The Parish of St. George, Hanover Square has a long association with educating the young and founded its first school in 1703, many years before education was compulsory.
In his will of 1726 the Rt Hon General William Steuart (Churchwarden of St. George’s Church in 1725 and formerly Queen Anne’s Commander -in-Chief in Ireland.) left the sum of £5,000 to establish a school for twenty poor boys of the parish. His trustees, as a result, bought freehold land in South Street in 1742 on the edge of the Grosvenor Estate. Thus was established the General Steuart School to teach the “Yellow Bellies”, so named from the yellow livery they were required to wear. This uniform was abolished in 1888.
Not only the children were responsible for financing the school, the clergy were also put to work. Charity sermons were preached locally to raise money.
An extract from the records states that, ’The members of the board who attended The Grosvenor Chapel on Sunday 6th report that after the sermon preached there by the Rev George Matthew the sum of £73.13.6 has been collected.’
Such sermons were popular but some more so than others – The Lord Bishop of Carlisle preached in St. George’s Church and raised £107.15.6. The Board was so successful with its fundraising that they decided to open another school in the ‘outward’ of the parish and being assured the cost would not exceed £377, what is now St. Peter’s Eaton Square came into being.
This school was maintained by the Board until 1846 when it transferred to the new Parish of St.Peter carved out of St. George’s Parish.
In 1817, because the premises were so inadequate, the school was amalgamated with The General Steuart and remained so until 1897 when the Girl’s and Infant schools moved to St. George’s Institute in Bourdon Street and The General Steuart School was demolished to make way for the building of a ‘mansion block’.
Fortunately, in 1887 the first Duke of Westminster had announced his intention to present a new site for the school but the leases of this land did not expire until 1895. There then evolved a complicated negotiation between the Duke of Westminster, the General Steuart Trustees and a certain Mr. James Innes who wished to redevelop his property.
In 1893 the Vestry surveyor produced a plan to widen South Street, at the request of James Innes, which would greatly enhance the value of his property. With the assistance of the Charity Commissioners, the complicated negotiations were completed and the Duke of Westminster presented the present site, then worth in excess of £9,000 with the proviso that it should be in keeping with the rest of South Street.
Phillip A. Robson, having successfully won the limited competition for his design, stated that his intention was ‘not merely to convey the impression of a school building, but that of a higher grade church school’. To this end Dove Brothers built the red-brick and Portland-stone Jacobean style building with its large mullion and transom windows.
At the beginning of the 1939-1945 War most of the children were evacuated to the country, and the ground floor of the school was turned into a mortuary; but so many of the children were back in London by May 1940 that the school had to open again. The roof and the upper floors were damaged by incendiary bombs later in the same year, but work went on without much upheaval.
The cramped conditions within the school were proving most unsatisfactory and the Secondary School moved to St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1952 allowing the Primary School total use of the building.
Although there have been many internal changes to the building, the ethos of the school and its aim to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, intellectual, and physical development of the child remains unchanged.
St George’s (Hanover Square) Voluntary Aided Church of England Primary School still operates from the 1898 building in South Street, London W1 to this day.