Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sir Walter St John School

The end of the 2011-12 academic year will see big changes at West Swindon's Greendown Community School.

The secondary school, which opened in September 1986, took its name from land that once belonged to the St John family. Green Down was a 39 acre field of pasture on Wick Farm where Jonas Clarke senior and junior farmed during the middle of the 19th century.

When the school officially adopts academy status after the long summer break it will open with a new name. It is only fitting that the governing body looked to its near neighbours yet again and in September 2012 Greendown Community School will be relaunched as the Lydiard Park Academy.

But this isn't the first school to take its name from the St John family.

Sir Walter St. John, 3rd Baronet was the son of Sir John St. John 1st Bt and his wife Anne Leighton. Elected Member of Parliament for Wiltshire in 1656, Sir Walter served as an MP for the county and Wootton Bassett until 1695.

Walter married his cousin Johanna, daughter of Sir Oliver St. John, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, in 1649 and the couple made the old Manor House on the river at Battersea their main residence.

A supporter of Oliver Cromwell, Walter fought on the side of the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, unlike three of his brothers who died for the Royalist cause. His brother Edward, whose memorial the Golden Cavalier stands in St. Mary’s Church, was said to be Sir John’s favourite son.

While Walter may not have been the apple of his father’s eye, he took his responsibilities seriously, overseeing the financial security of his extended family and endowing a school for 20 poor boys on his Surrey manor at Battersea.

A free school existed as early as 1670 in a house Sir Walter had provided and for which he paid £20 a year in upkeep. In 1700 he confirmed his commitment to the school when he bought 31 acres of land in the Parish of Camberwell near Peckham Rye Common costing £570. The income from these lands would fund the school.

The endowment spells out how the school would operate. The twenty poor boys ‘should be elected from the Parishioners or Inhabitants of the Parish’ and should be aged between eight and fifteen years old.

The school master would teach the boys reading, writing and accounts payment for which he would take from “the Rents and Profits of the said Premises to his own use.”

Sir Walter and his heirs, reserved the right to appoint the schoolmaster. Nathaniel Gower MA, vicar at St. Mary’s, Battersea is mentioned as being the schoolmaster in the endowment and Sir Walter stipulates that all future masters must be graduates from Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

In 1859 the original schoolhouse was demolished and a new building designed by William Butterfield added two large and three smaller schoolrooms and a Headmasters House to an 1840’s refit.

After a number of changes, including an amalgamation with a neighbouring school Sir Walter St. John’s eventually closed in 1986. The buildings stood empty for several years reopening in 1990 when Thomas’s London Day School acquired the freehold.

For more about Sir Walter St John's school visit http://www.sinjuns.com/

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