aaron Porter, President of the National Union of Students 2010-11

    Church
    The Rt. Revd. Dr. Brian Colin Castle, Bishop of Tonbridge
    Dr W. R. Matthews, KCVO, DD, DLitt, former Dean of St Paul's Cathedral
    The Rt. Revd. H. A. Wilson, CBE, DD, former Bishop of Chelmsford

    Please see also the Alumni section of this web site. The Old Wilsonians Sports Club web site can be found at oldwilsonians.com.