Very little is known about the early life of John Roan. He was born around 1602 towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I. His father worked in the Palace of Placentia – where the Queen’s House now stands – and the family lived somewhere nearby in Greenwich.
We know that by 1640 John Roan had received an appointment in the royal palace. Such appointments were profitable and he and his father were able to buy various properties in Greenwich.
The Civil War saw John Roan supporting King Charles. He was charged with recruiting soldiers for the Royalist cause, and was arrested and handed over to Parliament. We next hear of him as a prisoner in London. Whilst in jail, John appealed to his brother Richard to help him, claiming that as a prisoner he had been: “stript (sic) of all he had and in great necessity and want, ready to starve”. Richard however appears to have rejected his brother’s pleas and this was to have significant implications for the founding of the school.
John determined that if his brother would not help him in life, then he would not benefit by his death, and changed his will. The new will dedicated John Roan’s property to the founding of a school for the “town-born children of Greenwich” for “reading, writing and ciphering (arithmetic)… And my will and mind is that the said poor children shall wear on their upper garment the cognisance or crest of me, John Roan.”
In 1677 the first John Roan School opened, becoming known as “Mr. Roan’s Charity”. The first school – situated near the corner of King William Walk and Romney Road – educated some 16 boys, rising to 20 over the next century. During all this time the boys wore grey cloaks, round hats, leather knee breeches and buckle shoes, and they must have been well know as they walked with their teacher to St Alfege’s Church every Sunday.
By 1814, the revenue of the Roan estate had grown considerably, making it possible to educate and clothe a hundred boys. The old school became part of Greenwich Hospital, and new premises were built on land behind St Alfege’s. After much discussion it was further decided to establish the first John Roan School for girls. By 1853 some 630 boys and girls were on roll, while the Education Acts of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries saw a huge expansion in education facilitating the school’s move to its current – Maze Hill – premises in 1928.
Today The John Roan School is vibrant and dynamic and remains dedicated to maximising the education achievements of the children of Greenwich who continue to wear with pride the crest of our founder: John Roan.
The John Roan Foundation Trust still flourishes and supports the school in a number of ways from providing extra resources to the annual “Roan Exhibition Scholarship” which each year gives financial support for the two students with the best A-level results. Archives of the school’s history are kept and Founders Day celebrated annually.
We have a thriving Old Roan Association where former students and staff of The John Roan School continue to take a deep interest in the school providing work experience, advice and sometimes employment for our young people. All students automatically become members of the association and benefit from the extensive social and sporting facilities at the members clubhouse situated at the School Field.