Top of the class: Barnes Wallis’s schooldays

Barnes Wallis was educated at Christ’s Hospital school between 1900 and 1904, and maintained a long association with the school thereafter. He excelled in maths, English and the sciences, and was taught mechanical drawing. Three of the books he won as prizes while at the school were acquired recently by the collector Ray Hepner, who has kindly sent me photographs of both the splendidly engraved bookplates and the books themselves. The prizes were for Mathematics, English and French, which indicates the broadness of Wallis’s educational attainments.

Besides these, Wallis also won other prizes while at Christ’s Hospital, as can be seen from the list below, dated July 1903, when he won the Willcox Prize for Science.

A measure of the affection that Wallis had for the school was his donation of the sum of £10,000 which he had been awarded for his war work by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors. He passed this on to Christ’s Hospital to support the children of people who had served in the RAF. A trust was set up in conjunction with the RAF Benevolent Fund, which matched the donation. Since 1952 over 150 pupils have benefitted from the Trust and all have worn the Foundationers’ badge, designed by Wallis.

Ray Hepner has also sent me three photographs taken during Wallis’s time at Christ’s Hospital, showing the art school, dining room and tuck shop. No one has yet been able to pinpoint the young Wallis in any of the pictures, but he could well be in some or all of them.

Ray also has a copy of the very rare 1830 edition of the History of Christ’s Hospital and a splendid stained glass window from the original building in Newgate, London, retrieved when the building was demolished in 1902. (Both seen below).

All pics: Ray Hepner Collection


11 thoughts on “Top of the class: Barnes Wallis’s schooldays

  1. Tony Knight January 18, 2021 / 4:34 pm

    I’ve written and read about these but had never seen any photographs. Many thanks to Ray!

  2. Sentley Wilson January 18, 2021 / 4:45 pm

    I was privileged to meet Barnes Wallis when he attended my school, (Royal Commercial Traverles School, later the Royal Pinner School, in Hatch End) to present the school prizes. I remember him as a gentle man softly spoken and just very nice. I did not appreciate then them magnitude of his achievement but I do now!

  3. Jenny Elmes January 18, 2021 / 4:45 pm

    All very interesting and not surprising that Barnes Wallis excelled in Maths and Science! Flt Lt John Hopgood, my uncle ‘Hoppy’, excelled in English Literature (as did Barnes Wallis) and History, but was a bit of a rebel at his school, which was Marlborough College. I have published Hoppy’s school diaries as a separate, perfectly bound copy, with the cover in mustard and blue, the school colours. Limted edition of 20 copies for sale @ £40 each. Contact

  4. Sander van der Hall January 18, 2021 / 5:42 pm

    Very nice news to read. Do you know if the Ray Hepner Collection can be seen somewhere? On line maybe? I bet he has much more interesting items. Another question: is the stained glass window also from the same school? It’s very interesting to me, because it’s only the second crest I see with both the English rose as the French Fleur de lis.

  5. Tim January 18, 2021 / 5:44 pm

    Fantastic photos that capture an era, thanks. Those school uniforms! I’m going to search now what they wear these days.

    • Glen Matthews January 19, 2021 / 5:49 am

      Pretty much the same Tim. I grew up in Horsham and they were exactly the same when I left 15 years ago.

  6. dickb4925 January 18, 2021 / 6:33 pm

    One (or actually two) of the houses at CH are named after BW.

  7. Glen Matthews January 19, 2021 / 5:48 am

    Hi Charles, as a footnote to this story. I come from Horsham and Christ Hospital is on the outskirts and I know it well.
    The buildings and grounds are beautiful and have not changed much since Barnes was there.

    Barnes and the other students were nicknamed ‘Penguins’ when they walked around Horsham town centre, by us mere mortals, as the uniform is black and white with yellow socks. If you look up the school history and the colour images, you’ll see why.

    The school was a boys only school from 1902, when Barnes was there, and only reverted to a mixed school in 1985.

    Keep up the great work on the blog!

  8. Glen Matthews January 19, 2021 / 5:50 am

    I am also well chuffed now that Barnes went to school in my home town!!!

  9. ALAN JEFFREY January 19, 2021 / 10:14 am

    Hi can I just let you know my Email address has changed it is now [redacted] many thanks.

    Alan jeffrey


    • charlesfoster January 19, 2021 / 2:03 pm

      Dear Alan
      Sorry, I can’t change your email address myself. It’s all handled by WordPress. However, you should be able to do it yourself in the subscription preferences at the bottom of the message you were sent. Let me know if it doesn’t work

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