Around about 1238, the Long brothers, who are remembered through the naming of the Longbrook, endowed a hospital dedicated to St John the Baptist, inside the city wall, by the East Gate. As was common at that time, the hospital was a religious foundation housing five priests, six singing boys and twelve poor people. After the Reformation of the 1530's, the hospital was shut and the buildings used for among other things, a gunpowder store, a workhouse, and a fleece market.
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. A uniform of blue caps and gowns were 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 spin off of the English Free School in 1840. There was a 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 rename it Exeter School. The main school building on the High Street was demolished and replaced by a new post office, the arcade and a coffee house. These buildings were approximately in the position of the existing Portman Building Society (2005) and across the Eastgate entrance to Princesshay and the Virgin store.
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 (40 pence and 50 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, a large hall 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, 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 May 1942 bombing destroyed the ancient school buildings, along with just about every other building for several hundred yards around it. When 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.
St John's Hospital School in the High Street, approximately where Virgin Records can be found now.
One of the Blueboys that once stood at the entrance to the school.
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