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News > Heritage > Blackall Simonds (1850-57)

Blackall Simonds (1850-57)

The first boy at Bradfield
9 Jan 2024
Heritage
Blackall Simonds photographed at Snake Door in later years
Blackall Simonds photographed at Snake Door in later years

As we start the Lent Term at Bradfield, it is an appropriate time to profile the very first boy who is recorded in the Bradfield Register of Boys whose name was Blackall Simonds. He lived at Bradfield House (now known as Crossways) in Berkshire. He was born in July 1839, arriving at Bradfield aged ten on 4 February 1850 and he left after seven years at school in June 1857.

When he first arrived, he was the only boy at Bradfield until the second and third boys arrived in March and April 1850 respectively. By the end of 1850 there were just 6 boys studying at the College. Their Register of entry can be seen in the gallery below.

The first Headmaster, the Rev F B Guy of Lincoln College, Oxford did not arrive at Bradfield until after Easter 1850 following Blackall and the next two boys, Richard Binfield who at the age of fifteen became the organist and Francis Lundy.

While Blackall was the only boy at Bradfield a poem was written about him which is shared here:

The boy who walked solitary by the river waiting for the others to come, himself, the whole Bradfield, the only Bradfieldian, held for a moment in his brain that winter the whole future, the century, the six thousand. Over the water meadows February mist hung, down through Barn Elms the wind blew roaring from Dark Entry and the hills. The weir thundered and the willows and honeysuckle broke into green and the bricks warmed in the sun. All of us were to know this and remember it. Unshared, unguessed, he had it to himself that first February till the others came. What the School was to be was in his grasp, the six thousand were ghosts at his command. And as the carriage crunched on the gravel, breaking the hush of a spring morning, bringing the next boy, it seemed that time ripened not destroyed, that in 1950 the world, like Bradfield, would not have altered much - JOHN BLACKIE.

During his residence at the school the numbers of pupils had risen from one to 94. He was as prominent in scholarship as he was in athletics, being Senior Prefect for two years from 1855-57 and a member of the College Cricket XI from 1852-7. After university at King’s College in London, he studied engineering, but ultimately settled down within the successful family business Messrs H & G Simonds & Co of Reading.

Later he became a Justice of the Peace, High Sheriff of Berkshire and also a Member of the Bradfield College Council in the late seventies. He was also appointed President of the Old Bradfield Boys Club when it was formed during an Old Boy Dinner in July 1889.

He died on February 26th 1905 at Bradfield House and his coffin was carried though the south door of the Parish Church where he had worshipped daily as a boy and past two long lines of bareheaded boys who were now members of his beloved school. Throughout his life he retained a warm and active interest in the well-being of his old school. In the touching words of the College hymn he had lived to see the seed planted and the great tree spreading forth its branches 55 years after. In his name both a Simonds Scholarship was set up and two Simonds Exhibitions were founded.

To this day a portrait painting of Blackall Simonds remains in the College on the wall inside Snake Door, just outside the Headmaster’s office and is based on the photograph above. The portrait painting is pictured in the gallery below.

It was only after Blackall had left Bradfield in 1859, that the College became a Public School for the encouragement of religious and useful learning and for the education of boys as “loving children of the Church of England.” Thus, Bradfield emerged from its primitive conception of a Choir School for the Parish Church.

Thomas Stevens was himself lord of the manor and the Rector of the parish, when he dedicated the Manor House, which had been in his family for four generations to his school. The conversion of the old Manor House of Bradfield (pictured below) into the College was largely responsible for the immediate and permanent success of the College foundation.

Other members of Blackall’s family also joined Bradfield later. George Prescott Blackall-Simonds was also at Bradfield and the 19th boy to arrive. He was the only son of Mr and Mrs George Blackall-Simonds of Bradfield, Berkshire and was born in 1881. He was educated at Bradfield College and served in the South African War as a Railway Staff Officer and received the Queen’s medal with three clasps. His rank as Lieutenant dated from April 1910. As a member of the Reserve of Officers in the South Wales Borderers, he was attached for active service to the 1st Battalion of his regiment and was killed in Vendresse on 27 September 1914 while leading his men to attack the Germans in a stone quarry. He was shot through the head, death ensuing in a few minutes. A memorial for him appears in the stained-glass windows of St Andrew’s Church.

We look forward to marking the 175th anniversary of the founding of Bradfield College in 2025 and we have a range of events we are planning to mark this celebration. Since the first boy in 1850 the school has come a long way and we look forward to sharing that journey with you in more detail next year.

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