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 Our historic timeline from 1850 to now

The timeline below covers a period of over 170 years and includes:

  • The founding of the Wolverhampton Orphanage in 1850,
  • Its receiving a Royal Charter in 1900, 
  • Becoming an officially recognised "Efficient School" in the 1920s, 
  • King George VI giving permission for it to be called The Royal Wolverhampton School in 1944, 
  • Becoming an Independent School in 1964 admitting fee-paying pupils alongside Foundationers, 
  • In 2016, "converting" to become the Royal School Wolverhampton, a Free School, and
  • Continuing as a stand-alone charity, The Royal Wolverhampton School Foundation, focused on "the advancement of education of persons of school age" principally, but not exclusively, by donating funds received in support of current and recently-left pupils of the current school.  
Click on a year to see a summary of events around that time

In some years, you can then click to open a PDF document (which opens in another window) for further information illustrating the events in more detail. 

In some cases that detail will explain an aspect of the Foundation's history covering a span of more than just that year.


History Timeline

In response to a local cholera outbreak in 1849 killing 720 in Wolverhampton alone, John Lees, a wealthy Wolverhampton merchant, founded an Orphan Asylum for 13 children. The need for larger premises soon resulted in his building a larger orphan asylum on Goldthorn Hill.

Further details

A new larger orphanage was planned. The foundation stone for the new orphanage was laid by the Rev. Dalton on 15th March 1853. A bible reading on a brass plate, from Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 35 & 36, states: ‘I was a stranger and ye took me’. Words echoed in the inscription above the main entrance to the school. Soon it became clear that funds must be raised by public subscription. The orphanage published election lists giving details of each child proposed for admission. Donors could choose to elect a child by donating an amount and receiving a vote – the more donated, the more votes. The child or children with the most votes would gain admission. But there were strict criteria. Only middle-class children were chosen to enter the asylum because John Lees believed, as did many who were wealthy, that they were hardest hit by the epidemic. Diseased or crippled children were not considered, and no more than two could come from the same family. All children had to be between 7 and 11 years of age and certificates had to be provided to show their state of health. Death certificates were also needed to prove that their parents had died. This view was common at the time in most large orphanages. It was a tough but practical approach as it meant that many wealthy middle-class families contributed, often thinking “there but for the grace of God, go I”. Donations were sought from across the whole country. The orphans also came from a wider background. Sometimes, they were from different industries – including heavily publicised disasters such as a ship sinking – though the parent(s) were usually local to the Black Country.

Discover Election Papers & more

Masonic support has been significant since1863. Freemasonry and individual Masons have played a major part in the life of the Orphanage and School. Many Governors and staff were Masons, bringing their values of Integrity, Respect, Friendship, & particularly in this instance, Charity. Although John Lees appears not to have been one, many members of the Management Board were masons, right from the founding of the Orphan Asylum until very recently. This bed plaque commemorated a Staffordshire Masonic Trust payment in 1894, equivalent to over £90k now, for the provision of a bed for one child in perpetuity.

Discover more about Freemasonry & The Royal

In 1864 the first Chairman Governors, Mr William Henry Rogers, commissioned a memorial fountain to be built in honour of his late wife, Mary Rogers. It has six carved panels showing Six Acts of Mercy, for example, one is “Providing for the orphans” and another says "Teaching the ignorant”. It stands proudly in front of Senior School and has just been fully refurbished.

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In 1875 the Stripling Wing built, named after Miss Charlotte Stripling, benefactor was built. Miss Stripling, who with her sisters. was one of the subscribers who made the largest donations to the Orphanage. This painting of Miss Stripling can be seen in Queen Victoria Hall. Over the next 2 decades further buildings were built on the site and land acquired increasing the estate to 25 acres. The organ in Central Hall (QVH) was moved upstairs too.

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The Chapel located at the entrance to the Orphanage was dedicated by the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Augustus Legge, on 21st July 1895. The ceremony was attended by, amongst other leading local clergy, the new Chaplain of the Orphanage. The chapel is now a treasure house of stained glass by C.E. Kempe. It is the finest stained-glass that Wolverhampton has with its richness of colour and beauty of design.

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In 1900, the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George and Queen Mary) opened a new infirmary at the orphanage. During the visit, the Duke announced that Queen Victoria had graciously granted the prefix "Royal" to the Orphanage which then became known as “The Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton”. The Royal Orphanage Wolverhampton received a Royal Warrant proclaiming its right to have “Royal” in its name and with its accompanying coat of arms. It can be seen in the foyer of the main entrance to the Senior School.

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In 1901 the clock tower was enhanced. The early drawings indicate that a clock tower was envisaged from the start. Clock towers were a feature of major Victorian buildings. However, the tower that was eventually built differs from the early drawings.

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This 1908 page from the annual report shows that the great and the good actively supported the Royal Orphanage Wolverhampton. Patrons mentioned are all Royalty and the Presidents are Dukes, Earls and Lords. Trustees and Governors include many whose names live on in buildings, companies and organisations in their name such as Mander (the Mander Centre), Underhill, (solicitors) and Walton-Walker (Masonic Lodge).

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On 7th July 1911, the Earl of Dartmouth opened the Jubilee Extensions & announced that the new boys' wing would be called the King Edward VII Wing & the two girls' wings would be the Queen Alexandra Wings. As Provincial Grand Master of Staffordshire and Senior President of the Orphanage, he opened the Diamond Jubilee Extensions, attended by some 500 freemasons in a ceremony which included a presentation of prizes by the Countess of Dartmouth.

1911 Jubilee wings

In 1922 the boys' school became an officially recognised Efficient Secondary School. The school was inspected again in March 1924. The inspectors' findings were as follows: “The leaving age has been raised and there is a good entry for the First School Examination. In December, I923, eight boys entered for the Cambridge School Certificate and all of them passed, three of them with Honours: and the same three gained exemption from the London Matriculation. There are now several boys doing work of a post-matriculation standard, two of them working for Open Scholarships. The staffing on the boys' side may be considered satisfactory; four Masters all with Honours degrees have been appointed since the Full Inspection.” The report on the girls' school was not so complimentary, which resulted in extensive improvements including more classrooms, better swimming facilities, bedrooms for the assistant mistresses and domestic staff, and improvements to the heating system and the electric lighting Two acres of land were acquired for use as a girls' recreation ground which was opened by the Countess of Lichfield on 21st July 1927. After a successful inspection in 1927, an application for recognition of the girls' school was made to the Board of Education, and on 1st August 1927 the girls' school was officially recognised as a Secondary School.

Princess Mary (Viscountess Lascelles) visited the school in 1928. The visit by Princess Mary, accompanied by civic dignitaries, focused only on the girls.

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On 25th July 1932, the Junior School was officially opened with the foundation stone for the Junior School being laid by 6th Earl of Dartmouth in 1932. It was sited on the newly-acquired Graiseley Old Hall Estate.

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The Education Act of 1944 and Welfare State had a major impact on orphanages. Secondary education would now be funded by the State. This, together with the emergence of the benefits of the Welfare State, called into question, in the minds of the public, the continuing need for orphanages. HM King George VI gave permission to rename the orphanage, henceforth to be known as The Royal Wolverhampton School. Foundationers continued though many were what we would now call “Looked After Children”. Pressure on funding was a feature for much of the time thereafter.

In 1944 the school song ‘Nisi Dominus Frustra’, was composed. It was composed by Mr B. A. Pensom and written by his brother Mr N.R Pensom, both teachers at the school. The song was first sung by the schoolboys’ choir at the Annual Dinner of The Old Royals Association in 1946. It is sung on Founder's Day each year.

The School Song

In 1955 the Provincial Grand Master, William Legge, 7th Earl of Dartmouth, laid the foundation stone for the schoolboys’ extension. A large or "goodly" number of masons were in attendance as were many local dignitaries, staff and pupils.

Fee-payers, Day & Boarders were admitted in 1964. By 1961 orphan applications had fallen, especially girls, & the overall financial situation was grave. A new Constitution was agreed which saw the end of the School as an orphanage only. The main aim was to preserve the traditional role of the Foundation and make the entire School financially viable. Fee paying boarders & day pupils were admitted alongside boarding Foundationers and the Senior Girls School reluctantly closed. By 1967 the School had increased to over 400 pupils, from all parts of the United Kingdom and overseas. About a third were Foundationers. This photo is of Queen Victoria Hall, set up for a lecture or as a classroom, circa 1960. Little-changed, the paintings are now in different places, the wooden floor now carpeted & the statue of Her Majesty has now been moved back. The three chairs with the school crest were used in Board Meetings around the turn of the century but are now used only in meetings of the school’s Masonic Lodge. There is now a state-of-the art transparent projector screen at the end.

Queen Mother visited the school on 11th June 1969 & opened Clarence House. Though the weather was not good, reports say the royal patron radiated such warmth and enthusiasm that none of the 446 youngsters needed a cheerleader. After Her Majesty unveiled the commemorative plaque, the Chair of Governors, Mr F.O. Skidmore, presented her with a brooch made in the shape of the Staffordshire Knot.

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1978 Day girls accepted, so both brothers & sisters can now attend. Changes in the constitution were sought as public demand for independent education grew indicating a properly integrated co-educational structure was needed. From September 1978, girls were readmitted to the Senior School. A new House system was introduced – 5 houses with separate accommodation containing Day and Boarding pupils and a Sixth Form Centre. Day girls were accepted at eleven in the Senior School. Brothers and sisters were thus able to attend the same school. The new Headmaster, Mr. Raymond Hawkins, aged 40, said there would be room for 25 girls each year until a third of the projected 450 pupils are girls. Two new Day Houses were built for them and two Housemistress and a Games Mistress engaged, followed by an additional lady teacher every year until 1985. The new Headmaster, said that he hoped the people of Wolverhampton would continue to support their Royal School, and that he was proud to be associated with its caring tradition.

Lichfield Boarding House for girls built in 1985. Lichfield House was built next to the old Head’s house to the right of the Senior School as you look at it. It is a modern building, not really in keeping with the rest of the school but typical of a trend to link new designs to old buildings. It became home to around 50 girls and is relatively self-contained with a mix of bedrooms that accommodate 1-3 students.

The Refectory was destroyed by fire in 1990. The fire, which destroyed the refectory, began overnight entailing an immediate nighttime evacuation of all boarders. The insurance payment covered this rebuild plus a Design & Technology block.

Read Express & Star report

Successful efforts were made to attract fee paying boarders from overseas, initially Hong Kong, at a time when boarding numbers were falling and the school was under considerable financial pressure. Primary School, previously 2-form entry was reduced to single-form with resultant cost-cutting. This reflected the difficulties of recruiting fee-paying local children.

1995 Refectory “Clarence House” rebuilt plus a Design & Technology Centre built. The refectory was replaced by a modern building, named Clarence House by command of HRH The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who was patron of The Royal. In addition, a new Design & Technology centre was created. This modern-looking building was built on the Senior School playground at the rear of the school.

Dartmouth House was constructed in 1996 in a symmetrical neo-Georgian style. It provides accommodation for 48 students with housemaster’s and tutor’s accommodation.

Swimming pool burns down in 2005. The fire occurred on Sunday afternoon, 27th Feb 2005, with 2 swimming teachers supervising 2 classes of swimmers. Each teacher ushered the children safely out, but neither group could see each other as they were on the other side of a corner, so each was very concerned at first for the other’s safety. An Incident Unit and about 5 appliances arrived quickly. There were water supply issues as the school is on a hill and water pressure is low. The swimming pool would usually be used as the emergency water reservoir but of course it was not available.

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The Board agreed to replace the 25-metre 4-lane pool, adding a small toddler section so creating a modern sports complex with a dance studio, seminar room and spectator/parent room with food catering plus changing facilities that could be used by athletes competing indoors and outdoors. It was opened by Chair of Governors, Peter Hill, who had led the rebuilding initiative, together with a Director of the Amateur Swimming Association (now Swim England). It provides superb swimming facilities for RSW pupils and the local community who make over 1400 visits per week (2024) to what is the largest Learn to Swim programme in the country. This was the start of RWS Enterprises Ltd, which now contributes significantly to the school’s finances.

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HRH The Earl of Wessex (as he was at the time - he is now (2024) the Duke of Edinburgh), visited in 2006, 2012 & 2017 as patron of the school. To see photos tec of the 2006 image, click below.

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HRH The Earl of Wessex, visited again as patron of the school. On his previous visit to the School in September 2006, The Earl of Wessex officially opened the £2.6 million swimming pool complex. This time, HRH was able to see the pool in action and said, “It’s a great pleasure to be back at the school and to see it happy and thriving.” He also noted that he was “pleased there is water in the swimming pool now! It is very exciting to see the pool used for both the elite swimming club and the community – and see it realise its potential.” He unveiled a plaque for an Oak tree, which had been earlier donated to the School by the Parent’s Association, as the culmination of the 80th Anniversary celebrations of The Royal Junior School.