Royal Russell School, in calm-seeming green surroundings just outside Croydon, has an interesting history as a mid-19th century charitable foundation for the children and orphans of City tradesmen. It was supported by luminaries of the day such as the prime minister, Lord John Russell, and Charles Dickens; and has had an unusual amount of royal patronage, including four visits over the decades from the Queen, who is its official Patron. It’s now an independent, partly boarding school, obviously flourishing , but hasn’t forgotten its its public spirited origins. Most conveniently, the elegant Croydon Tram stops just outside the school gates.
School chaplain Henry Kirk invited me to speak during Evensong. Evensong? They have a very interesting chapel, pictured (built as a WW1 memorial, with details by Eric Gill) and a 70-strong chapel choir, made up of students, former students, staff and parents, who make a lovely warm sound. This kind of all-inclusive but properly rehearsed group is exactly what I like to hear in church services, fervent, but avoiding church-y preciousness. I was also pleasantly surprised to find the service accompanied by an outstanding organist, Martin Ford, with whom I’ve previously worked at Westminster Abbey – now at the Guards’ Chapel, he does some teaching at Royal Russell School. Talking afterwards to the friendly head, Chris Hutchinson (who himself sings in the choir, and what a good sign that is) we agreed that whether the students realise it or not, they’ll remember something of the glorious music they’ve been exposed to, in years to come.