Ancestry UK

House of Occupations / King Edward's School, Southwark, London

Southwark's King Edward's School had its origins in the former Royal Palace of Henry VIII, known as Bridewell, which stood on the banks of the River Fleet. In 1553, Henry's son, Edward VI, gave Bridewell — or Bridewell Royal Hospital as it became formally known — to the City of London Corporation for use as a 'house of occupation' for idlers, vagrants and prostitutes, and also for housing the City's homeless children.

From late 16th century, the children were trained in various crafts by 'artsmasters' — skilled tradesmen, who lived alongside their apprentices. In 1632, a schoolmaster was appointed to teach the children reading and writing for short time each week. The children at Bridewell were frequently punished for absconding and rioting, which was said to come from their contact with the adult inmates of the establishment.

Bridewell Royal Hospital.

In 1830, the children were moved to new premises known as the House of Occupations, off St George's Road, adjacent to the Bethlem Lunatic Asylum. The establishment took boys and girls, aged from 8 to 18, from the City of London, Middlesex, and the Borough of Southwark. By 1837, the of apprenticeship training had ceased and the House of Occupations now focussed on the classroom education of its inmates.

In 1860, a new charitable funding scheme was established for the Bridewell Royal Hospital. Following on from this, the House of Occupations was renamed the King Edward's Schools, i.e. separate sections for boys and for girls. It could now admit children from anywhere in the country, girls from the age of 10, and boys from the age of 11. As well as classroom lessons in reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography, the children were given 'industrial training' to prepare them for employment. For the girls, this was primarily in domestic service, while the boys learned trades such as carpentry and shoemaking. Many of the boys from the School also entered the Royal Navy.

In 1867, the boys moved to new premises at Witley, near Godalming in Surrey, while the girls remained at the now subtly renamed King Edward's School.

The Southwark School site is shown on the 1872 map below.

King Edward's School site, Southwark, c.1872.

The girls' school closed in 1922, following which its funding charity made grants to other educational establishments for girls. In 1952, the Witley school became co-educational, with girls again being taught under the same roof as boys.

The Southwark site is now covered by the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Sports Facility.


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  • Humphreys, Gordon Goodly Heritage: A History of King Edward's School, Witley, 1553-1953 — A Quater-Centenary Tribute to the Foundation of the Hospital of King Edward VI, King Of England, Bridewell (1953, Privately published)
  • Humphreys, Gordon Shared Heritage: The History of King Edward's School 1553-1972 (1972, King Edward's School)