The Royal Albert
Orphan School

Collingwood Court, Camberley 

In its early days the school was known as the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum, being named in memory of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. It was situated in Camberley, just outside Bagshot's boundary, though early records frequently describe it as being in Bagshot. It was opened in 1864.

I  found the school shown on an old map and more recently have found it shown on aseries of old Ordnace Survey maps. At least some records from the 1881 census describe pupils as an "orphan inmate" and give the address as the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum, Frimley. The establishment has also been known as the Royal Albert Orphanage and  the Royal Albert School.  

The school is no longer there.  It amalgamated with the Royal Alexandra School to become the Royal Alexandra & Albert School and relocated to Gatton Park, Reigate, in 1954.

After the school left, the site was for a while used as the WRAC College. The main building was found to have dry rot & woodworm and was pulled down leaving the chapel building standing alone on the site. This building suffered a mystery blaze in 1987. The remaining walls were blown down later in that year by the hurricane which swept the country. The site was razed a few years ago and redeveloped as housing.

In 1867 Queen Victoria planted a Wellingtonia Gigantica tree during an "Inauguration Ceremony" for the school. A "stone" at the site was engraved VIR 1867 and is mistakenly thought by some to be the foundation stone of the building. The Wellingtonia survives to this day. I believe that it is this tree, but I have not visited it to confirm.

View Larger Image

There are at least two other "Royal Albert Orphanages", one in Worcester, the other in Lancaster. They are unconnected.

A B&W photo of a lady in an elaborate dess and hat, together with an elderly man wearing an overcoat and bowler hat, supporting himself with a walking stick.
Seated is an older lady with a man squatting talking to her. Behind are children sitting on wooden chairs,
at least one wearing Wolf Cub uniform.

Tea on the Matron's lawn, about 1938.  The Duke of Connaught (Patron) is standing talking to Miss Muller (a benefator). We had understood that Lady Elphinsone is seated, though some doubt has been cast on this. The person squatting is Mr William Paget, the Superintendent of the Orphanage.

More about these people here.

Thanks to the generosity of Mr Paget's widow the collection of records about the school that is held by the Surrey History Centre in Woking has been augmented by Mr Paget's photographs and other documents relating to the period 1919 - 1941. The photos show the boys in their daily activities and on high days and holidays - visits to the seaside; meeting the Duke of Connaught, etc 7037.iv7

If you can add anything about these people, or the school, just send us a message (see below).


Photo courtesy Vernon Billows

a wide farm track with imposing buildings in the distance and a group of boys attempting to herd some cows

The boys at the school were required to work as well as learn and this picture (I am not sure whether it is from the 1930's or circa 1950) shows a group of boys attempting to herd some cows along a track.  I say 'attempting' as one seems to have escaped to the right. The school buildings can be seen in the distance. A reader tells me that his father speaks of working on the farm and in the gardens and of the tailor's shop and cobblers workshop. 16-1-07

Prompted by seeing this photo Miles, who was at the school from 1938 to 1947, wrote: I worked on our farm for two years (the farmer was Mr Greenwood) the path to the left did not exsist in my time, The path ahead was the only one I know. I have taken the farm cows (by myself) to the top field. The boys were taught various trades from age fourteen until they left school at sixteen. [Mar11]
Miles also sent these photos which he believes to have been taken in the early forties.  {Apr 11} 

a group picture of about 60 children, mostly boys.

cows in front of a cow shed  boys working in a cerpenter's workshop, with a wooden wheelbarrow in prominent postition.

Information about the school provided by the late John Harrington of the Old Boy's Association.

RAOS WW1 memorial

The Royal Alexandra and Albert School at Gatton Park (the successor to the RAOS) is appealing for information about the Royal Albert school's WW1 memorial. It is to be expected that the school will have had some form of memorial to its former scholars who died in WW1, but the present school have no records of one. Do you know whether the school had such a memorial? And if it did, do you have any idea what might have happened to it when the school closed?

This account has been provided by former pupil McEwen (Mac) Head. [Aug 12]

large austere building
Collingwood Court

The front and main entrance to the building. We boys didn't use this door but just how did we gain entry into the building? To the left of this doorway was the kitchen and dining room and to the right on the ground floor were the classrooms. The upper two levels were dormitories and divided into four houses, Edinburgh, Sturdee, Connaught and Victoria. The upper level of the two was for use by the youngest boys, below 11-years-olds who migrated to the first floor after this age (perhaps being very young we found it much easier to run up all those stairs?). After 59 years my memory fails me as to what the very top rooms were used for, other than some by staff?

The large fir tree visible to the immediate right, that we punched and referred to as a giant redwood, was a Wellingtonia Gigantica, apparently planted in 1867 by Queen Victoria. About twelve years ago I returned to this area, now covered by a modern housing estate, to find the tree still standing although it appeared to have had the top cut out. Standing by the side of he tree was a stone engraved VIR (no date visible). Speaking to nearby house owners, I wasn't too surprised to discover they had no idea of the significance of the tree or stone!

An open space with some trees and a distant view of some people
The Sports Field

We were probably very fortunate that we had two playing fields, one exceptionally large. This photo would have been taken with ones back to the main by building revealing the larger of the two playing fields. Beyond the distant tree-line was a further open area about the size of a football pitch. Not visible but just off to the right were our allotments. We were all encouraged to grow plants but I don't recall any reaching maturity; as soon as any growth was apparent they were swapped for someone else's plant and moved to the new plot, never to recover!

Returning to the trees in the background, the older boys (must have been 12+!) had set up a system of swings that led from one tree to the other. Can others recall Dido (how did he come by this nick name?) taking a tumble and breaking his leg from these swings. He was unceremoniously carried back to the matron. Some 10 years later Dido and I were to be reunited serving on HMS Llandaff together for several years.

A large 3 storey building behind trees
Undercroft Hall

This building stood alongside the main hall, to the right of the Collingwood Court building photo. It simply comprised a large covered area in which we all had a locker and above it a hall with a stage. I'm guessing but as the outside playground was the other side of this building, in inclement weather did we play in this enclosed undercover area? The hall above was used for assembly in the morning, entry being gained by an outside metal staircase leading up the side of the building from the playground. Other uses occurred in the evening. Who recalls Dusty Miller who trained us all in boxing (yes, it was compulsory) and the talent shows put on by ourselves, amongst its many uses. Oddly, and this hall would have been ideal, the Sunday night film was always shown in the dining hall. Hardly visible to the right of this building were the outside toilets. Eight, or was it ten, cubicles. The doors had long since vanished to make sledges. In the winter one looked for a swinging chain that meant the seat was still warm!

Just across the path that runs in front of this building a teacher installed a dovecot into which two doves were introduced. In order that they should accept this as their new home it was essential they be contained within the structure for a minimum of two weeks. We boys kept pestering the teacher to allow them to fly, and no doubt to appease us, he eventually released them. They were last seen heading off towards the trees in the distance, never to be seen again. Sadly after that the dovecot remained empty to the end of our days at Collingwood Court.

A small table with a vase on it, a grand staircase rising behind with a winsow beyond that.
The staircase

I only ever recall entering Collingwood Court by the main door once, in which one was immediately confronted by this view. That was my first day at The Royal Albert School when my grandfather delivered me to the premises. This was a 'NO GO' area for boys unless you had to report to the headmaster (only for bad news I recall), whose office was off to the left! So how did we get up to the dormitories? I really cannot remember. Down near the kitchen area a stone staircase that led up to the staff quarters on the very top floor. There must have been a staircase at the other end of the building for use by us lads? That also raises the question, how did we reach the dining and kitchen area for meals, being the opposite end of the building to the classrooms? In dry weather there was an outside entrance to the dining room from just beyond the playground at the rear of the building, but how did we get in there in wet weather or in the winter, for the Sunday night film show?

Finally, and I only have a reminiscence of this, is my memory playing tricks with me? Were the fire escapes between floors similar to that in fire stations, a pole down which we would be expected to slide? I'm sure I recall square holes cut in each dormitory floor for said purpose.

Chris W writes to say "I have been transcribing the Log Books of our local Primary (then National) School from 1862. Mr. Edward Ayres age only 22 was the Master at the start of the Log Book. He left Middleton Cheney, Northants, in 1869. He sounds a compassionate man and I was pleased to find him as Superintendent of the R A Orphan Asylum in 1881, from where he re-visited Middleton one day in 1881." [Mar 12]

Heather Cox  writes: My father Arthur John Sharpe born 1919 and his brother Raymond Sidney Sharpe born 1921 originally from Colchester Essex, were both at the Royal Albert Orphange after the death of their mother in 1927 and both stayed, I believe, until they found employment.  I have this photo of them in a group of boys which I think is a cub scout meeting.

Three rows of boys wearing uniform with scarves and caps.

My father (Arthur John Sharpe) is second on left in the front row, his brother Raymond Sidney Sharpe is fourth left in second row. My father has written on the back of the photo that  it was taken while he was at the orphanage.

I was pleased to find your website as my father died when I was a child and didn't have any information. I only remember him saying he didn't get enough food I think they were given a packed lunch when they went to school and other boys stole it. [Sep 12]

Not necessarily an orphan.

As illustrated by the contribution from David Sandford, Allan Gadsbys and others (below), not all pupils at the school were orphans. It has come as a surprise to some people researching their family history to find their ancestor is in an Orphan School and make the obvious conclusion - and then to find a parent alive, or even a parent and other siblings living together as a family unit. Several have written to me wondering why. While every case will have been decided on its individual circumstances it is reasonable to suppose that the child went into the school because his parent(s) and extended family were unable to properly provide for him. One can only speculate as to why.  

While today, at least in English society, we take the term 'orphan' to mean a child who has lost both its parents, back in Victorain times, the term meant the loss of one or both parents.  Apparently in some quarters this definition coninues to be used.

Vicky writes : "My grandfather William Grey Moffet and his brothers were at this school from 1934 until about January 1939 and he used to sing this to me:

We know our manners.
We spend our tanners.
We are respected wherever we may go.
We go at riding down the tramway lines
Doors and windows open wide.
We know the way to use our feet
Left, right, left, right down the street.
We are the orphanage boys!

Collingwood Collingwood give us another one, do!

"He spoke of his days there a lot, especially of nurse Eileen whom apparently all the boys had a thing for!!"  [6103 Aug 06]

Paul Spencer Ellis has written:
As Headmaster of the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, Gatton Park, Reigate, I am keen to hear from former pupils of "The Albert School". 

Former pupils may be interested to know we have very recently been given a painting of the old school buildings in Camberley, which was commissioned by a number of "Albert Old Boys".

Former pupils are most welcome to visit and there are plans for re-unions.

Gatton Park has its own web site.


The Royal Alexandra and Albert School, which was formed by the amalgamation of the Royal Albert School and the Royal Alexandra School in 1949 has just celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Founding of the older of the two schools.
Founders Weekend was an amazing time. On Saturday 10th May there was a Thanksgiving Service and Primary Prize Giving in the School Chapel at which The Right Reverend Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark, gave an Address. On Sunday 11th May there was another Thanksgiving Service and Secondary Prize Giving at which The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury gave an Address.

schoolchildren together with the Archbishop in his robes and a dark suited man

Pete Fewings contributed "Memories! I was there  about 1942 to 1948. I recall the Edwards brothers, the older two being  Kenneth and Chris. When I left I went to the John Benn Working Boys Hostel in Stepney, prior to joining the Fleet Air Arm" [7061 Sep 07 xx]

John Ruffle writes: My grandfather, Fredrick H. Ruffle was a pupil at the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum for about seven years from about 1881 to 1888 when he was age 12. I have in my posession the Bible he was presented with on December 13th 1888 by the Committee upon his leaving.  [666 Apr06 xx]

Alan Owen wrote from Tyne and Wear: I am researching the life of Admiral Lord Collingwood. His grand daughter Sarah married a certain Cuthbert Collinwood Hall and moved into Collinwood Court in Bagshot After his death in 1851, the property, with its 6,000 acres was sold for 12,000, and I am informed it became a 'Staff College'. Does that mean it became part of the Royal Military College? Your help would be appreciated.

John has provided this history of the estate:

In March 1864 the unfinished mansion known as Collingwood Court Estate, set in 200 acres, was purchased for 8,000 to accommodate the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum. (It is not clear whether 'unfinished' meant that building work had not been completed, or whether it was only fitting out that was needed, perhaps to adapt it for its new use). The first intake of orphans is recorded as 1864.

The property was left empty in 1954 when the last scholars were moved to The Amalgamated Royal Alexandra & Albert School, Gatton Park, Reigate, Surrey. Collingwood Court was taken over by the WRAC as a training college. I understood that it was associated with Sandhurst (the Royal Military Academy).

The records for the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum are officially archived at Surrey History Centre, Woking (record 6129/3/85 relates to the sale in 1864). However the Old Boy's Association does have copies of some of the records including a potted history outlining the salient points in Collingwood Courts' history.

This leaves a difference of 13 years, 5,400 acres and 4000 between Alan's information and John's records.  Can you help bridge this gap?

From Symon: "While researching my family I came across a relative, who was an Officer at the school. Lilian Crump born 1879 was listed as Senior School Mistress in the 1901 Census. I was so pleased to find your site and obtain some background information on what she did and how she helped others.
Many thanks and kind regards, Symon." [639 Feb 06]

Jayne Bond asks "I would like to know if anyone has further records as to why children from Ipswich would have been sent to this orphanage? Ipswich and Bagshot are quite a distance apart! On the 1881 census there is a listing of Thomas & Alfred Hudson (twin brothers) together with a listing of William Ablitt. With a strange turn of events, both families appear on my family tree, one on my maternal line and the other on my paternal line. Any information that may be relevant would be greatly appreciated." You can reply to Jayne via the message pad  without ticking 'send to Old Boys'.

David Sandford has written from New Zealand with his memories of his time at the school.  [Nov 08]

I was a boy at the Royal Albert School from 1944 to 1946. I was only 8 so do not have too many concrete memories. Mr Tavenor was the Headmaster at the time and I still have a letter from him to my mother written at the end of my time at the school.

I remember the Open Days when I think Lady Bonham Carter was the chief guest. I rember the Christmas pantomine (Robin Hood) and can still remember the words of the main song. Regretably I am a bit short of names but one, Kingdom, rings a bell. I still regret too the way in which I left when my mother came to take me home to Portsmouth. I said that I wanted to go straight away and going down the entrance drive the boys had lined the rhodedendron strewn road to farewell me. I felt bad that I did not stay until the end of term and say proper good-byes!

It was war time. There were few teachers and not many lessons. The food was awful and we regularly sang "eggs and bacon we don't see, we get sawdust in out tea"!! But the limited staff, bless them, tried hard to look after us during those difficult years and I have happy memories of play and fun and being with other boys.

I would be interested in hearing from any other old boys from the period 1944-46.

Allan Gadsby writes "Albert Edward Gadsby, my great uncle, was a student at the Royal Albert Orphan Asylum, Camberley, at the time of the 1911 census. He was born in 1901 in Lambeth and came from a large family. His father had recently died so times were desperate, but I do not know why he was selected to go to the Orphenage. [Jan 09]

Anne Schuster recounts the story of her grandfather, a story that is probably common to many who came to this and similar intitutions.
I have for many years searched for the orphanage that my grandfather and his 3 siblings were sent to. I have just discovered that most of them attended the Royal Albert at Frimley. The pictures and descriptions of the Royal Albert orphanage have helped me imagine what life was like for them there and, I think the lasting impact it had on their lives. This was 3 years after their father died leaving his wife with 4 childen who at the time were very young. Victor was 10 months, Leonard was 5 yrs, Ruby was 7yrs and Ivy was 9yrs.

They were not affluent and once her husband’s income was lost she had to live with a relative and rely on their charity. In the 1901 census there are 2 Siblings Ivy and Ruby Schuster (10yrs and 8 yrs old) living at the home. Victor was with his Mum (he would have been about 3) but my grandfather Leonard George Schuster was 7 at the time, was not living at home and not at the Royal Albert since they did not have students younger than 8 or 9 years old. Does anyone know the name of an orphanage that he may have been sent to ?

Victor is listed as being an ‘inmate‘ on the 1911 census when he was 13.

Family legend says Leonard was at a Bernardos home. He may have been there from 5-9yrs old and may have attended the Royal Albert between censuses. [Aug 14]

Mick Riches writes: My late father Charles William Riches (1929-2008) was a pupil from c1939-1946. He became a farmer so the photo of the boys herding cattle struck a chord. When he became a school leaver the school found him a position working for Gen Sir Arthur Smith VC as a farm hand. My father also was a member of the school's combined Cadet Force .He once told me that they bred some rabbits for food during the war and he had grown quite attached to them and refused to eat rabbit meat and got in trouble. Even late in his life he was always kind to animals and rescued many rabbits from a dismal life shut up in a hutches. My fathers nick name was Ceasar on account of him fighting with other boys - there was a famous boxer of that name during that era. Jan11

Nick Rowe writes: My grandmother Victoria Ivy Hallett and her sister Alma May were schoolgirls at the The Royal Albert Orphan Asylum. They are recorded on the 1901 census, aged thirteen and fourteen respectively. Their home was originally Lyme Regis in Devon.  The digitised image of the actual census return completed by the superintendent gives a haunting glimpse of the staff and pupils my grandmother and her sister would have known; a small and now forgotten episode in my late grandmother's life.
Two stories she told of the institution. Firstly, she claimed that if the schoolchildren didn't eat their meals any leftovers were served at the following mealtime (quite how the dining hall maid managed the logistics of this is unclear).
Secondly my grandmother recalled the funeral taking place from the school of a girl aged nine, and the child's small coffin being carried down the steps. Jun11

From David Trueman : My older brother Peter and myself were sent to the school in 1944 or 1945 when our mother died. Our father was still in the army and, sponsored by his regiment, we were sent there. I was six at the time. We left after 4 years. Mr Tavenor was the head.

I remember the old (unofficial) school song:

There is a mouldy dump
Down Camberley way
Where we get bread and cheese
Three times a day.
Eggs and bacon we don't see,
We get sawdust in our tea.
That's why we gradually
Fade, fade away.

I remember that every year we went camping for a month at Bowleaze Cove, near Weymouth, in the summer. I have fond memories of that time. The main drawback was that the staff were cane-mad. Many times my hands were swollen from the punishment.

We left just before the amalgamation with the Queen Alexandra School. Having read the articles I now know the fate of the school. I had often wondered what had hapened to it. [Sep 11]

William Davidson White.
My Beverley White writes: My father was sent to Royal Albert School approx in 1937 and stayed until approx 1946. I wonder if anyone would know him? He was 5 when sent there and left aged 14 yrs. He spoke of his time at borstal and not a boarding school, this was rather upsetting as my father was a very loving and law abiding man until his death 14 yrs ago. Please if anyone remembers him and can point him out in the picture above as we have no pictures of his childhood. We would be eternally grateful. [Jun12]

Shirley Benham recalls some of the pupils who attended the local gramar school.  I was a pupil at Frimley and Camberley Grammar School from 1947 - 1951/52 and there were boys from the Royal Albert school in our class. Two I remember were Roy Martin (known as Jackie) and Christopher Fry. Roy had an older brother named Tony at the school. Roy and I did keep in touch after school when he was in the forces but then lost touch. I believe he has unfortunately passed away. My friend, Barbara Reed, and I went to several of the Christmas parties that were held at Christmastime. Fond memories.  [Oct 14]

Prompted by this, John Billingham wrote: I joined the Royal Albert School in 1949 and went to Frimley and Camberley Grammar School in 1951. The names of both Shirley Benham and Barbara Reed are still familiar to me now, so they must have had some impact at the time. However, with me being a mere first-former at the time, I would not expect either of them to have known me. To get to the Grammar School we would join the bus at the Jolly Farmer junction each weekday morning. I recall Bertha Turner - long blonde hair - who with her friend Sonya/Sonia would be on the bus travelling from Lightwater. Two other names I recall, both of whom were in my year I think, are Ann Gill and Mark Sleep, the latter being the son of the Headmaster at the time and who I recall being a particular friend.  I left Frimley and Camberley Grammar in 1953 when Royal Albert relocated from Collingwood Court to Gatton Park in Reigate. I finished my secondary schooling at Reigate Grammar School. [Jun 16]  

And also Terry Thraves : I was fascinated to read from Shirley Benham and Barbara Reed, both class mates of mine at the Grammar school. Shirley triggers my memory of Jackie Martin and Chris Fry....happy days.  [Feb 18]      

Irish Dragoon Guards

Jennifer asks: Does anyone have any information on whether the Royal Albert Orphanage had military connections, specifically to the Irish Dragoon Guards. I have wondered how my three uncles who lived in Portsmouth came to be sent there in 1911/12 following their father's death.  I have found someone of his name who served with the 4th Irish Dragoon Guards from 1880 to 1892 and it may be coincidental that that regiment provided the escort for Queen Victoria when she visited the school to plant the now famous tree.  [Jul 18]  

This is not an official web site of the Royal Albert Orphan School or its Old Boys' Association.  It was due to an Old Boy contacting me for information about local dignatories who were associated with the school that I became aware of the school, and the content offered here has grown as a result of that initial contact.  The Old Boys do not have their own web site and I am pleased to mount contributions about the school here, and to forward messages to the Old Boys' Association via Gatton Park.

School Records

Many old school records are now archived with the Surrey History Centre, some are still held at Gatton Park.  To review the Surrey History Centre catalogue visit their dedicated website or via their home page (should that link fail then search "Surrey History Centre").  Enter "Royal Albert Orphan" in the search box. 

Many of my pages have been prompted by, or include questions or information from, my readers. If you can add anything to the above please write to me using the message pad below.

This page is part of the Bagshot village web site.

If you want information from old school records, including finding out about former pupils, and are unable to find what you want through the Surrey History Centre archives please indicate that you want your message forwarded to Gatton Park as it is they, and not the Bagshot webmaster, who are able to help.

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