Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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Abbot Ingulph and Queen Edgitha—A Monastic School in the "Dark Ages"—The Beginning of Westminster School—Henry VIII.'s Additions to the Foundation—The School as founded by Queen Elizabeth—Election of Queen's Scholars—"Challenges"—Proposed removal of the School—Dr. Goodman's House at Chiswick—The College Hall—The School-room—Latin Prayers still said—The Dormitory—The Westminster Play—Edmund Curll's Piracy of a School Oration—The Prince Regent and the Marquis of Anglesey—The College Gardens—The Accommodation for Queen's Scholars—Rivalry between Westminster and Eton Boys—"Fagging."
Under the wing of almost every abbey and monastery in England there grew up a school for the education of the young; and Westminster formed no exception to the general rule. Tanner, in his "Notitia," tells us that there would appear to have been a school attached to the Abbey of St. Peter's from its first foundation. Under the system which prevailed throughout Christendom in the Middle Ages, whenever a bishop's see or a large abbey was founded, a school for the instruction of boys in religious and useful learning was sure to spring up, under the shadow of the church, after the example of the "schools of the prophets," of which mention is so often made in the Old Testament. This was the case not only at Canterbury, at Winchester, and in other cathedral cities, but in such abbey churches as those of Glastonbury, St. Albans, and Westminster. Accordingly we find that the Abbey of St. Peter's had not been very long in existence before provision was made for the instruction of the youth of the neighbourhood. At all events, it is an ascertained fact that even in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and probably at an earlier date, there was a school attached to it, for Ingulph, the abbot and historian of Croyland Abbey, states that he himself received his education there, adding that, in his way back from school, he would meet Edgitha, the queen, who would ask him as to his lessons, and "falling from grammar to the brighter studies of logic, wherein she had much skill and knowledge, she would subtilely catch him in the threads of argument, and afterwards send him home with cakes and money, which was counted out to him by her handmaidens," and then, like a good kind woman and queen as she was, she would "send him to the royal larder to refresh himself." The chronicle of Ingulph, we are aware, has been impeached as to its genuineness; but, at all events, genuine or not, it bears testimony to the tradition of an old monastic school here before the Conquest. Very few trustworthy notices, however, remain to show us the character of this early institution. FitzStephen, in his "Life of Thomas à Becket," confirms the fact of a school being attached to the Abbey; and from other sources we know that a salary was paid by the almoner of the monastery to a schoolmaster for teaching boys grammar. This salary continued to be paid down to the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
A school for the young being thus as necessary an adjunct to a monastery as were its cloisters and its mill, the three chief homes of the monks of London and its suburbs soon after the Norman Conquest—St. Paul's in the City, St. Mary Overy in Southwark, and the Abbey at Westminster—were no exceptions to the rule. It is clear from Fitz-Stephen (and from other writers too) that the attainments of many of the boy-scholars in those "dark ages" were of no mean order, and it is by no means certain that any London schoolmaster of our own enlightened age could afford a more creditable or amusing programme for his Prize Day, or "apposition," than one or two mentioned by that author. "On festival days the scholars held dialectic contests, in which the most straightforward disputants, whose object was the attainment of truth, fought with the legitimate weapons of syllogism and enthymeme. The more subtle and sophistical geniuses used the side-blows of paralogism and 'verbal inundation.' . . . . These exhibitions, we may believe, were confined to the elder scholars, who would more resemble the undergraduates of our universities at the present day. But the younger pupils were not without their trials of strength, for we learn that the boys of the different schools had 'sets-to with verses on the rudiments of grammar and the rules of preterites and supines.' But lest the spectators should fancy these feats, however improving, to be somewhat dull, a more lively entertainment was provided to follow on. Logical subtleties and grammatical puzzles were discarded, and a sort of Fescennine licence prevailed. Under fictitious names the foibles of their fellow-pupils, and even of the authorities, were lashed with a Socratic wit, and invectives of a fiercer kind took vent in bold dithyrambics." Possibly, in the annual "hits" at current events in the epilogue to the "Westminster Play" we have the remnant of this old playful satire preserved to us unchanged. But of one thing we may be sure, namely, that by such exercises as we have described above "sound and solid learning" was as much encouraged as by all our modern system of cramming and of competitive examinations.
Dean Stanley, in his "Memorials of Westminster Abbey," after describing the cloisters, adds, "In the north cloister, close by the entrance of the church, where the monks usually walked, sate the prior. In the western cloister sate the 'Master of the Novices,' with his disciples. This was the first beginning of Westminster School."
When he remodelled the Abbey and made it into a bishop's see, Henry VIII. added to the foundation two masters to teach forty grammar scholars. In the reign of Edward VI. we find one of the Reformers—Alexander Nowell—taking an active part in the instruction of the youths in "the new doctrines." During the reign of Queen Mary, when the monastic character of the church at Westminster was restored, we hear little or nothing about the school attached to it; but on the accession of Queen Elizabeth the Abbey underwent yet another change in 1560, being re-founded as a collegiate church, comprising besides a dean and twelve prebendaries and twelve almsmen, an upper and under master, and forty scholars; this arrangement has remained substantially the same down to the present time. The college as established by Elizabeth, and attached by her to the collegiate church, is described in books of the time as "A publique schoole for Grammar, Rhethorick, Poetrie, and for the Latin and Greek Languages." It was designed at first for not more than 120 boys, including the "Queen's Scholars," who were to be chosen in preference from among the choristers or from the sons of the chapter tenants.
Widmore tells us that on the surrender of the monastery to Henry VIII., the King included the school in his draft of the new establishment for the see of Westminster, which is still preserved in the archives of the chapter. "Queen Elizabeth," he adds, "did only continue her father's appointment: that princess made indeed a statute ordering the manner in which the scholars were to be elected upon the foundation in this school, and from thence to a college in each of the two Universities, as likewise the number so to be removed every year. Against this part of the order, both the Deans of Christ Church and the Masters of Trinity College struggled for a long time, but without good reason; some supposed advantage to such places by another scheme being not to be set against the express directions of the founders, they were at length obliged to acquiesce." In fact here, as elsewhere, the "Virgin Queen" contrived pretty effectively to have her own way. It was by her foresight that, in order to prevent family cliques obtaining possession of the school, a statute was added forbidding more than two youths from any one county being chosen in one year.
The right of election to Christ Church and Trinity College being such an important element in the constitution of Westminster as it now is, Elizabeth has always been considered to have a just claim to be looked upon as the royal foundress of the college. The foundation, then, as she left it, consists of a head master, a second master or "usher," and forty "Queen's Scholars," who are maintained and educated free of cost and charge, with the privilege of election annually to three studentships at Christ Church, Oxford, and the same number of scholarships at Trinity College, Cambridge—six in all. This was to be the number elected each year at the least—"ad minimum;" but she adds "plures optamus:" so that (as there are, on the average, ten admitted each year to the college at Westminster) she seems to have meant that, if possible, all who were once thus admitted to her foundation should be provided for at one of the Universities. There is every year an election to supply the places of those thus drafted off to Oxford and Cambridge, each boy remaining four years in the college before presenting himself for the latter election, and if then rejected, leaving. Thus the forty Queen's Scholars are divided into four "elections;" those admitted together in each year forming one such "election." Until about the year 1860, the nomination of boys to the "College" as King's (or Queen's) Scholars, rested with the Dean and members of the Chapter; but now admission into the college is gained only by competitive examination; the examiners, we may add, are called "posers," as at Winchester. The competition is open to those who have been at the school at least a twelvemonth, and have not exceeded their fifteenth year at the election time, which is always in Rogation week, i.e., the second week before Whitsuntide. It is conducted by "challenges," as they are termed, which go on for about six weeks during the preceding winter. The candidates are at first arranged in the order of their standing in the school, and "challenge" or examine each other in Latin and Greek construing, parsing, and grammar, beginning with the two lowest candidates, the conqueror of whom then "challenges" the one next above him, and so on through the whole list several times; the order in which they leave off at the last challenge (subject now to some additional examination test) being that in which they succeed to the vacancies in college: and this order is retained the whole four years, so that the head of each "election" is the "captain" of his year. Great excitement frequently prevails in the challenges for this post of distinction, four or five hours having been sometimes occupied by two boys in endeavouring to exhaust each other's stock of grammar, while their anxious "helps" are sitting by as counsel (each candidate being provided with a Queen's Scholar, who takes this office for him), and pleading points of law in favour of their respective clients before the head-master, who presides as judge. The boy who is finally victorious is "chaired" on a ladder three times round the school precincts and cloisters, followed by the whole school, amidst a shouting and din, the like of which it would exceed the powers of imagination to conceive. We may add that the "help," whose pupil obtains a scholarship, receives a reward of £5 for his services. The system has the advantage of making the boys quick and ready, while the assistance of the "helps" promotes a good spirit between the senior and junior boys. There are, besides, exhibitions amounting to £140 a year, which, as heretofore, are to be open to the whole school. The annual tuition fees of boys not King's Scholars are thirty guineas a year, with an entrance fee of five guineas; while the fees for boarding, apart from tuition, are sixty-five guineas a year, with five guineas as an entrance fee.
The Queen's Scholars live together in the college, and are distinguished by cap and gown and white neckcloth; in the Abbey they wear white surplices, as being part of the foundation of the collegiate church. The Dean and Chapter are the guardians of the college, and administer its revenues. Among the muniments of the college there are, doubtless, many curious items which would show the manner in which its domestic arrangements have been carried out. Here is one of them. In 1606 an "Act of the Dean and Chapter" enacts that "trial be made of the burning of sea-coals in the kitchen for one year."
Since 1872 the studentships at Oxford and the scholarships at Cambridge have been thrown open to competition among the whole school. The foundation still consists of the Queen's Scholars, forty in number, who are elected by examination at Whitsuntide in each year, the old system of "challenges" being still retained to a modified extent, as stated above. They must be under fifteen years of age, and must have been in the school already for a year at least.
The system of "challenges," of which we have spoken, and by which admission into college was gained, is thus described by Dean Liddell, who was formerly head-master of Westminster School:—"It partakes somewhat of the nature of the old academic disputations. All the candidates for vacant places in college are presented to the master in the order of their forms. . . . The two lowest boys come up before the head-master, having prepared a certain portion of Greek Epigrams and Ovid's Metamorphoses, which has been set to them a certain number of hours before. In preparing these passages they have the assistance of certain senior boys, who are called their 'helps.' With these boys, too, it should be remarked, that they have been working for weeks or months beforehand in preparation for the struggle. The lower of the two boys is the challenger. He calls on the boy whom he challenges to translate the passage set them, and if he can correct any fault in translating he takes his place. The upper boy now becomes the challenger, and proceeds in the same way. When the translation is finished, the challenger—whichever of the two boys happens to be left in that position—has the right of putting questions in grammar, and if the challengee cannot answer them and the challenger answers them correctly, the former loses his place. In this way they attack each other until their stock of questions is exhausted. The 'helps' stand by during the challenge, and act as counsel to their 'men' in case there be any doubt as to the correctness of a question or an answer. The head-master sits by as Moderator and decides the point at issue. The boy who, at the end of the challenge or contest between the two boys, is found to have finally retained his place, has subsequently the opportunity of challenging the boy next above him in the list of candidates for admission, and of thus fighting his way up through the list of competitors. The struggle ordinarily lasts from six to eight weeks; the ten who are highest at its close obtain admission to the foundation in the order in which they stand."
The school is at present divided into eight sections—namely, "the Sixth Form," the "Remove," the "Shell," the "Upper," "Middle," and "Lower Fifth" Forms, the "Fourth" Form, and the "Under School," composed of the "Third" and "Second" Forms. Each form except the Sixth is subdivided into an upper and lower division. Boys being no longer admitted at a very tender age, the "First" Form has disappeared. The boys are also distributed into other classes for mathematics and for modern languages, and all the school is now obliged to learn either drawing or vocal music.
The school has fluctuated considerably in its numbers. It appears to have been at its height in 1729, when it had 439 scholars. Two years later there were 377, and in 1771 only 248. The numbers stood about that ratio, now a little higher and then again lower, till 1818, when they reached a maximum of 324. They decreased rapidly from that date down to 1841, when they were only 67, from which they have risen again steadily and gradually up to above 200.
In this present period of change, it will not be a matter of surprise to our readers to hear that it has been more than once proposed to remove Westminster School into the country for the sake of "green fields and pastures new," and that other proposals have been made for abolishing the college as a separate institution and house, and to turn its funds into exhibitions open to competition and tenable by boys in any of the boarding houses. The masters of the school, however, have almost one and all condemned the latter change, and the religio loci has hitherto offered insuperable obstacles to the carrying out of the former project, although the sister public school of the Charterhouse has more than doubled the number of its scholars since its removal from the heart of the City to the Surrey hills.
With regard to the removal of the college into the country, we may here remark that the second dean of Queen Elizabeth's nomination, Dr. Goodman, took one useful measure of precaution against the plague on behalf of the school and scholars. Happening to hold the prebend of Chiswick, he obtained for his church the privilege of being tenant in perpetuity of the prebendal estate, in order that it might afford a place of refuge for both masters and scholars, in case of an outbreak of that epidemic, setting apart for their use his house at Chiswick. According to the Lansdowne MSS., the house or "hospital" at Chiswick was built at the cost of £500. We shall probably have an opportunity of describing it hereafter, when we reach Chiswick. It may be interesting to learn that this ancient structure was often used by the scholars in former times, and that it was not pulled down until about the year 1870. The fund raised by its sale is set aside by the Governing Body to be applied to the payment of expenses incurred for the medical care and maintenance of the Queen's Scholars in time of sickness.
In Elizabeth's time it appears that the invalid scholars were sent down to Whethamstead, near St. Albans, under the charge of one of the prebendaries, who was to be paid twenty pence a week for his expenses.
On one occasion, in Elizabeth's reign, the school was removed to Putney, from June till Michaelmas, no doubt on account of some fever or plague breaking out. In 1569 the school was dispersed on account of the plague, from September 23 till the eve of All Saints' Day. The same occurred again in 1603.
Dean Goodman appears to have benefited the school in other ways also, collecting the scholars into one spacious chamber, and making regulations for their support and maintenance. During the rebellion, and the rule of the Puritan fanatics, the school appears to have been dispersed for a time, though subsequently, in 1649, provision was made by Act of Parliament for its continuance.
Westminster School is not separately endowed with lands and possessions, but is attached to the general foundation of the collegiate church, so far as it relates to the support of its forty "King's Scholars," as the boys on the foundation are called. These King's Scholars have their meals in the college hall, and sleep in a large dormitory, which is now cut up into little cells, or cubicula, by wooden partitions. The school, we may add, is often called, in formal documents of the last century, "the King's School in Westminster."
Dean Stanley says that, as one not bred at Westminster, he has forborne to enter into the history of the school. This is a serious loss, and he merely refers to the "Census Alumnorum Westmonasteriensium," and "Lusus Alteri Westmonasterienses," and to articles in Blackwood's Magazine for July and September, 1866. He expressly says, however, that "to Elizabeth, as to a second foundress, is ascribed the independent formation of the chapter with the school under the new title, which it has borne ever since, of the 'Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster.'" Henceforth the institution became, strictly speaking, a great academical as well as an ecclesiastical body. The old dormitory of the monks was divided into two compartments, each destined to serve a distinct collegiate purpose. "The smaller portion was devoted to the library," as Dean Stanley states, "and the larger part to the schoolroom, which, though rebuilt almost from the floor in modern times, still covers the same space. . . . . The monastic granary which, under Dean Benson, had still been retained for the corn of the chapter, now became, and continued for nearly two hundred years, the college dormitory."
The following is an extract from "the Acts of the Dean and Chapter," 1599, May 7:—"It is decreed by Mr. Dean and the Prebendaries present, that in respect that the now school-house is too low, and too little to receive the number of scholars, that the old dorter (dormitory) of late years being to be made a larger school, shall be with all convenient speed turned to this good use for the benefit of the scholars, by such charitable contributions as shall be gathered for the finishing thereof."
The College Hall, which serves as a refectory for the King's Scholars, was originally the refectory of the abbot's house, and dates from the reign of Edward III. From the archives of the church it appears that it was built by Nicholas Littlington, the same to whom the Jerusalem Chamber and a large part of the Deanery are ascribed. It is a very handsome Gothic building, adjoining the Jerusalem Chamber, and has still the ancient louvre of five centuries ago. On each side are two long and massive tables of chestnut wood, taken from the wreck of one of the vessels belonging to the Spanish Armada. In the "election" week there is a dinner in this hall, given by the Dean and Chapter to the electors, the masters of the school, and as many old "Westminsters" as the hall will hold, on which occasion Latin epigrams are recited by the "King's Scholars."
The schoolroom is a spacious but gloomy apartment, extending behind the lower end of the
eastern cloister, and above some of the most
ancient parts of the Abbey, the chief of which is
the Pyx Chamber. It was originally the dormitory
of the monks, and it still retains much of its
original character. It has a very handsome Gothic
roof of wood, but the windows are modern insertions. The roof is supported by iron bars, the
centre one of which formerly divided the upper
from the lower school. Of this bar, however, we
shall have more to say presently. Its walls on
every side bear, carved in stone, the names of "Old
Westminsters," with the dates of their leaving.
The schoolroom is thus described by a writer in
the Gentleman's Magazine, in the year 1739:—
"Fast by, an old but noble fabric stands,
No vulgar work, but raised by princely hands;
Which, grateful to Eliza's memory, pays,
In living monuments, an endless praise.
High, placed above, two royal lions stand,
The certain sign of courage and command.
If to the right you then your steps pursue,
An honour'd room employs and charms your view:
There Busby's awful picture decks the place,
Shining where once he shone a living grace.
Beneath the frame, in decent order placed,
The walls by various authors' works are graced.
Fixed to the roof, some curious laurels show
What they obtained who wrote the sheets below.
Fixed to support the roof above, to brave,
To stem the tide of Time's tempestuous wave,
Nine stately beams their spacious arches show,
And add a lustre to the school below."
The writer, who appears to have been a pupil
at Westminster in the mastership of Dr. Freind,
goes on to describe as follows the different classes
of the school:—
"Ranged into seven distinct, the classes lie,
Which with the Pleiades in lustre vie.
Next to the door the first and least appears,
Designed for seeds of youth and tender years;
The second next your willing notice claims,
Her members more extensive, more her aims.
Thence a step nearer to Parnassus' height,
Look 'cross the school, the third employs your sight;
There Martial sings, there Justin's works appear,
And banish'd Ovid finds protection there.
From Ovid's tales transferr'd, the fourth pursues
Books more sublimely penn'd, more noble views:
Here Virgil shines; here youth is taught to speak
In different accents of the hoarser Greek.
Fifth: these more skill'd and deeper read in Greek,
From various books can various beauties seek.
The sixth, in every learned classic skill'd,
With nobler thoughts and brighter notions fill'd,
From day to day with learned youth supplies
And honours both the Universities.
Near these the Shell's (fn. 1) high concave walls appear,
Where Friend in state sits pleasingly severe:
Him as our ruler and our king we own;
His rod his sceptre, and his chair his throne."
Many old customs have been, and still are, kept up in the school. For instance, Latin prayers, including the "Pater Noster" and the "Gratia Domini Nostri," are still said at the beginning and end of school, both in the morning and afternoon. The prayers are said by the captain of the school and three monitors in turn, each taking a week. The monitor of the week kneels in the centre of the school, with his face turned to the east; the head-master, the usher, and the other masters kneeling in file behind him. There can be little doubt that these customs were derived, and have been handed down unchanged, from the old days before the Reformation.
The dormitory, already mentioned, is a lofty but dreary-looking room, first erected for the King's Scholars by the Earl of Burlington, at the time when the celebrated Bishop Atterbury was Dean of Westminster. A thousand pounds had been left for this purpose by Sir Edward Hannes, one of the physicians in ordinary to Queen Anne, who had received his education at this school. But this legacy was not sufficient to meet the estimated expense, and the dormitory, in consequence, remained unexecuted until Atterbury revived the project, and procured a memorial to be presented by the Chapter to George I., running thus: "The Bishop of Rochester, Dean of Westminster, and the Chapter of that church, humbly represent to your Majesty, that Queen Elizabeth, of glorious memory, founded the college of Westminster, which has in all times since been highly favoured by your Majesty's royal ancestors, and has bred up great numbers of men, useful both in Church and State; among whom are several who have the honour to serve your Majesty in high stations: that the dormitory of the said college is in so ruinous a condition that it must of necessity be forthwith rebuilt, the expenses of which building (besides other charges that may thereby be occasioned) will, according to the plan now humbly presented to your Majesty, amount to upwards of £5,000. As a foundation for raising this sum, a legacy has been left by one who was a member of this college; and there is good reason to believe that divers persons of quality, who owe their education to this place, may be disposed to favour this design, if they shall be incited by your Majesty's royal example. The said Bishop and Chapter therefore humbly hope that your Majesty will, as an encouragement to learning, be pleased to bestow your royal bounty on this occasion in such measure as to your Majesty's high wisdom shall seem proper."
The king was pleased to respond to this memorial by the gift of £1,000 towards the desired object; the Prince of Wales contributed £500; the Parliament voted £1,200, and William Maurice, Esq., gave £500. The new building was at length commenced, on the west side of the college gardens, from the design of Boyle, Earl of Burlington, who personally superintended the works, but it was not erected until after a long Chancery suit as to the site, which came to an end in 1723. It is in a portion of this building, fitted up for the occasion as a theatre, that the Latin plays are annually represented by the King's Scholars.
We find that in nearly all the large schools which grew up under the shadow of the mediæval Church, it was customary at Christmas to perform plays of one kind or another, partly illustrative of the mysteries of the Christian religion, including "miracle plays" from the Bible, and legends of the early saints, and partly others of a purely secular and classical kind. At Westminster School it is a custom which dates from the foundation of the school itself, and is, indeed, prescribed by the royal foundress in the statutes. Before Christmas, yearly, three nights are set apart for the performance of a play from Terence or Plautus, the youthful actors being dressed up in the conventional costume of Athenian or Roman citizens, slaves, &c., and some sustaining the female parts. There are added to the performance a prologue and epilogue, also in Latin; the former recounting the events of interest to the school during the past twelve months, the latter satirising almost all the political and social subjects of the day. One end of the old dormitory is temporarily converted into a stage, and some admirable scenery, suited to the rather limited list of plays which are perormed by the boys, is brought into use. The former scenery, contrived under Garrick's directions, was the gift of a master of the school, Dr. Markham, afterwards Archbishop of York, and of a late Dean of Westminster, Dr. Vincent. The present scenery was painted and presented to Westminster School by the late eminent artist and architect, Mr. C. R. Cockerell, R.A. In 1873 the theatrical apparatus and scenery was repaired, and a new stage and auditorium added, by subscription among "Old Westminsters," at the cost of nearly £500. Large crowds of visitors flock to see the "Westminster Play," a spacious side box being reserved for the ladies.
Those who have followed the course of the Westminster Plays for something like half a century may have observed how curiously they reflect the change that has taken place in the taste and feelings of the general public. When correctness of costume was but little regarded on the English stage, and in farces supposed to represent the manners of (say) 1825, elderly gentlemen were attired after the fashion of Hogarth's pictures. The stage here was the scene of still more violent incongruities—Simo and Chremes, responsible Attic citizens, appeared in wigs and long waistcoats, as elders of the time of George II.; Davus was a smart footman, with red plush breeches and gold lace; Pamphilus exulted in his satin breeches and crescent-shaped opera hat; while Charinus, more modest, was content with a frock-coat and trousers. When the tunic and the chlamys took the place of habiliments that were inconsistent not only with the period represented by the fable, but likewise with each other, the reform of the Westminster Play might almost have been called a revolution.
However, for many years after they had put on the proper clothes, the Athenians, old and young, of St. Peter's, continued to disport themselves before the shabbiest of scenes, while their intervals of repose were marked by the shabbiest of dropcurtains, and two unsightly busts, intended for Terence and Plautus, seemed grimly to superintend the entertainment.
It has been more than once proposed to abolish the Westminster Play; but the suggestion has always called forth so much opposition that the reformers on this point have been completely overpowered by the conservative element, which is strong both in old and in present "Westminsters."
We may add here that it was as a Westminster school-boy, under Dr. Busby, that Barton Booth, the distinguished actor and contemporary of Betterton, earned his first laurels by his acting in a Latin play at this school. About to proceed to the University, he absconded and joined the company of Mr. Ashbury, the manager of the Dublin Theatre.
An almost complete collection of the Prologues and Epilogues of the plays since the year 1704, has been printed in two volumes under the title of "Lusus Westmonasterienses," to which the editor has prefixed what may be called a literary history of such performances, not only at Westminster but at Oxford and Cambridge, and in our Inns of Court. Along with these are printed a variety of Latin, Greek, and English verses and epigrams recited from time to time in the "Declamations" at the annual Whitsuntide elections. The Prologues, as a series, are chiefly interesting to "Old Westminsters," since they dwell chiefly on the leading events connected with the life of the school and the minster to which it is an adjunct. The Epilogues, on the other hand, are of wider and more general interest; being for the most part mirrors of the manners and customs of the times, and touching in a humorous way on such subjects as divorces, duels, balloons, dress, Gretna Green unions, the Marriage Act passed in the year 1753, quack auctions, public amusements, civic banquets, doctors, lottery jobbers, railway frauds, Parliamentary discussions, and indeed almost every conceivable subject. From these volumes we learn one or two curious facts about the Play; such as that in 1745 it was omitted on account of the panic caused by the Scottish Rebellion, and in 1782 on account of the death of Prince Alfred; and that it was Dr. Williamson who, in the second year of Her Majesty's reign, introduced the youthful actors upon the stage in Greek and Roman dresses instead of in the comparatively modern costume of the Georgian era. In 1726 the Prologue bewails the ruinous state of the old dormitory, whilst those of other years celebrate the accession of George III.; the birth of his eldest son, afterwards George IV.; the deaths of Harley, Earl of Oxford, and of the Dukes of Cumberland and Newcastle; the burning of the first Opera House; and the death of Nelson.
A school oration, probably a prologue or epilogue to one of the Plays, was pirated in 1716 by the notorious Edmund Curll, and printed by him with all sorts of blunders in the Latin. The boys accordingly invited him to the school to receive a corrected copy, but instead of giving it to him they treacherously whipped him and then tossed him in a blanket.
We have said that the dormitory is made to serve as a theatre every Christmas for the Westminster Play; and half a century ago it was a dreary, comfortless chamber, not cut up, as now, into small and comfortable cubicula. It is said that the Prince of Wales, when Prince Regent, soon after the battle of Waterloo, attended "the Play" one evening, and was shown by the Marquis of Anglesey the simple and homely beds in the dormitory. "You don't mean to tell me," was his remark, "that Henry Paget ever slept in such a bed as that!" As the marquis, when plain Henry Paget, was not one of the King's Scholars, he did not actually sleep in the dormitory, but in one of the boarding-houses; but his brother Arthur did; and there is no reason to believe that at that date there was much difference between the college and the private boarding-houses in respect of creature comforts. The Duke of Wellington, with his known love of simplicity, would have thought those beds a good nursery for soldiers not of the "feather-bed" stamp.
Under the dormitory are sitting-rooms and studies for the senior boys; and a house attached serves as a sanatorium for invalids, superintended by a resident matron. Although built only in the early part of the last century, the building has a much more venerable aspect. The "College Gardens," which the dormitory now faces, are no longer used (as their name might seem to imply) by the boys of the college (who are only allowed to enter them once a year, in the "election" week), but are appropriated by the canons as a place of private retirement and recreation for their own families.
As late as the seventeenth century the College Garden contained fruit-trees and an orchard, which was carefully tended. The fruit-trees were ordered to be cut down and superseded by lime-trees in 1708.
In 1751, some persons having improperly got possession of keys admitting into the Garden of the Abbey or College Garden, it was ordered by an "Act of the Dean and Chapter," under date November 9, "that the lock thereof be altered, and that no key be allowed but to the gardener only, excepting that the Dean may lend his key to his Excellency, Count Zinzendorf, who lives over against the said gate, whilst his mansion-house at Chelsea is preparing for him, and that for his excellency's private use only."
The old dormitory was a Gothic building with a high pitched roof, and a row of pointed doublelancet windows; the entrance being under a lofty gateway, also of the pointed style. Good prints of the old and new dormitories, showing the costume of the scholars in the middle of the eighteenth century, will be found prefixed to the "Alumni Westmonasterienses," published in 1852. The first of these dormitories, as we learn from the preface to the book, was originally built as a granary for the monks. The Earl of Burlington presented the model, and condescended to survey the building, thus realising the words of Pope, "Who builds like Boyle?" The spare vaults situated beneath the old dormitory were let for wine-cellars.
The accommodation provided for the Queen's Scholars, as we learn from the report of the Public Schools Commission, until lately was very imperfect. No breakfast at all was provided for them, and they, therefore, had recourse for that meal to the boarding-house to which they had belonged formerly. The one large dormitory was their sitting-room by day and their sleeping-room by night. Under the new arrangements, this monastic room is now divided into forty sleeping places, ranged on either side of a central passage, and closed in by curtains and wooden partitions. Some sitting-rooms and private studies were at the same time made below. The Queen's Scholars now not only dine, but breakfast and sup in the College Hall.
At present the Dean and Chapter defray the cost of the maintenance and tuition of the Queen's Scholars, each of whom, however, has to pay £20 a year for washing, the use of the sanatorium, and college servants. The total school expenses of a boarder may be set down at £100 a year.
We learn from Bentley's "Correspondence" that, in the earlier days of his mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, "the Westminster scholars got the major part of the fellowships" in that distinguished seat of learning, but he complains that subsequently the school did not quite maintain its character.
Evelyn has the following entry in his "Diary," under date 1661, May 13th:—"I heard and saw such exercises at the election of scholars at Westminster Schools to be sent to the University, in Latin and Greek, Hebrew and Arabic, in themes and extempry verses, as wonderfully astonished me in such youths, with such readiness and wit, some of whom not above twelve or thirteen years of age. Pity it is that what they attaine here so ripely, they either not retain or do not improve more considerably when they come to be men, though many of them do; and no less is to be blamed their odd pronouncing of Latin, so that 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. Allestree, Deane of Westminster, and any that would." It is much to be regretted that our insular mode of pronouncing Latin, so censured by Evelyn, is still kept up not only at Westminster, but at all the rest of our chief public schools.
"Hereupon," writes Pope to the Earl of Burlington, in 1714, "I inquired of his son. The lad," says he, "has fine parts. . . . I spare for nothing in his education at Westminster. Pray, don't you think Westminster to be the best school in England? Most of the late Ministry came out of it, so did many of this Ministry."
A good story is told, illustrating the rivalry
which has existed for three centuries between
Westminster and Eton Schools. It is said that
the Etonians on one occasion sent the Westminster
boys an hexameter verse composed of only two
words, challenging them to produce a pentameter
also in two words so as to complete the sense.
The Eton line ran thus:—
In the last century the education here, as at most of our public schools, was almost wholly confined to the dead languages. Mrs. Piozzi, in her "Johnsoniana," quotes the words of Dr. Johnson on this subject. "A boy should never be sent to Eton or Westminster before he is twelve years old at the least; for if in the years of his babyhood he escapes that general and transcendent knowledge without which life is perpetually put to a stand, he will never get it at a public school, where, if he does not learn Latin and Greek, he learns nothing."
In the last century, as we learn by constant allusions in Horace Walpole's letters, most of the young nobility who were not sent to Eton, were brought up at Westminster; and in the last generation Westminster was the school of such great families as the Russells, Petties, Dundases, and Pagets. In this respect, however, during the last half century it has been entirely superseded by Harrow; and the fact that it is situated in the heart of the metropolis has operated to its disadvantage so far as the accession of boarders or "oppidans" is concerned. Whilst the Charterhouse has doubled and even trebled its numbers by effecting a removal into the country, the authorities of Westminster have resolutely adhered to the ancient spot which has been the home of the school for eight centuries, and refused to exchange it for "green fields and pastures new." The result is, as might have been expected, that its numbers remain, and must remain, at a low ebb—comparatively low, that is, with reference to the other large public schools.
The new arrangements of the Public School Commissioners have not made any alteration in the number of the "King's Scholars," as the boys on the foundation of the college were termed; they are still forty; they are, however, elected wholly instead of partly by merit; their merit being ascertained by an examination on paper and viva voce, combined with a system of "challenges," of which we have spoken above. In order to be elected "into college," a boy must be under fifteen years of age, and also have been in the school as a "town boy" for a year at the least. At the age of eighteen the King's Scholars are chosen off to Christ Church, Oxford, and to Trinity College, Cambridge, after another examination, which fairly tests them in regard to scholarship and mathematics.
Until the college was thrown open to competition, the numbers of the school stood usually at about a hundred, but since that time they have largely increased, both as respects day scholars and boarders. There are several boarding-houses kept by various masters, and the total of the school now averages about two hundred boys, and its numbers show a tendency to rise rather than to fall.
The monitorial system and its co-relative, the "fagging" system, still prevail in the school, and are found to work satisfactorily, as the limits within which "fagging" is allowed are strictly defined; and in case of any abuse of power by the senior boys there is a right of appeal to the head-master open to the aggrieved party. It seems to be agreed on all hands that this twofold practice is an essential part of the system of an English public school, and it certainly bears the very strictest analogy to the facts of after-life, whatever be the calling or profession that is chosen on reaching manhood.
WESTMINSTER SCHOOL (continued).
Noted Scholars and Eminent Masters—Cowper and the "Silver Pence" for the Best Writers of Latin Verse—"Glorious" John Dryden—Cowley—Hackluyt, the Divine and Geographer—Sir Francis Burdett's Expulsion from School—Warren Hastings, and the Cup given to the King's Scholars—Dr. Busby—A "Skit" on the School—The Trifler—Collection of Ancient and Modern Coins—The "Elizabethan" Club—Special Privileges enjoyed by the King's Scholars—Throwing the Pancake on Shrove Tuesday—A Generous Return for a Schoolfellow's Kindness—Athletic Sports—Aquatic Contests—Strange Origin of School Slang—Dean's Yard—"Mother Beakley's"—The Noble Art of Self-defence—Window-gardening—Discovery of Ancient Architectural Remains—Distinguished Residents in Dean's Yard—Queen Anne's Bounty—Henry Purcell.
Among the most eminent of "Old Westminsters" are reckoned the antiquary, William Camden; the Latin verse writer, Vincent (or, as he was termed by his contemporaries, Vinny) Bourne, the best of modern Latin poets except Milton; and Dr. Busby—all three of whom were masters as well.
Westminster can show a goodly list of scholars against its rival public schools, as will be seen when we mention the names of Cowley, Dryden, George Herbert, William Cartwright, Nathaniel Lee, Prior, Cowley, Rowe, Giles Fletcher, Jasper Mayne, Churchill, Dyer, Cowper, Southey, and Richard Cumberland, in the world of letters; Sir Harry Vane; the third Marquis of Lansdowne, Sir James Graham, the first Lord Colchester, and Earl Russell, among statesmen; Sir Christopher Wren; the eloquent and witty preacher, Dr. South; Bishop Atterbury; the celebrated divine and geographer, Hackluyt; the historians Gibbon, Camden, and Froude; the elder Colman; John Locke, the philosopher; Bunbury, whose prints of the early part of George III.'s reign are now so much in demand; John Horne Tooke; Brown Willis, the antiquary; Montagu, Earl of Halifax; Pulteney, Earl of Bath; Murray, Earl of Mansfield; Chief Justice Eardley Wilmot; Archdeacon Nares; Sir George Rose, the wit; and last not least, the first Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings. To come to more recent times, the first Lord Combermere and the first Marquis of Anglesey—both Field-Marshals in the army—were brought up at Westminster School: so also were the second Marquis of Westminster, Dr. Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. T. V. Short, Bishop of St. Asaph, and Dr. G. E. L. Cotton, some time Master of Marlborough College, and afterwards Bishop of Calcutta.
It is well known that Ben Jonson was a scholar
here; but it is not equally known that he was sent
there by the friendship of Camden, at that time
second master or usher. "The obligation," as
Mr. Robert Bell tells us in his biography of the
poet, "was never forgotten by Jonson, who retained to the end of his life the most affectionate
regard for his early benefactor and instructor."
He therefore thus apostrophises him:—
"Camden! most reverend head, to whom I owe
All that I am in arts, all that I know."
Here Ben Jonson "wrote all his verses," says the author of "Biographiana," first in prose, as his master taught him to do; saying that verses stood by sense without either colours or accent"—meaning doubtless that the goodness of verses must be judged by their sense and meaning, not by their sound.
As will be seen by the names mentioned above, Westminster School has been particularly rich in poets. Cowper was a pupil here, in the same boarding-house, as he informs us, with Richard Cumberland the author. In explanation of the motto from Cowper which heads this chapter, it should be said that, in the school-days of that poet, it was customary to receive a silver groat for a good exercise of Latin verses. An extraordinarily good set of verses sometimes had the further honour of being sent round the school to be read. "The other day," writes Cowper, "I sent my imagination upon a trip thirty years behind me. She was very obedient, and at last set me down on the sixth form at Westminster. Accordingly I was a schoolboy in high favour with the master, received a silver groat 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." Southey, who entered Westminster a little later, tells us that this latter custom was no longer observed in his day, but that "sweet remuneration was still dispensed in silver pence," and that his own "first literary profits were thus obtained"—namely, by his English verse exercises. We learn, however, that the custom is still retained—though only once a year—of reciting verses composed by the boys on themes previously chosen by the headmaster, and announced to the school. The composers of the best lines on these occasions are still rewarded with silver pennies or silver threepenny pieces, according to their merit.
"Glorious" John Dryden was admitted a King's Scholar under the head-mastership of Dr. Busby, though the exact dates of his entry and of his leaving school are not known. The wooden form with his name cut upon it still remains in the school-room. Sir Walter Scott, in his "Life of Dryden," tells us that whilst a boy at school he translated the third Satire of Persius into English verse, and that many similar exercises composed by him before he was seventeen were in the hands of Dr. Busby, whom he always treated with great and heartfelt respect, addressing him in his letters, long after he ceased to be his pupil, as "honoured sir." Another of his poetical productions here was an elegy on the death of Henry Lord Hastings, one of his schoolfellows, which was printed in the "Lacrymæ Musarum."
Hackluyt, the divine and geographer, expressly tells us in the dedication of his great work to Walsingham how much he owed to his early training at Westminster. He tells us that his love of maritime discovery and the researches of naval science first displayed itself when he was a Queen's Scholar in "that fruitfull nurserie," during his occasional visits to a cousin in the Middle Temple, where he delighted to pore over and to ask questions respecting the maps and books of geographical science which were scattered about his kinsman's chamber. His taste was happily fostered at school by a thoughtful and sympathetic master, and at Oxford he was able to follow up the subject by more extended study, reading over by degrees "whatsoever printed or written discoveries and voyages he found extant either in Greeke, Latine, Italian, Spanish, Portugall, French, or Englishe languages." He died in 1616, aged sixty-three, and was buried in the Abbey.
We may also name among the scholars here, Drs. Fell and Cyril Jackson, both Deans of Christ Church; Philip Henry, the Nonconformist; and the eccentric Edward Wortley Montagu. Of Montagu the story is told that he ran away from the school, and served for more than a year as apprentice to a fisherman at Blackwall; then went back to Westminster, but ran away again, this time effecting his escape to Oporto. He was M.P. in after life for Huntingdonshire and for Bossiney; he died in 1776.
Sir Francis Burdett, the future popular member for the City of Westminster, was educated at Westminster School, and used to tell in after life how he too had run away from it in company with another youngster of his own age; it is, however, on record that he was sent away for taking part in a rebellion against the head-master, Dr. Smith. Such is the goodly roll of those poets, theologians, scholars, warriors and statesmen who, when young, were here first qualified to serve God and their country, in Church and in State.
We have mentioned above, amongst the more celebrated scholars educated here, the name of Warren Hastings, the able, energetic, and successful Governor-General of India, whose impeachment before the House of Commons in Westminster Hall occupied seven years, and ended in a virtual acquittal. He went into college as head of his election in 1746. At Westminster he became a great friend of the future Lord Mansfield, whose friendship lasted though life. On leaving Westminster he was destined at first for Oxford; but the offer of a writership in Bengal coming at the moment turned his ambition in another channel, and his splendid Indian career was the result. If any of our readers desire to form a general opinion on the vexed question of Warren Hastings' conduct in India, they had better read Lord Thurlow's summing up of the evidence brought forward against him: it will be found in the Lords' Debates for February, March, and April, 1795.
It may not be out of place here to allude to the famous "Warren Hastings' Cup," which was given to the King's Scholars. It bears the following inscription:—"Alumnis Regiis Scholæ Westmin. ipsi plerique Alumni d. d. d. Warren Hastings, Elijah Impey, George Templer," &c., twenty-two names in all. During the dinners given in College Hall in election week, and on other great occasions, this cup, it is perhaps needless to say, is brought into use.
Of the celebrated Dr. Busby, head-master here in the reigns of Charles II. and James II., many anecdotes are told. Amongst others it is said that when the king one day came to see the school, he persisted in keeping his hat on his head in the royal presence. One of the lords or gentlemen in waiting remonstrated with him on this breach of courtly etiquette; but the worthy doctor replied that he had done it on purpose, for "it would never do for his boys to think that there was anybody superior to himself." Dr. Busby used to boast that out of the then bishops sixteen had been educated by him. Strange to say, Dr. Busby enjoyed the reputation of being fonder of the cane than any previous head-master, and we find a certain gentleman saying, "Dr. Busby was a great man! he whipped my grandfather, a very great man! I should have gone to him myself, if I had not been a blockhead; a very great man!" One would almost like to inquire whether the use of the cane and the making of bishops have elsewhere gone hand in hand. "A wonderful fruitbearing rod was that of Busby's," sarcastically observes Thackeray, as he recounts the public appointments which in the good old days of Queen Anne were bestowed on that reverend doctor's distinguished pupils. Dr. Busby, whose name and wig have both passed into proverbs, died in 1695, and was buried in the Abbey.
The Rev. Mr. Mason, in one of his letters to Horace Walpole, tells an anecdote which shows to how great an extent Westminster School was regarded during the last century as a school for dignitaries of the Church. He says, "There was a bishop—I think it was Sprat—who thanked God that he became a bishop, though he was not educated at Westminster." He adds, "I, on the contrary, would not have been educated there for the best pair of lawn sleeves in the kingdom. But de gustibus non disputandum."
In the Craftman, published in 1727, is the following advertisement, put in without note or comment, but clearly a "skit" on the school:—"This is to give notice to all noblemen with large families and small estates, decay'd gentlemen, gamesters and others, that in the great school in Westminster boys are thoroughly instructed in all parts of useful learning. The said school is furnish'd with a master and one usher, who does all the business himself, and keeps his scholars in such order that the master never attends till upon some great occasion. This school is of a more excellent foundation than any that are yet known; for the scholars, instead of paying for their learning, are rewarded by every lesson that the usher gives them, provided they are perfect in it, and have it at their fingers' ends. N.B. This is no free school."
Like Harrow and Eton of the present day, Westminster School would seem formerly to have had a publication of its own, for we find that the Trifler, a new "periodical miscellany by Timothy Touchstone, of St. Peter's College, Westminster," was published by Robinson, of Paternoster Row, in 1788. It seems to have been short-lived, as it was completed in twenty-five parts, forming a single volume.
Thanks to the liberality of Sir David Dundas and Mr. C. W. Williams-Wynn, the college is in possession of a fine collection of ancient and modern coins, which has been further increased by purchases from the duplicates of the British Museum.
That Westminster as a school is proud of its royal foundress may be inferred from the fact that a club of old Westminster men was established in the year 1863, called the "Elizabethan," and that the same name is given to a college magazine (not unlike the Etonian and the Carthusian of a former generation) edited by the scholars themselves. The object of the Elizabethan Club is to keep up the religio loci in every way, and maintain the esprit de corps by celebrating an annual Westminster dinner, by encouraging the college athletic sports, and other games, rowing, cricket, racquets, football, &c., and by collecting portraits, biographies, and other memorials of former scholars of the school.
The boys of St. Peter's College have enjoyed one or two special privileges on account of their close connection with the Abbey and Palace of Westminster, and of being a royal foundation. For instance, they have the right of being present with a member's order to hear the debates in the House of Commons—a privilege, as we know, highly valued by such men as Lord John Russell and Sir James Graham—and also that of having seats in the Abbey at the coronation of the sovereign. Thus in an elaborate "Account of the Ceremonies observed in the Coronation of King James II. and his Consort," published in 1760, we find it mentioned that, "when the Queen entered the choir, the King's Scholars of Westminster School, in number forty, all in surplices, being placed in a gallery adjoining to the great organ, entertained her Majesty with this short prayer or salutation, 'Vivat Regina' (naming her Majesty's name); which they continued to sing until his Majesty entered the choir, whom they entertained in like manner with this prayer or salutation, 'Vivat Rex' (naming his Majesty's name); which they continued to sing until his Majesty ascended the throne."
We have alluded in the previous chapter to the bar of iron which still divides the "upper" from the "lower" school. Over this bar, on Shrove Tuesday, the ceremony of "throwing the pancake" takes place. This curious custom is a very old one, but we have no account of its origin; and Brand mentions a similar custom as prevailing at Eton. On that day shortly before nine o'clock (if we may trust the statement of a writer in the Queen newspaper), the college cook, attired in the insignia of his office, white cap and apron, preceded by one of the vergers of the Abbey, enters the school-room with due form, bearing in a frying-pan an enormous pancake, which, if he succeeds in pitching it over the bar, is scrambled for by the whole school assembled on the other side, the boy who catches it receiving a sovereign from the headmaster. However successful the cook may be in accomplishing his part of the performance, it may easily be inferred that it is only on rare occasions that the pancake is fairly caught and conveyed off whole and entire. On one occasion we learn that the cook failed to send the fritter over the bar, and that it was caught on the wrong side. Whether the head-master felt bound to pay the cook his honorarium (prescribed by the statutes) of two guineas in consequence of this misfortune, we know not. The boy who caught it, we are further informed, "hid it in his clothes, as the Spartan boy hid the fox, and courageously retained it in spite of the fierce assaults of which he was the object. He conveyed it at last to the head-master's house, where the learned doctor, no doubt, was sitting in full canonicals and in breathless anxiety to await the issue of the cook's performance. Mr. H——was, however, refused payment of the guinea, on the plea that the cook had not thrown the pancake over the bar, and the affair was therefore null and void. Quick as had been Mr. H——'s movements, it would seem that those of the master were not less so, for that gentleman, with a laudable regard for the economical distribution of the Abbey funds, had dispatched a trusty messenger intimating that, in consequence of the cook's misfortune, the guinea might be saved."
The bar above mentioned originally had attached to it a curtain whereby "hangs a tale," related in the Spectator, No. 313. A boy is said to have saved his schoolfellow from Dr. Busby for having torn the curtain, by taking the blame upon himself. This boy, William Wake (the father of Archbishop Wake), was afterwards a colonel in the service of the King during the Civil War, and was a great sufferer in the royal cause. He joined in Penruddock's rebellion in 1665, and during his trial at Exeter was recognised by the commissioner who tried him as his old schoolfellow who had rendered the above service to him. Upon th[i]s the commissioner started off for London, and by his influence with the Protector succeeded in obtaining a pardon for his friend. The name of this man, who made so generous a return for his schoolfellow's kindness, is not known, but he is supposed to have been Serjeant Glynne, who took the most active part in the trial, and passed sentence on the prisoners.
Although situated in the metropolis, the Westminster School affords every opportunity for athletic sports. Racquets, football, and cricket have each their own ground assigned to them—the first two in Dean's Yard; the last in the large enclosure in Vincent Square, consisting of eight or nine acres, originally an open common forming part of what were called "Tothill Fields." But the favourite Westminster amusement has always been boating, which is still continued with as much zeal as ever, notwithstanding the number of steamers constantly plying on the Thames, which render the steering a more difficult matter than of old. There is an annual eight-oared match with Eton, which is Westminster's only rival on the water—no other of the public schools having the advantage of a river within reach. This match is looked forward to with the most intense interest and excitement during the whole rowing season.
It would be, of course, beyond our province to tell of the honours once won by Westminster boys as oarsmen, or at football; but to their prowess in the stern art of war the column in the Broad Sanctuary, facing the entrance to Dean's Yard, amply testifies; and the late Duke of Wellington always affirmed that the best officers on his staff had been public school boys.
In former days, when the river at Millbank was pure, the Westminster boys were able to practise rowing at their will; and so great was their aquatic prowess that at Oxford about the year 1827 the "Old Westminsters" made seven out of a crew of eight in the Christ Church boat when that boat was at the head of the river. In 1829, 1831, 1836, 1837, 1842, 1843, 1845, 1846, 1847, 1860, 1861, 1862, and 1864, the school contested the palm of the river with the Etonians, and not without frequent success. No race has taken place since the last-named date, the embankment of the Thames having effectually crippled the Westminster boys by depriving them of their boating quarters. A full account of these races will be found in the "Annual Report of the Elizabethan Club for 1871." The crews now keep their boats at Wandsworth, and thither they are conveyed by railway for practice nearly every day during the summer months. From the same source of information we learn that in a long summer day in 1825 a crew of Westminster boys rowed an eight-oared boat from the Horseferry to Windsor Bridge and back, about eighty-six miles, completing the distance in about twenty hours, including a stoppage for luncheon at Eton.
As an instance of the strange origin of the slang which is handed down by tradition from generation to generation in our public schools, we remark that the work "sky," which at Westminster denotes a boy or gamin of the streets, is derived from the classic "Volsci." It appears that in the feuds between the "town and gown" at Westminster in olden days the latter—as the gens togata, we suppose—styled themselves "Romans," and their foes "Volscians." With this explanation the abbreviation of "Volsci" into "sci" or "sky" becomes quite intelligible.
So many of the buildings in Dean's Yard are, or have been at some former period, closely connected with Westminster School, that no apology is needed for speaking of that ancient enclosure in this present chapter.
The ordinary public entrance to Dean's Yard is under a Gothic archway, which opens into the Broad Sanctuary. This archway is in the centre of a lofty range of stone-built mansions, of modern construction, but erected in a mediæval style of architecture, from the designs of Sir G. Gilbert Scott, in keeping with the venerable Abbey close by. The Broad Sanctuary (the name of which commemorates the right of sanctuary, of which we shall have more to say in our next chapter) adjoins the Jerusalem Chamber on the west, and forms the north side of Dean's Yard. The alterations and transformations that have been effected in this locality in recent years have been so great that, as a writer in the Builder of December, 1874, says, "when passing into the north-west angle of Dean's Yard, one finds his ingenuity somewhat taxed in attempting to identify the old with the present site."
Here, in former years, the time-worn mouldings of a broad arch, filled in with rubble and brickwork, indicated a remnant of the Gate House Prison, memorable as having been that from which the gallant Sir Walter Raleigh was taken to execution. Beside this prison, and in its rear, ran a small narrow lane leading down to the Almonry, with a hatch and wicket-gate on the left leading into Dean's Yard. On the right was a stonemason's yard, several small, but neatly-built tenements, in which quiet lodgings for gentlemen were advertised by the small card in the window; and these, with a public-house, terminated the length of Flood Street, and occupied the ground on which now stand the modern mediæval block of buildings above mentioned. "It was," says the writer already referred to, "a retired and quiet nook, the silence of which was only broken by the clink on the anvil of the neighbouring forge, and the noise of the mason's saw."
Immediately before us, in the angle made by Flood Street and Little Dean Street, stood the quaint old tart-shop so well known to "Westminsters" as "Mother Beakley's," and in describing this shop we cannot do better than quote the words of the Builder:—
"It was a little square tower of timber, lath, and plaster, pierced with several lights of leaden casements; but the lower, or shop window, was a curiosity of stout cross-beam and upright framing, the superficial contents of which more than equalled that of the yellow time-stained and discoloured glass which filled the spaces.
"Here the morning draught of milk was vended to the early scholar, for it was partly dairy, partly early breakfast-house, a place whence messages were taken, or to which they were brought, and parcels delivered. The descent to this primitive Temple of Diana was by several stone steps, for the pavement of the street was about level with the window-sill, and the paved kitchen presented a heterogeneous assemblage of caps, straps of books, hockey-sticks, rolls, cricket-balls, and milkcans, the presiding genius over which attended to the minor domestic requirements of the Westminster boy.
"Many a generation must have passed away during the existence of this relic, which had probably formed some portion of the eleemosynary buildings, and must have been a familiar object with the earliest scholars of the foundation. The primitive club-room must have been known to every boy that filled a place in Westminster School, from the days of Dr. Busby to those of Dr. Goodenough.
"In the old days there existed but a post and rail fence around it, and a short cut across it was frequently a temptation to the pedestrian; but woe to the trespasser if the boys were there. At that time, when the noble art of self-defence was fashionable, the Westminster boy was proud of displaying his prowess on any such occasion. There were no police then, and the population of the town could not have been one-half if a third of the present. A street-keeper or Bow-Street officer generally contrived to keep out of the way, and so the fight went on uninterruptedly until satisfaction had been obtained.
"On some such occasions an obstinate 'coaly' has been known to exercise the active muscular powers of a King's Scholar for a hour or more. If Greek met not Greek, he nevertheless objected neither to coaly, baker, dustman, sweep, nor other if trespasser, without further fear of the disgrace save that of being worsted in the encounter.
"A considerable amount of Vandalism mingled itself with what then passed for manly independent spirit. Within a quarter of a mile of the spot there existed a cock-pit, at which matches were fought at frequent intervals; and many a 'green coat and tops,' whilst betting on the barbarous sport of the time, would remember the locality in associations of his boyhood with his college experiences of the immediate neighbourhood.
"In passing through the Dean's Yard toward the cloisters you seem shut away from the noise and bustle of the world, and the Scholars' playground, so frequently the scene of dispute, is surrounded by an iron railing. Latterly, in the summer of each year the specimens of the window gardening in the neighbourhood are exhibited here, and prizes are awarded to the successful competitors in this humble but painstaking horticulture.
"The old watchman's box under the College wall has disappeared, and his lanthorn long since been extinguished. The street-keeper has been supplanted by the helmeted policeman, in whose belted tunic we trace no resemblance to the square and long-tailed skirts and chimney-pot hat of his antecedent brother in 1832.
"If many of our old relics have disappeared, much of coarseness and rudeness of manners has been swept away with them; and in the recollection of an 'old site' and comparing it with the present we feel that there has been a slow but vast change in the habits, feelings, and manners of the population; . . . but, as in the human constitution the too rapid or the too slow circulation will be found equally detrimental to health, we can only desire that the boon of progress may never disturb the good which lies at the bottom of many of our institutions, although much of the rubbish which has accumulated in and about them may with advantage be got rid of."
That Dean's Yard was the chief playground of
the boys before they obtained their ten acres in
Vincent Square, is evident from a "Declamation"
by Dean Vincent, dated 1800, and published in the
"Lusus Westmonasterienses." It shows, moreover,
that at that time there were tall and umbrageous
elms, under the shade of which the boys could
play, within the Abbey precincts.
"Has ædes juxta nostris patet area ludis,
Ulmorumque vetus protegit umbra locum.
Hic pueri, quoties Musæ gravis interruptum,
Haud indignanti Pallade, pendet opus,
Se fundunt apibus similes, quas vere Calymne
Nascenti multo pascit odora thymo:
Hic ludunt, volucrum ritu."
"During the progress of certain improvements carried out in 1815," says the Rev. Mackenzie Walcott, "some very ancient architectural remains were discovered in Dean's Yard, portions, according to long tradition, of an old granary converted into a dormitory; at right angles to it were the brewhouse and bakehouse." From the same authority we learn that Camden the antiquary lodged in the Gate House, by the Queen's Scholars' Chambers; and we are also told that he "kept a Welsh servant, to improve him in that language, for the understanding of our antiquities."
According to Alexander Nowell, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reign of Richard I., lived in a house opposite the school. Here, in 1673, was born Joseph Wilcocks, Dean of Westminster, and successively Bishop of Gloucester and Rochester, whom Pope Clement VIII. called "the blessed heretic." William Wake, Bishop of Lincoln (who was subsequently Primate), and Thomas Sprat, Bishop of Rochester, both resided in Dean's Yard in the early part of last century. Here, too, lived Thomas Carte, the historian; and also Samuel, the elder brother and master of Charles Wesley, when usher in Westminster School. The house of Samuel Wesley was his brother's resort when in town. When occupied by the Huttons, it was the scene of Mr. Wesley's memorable declaration of conversion and "becoming a Christian." "What?" cried a lady present, "Mr. Wesley, what a hypocrite you must be! we believed you to be a Christian years ago."
Charles Wesley, like his more celebrated brother John, was a very able preacher, and "possessed," say Messrs. Coke and Moore, in the Life of his brother, "a remarkable talent of uttering the most striking truths with simplicity and brevity." At an early period of his life he showed a talent and turn for writing verse; and most of the new hymns published by John Wesley in his various collections were of Charles's composition. "In these hymns," observes his brother, in one of his prefaces, "there is no doggerel, no botches, nothing put in to patch up the rhyme; no feeble expletives. Here are (allow me to say) both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language, and at the same time the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity."
Great alteration has been made in the appearance of Dean's Yard within the last half century, particularly on the north and west sides; and the central space, which, as above stated, formerly served as the playground for the boys, and is now known as "The Elms," has been covered with grass and railed round. We have given a view of it, looking towards the Abbey, on page 475. The old well, too, which was once remarkable for its spring of clear and never-failing water, was suddenly dried up in 1865 during the construction of the Metropolitan District Railway, which runs near the northern side of Westminster Abbey.
No. 3 in Dean's Yard is the office of Queen Anne's Bounty. This institution, which is not, perhaps, a charity in the ordinary sense of the word, was established by Act of Parliament in 1704, for the augmentation of poor livings. The name "Queen Anne's Bounty," therefore, is given to a fund appropriated to increase the incomes of the poorer clergy of England, created out of the first-fruits and tenths, which, before the Reformation, formed part of the Papal exactions from the clergy. "The first-fruits" are defined by a writer in "Chambers's Encyclopædia" as "the first whole year's profit of all spiritual preferments," and the "tenths" as "one-tenth of their annual profits, both chargeable according to the ancient declared value of the benefice; but the poorer livings are now exempted from the tax." Henry VIII., on abolishing the Papal authority, annexed both firstfruits and tenths to the Crown; but Queen Anne first formed them into a fund for the augmentation of poor livings. The Archbishops, Bishops, Deans, Speaker of the House of Commons, Master of the Rolls, Privy Councillors, lieutenants and custodes rotulorum of the counties, the Judges, Queen's Serjeants-at-law, Attorney and Solicitor-General, Advocate-General, Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of the two Universities, Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London, and mayors of the several cities; and by supplemental charter, the officers of the Board of Green Cloth, the Queen's Counsel, and the four clerks of the Privy Council, were made a corporation by the name of "The Governors of the Bounty of Queen Anne, for the Augmentation of the Maintenance of the Poor Clergy," and to this corporation was granted the revenue of first-fruits and tenths. The income is appropriated from year to year in capital sums, either to increase, by the accruing interest, the income of the incumbents, to purchase land for their benefit, to erect or rebuild parsonage-houses, to restore chancels when the incumbent is liable, to provide outhouses, but not to build or rebuild churches. The governors have also had the distribution of eleven sums of £100,000 each, voted by Parliament from 1809 to 1820, to augment the incomes of the poorer clergy. They present annually an account of their receipts and expenditure to Parliament.
In a house, now demolished, between Dean's Yard and the Almonry, lived and died, in 1695, the greatest of English composers, Henry Purcell. Born, it is generally supposed, in the city of Westminster, young Purcell was remarkable for precocity of talent, and seconded the liberality of Nature by his zeal and diligence. While yet a boy chorister in the Abbey he composed more than one anthem; and in 1676, though only eighteen years of age, was chosen to succeed Dr. Gibbons as the organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1682 he became one of the organists of the Chapel Royal, and there, as well as at the Abbey, produced his numerous anthems. Purcell was also the composer of several secular pieces, among them being the duet and chorus, "To Arms!" and the air, "Britons, Strike Home!" both of which will ever retain a place in our national repertoire. Part of the back wall of Purcell's house is still standing, and now forms the back wall of the residence of one of the minor canons.
The Rev. Joseph Nightingale, in the tenth volume of the "Beauties of England and Wales," in discoursing on this interesting locality, in the beginning of the present century, says: "Dean's Yard is certainly an odd mixture of decayed grandeur, modern ruins, strong old flinty walls, and crumbling new bricks. Even the very trees nod in unison with falling structures and broken rails, and the earth, in many a rise and fall, shows some remote effects of Henry VIII.'s dissolution of monasteries. There is a silent monastic air in the small court from which is the entrance to the Jerusalem Chamber, now extremely different from its ancient state, having undergone various alterations from the Reformation to the present time."