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NEWS > School News > 200th Anniversary of Rechartering of Elizabeth College

200th Anniversary of Rechartering of Elizabeth College

1824 - A Year to Remember for Elizabeth College
26 Feb 2024
Written by Bruce Parker
School News

If there’s one date in history that Elizabeth College pupils are encouraged to remember, it’s not the Battle of Hastings in 1066, or Magna Carta in 1215, or even the German occupation in 1940 but 1563, the year their school was founded in an island that certainly needed its young to be better educated.

The compilers of the first volume of the College Register described sixteenth century Guernsey in these terms: "The condition of the island was deplorable.  Ignorance and superstition were combined with unrest in politics and religion ... burning and magic were numerous and executions occurred every year.  The whole island was in a state of [religious] dissension."

That all-important date of 1563 therefore was significant in the island's past and is deeply etched on the minds of present and past Elizabethans.  However, there’s another significantly important date in the history of Elizabeth College and it’s 1824.  That year, a sweeping regeneration of the school began, engineered by the determined efforts of the island’s illustrious Lt Governor at the time, Sir John Colborne. This year, then, 2024, has marked the 200th anniversary of those very beginnings of the renaissance of Elizabeth College.

Almost as soon as he’d been appointed Lt Governor in 1821, Sir John had become aware that ‘The Royal College of Elizabeth’ was not performing as it should. At times, there were few boys on the school register and a succession of headmasters had regarded the position as more or less a sinecure. Colborne had decided that it was certainly not the ‘Queen Elizabethe’s Schole’ for Guernsey boys that the Queen and her chief adviser, William Cecil, had created by royal charter in 1563.

He invited the then Dean of Guernsey, Daniel Durand, to consider whether the College could be made a better place for the education of the sons of Guernsey inhabitants.

George Le Boutillier, a successful Jersey businessman, had already submitted a comprehensive plan to Colborne for a complete reformation of the College. After establishing a drapery business, Le Boutillier had settled in Guernsey, took a prominent part in local politics and wanted a fit and proper school for his sons’ education. (Le Boutillier was virtually bankrupted by the development of the present Arcade and moved with his family to the USA where they subsequently became hugely successful New York traders.)

Sir John Colborne, a military man, was not impressed with Dean Durand’s slow-moving and lacklustre efforts and by-passed him in 1823 by appointing his own committee to enquire into ‘irregularities’ at the College. It was to be chaired by Major Thomas de Havilland, an army engineer who was the son of Sir Peter de Havilland, the renowned former Bailiff.

In May 1824, de Havilland delivered his comprehensive report to the Lt Governor which contained a considerable number of resolutions and propositions which were immediately discussed by the States.

To demonstrate Colborne’s complete commitment to a rejuvenated college, he immediately enlisted his two sons as Nos 1 and 2 on the new register and George Le Boutillier’s three sons were 3,4 and 5. As we all know, students are still allocated numbers when they enter the College with the present identifying numbers well into five figures.

Following the 1824 report, there was no holding back: decisions and actions followed at a remarkable speed. The States approved plans for a revitalised school and were soon meeting to decide how to finance a re-chartered Elizabeth College. The massive new building was to cost in the region of £8000-£9000 and a tax on liquor would pay for it.

HM George IV issued an Order in Council on September 30th, 1825, which allowed the raising of money for “the improvement of the said College” by continuing Guernsey’s one shilling (5 pence) per gallon tax on spirits. The tax, or impôt, should have expired at the end of August,1829, but the Order in Council extended it for a further fifteen years.

The architect was to be John Wilson who was to leave his mark on the island with other buildings such as Castle Carey, St James Church and Torteval Church.

The laying of the new building’s foundation stone in 1826 was a celebration unequalled in the history of Guernsey, an occasion of such splendour that, even if King George himself had been present, it could hardly have been grander. The magnificent new edifice would be the biggest civil construction project ever undertaken in the island.

Just eight years after Colborne, Le Boutillier and de Havilland had started the ball rolling, the skyline of St Peter Port was to be changed for ever with the towering school building that proudly stands today overlooking the town.

There was a time when college scholars had to concentrate on just two main subjects, Latin and Greek. Contrast that with today. Over the past two centuries the school has become a centre of academic, sporting and cultural excellence in Guernsey and beyond. Not only is there a large array of academic opportunities but also a huge and varied range of co-curricular activities. There are now girl students as well as boys, too.

Nobody should forget, however, that it was all largely down to a more than benevolent States of Guernsey at the time and one man of extraordinary foresight, dedication and enthusiasm, the island’s Lt Governor.

Little wonder, then, that in Sir John Colborne’s official portraits, it’s Elizabeth College, pointedly, in the background.

B R W Parker OE 4747

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