A history of St Matthias School and the legend of the Blind Beggar
St Matthias School was founded in 1844 by the church to ‘serve the poor of the parish‘ regardless of their religion. Around this time, Bethnal Green was witnessing a huge expansion in population growth and the character of the area was fast changing from semi-rural to increasingly urban. Houses were built quickly and cheaply and the resultant conditions for occupants were very poor.
Today, although living conditions in Bethnal Green have changed significantly, we still see our role as serving families in the local community, helping our neighbours irrespective of background, culture or religion. We do this because we are a church school and try and follow the example of Jesus Christ in all that we do. Jesus taught us that we should seek to help all those who need our support. You can find out more about this here.
During the 20th century, the school adopted the Seal of the old Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green as its badge and emblem. It references the popular Tudor ballad, the Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, which recounts the fable of Sir Henry de Montfort (1238-1265), grandson of King John. de Montfort was wounded and blinded at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and left wandering with no memory. He was found among the dead by a baron’s daughter, who nursed him back to health and later married him. In order to preserve his life, de Montfort wore beggar’s clothing and begged at the crossroads at Bethnal Green. Their only child was the beautiful Besse and, as the ballad goes…
My father, shee said, is soone to be seene,
The seely blind beggar of Bednall Green,
That daylye sits begging for charitie,
He is the good father of pretty Bessee.
His markes and his tokens are knowen very well,
He alwayes is led with a dogg and a bell;
A seely old man, God knoweth, is hee,
Yet hee is the father of pretty Bessee.
Besse was courted by a number of gentlemen who, all but one, abandoned her when her apparently humble origins become known. When she eventually married her love, her true pedigree was revealed and happiness ensued. The legend came to be adopted in the arms of the Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green in 1900 and then by St. Matthias School after that.
Our parish church is St Matthew’s Bethnal Green, a 1960s reconstruction of the original church, designed by George Dance Sr (1695-1768), which was completed in 1746. St Matthias was burnt out in the 19th century and again in the Blitz during the Second World War.
Clergy from St Matthew’s are very involved in the life of the school and regularly take assemblies, work with the early years children, support staff and families and work as governors helping with the strategic direction of the school.
For further information about our church, see: www.st-matthews.co.uk