Epsom College

Drawing of College
Image source Epsom College who also own the copyright.

Epsom College began life as the Royal Medical Benevolent College in 1851. There were no state pensions for the unemployed, elderly or infirm at that time and the fear of the workhouse, the only option for the needy, loomed large. Dr John Propert (1793-1867), who described himself as "the poor Welsh Apothecary" conceived the idea in 1851 of setting up a foundation that would benefit members of the medical profession and their families if they fell on hard times. Propert's plan was to encourage potential benefactors, principally in the medical world, to contribute to a fund that could: a. Provide asylum for medical men and their widows who had become impoverished through poor health or lack of professional success; b. Establish a school for the sons of medical men, part of which would be devoted to providing free education, accommodation and clothing to orphaned boys. c. Provide annual or occasional assistance to medical men that were in financial difficulties

'Crusty' Wilson and boys
'Crusty' Wilson and boys.
Image source Epsom College who also own the copyright.

The idea took off. Charities were a popular means of helping people and Queen Victoria showed her approval by granting it her Royal Patronage. By 1855 the first Royal Medical Benevolent Act had been passed, the second being in 1894, a site for the College had been acquired and some buildings, mainly for the school, had been erected. On 25 June 1855 Albert, Prince Consort accompanied by the Prince of Wales, opened the College officially and shortly afterwards it was occupied by a few pensioners and 100 boys..

The College is organised on the house system, with separate houses for boarders and day boys. Some of the house names reflect the names of the founders or eminent medical practioners of the time e.g Carr, Fayrer, Holman.

Big School
Big School.
Image source Epsom College who also own the copyright.

In 1874, the sons of non-medical men were admitted to the College for the first time.

The standard of education was high from the start and pupils did well in public exams and competitions. The College has traditionally been a source of undergraduates for medical courses. Not all boys have upheld the community values established by the College council in 1851. In 1882 the head boy was expelled for the profitable pursuit of "making a book" amongst his fellow pupils, and this was followed by a serious outbreak of indiscipline, windows were broken and it was about three days before order was restored.

In 1903 the name of the College was formally changed to the Royal Medical Foundation of Epsom College, Epsom College for short.

A classroom in the 1950s
A classroom in the 1950s.
Image source Epsom College who also own the copyright.

Many Old Epsomians joined up to take part in the First World War, and more than 150 lost their lives. In 1920 a memorial plaque commemorating those who had died was unveiled. The College Chapel was also extended to include a War Memorial Chapel, completed in 1925, the College's 70th anniversary of opening.

1,300 old boys served during the Second World War, 402 of them as medical officers. 68 Old Epsomians were awarded medals, but unfortunately 120 were killed. Air raid shelters were also built under the college's main lawn, but these have now been grassed over.

HM the Queen visiting the College to open the new Sports Centre in 1989
HM the Queen visiting the College to open the new Sports Centre in 1989.
Image source Epsom College who also own the copyright.

In 1955 the centenary of the College was marked by the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who spent the afternoon touring the College.

For more than 100 years, the College was exclusively for boys but the first girls were admitted to the Sixth form in the1970s, and in 1996 they were admitted to the middle, fourth year, which is the normal 13+ entry through common entrance exams.

Two Old Boys have been awarded the Victoria Cross:
Other former pupils include:
  • Stewart Granger - Film star
  • Graham Sutherland - Artist
  • John Scarlett - Head of Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
  • Mark Mardell - BBC Political correspondent
  • Jeremy Vine - Radio presenter
  • Nicholas Witchell - BBC Royal and diplomatic correspondent

Link to the Epsom College website (Opens in a new window).

Further Reading
If you are interested in this topic we strongly recommend the book "Benevolence and Excellence: 150 Years of the Royal Medical Foundation of Epsom College" written by Alan Scadding and published by Epsom College in 2004 ISBN: 0954954904.

Newspaper Article on the opening of Epsom College. Image source Epsom College.

We are very grateful to Epsom College Archivist Alan Scadding for his help and support with this topic.
This article was researched and written by Tim Bauckham, 2006