JCC President commits to closer alignment between School and Old Citizens


21 November 2019
 Richard Oblath, JCC President's speech at JCC AGM Dinner 

City of London School dining hall, 20th November 2019


Head boy, deputy head boys, headmaster your members of staff and administrators, my fellow Old Citizens I am humbled and honoured to have been elected as the President of the John Carpenter Club for the coming year.

Philip (Michallet) and headmaster thank you for your interesting and enlightening words.  I would like to share a few thoughts with you as I take on the Presidency of the JCC.

Despite my education as a scientist and engineer leading to a working life in industry, I am a firm believer that to look forward one must understand the past and present.

Our history begins in the reign of Henry V perhaps best remembered by Shakespeare’s St Crispin’s Day speech on the night before the battle of Agincourt in which he has Henry V speak the immortal words “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers”. I will return to these words later.

It was during Henry V’s reign that John Carpenter was elected Town Clerk of the City of London. Approximately 200 years after King John had agreed to the Magna Carta, John Carpenter wrote what is considered the first book of English Common Law “Liber Albus” that significantly furthered the law-based democracy that we still enjoy in the United Kingdom today.

Upon his death John Carpenter bequeathed some of his property “for the finding and bringing up of four poor men's children with meat, drink, apparel, learning at the schools in the universities, etc, until they be preferred, and then others in their place for ever”. They were known as Carpenters children.

His bequest continued in various forms for nearly 400 years until the funds had immensely outgrown the needs of four young men at any one time. Following an Act of Parliament in 1834 these funds were then applied for the foundation and establishment of the City of London School and by 1837 it had opened its doors in Milk Street.  

Acting in the spirit of John Carpenter the school was remarkable for its time in several respects. It did not discriminate against pupils on the grounds of religious persuasion and included pupils from non-conformist and Jewish families unlike other public schools.  

Although strong in the teaching of the traditional public-school subjects of the classics and mathematics it also promoted a practical and progressive scheme of education which was well ahead of its time. The City of London School was the first in England to include science on the curriculum and to include scientific experiments as part of its teaching plus offering education in commercial subjects.

In 1848 the then headmaster, Mortimer, turned to the old boys of the school for their support and so the JCC was founded by the then few Old Citizens. It is my belief that he understood the concept of a “band of brothers” those famous words by Shakespeare as a way to bind together students who spend about 8 years of their young lives learning within the City of London School and Old Citizens who then go out to the wider world well prepared to contribute in any way they can to the betterment of society. With increasing life expectancy now experienced it is likely that these young men will remain associated with the City of London School as Old Citizens for 10 times or more of the time they spent as students.       

Over the years the school has progressed from Milk Street via Victoria Embankment (where I was a student) to these current magnificent premises and has continued to broaden its offerings to meet the future needs of society. Always housed in the centre of London the school has seen many young men become Old Citizens prominent in their chosen fields. These include scientists such as Perkin, Hopkins and Higgs; mathematicians such as Newman, Taunt and Silverman; politicians such as Montagu and Asquith; businessmen such as Chambers, Levene and Pears; those in humanities and the arts such as Amis, Barnes, Lough and Isserles and finally sportsmen such as Brearley, Reynolds and our immediate past President Neil Edwards.

I am sure amongst the current crop of soon to become Old Citizens and those who have recently left the school will be men of distinction such as those cited. More importantly though are the hundreds of Old Citizens who have contributed much to this City, our United Kingdom and the world beyond in the progress of humankind.

The City of London School continues to be progressive in the education it offers its students. Building on its history of non-discrimination I was delighted to be present this year when the school raised the pride flag. CLS is surely one of the secondary education pioneers in recognising and supporting the LGBT+ community and bringing together in the open LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ staff and students in celebrating diversity.

More recently the school has published its 5-year strategy building on the past of educational excellence (and what great examination results were achieved this year) and preparing young men for the world they will face building on three themes of Kind, Aware and Ready.

I know of no other secondary educational establishment that would use as the first theme in its strategy “Kind”. This theme is focused and emphasises excellence in pastoral care, developing young men’s resilience and self-confidence, engaging and celebrating with the entire student body and hearing the voices of students, parents, and I would like to think its Old Citizens just as Mortimer did nearly 175 years ago. If you have not already read this document, I commend it to you.

Despite the many challenges we face it is sometimes forgotten that we live in an age where in my lifetime 100s of millions of our fellow human beings have been lifted from poverty. There is still a remaining challenge which may be exacerbated by Climate Change. It is my belief that Old Citizens inspired by their years at the school will be significant contributors to solving these and other problems of our time.               

Headmaster, as I take on the role of JCC President I commit to building on the recent progress you and my recent predecessors Neil Edwards and John Gee Grant have made towards an ever-closer alignment between the school and its Old Citizens in support of your strategy.

To my fellow Old Citizens, I commit to helping to continue on our path of enriching our club in all aspects of its being for the benefits of its members who are now the entire community who leave this wonderful school.

Thank you for your attention and please now be upstanding and join me in toasting the City of London School, the John Carpenter Club and the memory of John Carpenter.