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A Historic Overview
The main school building was completed for 1855 and the chapel was started in 1857. The original plan was to place it in the middle of the main building but it was finally decided that it should be at the west end so giving symmetry to the school. It was completed in 1858 at a cost of £3035 plus £170 for the carving of the pulpit and altar rail (the total is about equivalent to £300,000 in today's money). Lady Warneford gave £1000 towards the cost.
The first service was held on Sunday 6th June 1858. The pattern of services at that time gave, on Sunday, morning and evening services; Holy Communion was on the first Sunday of the month and on Festival days and, during the week, there were two services each day, morning and evening. Before the chapel was built, the boys attended the Cathedral on Sunday mornings.
Headmaster Butler had wanted the pews on each side to face each other in the manner of Oxbridge colleges; he was over-ruled. The walls were decorated in sgraffito work (some of this was briefly uncovered about thirty years ago). The lighting was by ornate gas lamps. Originally there were no choir stalls. The 24 inch bell was cast in 1957 by Charles & George Mears (now Whitechapel Bell Foundry).
In 1918 it was decided that the most appropriate War Memorial would be to enlarge the chapel. One suggestion was to have a second aisle, but the final design, by Charles Blomfield, was to extend the building by eighteen feet at a cost of £3789 plus £250 for the choir stalls (about £152,000 today). The Dedication, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was on 9th October 1923. Five years later Bishop Knight conducted the Dedication Service for the Altar and Reredos which had been carved by Messrs Dart and Francis of Crediton. The Reredos had the enlargement of the painting of Christ Crucified, by Antonello Messina, and oak shields, representing the arms of sixteen of the English Dioceses, painted by a daughter of the Headmaster. In 1929 the shields were removed to the front of the newly completed gallery, which was later to be extended in 1956.
An inscription on one of the stained glass windows at the East End of the chapel tells us that they were dedicated to George Currey, who was Treasurer of the Clergy Orphan Society, in 1877. The first organ was built by a Mr Allen in 1859. FH Browne installed a second instrument in1896; the pipe-work of this organ was retained and re-voiced for use in the 1937/38 rebuild (featuring an unusual Pedal to Choir coupler for players who could not play the pedals), again by FH Browne. This was replaced by a 100-year-old Father Willis organ which was installed in 1976. This organ sounded well but, with its straight pedal board and hitch-down swell pedal, was not an ideal teaching instrument. In 1996 the present Copeman Hart electronic instrument, which had been built for Southwell Minster, was installed.
Conducting the services over the years have been one early chaplain, RE Walters, in the 1880s and 1890s, otherwise successive Headmasters acting as chaplains up until 1945 and, since then there have been a number of specially appointed chaplains.
I owe much of this information to Jock Asbury-Bailey and his excellent history of the school Foundation on a Hill.
Written by Martin Clifford
The Reverend Steve Bennett with the Bishop of Dover (left) and the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral (right).