St Matthew’s Day
Today is St Matthew’s Day. Traditionally this was the day when the governors of Christ’s Hospital were elected with ceremonies involving the Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London. Christ’s Hospital is now situated in Horsham Sussex, but the pupils still march each year through the City on or about 21 September to reaffirm the school’s links with the Square Mile.
Christ's Hospital - image from The Works of Charles Lamb. A new edition (London, 1840) shelfmark 12272.f.9 BL flickr
In 1825 William Hone wrote this description of the annual ceremonies:
‘On this day the lord mayor, aldermen, sheriffs, and governors of the several royal hospitals in London, attend divine service, and hear a sermon preached at Christ church, Newgate-street; they then repair to the great hall in Christ’s hospital, where two orations are delivered, one in Latin, and the other in English, by the two senior scholars of the grammar-school; and afterwards partake of an elegant dinner’.
The London Evening Standard published an article about the 1843 ‘annual scholastic fête’ attended by ‘a brilliant assemblage’. The Lord Mayor was accompanied by the Earl of Grosvenor and ‘an individual in Turkish costume, who appeared to take considerable interest in the scene’. No less than four orations were delivered on the subject of the benefits of the Royal Hospitals – in Latin, English, Greek, and French. These were followed by several ‘poetic effusions’ including an ode to celebrate Queen Victoria and Prince Albert becoming governors of Christ’s Hospital, and Latin Sapphic verse on peace with China, ‘a pretty thing, trippingly recited’.
The day’s proceedings concluded ‘as usual, by contributions to the gloves of the orators’. Then the Lord Mayor left the hall ‘amid the shrill storm of cheers with which the young blue coats are in the habit of making their valedictory salute’.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
William Hone, The Every-day Book (1825)
British Newspaper Archive – for example London Evening Standard 22 September 1843