Our History

The Commercial Travellers’ Schools were founded in 1845 by John Robert Cuffley.  The schools provided a boarding education and start in life to over 5,000 orphaned children of commercial travellers during their 122 year history.   

In 1918 HM King George V authorised the schools to be known as “The Royal Commercial Travellers’ Schools”.

The schools closed in 1967.  The Royal Pinner Schools Foundation was established to provide assistance in the education of the children of commercial travellers, where need can be shown.

The Foundation now operates as The Royal Pinner Educational Trust.

The Royal Commercial Travellers’ Schools

John Robert Cuffley

The Viscounts Leverhulme and the Leverhulme Trust

1st Lord Leverhulme

Charles Dickens and the Anniversary Festivals

Portrait of Charles Dickens

Reverend T. B. Hardy Chaplain to His Majesty

Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy

The Royal Commercial Travellers’  School

Our Founder

Mr John Robert Cuffley, an able and energetic traveller, was the founder of the Commercial Travellers’ Schools. He inspired many of his colleagues with his vision of a school which would house, feed, clothe and educate the necessitous children of brethren “on the road” who met untimely death or became unable to earn their livelihood. 

John Robert Cuffley
Mr John Robert Cuffley

1845 – The Schools founded by John Robert Cuffley. When opened in Wanstead, a total of 35 boys and girls were admitted. By 1854 the number had increased to 130.

1855 – HRH Prince Albert opened the new Schools at Pinner with accommodation for up to 300 children.

1897 – Mr. W. H. Lever (later the First Viscount Leverhulme), a member of the Board of Management, presided on Speech Day. Mrs. Lever distributed the prizes and presented the Institution with a fine Willis organ in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The organ is still in use today.

1901-1906 – Old Boys Union founded in 1901; name changed to The Old Mercurians Association in 1932.

1905 – The ‘B. G. Elliott’ Hall opened. Sir Bignell Elliott was an old scholar and President of Appeal in 1901. The Elliott Hall is now part of the Harrow Arts Centre.

1914-18 – 124 War Orphans of commercial travellers given admission without election.

1918 – HM King George V authorised the Schools to be known as ‘The Royal Commercial Travellers Schools’.

1939-45 – 86 War Orphans admitted.

1945 – The second Viscount Leverhulme undertook the presidency of the Centenary Appeal.

1949 – First children admitted under the Contributory Pupils Scheme. 230 children in attendance.

1966 – The Schools renamed as ‘The Royal Pinner School’.

1967 – The Schools closed.

“The Royal Pinner School Foundation (the Foundation) has received a summary of individual written accounts on behalf of several former pupils, that allege the behaviour of some of the teachers and pupils of the school during the period 1953 to 1967, was of a serious and abusive nature. The Schools closed in 1967. 

The Foundation is not the charity that operated the Schools prior to 1967.  That charity has now ceased.  The Foundation is a successor to it.  The Foundation had not been previously aware of the experiences of these former pupils.  These had only come to light following a survey which has been recently undertaken by a former pupil.  

Given the seriousness of the allegations contained in several of the individual accounts recorded, the Foundation, given its status and its objects, has taken legal advice and it has been advised it is not in a position to take this matter any further. Nonetheless, the allegations have been notified by the Foundation to the Charity Commission.  This is as much as the Foundation can do.  The Foundation is very sorry and saddened to hear of the severity of these allegations and strongly believes that schools must keep pupils safe from abuse and neglect.  The Foundation hopes that this acknowledgement provides some comfort to those former pupils who have provided their written accounts.” 

The Viscounts Leverhulme and The Leverhulme Trust

Over 125 years of support

1st Lord Leverhulme
William Hesketh Lever - Lord Leverhulme

1890-1899 – W. H. Lever Esq. – founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) and the future Viscount Leverhulme – initially became a member of the Liverpool Committee for ‘advancing the interests of the Commercial Travellers’ Schools’ and presided at the Liverpool ‘Orphan’s Day’ Dinner in 1890.

1891-1899 A member of the Board of Management from 1891-99, he also presided at the Speech Day in Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year of 1897, at which Mr & Mrs Lever announced that an order had been placed with Messrs. Henry Willis & Sons to build an organ to be erected in The Great Hall at Pinner – this Diamond Jubilee gift is still in use, at what is now the Harrow Arts Centre.

1925 – Viscount Leverhulme continued to be a Vice President of the Schools until his death in 1925.

The Leverhulme Trust was established under his Will, in which provision had been made for commercial travellers, grocers, chemists and their families. As a consequence, an annual grant was subsequently received towards the maintenance of the Schools, and a further grant for the Leverhulme Scholarship Fund to support School pupils who went on to university.

1943 – The Second Viscount Leverhulme became President of our Schools in 1943 and was President of the Centenary Appeal in 1945 – which raised nearly £50,000 (which translates to more than £2.2m today). After explaining to the children how his hearing aid worked, much to their amusement, they were convinced that he turned it off during the Headmaster’s speech.

1973-1990 – The Third Viscount Leverhulme KG TD, served the Foundation as President from 1973 until his retirement in 1990. In order to fit in with his position as Senior Steward of The Jockey Club – one of his many positions of responsibility – the Annual General Meetings throughout this period were moved to Friday afternoons.

Today – The Royal Pinner Educational Trust, and the families and children who are our Beneficiaries, gratefully acknowledge the continuing generous and personal support of the Viscounts Leverhulme and The Leverhulme Trust over the long period during which we have worked together.

Charles Dickens

Throughout the life of the Schools the annual Festival Dinners were a major source of income for the Schools and the Chairman of the Festival Dinner could have a significant influence on the amount of monies raised. Many eminent individuals were invited to chair the Anniversary Festivals and Charles Dickens agreed to chair the Festival Dinner in 1854 and again in 1859.

The Commercial Schools’ Festival Dinner of 1854

On 30th December 1854 the annual Festival Dinner was held at the London Tavern with Charles Dickens in the chair.  Preparations had been made for up to one hundred guests…

“…but such was the interest excited by the announcement that Mr Charles Dickens had kindly consented to preside, that as dinner hour approached the ticket bureau of the tavern was literally besieged by applicants … and upwards of two hundred gentlemen considered themselves fortunate in being allowed to join the festivities.”

Portrait of Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

On rising to propose the first toast Charles Dickens was received with loud and protracted cheering, and began by suggesting a reform in the proceedings at the outset by addressing the assembly as “Ladies and Gentlemen”.  This resulted in more loud cheers, in which the ladies in the gallery conspicuously joined.

The following are extracts from the 1854 speech, when additional funds were specifically required for the completion of the new Schools to be opened in 1855:

I think that it may be assumed that most of us here present know something about travelling.  (Hear, hear and laughter…) I dare say some of us have had experience of the extinct “fast coaches,” the “Wonders,” “Taglionis,” and “Tallyhos,” of other days.  I dare say most of us remember certain modest post chaises, dragging us down interminable roads through slush and mud, to little country towns with no visible populations except half a dozen men in smock frocks smoking pipes under the lee of the Town Hall, half a dozen women with umbrellas and pattens, and a washed out dog or so shivering under the gables to complete the desolate picture.  (Cheers and laughter).  We can all discourse, I dare say, if so minded, upon our recollections of the “Talbot,” the “King’s Head,” or the “Lion” of those days.  We have all been to that room on the ground floor on one side of the old inn yard, not quite free from a certain fragrant smell of tobacco… where the Book of Roads , the first and last thing always required, was always missing, and generally wanted the first and last dozen leaves…..  I have no doubt we could all be very eloquent on the comforts of our favourite hotel, its beds, its stables, its excellent cheese, its head waiter, its capital dishes, its pigeon-pies, or its 1820 port.  (Loud cries of Hear, hear) Or possibly we could recall our chaste and innocent admiration of its landlady, or our fraternal regard for its handsome chambermaid. (Cheers) A celebrated dramatic critic once writing of a famous actress, renowned for her virtue and beauty, gave her the character of being “an eminently gatherable-to-one’s-arms, sort of person.”  Perhaps someone amongst us has borne a somewhat similar mental tribute to the charms of the ladies associated with the administration of our favourite hotel.  (Cheers and laughter)…

I record these little incidents of home travel mainly with the object of increasing your interest in the purpose of this assemblage.  Every traveller has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.  (Cheers) … Therefore ladies and gentlemen, everyone must be prepared to learn that commercial travellers as a body know how to prize those domestic relations from which their pursuits so frequently sever them; for no one could possibly invent a more delightful or more convincing testimony to this fact than that they themselves afford in founding and maintaining a school for the children of deceased or unfortunate members of their own body, – those children who now appeal to you in mute but eloquent terms in the gallery.  (Hear, hear)

It is to support that school that we are here tonight. It is to roof that building which is to shelter the children of your deceased friends with the one crowned ornament, the best that any building can have, namely a receipt stamp for the full amount of the cost.  (Cheers)  It is for that your active sympathy is appealed to, for the completion of your own good work.   Suffice to say that I do not think it is in your nature to do things by halves.  I do not think you could do so if you tried, and I have a moral certainty that you will never try.  (Cheers)…  With these few remarks which not even your good nature will induce me to prolong, I beg to give you as a toast, ‘success to the Commercial Travellers’ School’.

A hymn, The Orphan’s Prayer, was then sung by the children, who afterwards walked through the rooms.

Dicken's Dinner
Anniversary Festival at the London Tavern

The Commercial Schools’ Festival Dinner of 1859

In 1859, the Treasurer of the Schools, Mr George Moore, again invited Charles Dickens to take the chair for the annual Festival Dinner held at the London Tavern on 22nd December 1859.

Charles Dickens again began his speech with reference to travelling, but this time he asked himself whether he could make any fanciful parallel between his friend Dr Layard, who had brought to his light the hidden treasures of a great people, and…

“…my friend George Moore, who has brought to light the hidden capabilities of a great trade….. I resolved, like the heroes of the fairy tales, to go out to seek my fortune, and I resorted to a certain friendly giant – a commercial giant – and we sallied out together only yesterday.  We travelled on and on, very like the people in the fairy tales, till we came to a great castle of a bright red colour, looking perfectly glorious in the cold sunlight of a winter afternoon.  We were received, not by one of those conventional monsters with a great eye in his forehead as large as six, but by a man with an extremely humourous expression of countenance, and under the guidance of this director we inspected the live stock of the establishment, which suggested to us nothing but abundance of milk and pork.  We then entered the castle, and found it a noble structure, with a cheerful lofty hall, large airy corridors, dormitories and bath rooms, and an admirable banqueting hall – not at all a mere matter of form, as I found on perusing the dietary table hanging on the wall.  My attention was called to the circumstances that one hundred young male giants, and fifty young female giants, were receiving an excellent education in this spacious edifice……… I looked at these young people – the male creatures – and I saw that they were healthy, cheerful, easy, and rational, under a system of moral restraint far better than all the physical force that ever crushed a timid nature, and never bent a stubborn one.  (Applause.) … I spoke to many of them, and I found that they answered truly and fearlessly.  I observed that they had an excellent way of looking those in authority over them full in the face.  I did not see the sisterhood, and was very glad not to see them, because they were out for a long walk and had not yet come home.  Gentlemen, I am told that these young people of both sexes are instructed, lodged, clothed, and boarded in that place until they are fifteen years of age, when they are sent into the world.  Finally, I made two discoveries of considerable importance to me; firstly, that this was, indeed, a most rare, magical castle, by reason that it cost £20,000, and belongs to a public body, and is paid for – (Loud applause) ; secondly and lastly, I found that I had gone out to seek my fortune not in vain, for in this castle I discovered my speech.  Gentlemen, this castle is the Commercial Travellers’ Schools…….

Gentlemen, we should remember to-night that we are all travellers, and that every round we take converges nearer and nearer to our home; that all our little journeys bring us together to one certain end; and that the good that we do, and the virtues that we show, and particularly the children that we rear, survive us through the long and unknown perspective of time.

And now, gentlemen, having put the case before you on its own merits, I am about to propose to you to drink, ’Prosperity to this Establishment’.

Theodore Hardy, Chaplain to His Majesty



October 1863 – October 1918

Our Old Scholar, “Padre Hardy”, became the most highly decorated Chaplain in the first World War. 

Decorated with the Distinguished Service Order in September 1917, the Military Cross in October 1917 and the Victoria Cross in 1918, after which he was also appointed a Chaplain to HM King George V.

Theodore Bayley Hardy had attended the Commercial Travellers’ Schools from 1873 to 1878.  After he had volunteered for the front, including the 3rd Ypres campaign, the Battle of Passchendaele, he became the most highly decorated Chaplain in the 1914-1918 world war.  Wounded on 10 October 1918 , he passed away on 18 October, just two days before his 55th birthday and only three weeks before Armistice Day on 11th November 1918.

On Saturday 20 October 2018 a Service of Thanksgiving to commemorate Reverend Theodore Hardy was held at St Anselm’s Parish Church, Hatch End, led by the Revd David Green, Vicar of St Anselm’s with contributions from the Bishop of Fulham, the Mayor of Harrow and HM The Queen’s Representative Deputy Lieutenant for the London Borough of Harrow.  Further words on Padre Hardy and the Collect for the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department were said by the Assistant Chaplain Revd Canon Jonathan Gough CF.

The Secretary and Assistant Secretary represented the Trust at the service, and a wreath was laid by Michael and Molly Sprange on behalf of The Old Mercurians.

Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy
Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy VC DSO MC

By Courtesy of Imperial War Museums (Ref. IWM Q114628)

Prior to joining the Forces, but after his request to serve had been rejected several times by the Chaplaincy Department because of his age, Theodore Hardy had attended an Ambulance Class in Kirkby Lonsdale in order that he could become a volunteer stretcher bearer.

This first aid knowledge added to Hardy’s role as a Padre.

“… the officer was so severely wounded that he probably would have bled to death. Fortunately for him, Mr Hardy found him in the dark, and using his knife cord as a tourniquet, stopped the bleeding and got him into our lines safely.”

The Padre went to the forward post, out into “No Man’s Land”, and remained there between six and forty-eight hours by the side of a soldier who had been bogged, and was three parts submerged in the mud.  He fed him to keep him alive, and worked with others the whole of the following night trying to extricate him.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in volunteering to go with a rescue party for some men … stuck in the mud … between the enemy’s outpost line and our own ….

With his left arm in splints, owing to a broken wrist, and under the worst weather conditions, he crawled out with patrols to within seventy yards of the enemy and remained with wounded men under heavy fire.” (part of the DSO citation).

“The Boche opened an appalling bombardment.  No other word will describe it, so you must excuse me saying it was absolute hell. The whole surface of the ground seemed to be shot away. On this occasion, as on many others, Hardy’s calm confidence was an inspiration.”

The Padre was missing?… as dusk approached and speculation grew that he would not be returning, a small figure was seen coming out of the wood from amongst the enemy lines.  He had spent the day lying within ten yards of an enemy machine-gun post comforting a wounded man and now had come back to ask for a volunteer to go with him to recover the man.  Together with a sergeant they crawled back into Rossignol Wood.

Conditions were so appalling that sometimes it took up to eight men to carry one stretcher.  For a man approaching the age of 54, the physical demands must have been extremely punishing.

“That Hardy is the finest chap I have ever seen; he is not content to go out  with one squad of bearers, he goes out with all.  By God, he deserves every decoration a man can win.”

On his nightly visits to the outposts: “It’s only me, boys”, he would say.  He would bring cigarettes and sweets and sometimes read to us.  He would take letters back to post for us.

“He was to us all, who troubled to think a little below the surface, as nearly a true Christian as one can ever expect to meet on earth.  He appealed to us all, both officers and men, by his absolute fearlessness, physical and moral, and by his simple sincerity and lack of cant or humbug.  We loved him for his self-effacing devotion to duty.”

The early hours of 11 October 1918:  They knew he would come.  He always did.

“It’s only me, boys” he said.  After a while he told them he would have to go.  Minutes later they heard the machine-gun open fire …shot in his thigh … his fellow stretcher bearers braved a hail of machine-gun bullets coming across the river to get him back to a dressing station.

Theodore Bayley Hardy was evacuated by train over 100 miles to the No 2 Red Cross Hospital at Rouen where he died on 18 October 1918, two days before his 55th birthday and three weeks before Armistice Day on 11 November 1918.

His daughter Elizabeth, a Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse, wrote to thank the stretcher bearers for bringing him in under fire.  “Yes”, they wrote back, “it was difficult, but we would go through Hell itself for our dear old Padre”.


20 October 1863 born, the son of George and Sarah Hardy of Exeter, and one of six children.  George, a commercial traveller, died in 1866 when Theodore B Hardy was only three.

1873 – 1878  attended The Commercial Travellers’ Schools, at Hatch End, Pinner where an older brother, Alfred George Hardy, was already boarding.

At the age of 15, when Theodore left the CTS at Christmas 1878, the Board of Management awarded him the “Sampson Copestake” Scholarship (£75 a year for three years) in order that he could attend:

1879 – 1882 The City of London School after which he went to:

1882-1889 The University of London where he combined his studies with teaching.

September 1888 married Florence Elizabeth Hastings from Belfast; they would have two children, Elizabeth and William.

1889 graduated with a BA degree from the University of London

1891 – 1907 became an Assistant Master at Nottingham High School, and was a Form Master for the novelist and poet D H Lawrence.

18 December 1898  ordained a Deacon into the Church of England in Southwell Minster.  Was licensed as a curate in Burton Joyce to assist with services on a Sunday.  A year later he was ordained a Priest in St George’s Church, Nottingham, and later became curate at New Basford – nearer the High School at which he continued to teach during the week

1907 – 1913 appointed Headmaster at Bentham Grammar School near Lancaster.

1913 resigned as Headmaster, in view of his wife’s illness, and became Priest-in-Charge of the parish of Hutton Roof, Kirkby Lonsdale

1914 Sadly, in June his wife Florence died.

August 1916 after having several earlier requests turned down because of his age, he eventually joined the Forces as a Chaplain at the age of 52 and was posted to Etaples, south of Boulogne, with the rank of Captain.

December 1916 joined the 8th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and soon also the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Regiment.   In the summer of 1917 they were part of the 3rd Ypres campaign, the Battle of Passchendaele.

September 1917 awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

October 1917 awarded the Military Cross

July 1918 awarded the Victoria Cross

October 1918 after being shot through the thigh, Hardy was taken to the hospital in Rouen where, on 18 October 1918 he passed away, just two days before his 55th birthday and three weeks before the end of the fighting on Armistice Day – 11 November 1918.

His Majesty The King decorates the Reverence T B Hardy, Army Chaplain, in 1918
By Courtesy of Imperial War Museums (Ref. IWM Q11128)

His Majesty The King decorates the Reverend T B Hardy, Army Chaplain, at the 3rd Army Commander’s Headquarters, Frohen-le-Grand, 9th August 1918