One of the earliest decisions made by the co-founders of Radley was that every tenth place should be free. This was based on the principle of the tithe, a gift of one-tenth of income or harvest offered to God as a sacrifice. It was formally proposed and written into the Statutes promulgated in June 1847. The place was awarded to a boy jointly proposed and nominated by the Founder and Warden, although there was an objection that since Singleton was both Founder and Warden he potentially had two votes.
The system was followed throughout Singleton’s Wardenship. Eight Decimals were appointed by 1850-early 1851, at which time there were eighty boys in the school. Five were awarded to the sons of clergymen, and two to relatives of those closely associated with the school, Edward Howard’s nephew, Henry, and William Sewell’s nephew, also called Henry. All the recipients were of the same social background as boys paying full fees. At this time the annual fee was £100, but, following advice that this was set too high, it was reduced to £80pa. This reduction in per capita income, coupled with the increasingly unsteady state of the school’s finances, made it very difficult to maintain the Decimal places into the 1850s, although many attempts were made to keep the system in operation.
The Decimal system was always considered fundamental to the ethos of Radley College, as a Christian foundation. Consequently, the Decimal system was revived in 1942 under Warden Vaughan Wilkes. This time the school worked closely with Berkshire Education Committee, and made the free places available to boys from local elementary schools who would not normally receive a public school education. The system operated throughout the Second World War, with fourteen boys taking up Decimal places in the five years between 1942-47.