One of Chester’s landmark buildings, the Grade 2* listed Bluecoat School in Upper Northgate Street, celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2017.
Nicholas Stratford, Bishop of Chester from 1689-1707, established the first Bluecoat School, for ‘poor boys’ of the city, in the precincts of the Cathedral in 1700.
The first charitable institution to occupy the site of the present building was the Hospital of St John for the ‘sustenation of poor and silly persons’, founded c1192 by Ranulf 111, the Earl of Chester.
When the old hospital site was rebuilt in 1717, the 40 Bluecoat boarders moved into the ground floor. St John’s Hospital retained the use of the upper floor until the opening of the Royal Infirmary in 1761. The wing facing Canal Street was built later in 1733.
The Bluecoat boys wore distinctive deep blue uniforms with yellow stockings. Lessons were devoted to the study of the four Rs - reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.
The wing on the south side, facing the canal, housed the Chapel. In 1793, following the construction of the canal, the Bridge of Sighs was built to provide a secure passage between the city gaol and the Chapel.
Around 1789 the number of boarders was reduced to 25 and a new day school, the Green Cap School for up to 60 boys, was opened in the Bluecoat building.
Following pressure from the wives of the then Bishop and Dean, a Bluecoat Girls School was established to teach poor girls. The curriculum was less academic than that followed by the boys and included sewing, knitting and spinning. The Bluecoat girls wore a red uniform.
The early location of the girls school is a little uncertain although it was probably in the Upper Northgate Street building. In 1810 a purpose built school for girls was built alongside the Royal Infirmary.
The final development of the Bluecoat building was a large extension fronting Upper Northgate Street and the construction of 13 new almshouses in Bluecoat Square in 1854.
At the same time the figure of the Blue Boy was installed over the archway leading to Bluecoat Square. John Coppack, the son of a shoemaker in Northgate Street, was the model for the Blue Boy. Public donations totalling £59 funded the purchase of the Bluecoat clock.
After the passing of the 1944 Education Act and the re-organisation of secondary education in Chester, the numbers of pupils at the Bluecoat School declined and the school was closed in 1949.
The building continued to be used for educational purposes by the King’s School, Cheshire County Council and the University’s Department of History and Archaeology.
Chester Civic Trust, as part of the trust’s 1986 silver jubilee celebrations, funded the cost of replacement railings along the street frontage.
Chester Municipal Charities - a merger of 34 historic charities including the Hospital of St John - owned the Chapel, the almshouses and part of the main building.
The remainder of the building was owned by the Bluecoat Foundation which supports Church of England schools.
When the university’s use of the building ended, Chester Municipal Charities acquired the Bluecoat Foundation’s share of the property and embarked on a £1.5m restoration project.
The Bluecoat reopened its doors in 2015 as a centre for charities and voluntary organisations that provides affordable and accessible offices and meeting rooms.
This month the children of today’s Chester Bluecoat CE Primary School in Walpole Street will raise a specially commissioned flag to celebrate the 300th anniversary of an ‘institution most beneficial to the poorer classes of the community’.