The Royal Military Academy was founded in April 1741, by authority of a royal warrant from King George II.
This was granted on the request of John, 2nd Duke of Montague, then Master General of the Ordnance, that an Academy or School shall be instituted, endowed, and supported for instructing the raw and inexperienced people belonging to the military branch of this office, in the several parts of Mathematics necessary to qualify them for the service of the Artillery and the business of the Engineers."
It was originally housed in Woolwich Warren, part of the large military complex at Woolwich which included the Royal Arsenal and Royal Artillery depot, and where about 20 years earlier another, short-lived, school had been set up for the instruction of gentlemen cadets of the artillery.
It should be remembered that at this early period the term 'artillery' meant far more than gunnery, and in practice covered all technical aspects of the army.
Until 1855 the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and the all-officer corps of Royal Engineers remained, except for operational purposes, under the control of the Master General of the Ordnance, and were quite separate from the rest of the army.
specially in practical scientific and mathematical subjects. One of the most eminent of its staff was Professor Michael Faraday, who instructed in chemistry at the RMA from 1829 to 1858. One of the electromagnets with which he is thought to have carried out his early experiments is preserved at the RMA Sandhurst.
Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, it was decided to move the RMA, otherwise known as The Shop, from Woolwich and amalgamate it with its sister establishment at Sandhurst, the Royal Military College.
In fact both establishments closed when war was declared in September 1939, and it was not until 1947 that their joint successor, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, was set up in the home of the former Royal Military College.
The RMC originally consisted of two divisions. The Senior Division was established at High Wycombe in 1799 and was intended to offer instruction to officers already commissioned.
After various changes of location it finally settled on its present site in 1858, when it was renamed the Staff College, and became a completely separate establishment.
Its main block is built in the style of a French chateau, and was first occupied in 1862. It is located in the south east comer of the Sandhurst estate to which the Junior Division of the RMC moved in 1812 from Marlow, where it had been founded in 1802.
The Junior Division was intended to offer to future officers of the line a military and academic education corresponding to that given by the RMA to future gunner and sapper officers. It was, however, not until 1877 that attendance at the RMC became the usual preliminary to obtaining a commission, for until the abolition of purchase in 1870 most candidates simply bought their first appointment without undergoing any formal training.
The cost of a comet's, or ensign's commission was in present day terms about £25,000. Second Lieutenants in the Ordnance, on the other hand, were never allowed to purchase and all had to pass the RMA course as gentlemen cadets.
The founder and first Lieutenant Governor of the RMC was Major General John Gaspard Le Marchant. He was killed leading the cavalry charge which secured the great British victory at Salamanca in 1812, a battle in which Wellington's army finally destroyed the legend of French invincibility. Le Marchant's true monuments are the college buildings at Sandhurst whose foundations he saw laid before leaving for his last campaign. His name is commemorated in Le Marchant House, the official residence of Assistant Commandants of the RMAS at the west end of the original college, now called Old College.
The land which Le Marchant acquired for his college at Sandhurst consisted of some 450 acres of scrub land and sandy woodland (hence the name of the locality - Sandhurst) together with a water-mill and small manor house, which at that time belonged to the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger.
Pitt was a noted economist, and as he had purchased the estate from the husband of his niece, Lady Griselda Teket, shortly before selling it at an inflated price to the College, it has been suggested that he was simply carrying out some kind of land deal. However this may be, the water-mill was pulled down, and the mill pond was enlarged and excavated to form the ornamental lake which, with its population of wild duck, Canada geese, grebes, and other water fowl is now such an attractive feature of the grounds.
The Old College.
The original RMC building, took eleven years to complete, although the first six years were devoted to the construction of bricks, most of which on inspection were found to be substandard. Nevertheless, the contractor, Mr. Alexander Copland, was voted further sums with which to finish the work, additional building material was brought up via the Basingstoke Canal to nearby Frimley Wharf, and the College was handed over in 1812.
The original plan was by the well-known architect James Wyatt (1745-1813).
Wyatt was at this time Surveyor General and Controller of Works, and his other military buildings included those at RMA Woolwich, and the Royal Artillery Depot. His early sketches show a two storey building of five blocks with a central portico, and this was used as a basis for the final version, designed by John Sanders (1768- 1826), then architect to the Barrack Department of the War Office.
The portico, known as Grand Entrance, is composed of eight massive pillars in the Doric style, with a pediment containing a sculpture. This consists of a roundel bearing the monogram of King George III, surmounted by a crown and surrounded by a circlet with the Garter motto "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense". It is flanked by figures of Mars and Minerva, the classical deities of War and Wisdom respectively, The pillars stand at the top of two low flights each of five steps, up which, at the conclusion of the Sovereign's Parade (the title given to the Passing-Out Parade by HM King George VI in 1948) those officer cadets about to be awarded their commissions march in slow time to the strains of Auld Langs Syne.
The custom of the Academy Adjutant riding his grey charger up these steps at the conclusion of the parade is well known and dates back to 1927, although there are references to it having been done at earlier periods. There is no definite explanation for the custom. On each side of the steps are brass cannon from the Battle of Waterloo, presented by the Prince Regent, later King George IV.
Other features of Grand Entrance include the ironwork lamp holders, ornamented with lions' heads and claws, and the railings, which are actually pike rests, used to hold the pikes carried by infantry and artillery sergeants until the early nineteenth century. The lion motif is picked up by the brass door handles and foot scrapers at the entrance.
Beside the Wish Stream stands the Churchill Hall, which commemorates the name of one of Sandhurst's most famous graduates, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain during the Second World War, and a gentleman cadet at the RMC from 1893 to 1894.
Although several other Prime Ministers have served as officers in the British Army, Churchill is the only one to have been a cadet at Sandhurst.
This hall, with a seating capacity of 1,200 was opened in 1970 by his daughter, Mary Soames.
It is a three-sided building each wall curving to the point of an equilateral triangle, with sides 128 feet long. Inside a particular feature is the great span of the roof, supported by a framework of thirty circular and rectangular hollow section girders, connected by purlins located on a series of concentric circles.
Outside, the central panel over the main doorways is ornamented with a large coloured relief of Sir Winston Churchill's armourial bearings, made in the workshops of 40 Army Support Regiment, Royal Engineers, Germany.
Across the square stands the East Building completed in 1969, in which Victory College is housed.
The designers of this modem building, Messers Gollins, Melvin, Ward & Partners, received the Concrete Society Award, for the best concrete building of the year.
The vertical and horizontal structural components, floor and roof bands, columns and plinths are in natural concrete, and the principal floors are enclosed in heavily modelled precast concrete cladding panels of dark grey exposed aggregate. The whole effect is intended to echo the proportions and scale of the two earlier College buildings. Inside the buildings are a number of fine oil paintings and other items intended to create a more traditional atmosphere.
There is so much to see at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst that it is impossible to include it all here. Current security restrictions make it impossible to open the grounds freely to the public. However visits can be arranged by writing to The Staff Officer, G3 (O & D) Academy Headquarters. RMAS, Camberley, Surrey.
(Please note. Only the text of this page and the Chronology Page are from The illustrated Guide to the buildings and grounds of The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst by the Curator T.A.Heathcote Esq.)
The opinions expressed on the other pages are the author's.
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