A shopping centre, a street name, a van hire company. The name Whitgift has become synonymous with Croydon. But who was John Whitgift and why, 425 years ago, did he choose Croydon to establish the John Whitgift Foundation, one of the UK’s oldest education and care charities?
Name: Johannes [John] Whitgift
Date of birth: 1530
Place of Birth: Lincolnshire
Family history: Eldest son of Henry Whitgift, a wealthy merchant and Alderman and Anne Dynewell, a local merchant’s daughter, of Great Grimsby
Education: St Antony’s School, Bishopsgate, London
Stature: Whitgift was described by his biographer, Sir George Paule, as of “middle stature, strong and well shaped, of a grave countenance and brown complexion, black hair and eyes, his beard neither long nor thick.”
After graduating from Cambridge University, John Whitgift became a Fellow at Peterhouse and later Master at Pembroke and Trinity College. Whilst delivering a sermon at Trinity he greatly impressed Queen Elizabeth I and she said: “He hath a white gift indeed.” He was appointed Bishop of Worcester in 1577 and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583. She knew that Whitgift was an anti-Puritan and that he would spearhead a royal desire for religious conformity in England and Wales; a task he was not to disappoint. He was also a member of the Privy Council.
As Archbishop, he spent much of his time travelling between Lambeth, Canterbury, and Croydon, favouring the latter as an idyllic summer retreat and residing at the Palace in Croydon (now Old Palace School) – a convenient location near to London, the hive of royal and political activity. A few years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada and with a country plagued by bad harvest, and wounded, maimed, and disabled sailors, Archbishop John Whitgift decided to do something to help and support the needier section of the population. He petitioned for and received permission from Queen Elizabeth I to establish a hospital and school in Croydon. This philanthropic vision saw the birth of the John Whitgift Foundation, leaving a lasting legacy to the people of Croydon through its mission of inspiring community in all that it does and through its values of serve, care, and excel which lie at the heart of its charitable activity.
Today, The Hospital of the Holy Trinity still exists and retains much of its original Elizabethan architecture. It is now known as the Whitgift Almshouses and is located in central Croydon on the corner of North End and George Street. It still provides accommodation for older people and our care service has grown with two purpose-built care homes: Wilhelmina House, Park Hill and Whitgift House, South Croydon, and a Carers Information Service. The schoolhouse has evolved to three leading independent schools: Old Palace of John Whitgift, Trinity and Whitgift and we grant £6million a year in bursaries – one of the largest school fee assistance schemes in the UK.
1595 Archbishop Whitgift conceived the idea of founding the Hospital of the Holy Trinity in Croydon.
1596 On March 22, Whitgift laid the Foundation Stones of his Hospital of the Holy Trinity (now the Whitgift Almshouses, North End) which is commemorated annually today as ‘Founders Day’. Traditionally a ‘white gift’, either a stock flower or star of Bethlehem, was given to pupils attending Founder’s Day to commemorate John Whitgift.
1599 On 9 July, The Hospital was complete and housed between 30 to 40 “poor, needy or impotent people” from the parishes of Croydon and Lambeth, who received, as well as their lodging, a small regular stipend (or pension), a tradition that continues today. A warden was elected by elected by the Brethren and Sisters.
1600 A boys’ grammar school (Whitgift Grammar School) and Schoolmaster’s house opened. The Schoolmaster was required to be a university graduate. The Schoolmaster and the Warden were responsible for the administration of the Hospital and its estates in the Croydon area with which it had been endowed by the Founder and other benefactors.
1602 On 29 September, the accounts schedule for the building of the Trinity Hospital stated that the cost of the building was £2,716 11s 11d.
1604 On 29 February, Archbishop John Whitgift died at Lambeth Palace and was laid to rest at the Parish Church, Croydon, his funeral later taking place on 27 March, achieving his aim of establishing the School and Hospital within his lifetime. His last words were ‘Pro Ecclesia Dei’ [for the Church of God].
1613 In his will, proved in October, Archbishop John Whitgift bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers £100, and the annual interest was to be used to pay for Founder’s Day attended by the poor including a meal provided by the Fishmongers’ Company and a preacher. According to the records of the Fishmongers, the first Founders Day was held in 1613-14
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