English Boy Choir Costumes: Royal Hospital School

Figure 1.--The Royal Hospital School near Ipswich, with its naval traditions, has a choir costue with a sailor collar. This unique costumje is the only one in England with such sailor styling.

The Royal Hospital School near Ipswich, a school with strong naval traditions, costumes its boy choristers in a sailor-suit style outfit. This is the only English choir that HBC knows of that wears a sailor suit type costune.


The Royal Hospital School was founded in 1712 to educate the sons of seafarers. It is owned by the Crown Charity, Greenwich Hospital, which itself was founded in 1694 by William and Mary, to care for seafarers and their families.


Greenwich Hospital receives its income from property and investments that it has acquired over the years; this has included the property of the executed pirate, Captain Kidd, and the confiscated estates of the Earl of Derwentwater. It owns land in Greenwich (including the site of the National Maritime Museum and the former Royal Naval College) and in Northumberland. While the school is the principal beneficiary, the charity also funds and administers several sheltered housing schemes and pensions for former seafarers.


The Royal Hospital School is the largest HMC co-educational full boarding school in East Anglia. The school moved to its present magnificent 200 acre site on the banks of the River Stour at Holbrook in Suffolk in 1933 and its original buildings house the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. The School now takes boys and girls in the age range 11-18 from all backgrounds but still gives priority of entry to the children and grandchildren of seafarers, who are also eligible for income assessed fees. The Royal Hospital School is located in a rural settinf near Ipswich. It was formerly a boys' boarding school, but is now a coeducational accepting a few day pupils. It is a secondary school with a sixth form. The religious tradition is Anglican (Church of Enghland) and Roman Catholic.


Until 1933 the school occupied the site currently used by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich but was able to move to its present 200 acre site on the banks of the River Stour, through the generous donation of a Suffolk landowner, Gifford Sherman Reade. The building of the Queen Anne style complex started in 1928 and provided accommodation on a grand scale for 800 boys in 11 boarding houses.

Figure 2.--The students at the Royal Hospital school are issued naval uniforms, but now only wear them for a few days each year.

Naval Traditions

While the school has no formal connection with the Royal Navy or Ministry of Defence, it nonetheless feels it appropriate to maintain certain naval traditions and all pupils are issued with a naval uniform and attend formal parades on occasions throughout the year. Until 1945 it was expected that all boys leaving the school would join either the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy if medically fit to do so and until the 1950's it was rare for a boy to stay on beyond 16 and proceed to university. Twelve Sundays a year the students all dress up in their naval uniforms and march around the huge parade ground. This is referred to as "Divisions". One boy reports, "It's usually quite good fun but our uniforms have to be immaculate for inspection."


HBC has no details on the uniform formerly worn, but it was presumably a sailor suit. The students still wear sailor suits, but only a few days each year. The dress uniform is now a black blazer and grey trousers. For every day wear the boys wear ties with grey shirts and jumpers on cooler days.


The Royal Hospital School is a secondary school with children entering at age 11.


There are eleven boarding houses, each in the care of a resident housemaster or housemistress, assisted by a housematron and a team of house tutors. Ten of these houses (six for boys and four for girls) each accommodate about 60 boys or girls in the age range 11-17 (years 7 to 12), younger pupils usually living in dormitory clusters of four, moving into double or single rooms as they progress up the school. Upper sixth formers live in self-contained accommodation in Nelson House with mainly university-style single study bedrooms. All houses have communal common rooms, kitchen areas and leisure facilities. There is a central school dining room operated on a self-service cafeteria system, where a wide choice of food is always available.


Although Christian principles are fundamental to the School's philosophy, children from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds attend the School, and we respect all beliefs. We regard the Chapel as being at the centre of school life and expect all pupils to take part in a corporate act of worship to begin each school day. There is an opportunity for Roman Catholic children to attend Mass once a week. Members of the School are prepared for Confirmation annually and the Chaplain holds regular discussion groups. Chapel is an important part of the school life. Some students go every day.


The musical achievement at the Royal Hospital School is outstanding. Each pupil has the opportunity of playing one or more instruments, being a member of a choir or developing an appreciation of music. The School is justly proud of its band and orchestra, which give regular public performances to considerable acclaim. As well as playing regularly for the School's own ceremonial parades, the School Band performs in many local and national events each year.


The Chapel Choir, which numbers over one hundred, sings at the daily Chapel service as well as performing both nationally and internationally. The Choir performs an enormous variety of secular and sacred music; school-wide appreciation of singing is also evidenced by the 'Holbrook sound' in Chapel and each year in the popular House Singing Competition. Extra-curricular music extends to a wide range of instrumental and choral ensembles and the discipline of the band is regularly on show at divisions. The band and choir are nationally renowned and go on trips and tours. The excellence of the chapel choir has often been captured on CD and television.

Choir Costume

The Royal Hospital School near Ipswich, a school with strong naval traditions, costumes its boy choristers in a sailor-suit style outfit. This is the only English choir that HBC knows of that wears a sailor suit type costune.


The Royal Hospital School Choir had a leading role in a combined performance given by the schools associated with seafaring at St Paulís Cathedral, London, on October, 11, 2000. They gave the first performance of "They that go down to the sea in ships" by former Liverpool Cathedral Organist, Noel Rawsthorne. The work, which is to be published, was specially commissioned for the Annual National Service for Seafarers. Peter Crompton, Director of Music at the Royal Hospital School, conducted and John Scott, St Paulís Cathedral Organist, played the organ for the service. Peter Crompton said, "It is always an honour to sing at St Paulís and one always enjoyed by our School Choir."

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Bibliographies] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Essays] [Photography] [Style Index]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web choir costume pages:
[Return to the Main English choir page]
[Return to the Main national choir page]
[Return to the Main sailor suit choir page]
[Return to the Main hospital school page]
[Australia] [Austria] [Belgium] [Bulgaria] [Canada] [Denmark] [England] [France] [Finland] [Germany] [Japan] [Netherlands] [Poland] [South Africa] [United States]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Short pants suits] [Blazers] [Collars] [Lace collars]
[Ruffled collars] [Eton collar] [Fauntleroy suits]
[Sailor suits] [Ring bearer/page costumes] [First Communion suits]

Created: February 1, 2001
Last updated: May 6, 2001