This week, John Whitgift Foundation will commemorate Founder’s Day, the annual celebration where we pay tribute to the life and work of our Founder, Archbishop John Whitgift.

Traditionally, Founder’s Day consists of a momentous occasion where young and old gather together to give thanks to our Founder in a special service at Croydon Minster. The service is attended by representatives from across the Foundation’s schools, care homes and Carers Information Service, and commences with a spectacular drum roll by Whitgift School’s Corps of Drums.

Following the service, a special lunch takes place in the Common Room of the Whitgift Almshouses attended by Governors, staff, residents and representatives from the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers’ who have supported the event for more than 400 years.

Due to the ongoing situation with Coronavirus in the UK, we will be celebrating a little differently this year. In order to protect the health and wellbeing of our residents, staff and pupils, we have reluctantly decided to cancel this year’s Founder’s Day Service.

However, to mark the occasion, we will be taking a look back on past Founder’s Day events, and taking the time to celebrate our charity’s rich history and the lasting legacy left behind by our Founder.

The History of Founder’s Day

The first Founder’s Day Service is recorded to have taken place in 1614 thanks to Dr William Barlow, Bishop of Lincoln and once chaplain to Archbishop Whitgift.  There is an entry in the Hospital’s ledger book referring to a gift made from Dr Barlow to the Hospital. In his will proved in October 1613, Dr Barlow granted £100 to the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers’ to whom he had family connections.  The annual interest of this sum of money was to be given to the Hospital for a Founder’s Day Service.

The interest was to be divided up as follows: 13s 4d to pay for a fish dinner in the Common Hall for all those residing at the Hospital, the more vulnerable sections of society; 13s 4d to a preacher to deliver a sermon and celebrate the life of Archbishop Whitgift; 10s to be put into the Hospital’s communal funds; 3s 4d to the Vicar of Croydon to give notice about the Service on the Sunday beforehand and 6s 8d to a member of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers’ to visit and ensure that these wishes had been carried out.

This tradition of distributing gifts is still carried out today at the Whitgift Almshouses following the Founder’s Day Service, where Foundation Governors and staff enjoy a fish lunch.

Over the years, other Founder’s Day traditions have come and gone. At one time, boys from both Trinity and Whitgift would parade from North End and Church Road (where the schools were once located) with their masters, dressed in academic robes and led by their respective Corps of Drums. Beforehand, each boy was presented with a buttonhole of white flowers or ‘white gift’ (Queen Elizabeth I’s pun after the Founder’s name) by the Chairman of Governors. Due to circumstances of the time such as nightly air raids during the Second World War and latterly the hindrance of traffic, these features were discontinued.

Who was John Whitgift?

Born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire to parents Henry and Ann in 1530, John Whitgift was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury on the 23rd of October 1583.

As Archbishop, John Whitgift would travel regularly between Lambeth and Canterbury, stopping off in Croydon along the way and staying at the Croydon Palace (now Old Palace School). It is these journeys that developed John Whitgift’s fondness for Croydon.

John Whitgift noted the hardships endured by the people of Croydon and developed his vision to leave a legacy to the town. He wanted to build an almshouse to look after the poor and needy and a school to educate the young.

He bought land within easy reach of the church and palace and wrote to Queen Elizabeth I to ask permission to build a hospital on this site. The licence was granted and the first two foundation stones were laid to the Hospital of the Holy Trinity on 22nd March 1596. In the same year, just yards down the road, he opened a school.

Together, these two buildings would help him realise his founding vision to educate and care for the people of Croydon. This was his legacy. Today, more than 420 years on, he’d take great pride in the charitable work the John Whitgift Foundation carries out in his name.

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Learn more about our history

As a charity that’s over 420 years old, we are proud of our rich heritage and the legacy left behind by John Whitgift. To find out more about the history surrounding John Whitgift Foundation and the local area in Croydon, you can see our timeline here, or follow our dedicated heritage Instagram account on @johnwhitgiftheritage.