Prince Albert and the Foundation
Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, was the driving force behind the foundation of Wellington College. He saw an opportunity to create a new kind of school in England – forward-looking and unhindered by tradition, with an innovative curriculum preparing its students for a life of industry and service in the modern world.
Albert was the College’s first President, and chaired most Governors’ meetings from 1853 until his death. He was intimately involved in the choice of the College’s site and design, its curriculum, and the first Master. He paid no fewer than 23 visits to Wellington, 12 of them private ones to inspect the site and buildings before the College had even opened.
In 1858, Albert sent the newly appointed Master, Edward White Benson, on a tour of German schools to study their approach to learning. Although Benson was privately unimpressed with what he saw, it was because of the Prince that, from the beginning, Wellington taught subjects such as Science, Mathematics, History, Geography and Modern Languages, all extremely innovative at the time.
Albert was generous with gifts as well as his time. He personally chose and donated over 450 books to form the nucleus of the College library. These volumes bear his own bookplate and are now displayed in the Benson. He also gave the Wellingtonia trees which form such a feature of North Front. In 1860 he endowed the Prince Consort’s History Prize, awarded on Speech Day ever since.
On Speech Day 1861, Albert laid the foundation stone of the College Chapel. His last visit to Wellington was in November 1861, to see how the Chapel building was progressing, and at a meeting later that month he supported Benson’s proposal to enlarge it. His untimely death in December 1861 prevented him seeing the full fruition of the school he had so carefully planned and sponsored.