Wellington in History
To piece together the history that founded Wellington College in England, our alma mater, Wellington College China would like to present you with our new column for the summer – Wellington in History. This column aims to guide our readers through the history and stories that led to the establishment of Wellington College China. We hope that through this column, readers will develop a deeper understanding of the values and ideas that ground our educational philosophies.
In this edition, we are going to take a deep dive into how Wellington College in England was first founded. In doing so, we are also going to explore the College’s royal history and find out how this royal connection has been maintained over the last 160 years.
Wellington in History
A school with royal connections
An idea born out of necessity
Wellington College was first proposed as an idea during discussions between Prime Minister Lord Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert following the death of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, in September 1852. The group agreed that a charitable educational institution should be set up to honour the memory of the highly regarded Duke.
The Victorian era was pervaded by war and conflict, both in and outside of continental Europe. Along with war comes the inevitable death of soldiers and civilians, and the inevitable increase in orphanhood among warring populations. This social instability would eventually bestow the College with an important mission to support the orphaned children of deceased officers who held commissions in the British Army.
In December of 1853, Wellington College was granted its Royal Charter as the ‘Royal and Religious Foundation of The Wellington College’. It was a great honour for the College to be granted a Royal Charter, as this signalled Queen Victoria’s personal endorsement for the founding and the operation of the College.
‘Founded’ by Queen Victoria
In 1856, three years before the school would officially open, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for Wellington College. This ceremony signalled the commencement of the school’s construction in Berkshire, England.
A ‘royally approved’ architectural style
Wellington College was designed by John Shaw Jr, an acclaimed architect whose classical approach was greatly admired by Prince Albert. In a time when Gothic architectural styles were the norm, Shaw’s designs were often considered unusual. Contrary to popular opinion, Prince Albert thought that Shaw’s approach had produced some excellent and eye-catching designs, and as such made sure that he was brought on board to design the College.
Today, the original Neo-Baroque building remains as an iconic section of the school and continues to provide a stunning backdrop to many of the College’s events.
Prince Albert served on the school board
Wellington College’s royal connection is most commonly associated with Queen Victoria, however, a lesser known (but equally as strong) connection also existed between the College and Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband and consort.
Prince Albert was heavily involved with the initial planning of the College, and after the school received its Royal Charter he served as the President of the Governors. He greatly influenced the College’s development during his term in this role.
A charitable cause
The first 76 pupils arrived at Wellington College in 1859. Among them were 49 orphans of deceased army officers, who paid fees of between £10 and £20 a year, while the remaining 27 were sons of serving officers and civilians, who paid fees of between £70 and £100 a year.
Fortunately, we now live in an age where war is not as pervasive as it once was, but the benevolence that founded the College has nevertheless been extended and preserved throughout its history. Today, the College presents a number of bursary awards to talented young people who require financial support to study at the College.
Royal attendance at the College’s opening ceremony
Nine days after the school’s first pupils arrived, an official inauguration ceremony was held in the Great Hall of Wellington College. The Illustrated Times Weekly Newspaper on 5 February 1859 noted that the Great Hall was only able to accommodate about one percent of those “anxious to be present,” with seated positions in the Hall quickly occupied before noon.
Although the Illustrated Times would later describe the ceremony as a “brief” proceeding, there were several high-profile, royally-connected figures in attendance. Among those present were the Duke of Cambridge, the (succeeding) Duke and Duchess of Wellington, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl and Countess of Derby as well as many other lords and ladies of Victorian England.
Accompanied by Prince Albert, Princess Alice and Prince Arthur, Queen Victoria toured the College grounds and was met with hearty cheers as she proceeded to schoolrooms where pupils were conducting their studies. At the conclusion of her tour, Queen Victoria expressed her aspirations for future Wellingtonians as follows:
“In the students now before me I am glad to recognise the first fruits of this benevolent work; and I trust they will, by their steady industry and honourable conduct, their cheerful obedience to those who are set in authority over them, and their behaviour to each other, earn a character for the College worthy of the name it bears.”
Responsibility, integrity and respect – looking back at history, it is interesting to see that the qualities we now embrace as our core values were also embraced by the first young Wellingtonians when Wellington College first opened. These values stem from the words of Queen Victoria herself; by embracing them today, all Wellingtonians are connected to this distinguished side of the College’s history. It is our hope that all pupils feel inspired by the royal roots of Wellington College, and that they go on to abide by and pass down these values as they were passed down to them by the first Wellingtonians.
The royal connection remains
If you were to take a stroll through Wellington College’s beautiful campus in Berkshire today, you would find several references to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert scattered around – the most salient example being the V&A café. Given the close connection between the College and the Royal Family, it comes as no surprise that ‘V&A’ is indeed a tribute to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves. Wellington College China has also worked to preserve and extend the royal references of ‘V&A’ in each of its campus cafés.
Wellington College remains connected to the Royal Family in a number of ways:
Wellington College in England welcomed Queen Elizabeth II to the school to join their 150th anniversary celebrations. During her visit, she met Ms Joy Qiao, the Founder of Wellington College China, with whom she inspected the model of Wellington College International Tianjin that was set to be opening in 2011.
As the Visitor of the College, Queen Elizabeth II first visited the school in 1959 to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Prior to that, King Edward VII visited the campus on its 50th anniversary, and as previously mentioned, Queen Victoria attended the opening ceremony for the College when it was established in 1859.
Wellington College in England welcomed Queen Elizabeth II to the campus once again when it hosted the Round Square Conference, an event joined by more than a thousand guests who had travelled to the school from over 20 countries.
Few schools have such deep ties with history, and such a proud heritage. As a close partner of Wellington College in England, Wellington College China is proud to share this royal legacy.
We are dedicated to becoming the best bilingual education provider in China, as we believe that a well implemented bilingual education programme enables our pupils to better connect with people and cultures all over the world. As our Founder, Ms Joy Qiao, once said: “Our core competency lies in our ability to bridge cultures; to see things from the other side and to truly combine the best of both worlds. In the 21st century, when East is meeting West, this competency holds the key to a world with more open-mindedness, better understanding and deeper integration. This is the only path to peace and prosperity.”
We are doing our utmost to deliver excellent holistic education to an increasing number of Chinese families. As we continue to expand in China, we look forward to sharing our core values and identity traits with new pupils and cultivating young talents who, as Queen Victoria noted in 1859, can “earn a character for the College worthy of the name it bears.”