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History of Gordon's School

Gordon Boys’ Home

Gordon’s School is the National Memorial to British war hero, philanthropist and martyr, Major-General Charles George Gordon (1833-1885), and was founded in 1885 where it began existence as ‘Gordon Boys’ Home’ for necessitous boys. Queen Victoria, as the first of an unbroken line of sovereign patrons, took the lead in demanding a fitting National Memorial be created in Gordon’s honour; an interest that has been maintained to this day.

A wide response resulted following the appeal for funds to build a permanent home for boys in West End, near Woking, Surrey with the Queen and members of the Royal Family heading the list. Further donations were received from the Lord Mayor of London, the Khedive of Egypt, The King of the Belgians and The Chinese Government as well as the British Embassies in St Petersburg and Rome. Contributions were also made by the Army of India and the Indian Civil Service, together with famous regiments of the British Army and also the Royal Navy.

Initially, Gordon Boys’ Home was established on a temporary basis at Fort Wallington, near Fareham, Hampshire, made available by the War Office in October 1885. However, it wasn’t until December 1887 when some 100 Gordon Boys travelled to Brookwood Station, from there they marched to West End led by their 25 strong, newly formed Band to take up residence at their newly built home.

Regular drills, marches and parades (strongly influenced by military lines) instilled discipline in the boys. Signalled by bugle calls, the same as those used in the army, the boys would be called to meals, marches, post collection points and parades. The early full dress consisted of: tartan trousers, a dark blue jersey embroidered with G.B.H. and a Glengarry cap with plaid band and Gordon badge; whilst the undress evolved into green cord clothing with brass buttons. A ranking system was also enforced within the Home, again similar to that of the army, including positions such as L/Cpl, Cpl, Sgt and finally Colour Sgt. The Home colour (flag) was donated by Dr Hope of Chobham, who was the Home doctor, and presented by Lady Elphinstone in 1895.

The objective of the Home was to teach necessitous boys aged between 13-17 a variety of practical trades including carpentry, shoemaking, tailoring, gardening, engineering, cooking and blacksmithing, all with an aim to set each boy up for a ‘life of usefulness’ either within civil employment or in any branch of the armed forces. Thus, a living institution was born and gradually over the years in accordance with Major-General Gordon’s expressed wishes, the Home housed some 220 boys who later went on to serve in the armed forces or begin a life in popular trades.

“If I had sons, I would certainly teach them a little of most trades, amongst others, bootmaking. You have no idea how feeble one feels not knowing these things… or a little carpentering, black-and-tin smithing, shoemaking and tailoring would be a real gift to a young man.”

General Gordon to his sister, Augusta - Labori (South Africa) October 1875

The Gordon's motto was, and still is, ‘SEMPER FIDELIS’ meaning ‘Ever Faithful’ and linked to ‘Right Fears no Might’. These words adorn the school and are engraved on to the Shield of Fortitude on the memorial statue of Gordon at Victoria Embankment, London. Each year in January, Gordon’s students parade through Whitehall following the Pipes and Drums band and take part in a service held behind the Ministry of Defence, where the statue stands to remember the life of Major-General Gordon.

Gordon Boys’ School

Over time, The Gordon Boys’ Home made a natural and logical transition towards more scholarly objectives, becoming known as ‘The Gordon Boys’ School’ in 1943. At this point, trades were still taught but post-war advances in areas such as science and technology resulted in further demand for a more academic education. Thereafter, the academic strength of the school advanced with a much higher percentage of boys moving on to Higher Education and Grammar School. Eventually vocational trades and a career in the military were tactfully phased out in the late 60’s, giving way to a broader educational syllabus. As a result, the entire direction of the School was reorganised and the Headmaster at this time, Mr George Leadbeater, became a catalyst for instigating this change. The arrival of the first girls in 1990 finally triggered the name change to 'Gordon's School' as we know it today. 

House Name Changes

In 1943, when Gordon’s officially become a ‘school’, the four accommodation blocks which the boys lived in were renamed from A,B,C,D, to Khartoum, China, Woolwich and Gravesend in connection with the life of Major-General Gordon. Due to continuous expansion of the School and the arrival of the first girls, the House names have changed over the years.

Gordon’s School now has five girl’s Houses (Windsor, Augusta, Kensington, China and Victoria) and five boy’s Houses (Balmoral, Sandringham, Khartoum, Buckingham and Gravesend). Inter-House competitions are still just as popular as they ever were and House rivalry has historically taught students the value of teamwork and how to be gracious in both victory and defeat.

Gordon’s Camel Statue

The statue has had an eventful history. After casting, it was first erected in St Martin’s Place, London, in 1902 before being shipped to Khartoum in 1904. On its journey there, it was immersed in the Thames after a collision and was also allegedly sunk in the Nile on its way up the river to Khartoum. In 1958, shortly after the Sudan became independent, the statue was shipped all the way back to the UK, and since April 1959 has stood proudly overlooking the front field at Gordon’s School.

During the summer of 2014, the statue underwent a full renovation to mend over 110 years worth of cold winters, corrosion and natural erosion, which had weakened the monument over time. Thanks to the Camel Campaign Renovation Appeal, a total of £27,000 was raised so that UK Bronze could carry out the renovation work. In October 2014, a grand unveiling took place with Guest of Honour, HRH The Earl of Wessex KG GCVO. The Camel will now continue to remain at the heart of Gordon’s School for years to come. It is an iconic and historical representation of the life of Major-General Gordon, without whom the School would not exist as it does today. 

Gordon’s School at present

Gordon’s School now stands as one of the most successful state boarding schools and sought after learning environments in the United Kingdom. In addition to its educational success over the years, the School excels in sport and specialises in a very popular Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. So in-demand is the school, that every vacancy is oversubscribed each year. This is a truly remarkable success story to the life of Major-General Gordon, to which Gordon’s School is so very proud of.

A more detailed account of the history of Gordon’s School can be found on the Gordonian website: www.the-gordonians.org.uk