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In transcribing the following article I have followed the invaluable text of the Hathi Trust online version. The headpiece appears in the original article. George P. Landow
From a drawing by Herbert Railton. Click on images to enlarge them.
The features of this immense town of ours are constantly changing. Sooner or later our old buildings fall a prey either to the devouring hand of time, or the remorseless hand of the builder. Even our London schools cannot escape this fate, and of late years they too have suﬁered many vicissitudes. The Charterhouse has been desertedby the “poor children or scholars" of Sutton’s foundation, and the boys of the Merchant Taylors’ School have taken their place. The City of London School has forsaken Milk Street for the Thames Embank ment. Huge warehouses have been built upon the spot where but a few months ago stood the Grammar School of St. Paul's. Rumours of the removal of Christ’s Hospital are in the air. But in spite of all these changes, and indeed an agitation for its own removal into the country, Westminster School still rests under the shadow of the old Abbey.
We are forbidden, alas! to believe any longer in the chronicles of Abbot Ingulphus, who asserted that he was educated at the school in the days of Edward the Confessor, and that the Queen, after examining him in grammar and verse-making, used to reward him with “three or four pieces of money," and plenty of good things from the royal larder. But though these chronicles have been proved to be mythical, there is good reason for the belief that a school has always been attached to the Abbey. We read in Dean Stanley's Memorials that “in the north cloister, close by the entrance of the church, where the monks usually walked, sate the prior. In the western—the one still the most familiar to Westminster scholars —sate the master of the novices, with his disciples. This was the ﬁrst beginning of Westminster School.” Fitzstephen, in his Life of Thomas à Beckett, states that the scholars of three great London schools were accustomed on certain days in the year to challenge one another in versiﬁcation and the principles of grammar. He does not give the names of these schools, but supposed them to be St. Peter’s, Westminster, St. Paul's, and St. Peter's, Cornhill. Stow himself tells us that in his youth he yearly saw “on the Eve of St. Bartholomew the apostle, the scholars of divers grammar-schools repair to the churchyard of St. Bartholomew, where, upon a bank boarded under a tree, some one scholar hath stepped up, and there opposed and answered, till he were of some better scholar overcome and put down then the overcomer taking his place, did like as the ﬁrst, and in the end the best opposer and answerer had rewards. . . . I remember there repaired to these exercises (amongst others) the master and scholars of St. Paul's, London, and St. Peter’s, Westminster.” There can be but little doubt that to these yearly contests may be traced the origin of the Westminster “challenges,” by which the admission into college was determined, and which have only been abolished within the Last few years.
Entrance to Little Dean’s Yard by Herbert Railton .
It is not, however, until the dissolution of the monasteries that we learn much about the history of the school. In the year 1540 the abbey and monastery of St. Peter was dissolved, and the new see of Westminster created. Thomas Thirlby, then the Dean of the King’s Chapel, was made the new bishop, with the whole of Middlesex (excepting the parish of Fulham) for his diocese. William Benson, the last abbot, was converted into the ﬁrst dean, and the monks were succeeded by twelve prebendaries. A school with forty scholars and two masters was founded, and the income of the new chapter was charged with various payments for educational purposes. The bishopric had but a brief existence, for, ten years later, Thirlby surrendered the see to Edward the Sixth, and the diocese was once again united to that of London. One John Adams appears to have been the ﬁrst head master of the school, but absolutely nothing is known of him besides his name. In 1543 he was succeeded by Alexander Nowell afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, and well known as the author of the Catechism. Strype records that “when he was Master of Westminster School he brought in the reading of Terence for the better learning the pure Roman style. As it was said of Dr. Barnes, that he brought in that author and Tully into his college of Augustine’s at Cambridge, instead of barbarous Duns and Dorbe; and one day every week Terence gave way to St. Luke’s Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles, which he read in Greek to such of his scholars as were almost at man’s estate, whereof he had a good number.”
Big Dean’s Yard by Herbert Railton.
As all readers of Izaak Walton know, Nowell spent a tenth of his time in angling, and “whilst Nowell (as Fuller tells us) was a-catching of ﬁshes, Bonner was a-catching of Nowell, and under standing who he was, designed him for the shambles." The head master, however, managed to escape out of Bonner’s clutches, and ﬂed to the continent, whence he returned, according to the last quoted authority, “in the ﬁrst-year of England’s deliverance," and found himself to be the inventor of the ﬁrst “bottled ale in England." Queen Mary restored to Westminster its monastic character, and the chapter was recomposed by the new abbot under the direction of Cardinal Pole. No provision for the school, founded by Henry VIII., seems to be made under the new system. And it remained for Elizabeth to re-suppress the monastery, and reestablish it once more in the form of a collegiate church. But little time was lost, after her accession, in clearing out the monks. Abbot Feckenham, the last of the mitred abbots who sat in Parliament, was removed in July, 1559, and William Bill, who had been deprived of the mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, by Queen Mary, was appointed Dean of Westminster.
As reconstituted by the statutes of 1560, the school became part and parcel of the collegiate church of St. Peter, Westminster. These statutes, which were drawn up by Dean Bill, contained a number of elaborate provisions for the guidance of the new body, which had now obtained an academical as well as an ecclesiastical character. The school was to consist of forty scholars, who were to receive a free education. There were to be two masters, one of whom was to be called “archididasculus " and the other “hypodidascuius.” Provision was made for the annual election of at least six scholars to the Universities, viz. three to Christ Church, Oxford, and three to Trinity College, Cambridge. The electors were nominated, and no candidate was to be elected upon the foundation whose father should possess an independent property of more than £10 a year. In addition to the forty scholars, the masters were to be allowed to educate other boys, who were respectively designated as “pensionarii.” “oppidani,” and “peregrini,” but, exclusive of the choristers, who, until 1847, retained the privilege of receiving their education there, the numbers of the school were not to exceed 120. Though these statutes were never conﬁrmed by the Queen, they have, with some exceptions, been generally adhered to in their most important particulars.
By Herbert Railton.
Notwithstanding the fact that Widmore assures us that the Queen “did only continue her father’s appointment,” the credit of founding the school is always attributed to Elizabeth. The ﬁrst master of Westminster after its reconstruction appears to have been Nicholas Udall. Udall had previously been head master at Eton, where, on one occasion, Tusser, the author of the Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, received ﬁfty-three stripes from him “for fault but small or none at all.” Though styled by Bate “elegantissimus omnium bonarum liter arum magister et earum felicissimus interpres," Udall's character was not equal to his scholarship, and he left Eton in disgrace. How he came to be afterwards appointed to Westminster we do not know, nor is there any record of his behaviour there, but his name is still remembered by the students of our early literature as being that of the author of Ralph Roister Doister, the earliest of our English comedies. In 1575, during the head mastership of Edward Graunte, William Camden, the famous antiquary, was appointed the under master. Whilst occupying this post he wrote the celebrated Britannia, a work to which he devoted all his leisure hours. In 1593, Camden succeeded Graunte as head master, and a few years after produced his Institutio Grecæ Grammaticæ Compendiaria in Usum Scholæ Regiæ West monmteriensis.
Ashburnham House by Herbert Railton.
This Greek Grammar, which has gone through more than one hundred editions, was ﬁrst published in 1597, and was subsequently known as the Eton Greek Grammar. It was founded on his predecessor’s Grecæ Lingwæ Speculum, which is referred to by Hallam in proof of the fact that “even before the middle of the Queen’s reign the rudiments of the Greek language were imparted to the boys at Westminster School." Camden was appointed Clarencieux King-at-Arms in 1597, and two years later, having “gathered a contented suﬂiciency” by his long labours in the school he resigned the post of head master, and retired to Chislehurst, where he died in 1623. In a letter to Archbishop Usher, Camden gives the account of his mastership: “God so blessed my labours that the now Bishops of Durham, London, and St. Asaph, to say nothing of persons now employed in eminent places abroad, and many of especial note at home, of all degrees, do acknowledge themselves to have been my scholars." One of these who became of especial note at home was Ben Jonson, who, born in 1574, lived when a child with his stepfather, a master bricklayer, in Hartshorn Lane, near Charing He received the ﬁrst rudiments of education at the parish school, then held in the church of St. Martin’sin-the-Fields, but through the inﬂuence of some kind friend was subsequently sent to Westminster School. His gratitude to Camden is feelingly expressed in the short poem which commences with:—
“Camden! most reverend head, to whom I owe
All that I am in arts, all that I know
(How nothing’s that) ; to whom my country owes
The great renown, and name wherewith she goes!”
The Staircase in Ashburnham House by Herbert Railton.
Richard Ireland was Camden's successor, and it was during his tenure of ofﬁce that George Herbert was admitted to the school. “Here,” Izaak Walton tells us, “the beauties of his pretty behaviour and wit shined and became so eminent and lovely in this his innocent age that he seemed to be marked out for piety, and to become the care of Heaven, and of a particular good angel to guard and guide him. And thus he continued in that school, till he came to be perfect in the learned languages, and especially in the Greek tongue, in which he afterwards proved an excellent critic.”
Herbert and his friend John Hacket, who afterwards became Bishop of Lichﬁeld, and was so celebrated for his prodigious memory, were elected to Trinity together in 1608.
On leaving the school Ireland is said to have told them that “he expected to have credit by them two at the University, or would never hope for it afterwards while he lived." Lambert Osbolston became the head master in 1622. He bore the character of being both a learned man and an excellent master. So fortunate was he “in breeding up many wits” that, according to Fuller, he had in 1638 “above fourscore doctors in the two Universities, and three learned faculties, all gratefully acknowledging their education under him.”
While Osbolston presided over the school, Cowley was sent to Westminster, where, as Bishop Sprat quaintly says, “he soon obtain’d and increas'd the noble genius peculiar to that place." While at Westminster Cowley wrote several poems, and in 1633 Poetical Blossomes, by A. C., appeared. This interesting little pamphlet of thirty-two leaves contains a portrait of the precocious author at the age of thirteen, who is there described as a King’s Scholar of Westminster School. It was dedicated to John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, who was also at the same time Dean of Westminster, but the “Tragic-all Historic of Piramus and Thisbe," one of the pieces in the small volume, was especially dedicated to “the Worshipful, my very loving master, Mr. Lambert Osbolston, chiefe Schoolemaster of Westminster Schoole."
For libelling Laud in a letter to Williams, Osbolston was condemned by the Star Chamber to lose all his preferments, to pay a sum of £5,000 to the King as well as to the Archbishop, whom he had described as “the little vermin,” to be nailed by his ears to the pillory in Palace Yard in the presence of his scholars, and to be imprisoned during the King’s pleasure. The head master wisely took ﬂight in order to avoid this disgraceful punishment, and Richard Busby, a name inseparably connected with the school, was appointed in his place. This remarkable man was born at Sutton, in Lincolnshire, on the 22nd of September, 1606. He was educated at Westminster, where he obtained his election to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1624. While in residence at the University, he acted the' part of Cratander in Cartwright’s Royal Slave, before the King and Queen at Christ Church. The applause which he received for this performance caused seriously to think of taking to the stage as a profession. Fortunately, he changed his mind, and at the age of thirty-two returned to his old school as head master. For no less than ﬁfty-seven years he guided its destinies with unequalled sagacity, and died on the 6th of April, 1695, in his 89th year. Busby entered upon his duties at a critical period of English history, and whilst head master he witnessed the Civil War, the Commonwealth, the Restoration, and the Revolution. Through all these troublous times he skilfully managed to retain his post. It was probably owing to his great reputation as a teacher that he escaped being deprived of the head master-ship during the Common wealth, for Busby made no attempt to disguise his loyalty. Indeed, Richard Owen, the Dean of Christ Church, and the great favourite of Oliver Cromwell, declared that “it would never be well with the nation till Westminster School were suppressed.” In 1642, when a mob of Puritans attacked the Abbey, the Westminster boys aided in the defence, and we read that the mob “would have pulled down the organs " and some ornaments of the church, and, for this end, had forced out a pane of the north door, and got entrance; but meeting with a stout resistance from the scholars, quiremen, oﬁicers, and their servants, they were driven out; and one Wiseman, a Knight of Kent, who had under taken the conduct of the mobb for that day's service, was killed by a tile from the battlements.”
Little Dean’s Yard By Herbert Railton.
On the very day on which Charles the First was executed, Robert South, the brilliant preacher and wit, records that the King was publicly prayed for in the school. It will be remembered that South was the boy of whom Busby, with characteristic penetration, remarked: “ I see great talents in that sulky boy, and I shall endeavour to bring them out.” In the virtue of the rod Busby had an infallible belief, calling it “his sieve,” and saying that “whoever did not through it was no boy for him.” But though the strictest of disciplinarians Busby was both loved and respected by his scholars. Philip Henry, who speaks in aﬁectionate terms of his old master, thus records the only instance of his falling under Busby’s displeasure. “Once, being Monitor of the Chamber, and being sent forth to seek one that play’d truant (’twss Nath. Bul., afterwards a Master of Pauls school), I found him out where hee had hid hims. and at his earnest request promised I would say I could not ﬁnd him, which I wickedly did; the next morning being examin'd by Mr. Busby where hee was, and whether hee saw mee, bee sayd, yes, hee did, at which I wel remember Mr. Busby turn’d his eye towards mee and sayd [Greek text], and whipt mee. which was the only time I felt the weight of his hand and I deserv’d it: Hee appointed mee also a Penitential copy of Latin verses wch I made and brought him, and then hee gaVe me six pence and received mee again into his Favor.”
In 1661, Evelyn paid a visit to the school, and in his Diary for the 13th of May, records:—
I heard and saw such exercises at the election of scholars at Westminster School to be sent to the University, in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, in themes and extemporary verses, as wonderfully astonish’d me in such youths, with such readiness and witt, some of them not above 12 or 13 years of age. Pity it is that what they attaine here so ripely, they either [do] not retain, or do not improve more consider ably when they come to be men, tho’ many of them do; and no lesse is to be blam’d their odd pronouncing of Latine, so that out of England none were able to understand, or endure it. The examinants or posers were, Dr. Duport, Greek Professor at Cambridge ; Dr. Fell, Deane of Christ Church, Oxon; Dr. Pierson, Dr. Alestree, Deane of Westminster, and any that would.
In consequence of the Plague in London, in 1665, the school was removed to the pest house at Chiswick, which had years before, through the instrumentality of Dean Goodman, been provided as a residence for the scholars in seasons of sickness. Before long, the Plague spread to Chiswick. “Upon this," says William Taswell in his Autobiography,
Dr. Busby called his scholars together, and in an excellent oration acquainted them that he had presided as head master over the school twenty-ﬁve years, in which time he never deserted it till now. That the exigency of affairs required every person should go to his respective home. I very greedily laid hold of the opportunity of going to Greenwich, where I remained ten months.
The school, apparently, did not reassemble until the middle of May in the following year. A few months after, the Great Fire of London occurred; and the same authority relates that “John Dolben, Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster (who in the civil wars had frequently stood sentinel), collected his scholars together in a company, marching with them on foot to put a stop, if possible, to the conﬁagration. I was a kind of page to him, not being of the number of King’s Scholars. ployed many hours in fetching water from the back side of St. Dunstan’s Church in the East, where we happily extinguished the ﬁre.
Of the many tales told of Busby’s caustic humour the following is perhaps as good a specimen as any:—
The famous Father Petre, who had been educated at Westminster, met him one day in the park. Busby failed to recognise him, and Petre introduced himself. ‘But, sir,’ said the master, ‘you were of another faith when you were under me; how dared you change it'? ‘The Lord had need of me,’ replied the priest. ‘The Lord had need of you, sir! 'Why, I have read the Scriptures as much as any man; and I never read that the Lord had need of anything but once, and then it was an ass.’ "
Busby was buried in the Abbey under the black and white marble pavement of the sacrarium; his monument stands against the wainscot of the choir, opposite the south transept, side by side with those of South and Vincent. From this monument generally supposed that all the numerous portraits of Busby have been copied, for according to tradition he is said to have resolutely refused to sit to any painter in his lifetime. If we are to believe Tom Brown, the likeness to the original must have been most success fully caught by the Sculptor, as he tells us that Busby's “pupils when they come by, look as pale as his marble, in remembrance of his severe exactions." Readers, too, of the Spectator will remember thut it was before this monument that Sir Roger de Coverley stood in awe, and exclaimed — “Dr. Busby, a great man; whipped my grandfather; a very great man! I should have gone to him myself, if I had not been a block head; a very great man!
To Busby, and Busby alone, the school was mainly indebted for the proud position which it attained during his long reign, and there is but little exaggeration in the following statement, which may still be read in his epitaph—“Quæcunque demum sit fams Scholae Westmonasteriensis quicquid inde ad homines fructus redunda‘irit, Busbeio maxime debetur, atque in omne porro revum debebitur.”
John Dryden was elected from Westminster to Trinity, Cambridge, in 1650. In the postscript to the argument of the “Third Satire of Persius,” he says z—“ I remember, I translated this Satire when I was a King’s scholar at Westminster School, for a Thursday night's exercise, and believe that it and many other of my exercises of this nature in English verse are still in the hands of my learned master, the Rev. Dr. Busby.” During his last year at school, Dryden wrote an elegy upon the death of Lord Hastings, which was published in 1649, together with thirty-four other compositions of alike character, under the title of “Lachrymæ Musarum; the Tears of the Muses exprest in Elegies; written by divers Persons of Nobility and Worth, upon the death of the most hopefull Henry, Lord Hastings,” dzc. The form on which the name of John Dryden is cut in large letters is still carefully preserved in the school, but some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this interesting relic. Besides Dryden and South, Henry Aldrich, Francis Atterbury, Barton Booth, John Locke, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, Humphrey Prideaux, Matthew Prior, Nicholas Rowe, Sir Christopher Wren, and scores of other distinguished men were numbered amongst Busby’s pupils.
Thomas Knipe was the next head master. When at Westminster he had been a pupil of Busby’s, and he afterwards served under his old master, ﬁrst as usher and then as under master. During his rule the school increased considerably in numbers, and in 1706 there were nearly 400 boys. Busby, who could brook no rival near his throne, naturally did not appreciate his merits; but Mattaire, the well-known classical scholar, the sale of whose library occupied forty-eight nights, confessed that he owed everything to Knipe's teaching. Freind succeeded Knipe in 1711, and while he was headmaster the school enjoyed an uninterrupted career of prosperity. Freind had many qualiﬁcations for his important post; his house was the resort of all the wits and statesmen of his time, and even Bentley is said to have spoken favourably of his scholarship. In 1727, there were as many as 434 boys on the books, which is the highest number on authentic record, and Duck, in the pages of the Gentleman’s Magazine, has alluded to the number of distinguished men who were educated under his charge. It was in Freind’s time that the notorious publisher, Curll, met with his punishment from the hands of the Westminster boys. The following letter, dated from King’s College, Westminster, August 3, 1716, and circulated at the time, gives the full details of the story:—
You are requested to acquaint the publick that a certain bookseller, near Temple Bar (not taking warning by the frequent drubs that he has undergone for his often pirating other men’s copies) did lately (with out the consent of Mr. John Barber, present captain of Westminster School) publish the scraps of a funeral oration, spoken by him over the corpse of the Rev. Dr. South, and being, on Thursday last, fortunately nabbed within the limits of Dean’s Yard by the King’s scholars, there he met with a college salutation, for he was ﬁrst presented with the ceremony of the blanket, in which, when the skeleton had been well shook, he was carried in triumph to the school and after receiving a grammatical correction for his false concords, he was reconducted to Dean’s Yard, and, on his knees, asking pardon of the aforesaid Mr. Barber for his offence, he was kicked out of the yard, and left to the huzzas of the rabble.
In 1718 William Murray, the future brilliant Lord Chief Justice of England, came to the school. He rode, we are told, all the way from his home in Scotland, attended by an old family servant, on a Galloway pony. A curious account of his' expenses has been preserved, in which, besides the payment of one guinea “to Dr. Freind for entrance,” the charge of one guinea for a sword and four guineas for two wigs is duly entered. In these days of general depression of trade, parents may at least be thankful that they have no longer to provide wigs and swords for their sons on their entrance to a public school. While at Westminster, Murray gave early proofs of his extraordinary abilities, and in 1723 was elected head to Christ Church.
It is related of him that when spending a half-holiday at Lady Kinnoul’s house he was found composing a Latin theme for a school exercise. On being asked by his hostess what the subject was, he laughingly answered, “What is that to you?" Her ladyship being being greatly shocked at his apparent rudeness, Murray was obliged to explain to her that he had simply answered her question by giving the English translation of the thesis, which was—Quid ad te pertinet? Freind retired in 1733, and was succeeded by the under master, John Nichol], who appears to have had the art of making his scholars gentlemen by appealing to their sense of honour rather than by the excessive use of the rod.
Richard Cumberland, in his Memoirs, records that “There was a court of honour in that school, to whose unwritten laws every member of our community was amenable, and which, to transgress by any act of meanness, that exposed the offender to public contempt, was a degree of punishment, compared to which the being sentenced to the rod would have been considered an acquittal or reprieve." As an example of the head master's lenity, a story of one of Cumberland’s own escapades may be cited. One day Cumberland managed to get out of the Abbey while service was going on for the purpose of joining a number of his schoolfellows in disturbing a Quakers’ meeting. He was called up before Nicholl to answer for his misconduct. “I presume," says Cumberland, “ he saw my contrition, when, turning a mild look upon me, he said aloud: ‘Erubuit, salva est res,’ and sent me back to my seat." These were the days when “sweet Vinny Bourne” was usher of the ﬁfth form, and Pierson Lloyd presided over the fourth; when Churchill, Cumberland, Colman the elder, Cowper, Robert Lloyd, Elijah Impey, Warren Hastings, Hinchliffe, Smith, and Vincent, the last three destined to become successively head masters of Westminster, were all at the school together. Edward Gibbon, too, came to Westminster in 1749, but his constant ill health much interfered with his school work, and he left after three years, “ with a stock of erudition which might have puzzled a doctor, and a degree of ignorance of which any schoolboy would have been ashamed.”
Entrance to College Hall (with Westminster Abbey in the background) by Herbert Railton.
Though Cowper was by natural tempermant unﬁt to rough it with other boys, his recollections of his school days at Westminster were of a pleasurable character. In one of his letters he writes:—
He who cannot look forward with comfort must ﬁnd what comfort he can in looking backward. Upon this principle I, the other day, sent my imagination upon a trip thirty years behind me. She was very obedient, and very swift of foot, presently performed her journey, and at last set me down in the sixth form at Westminster. I fancied myself once more a schoolboy, a period of life in which, if I had never tasted true happiness, I was at least equally unacquainted with its contrary. . . . Accordingly, I was a schoolboy in high favour with the master; received a silver great for my exercise, and had the pleasure of seeing it sent from form to form for the admiration of all who were able to understand it.
Cowper again alludes to this mode of reward then prevalent at the school in those lines in his “Table Talk”:—
At Westminster, where little poets strive
To set a distich upon six and ﬁve,
Where discipline helps opening buds of sense,
And makes his pupils proud with
silver pence, I was a poet too.
These customary rewards are now distributed on the occasion of the yearly recitation of epigrams “up school,” and the head master still applies to the authorities for the three pounds of Maunday money to which the school is entitled every year free of charge.
On Nicholl’s resignation in 1753, William Markham became the head master, an ofﬁce which he held for eleven years, when he was appointed Dean of Rochester. He ultimately became Archbishop of York, and his features are familiar to many of us through the noble portrait of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which hangs in the Hall of Christ Church. As a scholar and a teacher, his name stood deservedly high, but he probably owed his advancement to the archiepiscopal see to the fact that in 1771 he became the preceptor of the Prince of Wales, and the Bishop of Osnaburgh.
The Fighting Green by Herbert Railton.
The next head master, John Hinchliﬂe, was there but a short time. He was the son of a livery-stable keeper in Swallow Street, and after a successful career at Westminster and Cambridge, returned to the school as an usher. He married a sister of Lord Crewe, and afterwards became Master of Trinity, Cambridge, and Bishop of Peterborough. In a Westminster boy, and dated 24th March, 1764, it is recorded that “Dr. Markham has left us to my no small grief: our new master, Dr. Hinchliﬁe, is, I believe. very good-natured; he did not ﬂog any one the ﬁrst week, but has gone on at a good rate since." Hinchliﬂe retired on the ground of ill-health, and in the same year was succeeded by his old schoolfellow, Samuel Smith. During his reign rebellion broke out in the school, which, however, was speedily suppressed by the vigorous measures which were promptly adopted. Dr. Smith took the precaution to take a thick stick up school, and with it knocked down Sir Francis Burdett, one of the ringleaders. Sir Francis was expelled, and the head master’s authority restored. George Colman, the younger, describing his school days in Random Records, relates that “Dr. Smith was head master in my time, and a very dull and good-natured head master he was; and Dr. Vincent was under master, a man of nous and learning, and plaguily severe.” Smith resigned in 1788, and was succeeded by Vincent, whose whole career was bound up with Westminster. In a letter to Nicholls, Vincent states, “ I have twice passed through From 0 Drawing by H nanzwr Rumos. the school, from the lowest form to the highest 5 ﬁrst as a boy, and secondly from the lowest usher to the ofﬁce of head master." Southey went to Westminster in 1788, before Dr. Smith left, and his account of his school days throws considerable light upon the difference in the characters of these two masters. In emulation of the Eton Microcosm, the Westminster boys started a weekly paper, called the Trifler. Smith appears not to have looked upon this literary enterprise with much favour, but, as Southey tells us, “he contented himself, in his good natured easy way, with signifying his disapprobation, by giving as a text for a theme, on the Monday after the ﬁrst number appeared, these words, Scribimus indocti doctique. It may be mentioned here incidentally that Southey made his ﬁrst attempt to appear in print in this paper. He wrote an elegy upon his sister’s death, and sent it anonymously to the editor. But though duly acknowledged in the next number, it never appeared. Undismayed by this failure, Southey, in conjunction wit some of his schoolfellows, afterwards started a periodical, ominously called The Flagellant.
Interior of College Hall by Herbert Railton.
It had only reached nine numbers when an attack upon corporal punishment as then inﬂicted at Westminster put an end to its brief career. Dr. Vincent, less lenient than his predecessor, waxed very wroth, and actually commenced a prosecution for libel against the publisher. Southey immediately acknowledged himself to be the writer of the obnoxious article, but his apologies were in vain, and he was compelled to leave the school. On his retirement, Vincent was appointed Dean of Westminster. By virtue of this oﬁice, he was enabled still to promote the interests of the school, and it is to his thoughtful care in this position that the portion of Tothill Fields, now known as Vincent Square, was preserved for the use of the Westminster boys. John Wingﬁeld succeeded Vincent as headmaster in September, 1802, but resigned the post on becoming Prebendary of Worcester in the following December. Dr. Carey came next. In his time the school became famous as a training place for soldiers. The Duke of York, who took a great interest in everything relating to Westminster, used to recommend his military friends to send their boys there. The Spartan severity of Westminster life in those days doubtless proved an excellent preparation for the discomforts of the army, and not many years ago, out of the eight Field-Marshals then alive, ﬁve of them, viz. Lords Anglesey, Combermere, Raglan, and Straﬁord, and Thomas Grosvenor, were “old Westminsters.”
Carey,whose name will always be gratefully remembered for his muniﬁcent benefactions to the school, left in December, 1814, and was succeeded by William Page, whose career was prematurely cut off by death in 1819. Edmund Goodenough was the last King’s scholar who became head master. Towards the end of his mastership the numbers of they school began to fall oﬁ. He resigned in 1828, and was a few years afterwards appointed Dean of Wells. Goodenough was a man of much taste, and a most accomplished scholar. His name is still kept alive by the following well-known epigram, which was made on the occasion of his preaching a sermon before the House of Lords, on a certain day of fasting and humiliation at the beginning of the century:—
’Tis well-enough that Goodenough
Before the lords should preach,
For sure-enough full bad-enough
Are those he has to teach.
Richard Williamson was Goodenough’s successor. He was a town boy from 1814 to 1819, and was the last old Westminster who has ruled over the school. To him belongs the credit of the introduction of the Greek costumes in the representation of the Latin plays. He appears to have been a very amiable gentleman, but a most unsuccessful schoolmaster. The number of the school, already on the decline, now fell off with startling rapidity; and in 1841 there were only 67 boys—a point even lower than Harrow reached under Wordsworth. Dr. Liddell, the present Dean of Christ Church succeeded Williamson in 1846. While he was head master the numbers varied from 95 to 141. In 1855 Dr. Scott was appointed in the place of the Dean of Christ Church. Owing to the many useful reforms which he inaugurated, and to the thorough and conscientious manner in which he discharged the duties of head master, the numbers of the school gradually increased under his care, and at length reached 233.
In 1868 the Public Schools Act was passed, and the close union, which had so long existed between the school and the Abbey, was at length severed, and a governing body created. During the greater portion of Dr. Scott’s term of ofﬁce, the school suffered considerably from want of room, a state of things which has happily been remedied within the last few years under the salutary provisions of this Act. Dr. Scott resigned in 1883, after twenty-eight years’ of laborious work, and Mr. Rutherford now occupies Busby’s chair. The present head master is a Greek scholar of European reputation. He is still a young man, possesses an abundance of energy, and is determined to restore Westminster to that position in the class lists which of late years she has, in common with others of our older public schools, somewhat lost.
Few of the thousands of visitors to the neighbouring Abbey or the Houses of Parliament ever ﬁnd their way into Little Dean’s Yard, and though the name of the school is familiar enough to them, it would puzzle many Londoners to have to ﬁx its exact locality. On entering the school yard through the groined archway, adjoining the head master’s house, and leading from Great Dean’s Yard, the visitor will ﬁnd three large houses on his right hand. Two of these somewhat dismal specimens of the architecture of the last century are used as boarding houses by the “town boys,” and the third is inhabited by the Master of the Queen’s Scholars. On the left stands Ashburnham House, consisting of a centre pavilion with two wings, and constructed of red brick. It will be remembered that this house was the subject of a furious controversy in the newspapers a few years ago. The staircase is one of the ﬁnest of its kind in London, and great were the fears of the antiquaries, when the house reverted to the school under the provisions of the Public Schools Act, lest any harm should befall it at the hands of the devastating schoolboy. Their fears have fortunately proved to be purely imaginary, for great care is taken of it, while access to it by the curious has been made much easier than when it was inhabited by the late SubDean. The principal portion of the house was built by Inigo Jones, but a great deal of the panelling, and the richly ornamented arched recess, were probably designed by Isaac Ware. It takes its name from the ﬁrst Lord Ashburnham, who occupied it in the ﬁrst decade of the eighteenth century. It afterwards became the property of the Crown, and at one time was the depository of both the King’s and the Cottonian Libraries.
Doorway to Jerusalem Chamber by Herbert Railton.
In 1731, the house had a narrow escape from being entirely destroyed by ﬁre, and it was on this occasion that Dr. Freind espied the learned Doctor Bentley hurrying across the yard in his night-shirt, with a ﬂowing wig on his head, and the huge Alexandrina MS. of the New Testament under his arm. The books were afterwards deposited in the old dormitory then lately vacated by the scholars, and were not removed to the British Museum until 1757. Facing the entrance to Great Dean’s Yard stands the grimy door way, also designed by Inigo Jones, and covered with the names of old Westminsters, carved deeply in the stone, through which is the approach to the great schoolroom. The room on the right, above the two ﬂights of steps, was until lately known as the Library. The sixth are no longer taught here, and it is now used as the music room.
The cupola of the ceiling is handsomely decorated in the Italian style of the seventeenth century, but the room is somewhat dull and gloomy owing to the trees in College Garden, which block out the light from the only window. The great schoolroom is of magniﬁcent proportions, being nearly 110 feet long and 44 feet high. It was formerly part of the monks' dormitory, and was converted to its present purpose in pursuance of a Chapter order dated the 3rd of December, 1591; the smaller and northern part being devoted to the Chapter Library. The massive open timber roof of chestnut, which is very similar to that of Westminster Hall, is said to be of the thirteenth century.
On all sides of the room are the names of old Westminsters painted on the wall, backed out on the benches, and even executed in nails on the ﬂoor. A great number, how ever, of the older names on the wall have unfortunately been destroyed from time to time, and it is to be hoped that in future more care will be taken of them, as they certainly constitute one of the most interesting features of the schoolroom. Coming down the school steps the visitor will ﬁnd the entrance to college on his left in the corner of the racket court. The present building is not much more than a hundred and sixty years old, having been built from the designs of Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington,1 in the third decade of the eighteenth century, in the place of the old monastic granary which had at length fallen into decay after being used for nearly two hundred years as the scholars' dormitory. [Note: It was to this accomplished nobleman that Pope dedicated his Fourth Moral Essay, in which the familiar lines occur:
“ Who then shall grace, or who improve the soil?
Who plants like Bathurst, or who builds like Boyle
Here the forty scholars, who still wear the distinctive dress of cap and gown, live. The ground ﬂoor is occupied with sitting-rooms and studies for their use in the day-time, and on the floor above is the dormitory where they all sleep in separate “cubicles.” The walls of the dormitory are crowded with the names of old Queen’s scholars, and at the upper end of the room on the right-hand side are a number of tablets afﬁxed to the walls bearing the names of the captains of the school in gilt letters.
Amongst these, the names of William Murray, Charles Churchill, Warren Hastings, Charles Abbot, and Charles Thomas Longley, are especially noticeable. Here in the dormitories, in accordance with the old statutes of Queen Elizabeth, a Latin play is acted every year by the Queen’s scholars. The Westminster Play is so well known that it needs no description in these pages. Leaving college and going through the dark cloister, the visitor will ﬁnd the gymnasium on his right, situated in the early Norman crypt which forms the substructure of the great schoolroom. Turning to the left, along the western cloister, he will pass by the side of “Fighting Green,” formerly the scene of many a ﬁerce encounter before “ﬁrst school,” and in days of yore the peaceful resting-place of the humbler brethren of the monastery. The passage through the old archway on the right leads past the door of the deanery into a courtyard, on the left-hand side of which is the college hall. It is approached by a covered staircase, and was originally the refectory of the abbot’s house. The hall was built by Abbot Litlington, in the reign of Edward III., and is probably the room where Elizabeth Woodville, the queen of Edward IV., was received by Abbot Oseney on the occasion of Richard the Third's conspiracy against his nephews. After the ﬁnal reconstruction of the Abbey by Queen Elizabeth, the abbot’s refectory became the hall of the whole collegiate establishment. In course of time the dean and prebendaries withdrew, and the hall was left to the scholars, who still use it as their dining place. The “Election” dinner, which is given by the governing body to the examiners and a. number of old Westminsters, takes place here every year, when epigrams are recited by the boys during dessert time. The ponder-ous tables of elm are said to have been made out of the wreckage of the Spanish Armada, and to be marked in several places by the cannon-balls of the English ships, but the tradition'seems some what hazy and doubtful. The inclosure in Great Dean's Yard is known by the name of “Green,” and here vigorous games of foot ball are played at odd times between school hours. Outside the archway and in front of the west door of the Abbey stands a polished granite column erected to the memory of the old Westminsters who fell in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. Field-Marshal Lord Raglan, Lieut.-General Frederick Markham, and General Sir William Barnard are amongst the names of those thus commemorated. Vincent Square, where the boys play cricket, is unfortunately more than half a mile from the school. It is the only portion of that large marshy tract of land lying between Millbank and the Abbey, formerly known as Tothill Fields, which is not now built over. The ﬁelds existed in an open state until the beginning of the century, and as late as 1830 bits of green hedgerow were still to be seen in the Vauxhall Road.
What’s not destroy’d by Time’s devouring hand?
Where’s Troy, and where’s the Maypole in the Strand?
Pease, cabbages, and turnips, once grew where
Now stands New Bond Street and a newer square.
Here this necessarily brief sketch must terminate. Few schools, if indeed any, can boast of such an illustrious roll of alumni as Westminster can show. She has been the nursing mother of scores of statesmen, lawyers, soldiers, poets, divines, and other celebrated men in every walk of life. No school can possibly boast of nobler traditions or more sacred associations, and in taking our farewell of -
the schoolboy spot
We ne’er forget, though there We are forgot,
we can only wish that its future history may be as glorious as its past.
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Barker, C. F. Russell. “Westminster School.” The English Illustrated Magazine. 4 (1887): 799-813. Hathi Trust version of a copy in the Pennsylvania State University Library. Web. 26 February 2021.
Last modified 27 February 2021