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The Prince, Bishop, Mayor — and refugees

15 April 2016

Calls on Christian compassion from child migrants are nothing new. What should be the response now, asks Bob Finch

A SPECIAL service at St Margaret’s, Westminster, earlier this year, was arranged so quickly that many people did not hear about it in time; so the church was not full. The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, spoke quietly but passionately about the need to do something for thousands of unaccompanied refugee children in temporary camps, and Prince Harry, sitting unobtrusively in the congregation, was visibly moved.

He invited the Bishop to stay behind afterwards, and, after the two men had spoken face to face, Prince Harry asked him what was the most practical and immediate thing he could do to help.

“It’s very simple,” the Bishop said. “The rich have got to help these poor children. We need someone to take the lead in launching a project to bring as many of them as we can here, where we can feed, clothe, and educate them.”

“I think by ‘someone’ you mean me, don’t you?” the Prince replied. “Where do I start?”

The Bishop suggested that he should write to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, as the man most likely to act quickly. Prince Harry wrote a letter there and then, and the Bishop took it in person to the Mayor.

Mr Johnson understood immediately what was required, and formed a committee of 30 bankers, hedge-fund managers, and businessmen. They met every day, and made plans with astonishing speed, to bring a first wave of 100 refugee children to a temporary camp built by the army in the grounds of Christ’s Hospital, in West Sussex.

The committee made generous contributions of their own money, and simultaneously launched a nationwide appeal for funds. Collecting boxes were placed in churches and pubs. Without waiting for the total contributions to be added up, the first turfs were cut at the school, and surplus huts from the American air-base at Alconbury were erected on the edge of the sports field.

Once IKEA had donated 100 beds, and John Lewis had given all the sheets and duvets needed, other businesses quickly followed suit, and the school was prepared for the entry of 100 children. The head of Christ’s Hospital, John Franklin, when asked by reporters for a comment on what had happened, replied: “It’s what Christ’s Hospital was founded to do. It’s what we still do.”


IF YOU are wondering how you missed reading about this, I should explain that it did not take place last month, but in 1552. And I’ve changed the personae . . . but not much.

It was King Edward VI who was moved by a sermon given at Westminster by the Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley, in which he “made a fruitful and Godly exhortation to the riche to be merciful unto the poore”.

Edward sent a message asking Ridley to stay and speak with him. They sat in two chairs in the great gallery of the Palace. “‘My Lorde,’ sayth he, ‘ye willed such as are in authoritie to be careful thereof and to devise some good order for their relief, wherein I think you meant me.’”

Bishop Ridley had no cut-and-dried plan, and had not expected such a rapid response to his appeal. He suggested that the King should send a letter to the Lord Mayor, with a royal command to take action. Edward wrote the letter there and then, and Bishop Ridley took it in person to the Lord Mayor, Sir Richard Dobbs. He invited the Bishop to dinner. A committee of 30 leading citizens was formed, and they acted with astonishing speed.

“Ffirste they devysed to take out of the streets all the fatherless children and other poore men’s children that were not able to keep them and to bring them to the late dissolved house of the Greie ffryers wch they devysed to be an hospital for them where they should have me ate drincke and cloths, lodging and learning and officers to attend uppon them.”

The committee met every day, “agreed to presse uppon every of themselves a several somme of money according to his calling and abilitie, some 20£, some 10£, some more, some less”.

They raised £748, sent out circulars to every parish asking for help from the pulpit, printed “a very fyne, wittie and learned oracon”, and sent it to every preacher and minister. Collecting boxes were placed in inns. Eventually, “the Clarcke entered everything in a faire book and the school was prepared for the entry of 500 children.”

Mr Calthorppe, one of the committee, sent “500 feather beds and 500 padds of straw and as many blankets and a thousand paire of sheets”. John Robinson was appointed Grammar School Master, and paid £15 a year.

There were “Scoolemasters for the petties ABC at £2 13s. 4d. a year”, and a similar salary was paid for a “Scoolemaister for Musicke, a Teacher of pricksonge”. The first children arrived on 23 November 1552 in Newgate Street, in the City of London. Thirteen years later, a boy from Christ’s Hospital had been sent to university.

It is hard to believe that anything like this could happen in 2016. Don’t we have enough poor children of our own to care for? There are so many of them, and some refugees are not what they seem. There is probably another side to this story — but we could pass by. . .


Bob Finch was education adviser for ICI for 20 years, and now leads literature classes at the University of the Third Age in Cambridge.

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