History3. Blue Boys
It was in 1633 that the old hospital buildings were first used as a grammar school for teaching Latin and Greek upstairs and the English Free School downstairs.
St John’s Hospital School was situated in Exeter High Street, (approximately where Virgin Record Store is).
A uniform of blue caps and gowns was introduced for the boys of the English Free School, leading to the boys being nicknamed Blue Boys. A least two small statues of a Blue Boy were made, and one was placed at the entrance to the main hall. Heles School was formed from a spinoff of the English Free School in 1840. There was major rebuilding in 1859.
In 1880 Bishop Temple instigated the formation of the Free Grammar School from the surviving English Free School and moved it to a new site in Victoria Park Road, Heavitree and renamed it Exeter School.
The main school building on the High Street was demolished and replaced by a new post office, arcade and a coffee house. These buildings were approximately in the position of the Virgin Records store in Princesshay.
However, the buildings at the back of the demolished St John’s Hospital School continued into the 20th century as a fee paying school. The charge in 1909, was 4 shillings per term rising to 5 shillings for older boys (20 pence and 25 pence respectively). The boys entered through a small gate, let into a large gate at the end of the Arcade on the High Street. This school had five classrooms, in buildings around a central playground, one of which was a large hall that housed three classes divided by curtains that could be drawn aside.
The records for St John’s Hospital School are hazy as the school records were lost in the bombing in WWII, but it is known that the school was still in existence in 1931 and may have been used as an orphanage after this time.
The Four Blue Boy Statues
There were four cast-iron Blue Boys made when the schoolroom at the St John’s Hospital School was rebuilt during 1859/60. Somewhat smaller than the original at 3 ft 6 inches (1.06 metres) high, two had open backs, intended for standing against a wall. After the school was closed in July 1931, two of the statues were displayed in the Hall of the Vicars Choral, South Street, and two disappeared. The two statues in the Hall of the Vicars Choral were rescued after the building was totally destroyed in the 1942 blitz and taken to Upton Pyne, Clyst St Lawrence, a property that belonged to the St John’s Hospital Trust. The two lost statues turned up in a builder’s yard a few years later.
Where are all the statues now?
1. Exeter School: Cast-iron, painted (with flesh painted hands and face, white collar etc.)
Blue Boy at Exeter School’s, Old Exonian Club Headquarters and Archive Centre.
It is known that the original Blue Boy statue was made of stone, and by 1830 was headless, indicating that it was already very old. It was probably at, or soon after, the founding of St John’s Hospital School in 1632, that the statue was made. By 1956, this statue was at ‘Cobham’, Rose Barn Lane with a new head, and was soon removed to the chapel of Exeter School; it is now in a new garden at the side of the Butterfield building. Standing 4 ft 4ins (1.3 metres) high, the head does not match the body and the hands are missing. This stone Blue Boy statue now stands in the new garden which has been created at the side of the Butterfield building.
2. The Maynard School: Cast-iron, Blue Boy (probably from Upton Farm, Clyst St Lawrence).
3. Princesshay: Cast-iron, blue painted Blue Boy (probably one of the ‘builders yard’ solid statues). When the post war Princesshay was opened in the 1950’s, the Blue Boy statue that stood outside of the school was salvaged and placed on a plinth in the precinct, at a spot that marked the position of the main entrance of the school.
The inscription reads:
THIS STATUE OF A BLUE BOY
STOOD IN THE COURTYARD OF
SAINT JOHN’S HOSPITAL SCHOOL
FOUNDED ON THIS SITE
AS A BLUECOAT SCHOOL
BY THE CHAMBER OF EXETER,
A.D. 1636 IN THE
DISSOLVED MEDIAEVAL HOSPITAL
OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST.
THE SCHOOL CONTINUED UNTIL 1931
IN THE NEW BUILDINGS ERECTED IN 1859
WHICH WERE DESTROYED BY
ENEMY ACTION ON MAY 4TH 1942
The Blue Boy was removed while the new Princesshay was constructed, and placed on a new plinth for the opening in September 2012.
4. Royal Albert Memorial Museum: Cast-iron, Blue Boy statue, probably one of the ‘builders yard’ solid statues.