Victoria College was founded in the reign of Queen Victoria but its origins go back some 300 years earlier.
In the 1590s Laurens Baudains, a wealthy farmer from Saint Martin, lobbied the monarch and the States of Jersey to support a scheme for the establishment of a college. The aim of the project was to instruct the youth of Jersey in "grammar, latin, the liberal arts and religion".
However, it was not until after the visit of Queen Victoria to Jersey in 1846 that the scheme was implemented. The grounds of the Mount Pleasant property were purchased to provide a site for the building. The architect, JC Buckler, was selected for the project, but as a result of unacceptable budget over-runs, he was replaced by John Hayward of Exeter. Hayward's Gothic Revival design - a tall medieval hall framed with hexagonal turrets - is predominantly faced in grey and pink granite with sandstone tracery.
Foundation stone ceremony
The foundation stone of the new college was laid with great ceremony on Victoria's birthday, 24 May 1850. Most shops in Saint Helier closed for the day and estimates of the number who attended the occasion range from 12,000 to an unlikely 20,000.
A military parade crossed the town to the site of the ceremony, followed shortly afterwards by the members of the States of Jersey who adjourned the legislative sitting to attend. The Bailiff laid in the foundations a box containing copies of the Acts of the States relating to the college, Jersey coins, and two medallions, one of silver, the other of bronze, depicting the arrival of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in Jersey in 1846, and a copper plate engraved with an inscription of the date of the founding of the college and the names of States Members, Officers of the Royal Court and the architect.
With the foundation stone, carved with Masonic symbols, in place, the Lieutenant-Governor ceremonially laid the stone by striking it with a trowel. All the Members of the States in turn then proceeded to tap the stone with a mallet three times.
The college was opened on 29 September 1852 with 98 students enrolled, rising to 125 on 1 October 1852. The opening ceremony once again involved a military parade. The Lieutenant-Governor and the States of Jersey again assembled in the Temple, and processed to the Great Hall where the Bailiff addressed the audience.
Although French was still the sole official language in Jersey, and speeches at the inaugural ceremonies had been in French, the new college was consciously modelled on English public schools. Lessons were conducted in English from the outset, which was one of the causes for the decline of French as the élite sent their sons to the new college.
Queen Victoria visited the college on her return to Jersey in 1859. The British monarch remains Visitor of the college, the Queen having visited as recently as 2002.
The College and its playing fields hosted the Channel Islands Great Exhibition in 1871.
The college was controlled by the Assembly of Governor, Bailiff and Jurats until 1921, when the States of Jersey took over the assets of that Assembly (including the college) along with most of its powers. The Governing body now consists of a board of Governors, some States appointed, others taken from parents of current pupils.
The main building of 1852 was supplemented with a new [quadrangle to provide extra classrooms (architect: Edmund Berteau, States Engineer - 1911). The World War I memorial, a statue of Sir Galahad (1924) by Alfred Turner with a quotation from Alfred Tennyson, stands there. The World War I memorial in the form of a plaque is located inside the main building, at the bottom of the central staircase. Every Remembrance day the College holds a service to commemorate the pupils who died in the two wars, placing a wreath of poppies at the base of both the statue and the plaque.
TB Davis bequests
In 1935, the Howard Hall, built with the benefactions of TB Davis to commemorate his son, Howard Davis, who died during WWI, was opened by the then Prince of Wales. Davis had set up the Howard Leopold Davis scholarship trust in Jersey. One of this educational trust's provisions was that it should benefit boys who, like he, had attended an elementary school. The majority of boys benefiting from this trust went to Victoria College and a number went on to Cambridge or Oxford.
In 1934 Davis decided he wanted his old friend, John St Helier Lander, a Jersey artist, to paint a portrait of King George V, to commemorate the endowment of the scholarship. When the commission was complete, the artist and Davis visited the College to discuss where the portrait might be hung. When Davis discovered there was no room remaining in the College's great hall he decided to build another hall for the school. On 18 October 1934 Davis and his wife laid the foundation stone to Howard Hall. It was built of granite from Ouaisné and matched the gothic style of the older Victoria College buildings. Inside there was seating for 238, almost exactly the number of boys at the school when the building was opened. The paneling and woodwork were of teak, and the clock an exact replica of that at the Greenwich Observatory. On 23 July 1935 the Prince of Wales came to Jersey to open the Hall and unveil the portrait of King George V. The Hall was refurbished in 1996 and now exists as the Howard Davis Theatre where numerous types of drama are performed by the pupils.
College House, a boarding house attached to the school (architect: Edmund Berteau, States Engineer - 1901), was subsequently incorporated into the new Jersey College for Girls building when that institution moved to a site adjacent to Victoria College. Despite some initial opposition from staff and parents at Victoria College to this development, the pupils of both schools now share design and art facilities.
Although Victoria College is a state-owned school, the headmaster is a member of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference which is one of the traditional definitions of a public school.
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In the style of the English public school system, the school has operated a house system since 1904. Houses were initially based on the geographical provenance of the boys:
- School House
- South Town
- North Town
The sizes of the houses were very unequal, with School House (the boarders) being much smaller than the others. In 1912 the boundaries of the catchment areas for the town and country houses were adjusted, but the geographical system was replaced in 1919 by a new house system based on numerical parity.
The college lost many of its students to the two world wars and each house is now named after a former pupil distinguished for military service:
- Braithwaite ( mentioned in dispatches)
- Bruce (Victoria Cross)
- Dunlop (Brothers killed in WW1)
- Sartorius (Victoria Cross)
- Diarmid (in 2002, this fifth house was added in recognition of a Victoria Cross winner who had previously not been assigned one.
Traditionally, if a student's father attended the College, he will join the same house
Victoria Cross holders
Five Old Victorians have won the Victoria Cross.
- Umbeyla Campaign
Lieutenant Henry William Pitcher
- First Ashanti Expedition
- Second Afghan War
Captain Euston Henry Sartorius
- First World War
Lieutenant William Arthur McCrae Bruce
The Sartorius brothers are noted for being one of only five pairs of brothers to have won the Victoria Cross.
Other distinguished Old Victorians
The college has a significant art collection which features in the Your Pictures project.
Click on any image to see a full-size version
- Buildings in the Town and Parish of Saint Helier, CEB Brett, 1977
- Victoria College, Jersey, 1852-1972, Cottrill, D.J., Phillimore & Co Ltd, ISBN / EAN: 0850332850
- The Devenport Years 1967-1991, Stephen Lucas
- Victoria College
- A Short History 1852-1928 by E C Cooper
- College Activities 1852-1928 by E C Cooper
- A Short History 1929-1956 by J S Rowley
- A Short History of Victoria College: 1972-1979 by A M Bellows
- Great War Book of Remembrance
1977 aerial photographs
Pages from an Illustrated London News report in December 1936 on the school's sporting achievements
Officer Training Corps
Members of the Victoria College Combined Cadet Force, and the Officer Training Corps which was its predecessor, have usually been able to attend an annual camp at an Army or RAF base in the UK. This postcard was sent to 'Charlie', back in Jersey, by 'Max', who was attending a camp at Mytchett in 1926, and by all accounts having a good time there. Mytchett was a base in Surrey, close to the Army town of Aldershot.
Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson was a member of the CCF while at Victoria College in the 1960s: "I recall attending camps at Blandford Forum, in Dorset, and another next to Chesil Beach outside Weymouth. I was a keen aircraft spotter at the time and went off with a couple of friends to visit the nearby Royal Naval Air Services Portland base, which closed in 1999. We were taking photographs of helicopters through the base fence when we came to the attention of military police, who were not amused. Everything was eventually sorted out with our unit's commanding officer - Col John Hamon, if my memory serves me correctly - and the result was a most welcome invitation to the RNAS base's open day the following weekend.
At another camp, for the Royal Air Force section of the CCF, at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, my aircraft spotting experience stood me in good stead because the camp opened with an aircraft identification competition. Along with three colleagues, I was one of the lucky winners, and the prize was a flight in an RAF Wessex helicopter, hedge-hopping at very low altitude over the southern counties, our legs dangling out of the 'chopper's' open door. No health and safety considerations in those days, although I recall that we were probably firmly secured with harnesses."
These photographs are taken from a 1930s prospectus for the school, kindly supplied from the school archive in 2020 by school archivist James Wooldridge