March 5th, 1847 (Friday) – The meeting in the Turl
Nugent Wade and Mr Sewell drank tea with Monk and me in the Turle, at Oxford, this evening, when I took occasion to lay before them, for their consideration and advice, a letter which I had just received from ——. This conveyed the offer of presentation to a most important benefice in England. Though I had no hesitation as to the reply I should give to it, I felt every reluctance to decide my own case on my own un-assisted judgement; knowing how apt one is to miscalculate one’s own strength, and mistake one’s own fitness; intellectual and moral. They were rather startled at the importance of the case, and we all seemed to feel the responsibility of declining, as well as of accepting.
Sewell then put plainly forward the obligation which. appeared to lie upon himself, and on every one interested in the question of Church Education, of using all possible means to organize a system, such as had already been proved not only quite practicable, but eminently successful; – to do for England what had already been done for Ireland. We all agreed that many circumstances conspired at the present moment to make the effort an immediate duty, and to render success, with God’s blessing, a matter of little doubt. For it was felt that the rapid and wide-spread revival of Catholic principles made many individuals in the upper classes conscious of a want, a painful want, of sound secular education for their sons, based upon sound religious truth, – or rather, an education, through which Religion should be made to run, as the grain meanders through the plank of Oak, or the slab of Marble.1
We were well assured that people, who highly valued the training, which is alone to be found at the great public Schools, were yet reluctant to commit their children to its influence, from a feeling (whether a mere prejudice, or just fear, it matters not,) that moral culture was less a study than Latin and Greek. People are always complaining, also, of the great expense attendant upon sending a boy to Eton, or Rugby, &c., as well as of the great difficulty of procuring admission. Population has so much increased that it has outgrown the ordinary means of attaining scholastic education; – so that a general feeling prevails that new channels must be dug, to receive a flow of purer water.
Besides, it was mentioned that numbers of persons were most anxious to have this done, and done at once. Many have been heard to exclaim; – “Why cannot we have a St. Columba’s in England?” In many places attention was turned to him, who had been the chief designer of the College in Ireland, whose philosophy and practical knowledge made him the most fit, if not the only fit, person to construct a similar one for his own country; and none of us were more alive to this expectation than Sewell himself.
Sewell said distinctly that he neither could, nor, (as far as he could see,) would, do any thing without my concurrence; nor, in fact, unless I consented to take the management of the projected Institution. It was a momentous moment for us all, and God knows whether it may yet prove to have been the same for the Church of England. Grand events in the history of the world have owed their origin to as slight a cause, as humble a birth. I do believe that we were actuated, or desired to be actuated, by a reference to God’s Holy Will, and that, had we traced any indication that He designed us for a different object, we should have abandoned the idea on the instant.
As to myself, all my tastes and feelings, habits and hopes, led me to the same end: to train a body of youths in the ways of Learning and Politeness, of Religion and Virtue. I did not, then, bring an unprepared mind to the discussion of the question; neither did Sewell, – nor, in fact, any of the four. We all felt that to reject the proposal, which we had deliberately put before ourselves, would be very like hushing a voice because it was ‘still’, and burying our Lord’s money, because it was no more than a single pound.2
It was therefore unanimously agreed that I should decline the offer made by ——, which I did the next day. May God mercifully grant that the choice I have made may prove the right one, – and if so, why need I be apprehensive for the result?
Yet, when one thinks of all that our decision involves, it seems the result of boldness almost amounting to rashness. Our number was small, our money ‘nil’, unless I advanced my own moderate means, and they were wholly inadequate to meet a costly enterprise. Besides, such serious difficulties could only be slowly removed, if removed at all; for we were resolved to contend against these rather than encounter greater, by taking a step which might get rid of then, perhaps, at once. We had before us the formidable danger of too many co-operators, some of whom might consider themselves entitled to a share in the management, and when refused a voice, account that they were ill-treated, and turn into cold friends, or (scarcely a worse alternative) into open enemies. Stackallan had taught us a bitter lesson, and we had learnt it too lately to have forgotten it. Then again, for a similar reason, we did not dare to apply to the public for the necessary funds, – so that unless a few individuals could be induced to give, and because a few, to give largely, – we could not entertain hopes of success.
We were, then, penniless, and, if not friendless, yet uncertain of friends, who could do us much good. On the other hand, we had a resolute mind, instruments fit for the work, and, if I may venture to say so, some feeling of faith in Him, ‘whose is the silver and the gold’, & Who ‘holdeth the hearts of all men in his hands.’ We therefore committed ourselves to the undertaking, actuated, as we hoped, by some unselfishness of motive, and looking for God’s help and guidance to bring it to maturity.
The first thing to be done was clearly to procure a Κον στω,3 – for we could not go and ask people for money to assist us, – still less could we invite parents to send us their sons, until we had a place fixed. Yet here was another serious difficulty. We felt, that, as it was wholly impossible to build a College from the grounds for want of funds, so we should require a very large house to receive us at once. This alone was no easy matter to procure; but choice was narrowly limited by several other concurring necessities.
We could not hope to succeed unless we were settled, at least at first, in some position easily accessible, that is, near a main Railway, not very far from London, – at a convenient distance from a Post and Market Town, – yet thoroughly in the Country, – on a dry soil, – in an interesting country, – in a handsome place, if possible with fine timber, – near a River, – in order that the College might enjoy a certain elasticity of spirit, and be surrounded by associations of respectability, antiquity, and something of picturesqueness, which are so important in the effort to educate youth. What would Eton be without Windsor Castle and the Thames or Oxford, bereft of the Isis and the Cherwell, the heights of Shotover and Hincksey? Sewell, having long had in view the possibility of establishing such a College as we now projected, had looked carefully about in every part of England, through which he had travelled for many months past, with a hope of finding a suitable locality; yet without success. One place was too much out of the way, another too expensive, a third not large enough, a fourth not interesting enough; – here, a house that would only be let for a short term, – there, one that would be sold, but in too dilapidated a condition to make purchase more than a foolish venture.
Our first difficulty, then, was no trifling one, but a first effort to surmount it must be made, therefore Nugent Wade was directed to make enquiries about a fine old house and place, which he had lately seen in Sussex at Herstmonceux, and which he understood was for sale. Monk was likewise commissioned to write to his friends in Somersetshire concerning a very handsome mansion and demesne, not far from Bath, called Orchardleigh, which was likewise on the market. We had no great expectations for the latter movement, as the house is a large, modern, architectural, affair, standing in an extensive park, – and probably would only be sold. Another objection against it is, – that the Parish Church is on an island in the lake, and so close to the house that the seclusion, which is so essential, would be materially interfered with. However a letter could do no mischief, and would only cost a penny.
Before we separated for the Evening we discussed several points affecting the constitution of our intended College, and upon which we had the blessing of being perfectly unanimous. Stackallan was to be our model, exceptis excipiendis. We were to copy it in having a Chapel, an Organ, a Bell, a Library, Common Room, a Warden and six or seven Fellows. The Dormitory was to be on precisely the same footing, – the Fasts and Feasts were to be visibly observed, – the Whole College to wear a proper Academical dress, – the fellows to dine in Hall, and take their other meals also, at the same time as the students. The diet of the entire Body was to be gentlemanly but not luxurious, – the furniture of the table to be dignified, but the fare simple. Wine was not to be drunk except on festal occasions, and the daily life of the College to be governed by the wholesome check of a mild rule.
Our object being to affect the higher ranks of the community, and, through them, the subordinate classes; and feeling that one of the vices of Modern Society was luxury and self-indulgence, – in fact, selfishness in every form; it was considered a matter of infinite consequence to present an example of simplicity and self-control, – and yet on the other hand to shun all approaches to meanness in external aspect. Gentlemen have, always will have, and always ought to have, a certain exterior to indicate that distinction, which is founded on a law of nature, and essential to the well being of man, and to the peace of human government; – while at the same time they can show, by self denial and avoiding needless expense, their sympathy with their less favoured fellow-creatures. A lesson is thus taught, but in such a way, that any painfulness in its truth is much softened to the learner.
To effect this it would not be sufficient to give the boys iron bedsteads (the words, by the way, are much worse than the things,) and frugal fare, a course which would be attributed to closeness, to indifference to their comforts, to any reason reflecting on the moral weight of the College. But when the Warden and fellows in their own persons should exhibit a submission to the same discipline, showing that they were imposing on others nothing that they were unwilling to take upon themselves, the true motive would be seen and duly estimated by all, – truth would be taught in the best way possible, by the self-denying example of the Teacher. Yet, we were resolved that, though in the matter of diet, and of all other parts in their economy, we should study plainness, – nevertheless every thing should be good of its kind; – in cutting off luxury we had no design to exclude comfort.
In following out this most important principle, so successfully tested at Stackallan, we resolved that our College should never degenerate into a speculation for amassing money, and therefore we determined, without an instant’s hesitation, that the emoluments attached to the officers should be very moderate, – a fixed sum, calculated by a reference to their wants; of such an amount that, with proper care, they would be placed above any uncomfortable apprehension of deficiency. For the present, we settled that the Warden should receive £200, & the Fellows £100, per annum, the College providing board and lodging4. We thus secured that all powerful principle, that education was a work of such dignity and magnitude, as to command the services of gentlemen of parts and attainments, willing, for mere necessary remuneration, to throw themselves entirely into it, submitting to labour and discipline simply for the sake of doing good. Such a fact as this was felt to be a Tower of strength.
Another point of great consequence was settled without any discussion at all. In order to give a sacred character to the whole work, (independent of the daily service, &c., too obvious a necessity to be mentioned,) we solemnly determined to educate and support every tenth boy for nothing. Scarcely any thing else about it would so distinctively mark the kind of undertaking as this; there could be no more suitable way of the College really paying tithes, or of exemplifying a principle, which places its obligation upon every man. At the same time we agreed that every other Student should pay £100 a year. I was disposed to think this too high a charge, but, being comparatively ignorant of English habits, at once deferred to Sewell, who said ‘that it was an important thing to make the rich pay for the poor’.
We further settled to found the College in honour of the memory of that great Saint, Columba, who had conferred such benefits on his age, in the very way that we now, at an humble distance, in means, capacity and spirit, as well as in time, were struggling to do in our’s. Curious, as viewed in connection with our own little history, that he should have been driven from Ireland, & received in England! – Monk & Wade were afraid that it would give our undertaking an air of rivalry & opposition to the Irish College; – but the answer was ready, that such an apprehension had not deterred our forefathers from calling different Colleges by the same name, that if such unworthy suspicions should take possession of sensible men, they would not entertain them long, and that as for those, who were not sensible, it was idle to attend to any thing that they might say. Besides, such a course would be in full accordance with the precedents of olden times. The objection was therefore overruled, and our title settled to be ‘Collegium Sancti Columbae.’ Sewell wants to add ‘in Anglia’, but this requires some consideration, as it might not be a satisfactory mark of distinction from other similar foundations, which, for aught we know, may yet spring up in England, rejoicing in the name of their common parent.
This was the chief of what occurred in the evening of the 5th March, 1847. So we all separated with a feeling that a definite step was taken to erect a
St. Columba’s for England.
Deo. Opt. Max. laus nunc et inaeternum. Deus nobis adjutet onus. Per J.C. Dom. Nos.
For a full explanation of the “bitter lesson” of St. Columba’s at Stackallan, see this article.
1: By “Catholic”, Singleton means the newly emerging Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church.
2: References are to Elijah on the mountain, 1 Kings 19 v. 12, and to the parable of the talents in
3: “Here I stand”
4: At the same time, a fellowship at Oxford might have come to anywhere between £50 and £500 per annum. The money was more than enough to maintain a comfortable bachelor lifestyle, but would not be seen as sufficient to support upper-class luxury. A teacher in a normal “village school”, on the other hand, might earn only around £20 per annum
March 8th, 1847 (Monday) – The first visit to Radley Hall
Sewell took Monk and me in fly to Radley Hall, the seat of the Bowyer family, on the border of Berkshire, 4 or 5 miles from Oxford, and 2 from Abingdon. The family had fallen into difficulties, & and had not occupied the house for a long time. It is a very large, well-proportioned structure, built of brick, with a great deal of cutstones about it, in the cornices, quoins, & mouldings of the windows, &c. Its length is about 100 feet, 2 rooms in depth, & 3 stories high. It seems quite too large for the property, and was let for a school, but the Master became embarrassed, and was compelled to leave it. It stands in a park, surrounded by trees, some of which are quite magnificent; the soil is gravely, the position high, and the view very interesting, as it commands Nuneham, & the rising grounds near Abingdon. The Thames is within a mile of it on one side, and Bagley wood is very near on the other, so that excursions, aquatic & sylvan, are within easy access.
The accommodation in the house is very considerable, presenting abundant room for Warden, Fellows, servants and 30 boys; – but there is nothing which could be made available for Schoolroom, Hall, or Chapel. There is no stable nor Coach-house, save some very dilapidated buildings, and a ruinous Barn, at some distance; so that, if we were settled here we should have to build all these, and Dormitories besides. Not that we came to see it with any definite view to it as our position, for Sewell knew that it would not be sold, nor even let for more than a few years; but still, when the mind is strongly bent upon some object, things, more remote from it than Radley was from ours, will easily call up the recollection of it, and the association will at once create calculation & comparison. In such cases one becomes the willing victim of imagination, and delights to conceive that done, which the next minute reminds us is impossible.
To most persons, on seeing a place belonging to another, the thought occurs, – what should I do if it were mine? It must have been some feeling of this kind which made a circuit of cold, untenanted, rooms a business of real interest. We wanted a large house, and a large house was here; which reflection was quite enough for three persons as determined, as we were, to get one. Yet, oddly enough, we had scarcely got inside, when the brother of the owner made his appearance at the windows, and before we left the place mentioned that it would be let for 21 years. This was so different from the impression Sewell had that, it was thought quite possible that there might be such a change of purpose, that a permanency or a long lease might be granted.
Thus a visit, proposed more for the sake of curiosity and a drive than any thing else, promised more important consequences than these. In our view of matters, we were particularly struck by two things, one – a stone staircase from the top to the bottom of the house, in its centre, and leading by a door in the thickness of the wall into each landing place; – the other, – a fine expanse of level sward in the front, where boys could play cricket, or any thing else they fancied, to great advantage. Near one of the entrance gates stands the Parish-Church, very picturesque, partly mantled with ivy; porch, buttress, & window, in pleasing irregularity. A farm-house, with a good grouping of barns & other buildings, low gables, and roofs of happy pitch, are gathered about it, so that the whole forms a pretty, modest, little village, with a rural and retired air. When we got into the Fly, we all agreed that we might do worse than settle at Radley. But how many doubts, difficulties, perhaps impossibilities, to be removed first.
On the way back we discussed a very grave question, which was suggested by the bare possibility of our being fixed there, – the desirableness of being so near Oxford. On the one hand, there might be apprehensions of jealousy on the ground of our Collegiate form, there might be some difficulties in assuming the titles of Warden, Fellows, &c., the superiority in some respects, that is, as to simplicity and discipline, which we hoped to maintain, might be the source of rivalry. Then again, our body might possibly be mixed up with the polemics of the place, party feeling might spring up, in spite of any efforts of the Head to keep it down. Moreover, there was a prospect of our being oppressed with visitors, and thus our duties & retirement materially interfered with. On the other hand it was argued that our sphere & external form would be quite different enough to preclude any serious feeling of jealousy, – that even if we were not wholly saved from it, we should have to expect some share, from some class or another, almost wheresoever we should settle.
Indeed, Sewell asserted that there was a very important body of persons within the University, who would hail the effort with joy, and would be delighted to be furnished with a visible proof, that persons could be got to live together under rule, without luxury or more than very moderate remuneration for labour, – and yet be happy. Then as to our being mixed up with the party, or religions, questions canvassed occasionally, – it was answered, that there was really scarcely any party feeling at all, that it was a very quiet place, (which my own experience as far as it had gone, fully bore out,) & that even if painful contests should arise, our body would only be agitated for the time, and angry feelings on the part of others, at any line it might take, would not be of long continuance. Lastly, as to our being annoyed by visitors, – we needed not to apprehend any serious embarrassment in that way, for that the distance of Radley from Oxford was beyond an ordinary walk.
Moreover, it was of great consequence that we should be visited, in order that we might be known, – for it was directly argued that there was no place in England where we should be more likely to get boys than in this neighbourhood. Numbers of persons, who are constantly consulted by parents about a desirable school for their children, would be within reach of us, – and the under-graduates, hearing of our fame, would be sure to take home most flattering accounts, and thus we should soon be stocked with students.
On the same side it was further maintained, that no position could be more favourable for our getting suitable persons for fellows, – that, in fact, we had only to choose instead of to search; while our proximity to Sewell would prove an immense facility in a variety of ways, especially at first. His help in moulding, guiding, soothing, supporting, was felt to be of incalculable value. Further, the attractions of Oxford being so easily accessible, there was at once that power of pleasing change, which forms such a relief to the mind that is constantly employed in monotonous labour.
Another great advantage was mentioned by Sewell – we were to be prepared for violent assaults on all sides, – untruths would be spread, and truths distorted, and thus ignorance & prejudice would be arrayed from the very first, in order to crush us. With this certainty in store it would be of great consequence to be within reach of ‘a cloud of witnesses,’ who could stand up in our defence, on the evidence, not of others’ hearsay, but of their own eyesight; for if we might judge by our experience at Stackallan, almost all the objections which we must expect wd. be best answered, not by reasons, but by the senses.
This was the chief of what we said on the point, on our return, – so that, by the time we had reached Oxford, we had fully made up our minds that nearness to the University, so far from being an evil, was a positive, and very great advantage. We therefore resolved that Sewell should write to Mr. Bowyer by this night’s post.
After dinner with Monk, I went over to Exeter, and found Sewell had written to this effect: – that we had seen Radley, – that it would answer a certain purpose, which at present it was not necessary to specify, that Mr Bowyer’s brother had mentioned the possibility of its being let for 21 years, which made us think it worth while to enquire whether it would be sold, or if not sold, whether a lease for 21 years would be given, with a power of renewing it at the expiration of that period. The letter being finished, I told Sewell that the object, about which we were now fully engaged was of such a moment that, if he could raise £4 or £5000, and guarantee boys enough to pay our first year’s current expenses, I was willing to risk a few thousands of my own money. To this he said that he had no doubt of successing so far, and that, though such a step on my part was a very serious one, he had no hesitation in saying I was right. Thus the day seemed to have advanced us a step or two on our long journey.
March 12th, 1847 (Friday) – The lease for Radley Hall
Sewell had a visit from Mr Bowyer’s brother either yesterday or the day before, who said that he had been desired to call at Exeter, to say that the lease for 21 years would not be granted. But Sewell not being satisfied exactly, thought it better that I should go up to see Mr Bowyer myself.
On looking over the papers in the Common-Room, we observed that several places were advertised as being at the disposal of Messrs. Farebrother, Armstrong & Lye, of Lancaster place, Strand. It was therefore agreed that I should go and make enquiries at their office, and elsewhere, for something suitable.1 I set off accordingly by the 1 o’clock train, & immediately repaired to Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn, where I found Mr. Bowyer at home. He received me very civilly, and, when he learnt the object of my visit, told me that he understood from Mr Sewell’s letter that we required at least 21 years’ lease, with a power of renewal, that this was as much out of the question as an entire alienation of the House and demesne, but that if a 21 years’ lease by itself would suit our purpose, he thought that it might be managed, but that even this could not be granted for some time, owing to legal deeds in connection with his estate, which were not yet quite perfected. On asking the period before they would be likely to be completed, he mentioned a month; but on my remarking that this was a delay which we could not possibly admit, he replied that perhaps he might be able to do what had to be done in a fortnight. I then told him that I would not positively close the negotiation, but that I could scarcely imagine it possible that we could consent to that which appeared the utmost that he could offer. On enquiring about the Rent of the house, he said that it would be something very small, that he thought more about a good Tenant than emolument, to which I remarked that I could promise him that his place would be greatly benefited, instead of being damaged by our occupancy. I then took my leave, being much pleased by my reception, – and he promising to write, as soon as ever he could give a definite answer in any way.
I then proceeded to Lancaster place, and saw one of the firm, who, on learning what I wanted, brought out the very paper, which I had seen at Exeter in the morning. None of the places would answer, neither had he the disposal of any that would suit, so he recommended an advertisement, which he had no doubt would be answered by numbers of people, for that he felt assured there were many such places in England, which were a burden on the owners. I asked him to mention one or two House & Land Agents in London of repute, and he referred me to Mr. Lahee of 65 New Bond Street – to whom I next repaired. On telling him my wants, he took down a book, which contained a long list of tenements and lands to be leased or sold, but which were rejected one after another on account of some fatal want.
At last he hit upon one, (& the only one at all to be thought of in the Catalogue,) which arrested my attention. It proved to be a large, old-fashioned, brick, house, called Kneller Hall, because Sir Godfrey Kneller2 lived in it, but the more correct name (as I take it), being Whitton House; situated between Hounslow & Twickenham, from which latter place it is a mile. It was described as standing in the midst of a park of above 100 acres, with a fine sheet of water and beautiful timber. Its capacity appeared very great, drawing-room 46 feet long, dining room above 30 feet, conservatory 90 feet, several large apartments on the ground floor besides these; 26 bedrooms, with numerous others of an inferior class, – extensive out-offices, – stables, coach-house, brewery, laundry, &c. – fine garden, graperies, vinery, – altogether a place that was clearly to be looked at, as it would be either let or sold, or both. However the terms demanded were exorbitant, – for the House, garden, & pleasure grounds, 350 guineas per annum or 18000 guineas if purchased. The owner, one Mr. Emanuel. Mr. Lahee gave me an order to see it, observing that he would be happy to hear from me again, an assurance, which I thought to myself was scarcely necessary.
I reached Oxford soon after 10 o’clock pm, and found Sewell & Monk anxious to hear what I had to say. On telling my tale, we all agreed that the interview with Mr Bowyer was very unsatisfactory, but that, still, his reply should not be considered altogether fatal to our hopes. We felt that, if all other resources failed, it might be a question whether a lease of 21 years would not be long enough to justify the development of our plan, in the expectation of realizing such profits in the mean time as would suffice to build a College from the ground on a permanent site, so as to receive the whole community at the expiration of the lease. Sewell went so far as to say that with him it was a still further question, – if it would not be worth while to follow our plan at Radley, though at that time the body might have to be dissolved for want of a place to receive it, the loss being fully compensated by the anticipated propagation of the system through the entire country.
However this might be, we had no hesitation in looking upon Whitton House as a most important opening, all our desires for a permanent property of our own revived, and though the rent was evidently outrageously high, we knew well that far less would be taken than was asked. It was then resolved that we should go to see it; and as tomorrow was the only day, to the end of the term, that Sewell would be disengaged, it was resolved that we should go tomorrow.
1: The papers of this company are held at the Guildhall Library.
March 13th, 1847 (Saturday) – The visit to Kneller Hall
Sewell, Monk, & I, left by the 8 o’clock train for Southall, 9 miles from London, on the Great Western, which we reached at 10 o’clock, & there got into a Post Chaise, & drove off for Whitton House, about 6 miles distant. In, or close to, a very uninteresting village, we stopped at a gate in a brick-wall, on the road-side, which we were chagrined to find was an entrance to Kneller Hall, which Mr. Lahee told me was situated in the middle of a Park of 100 acres. He took care to conceal that a road went right through this park, and that houses were built on the sides of it.
When we were admitted, we beheld a longish range of old brick building, with a door and a sort of modern porch. We looked at one another in dismay, making sundry signs of disappointment, – but followed the maid up the passage, which brought us to a hall of moderate dimensions. The walls were betricked out with a universal daub of paint, vainly endeavouring to cheat you into the imagination that you were in a Roman Temple, whose niches were stored with Muses, and Graces, & things of that kind, only too eager to welcome the visitor. It was agreed that if Sir Godfrey Kneller had sanctioned these proceedings, posterity ought to look well to it before it lavished any further praise upon him.1 It was a comfort however, to bear in mind, that if paint had done so much mischief, it had also equal powers of good; if it could depict, it could likewise obliterate.
This consideration was our support, also, in ascending a handsome staircase afterwards, which was a scene of similar perpetrations. We soon found that we had come in by the very worst of the three entrances to the place. On stepping out of the Hall-door, we discovered a long, and handsome Conservatory, stretching a distance of 90 feet, and uniting two very fine modern rooms, which projected several feet from the main building. A series of wire arches and trellis-work, covered with fuchsias & different creepers, extended from end to end. Sewell proposed sweeping all these away and turning the whole into a dining-Hall, – which I thought an excellent idea, especially as we could warm it most readily in winter. However, there being so much glass made it doubtful whether in hot weather it could be kept cool enough for the purpose. There are some admirable plate glass panels at the end, which nothing but the timely consideration, that the figure before you is only a reflection of your own, would prevent you from smashing, in the effort to continue your way through the continued walk. Of course, you could scarcely apprehend a second illusion.
The two rooms, just mentioned, are very large and handsome. The drawing-room is particularly so, 46ft. by 24. At the end is a large window in a recess, filled with plate glass, and connected with the room by 2 handsome Scaliogla pillars, with Pilasters, architrave, &c. The lookout is pretty, for something not unlike a Park is to be seen; – at least there is a green flat of some extent, studded with fine trees. We got out on the pleasure ground, through a window contrived for legal exit, in a handsome room, one of a suite, which we at once settled should be the Warden’s, an appropriation which indeed we make wherever we go, notwithstanding it prematureness. But unless we could see some way in advance, we should be no more fit to construct a College than a school-boy to read his Primer.
The front of the house on this side (the North) is very respectable. It is of brick of a decent colour, tolerably broken up by irregularities, chimneys rather high & old-fashioned. On the west side it is joined up a line of building, (the back of which was all that we saw of the whole, at our first view of the place,) about 70 or 80 feet in length, which would very well help out a quadrangle. Altogether, the grouping appeared anything but bad, and we had no doubt that an Elizabethan character might be imparted to it by and bye, when we should have the place and the money.
Two very fine cedars, (one of them magnificent,) stand near the house, as well as other evergreens of merit. A long sheet of water stretches nearly the entire length of the Park, (if it must be called so,) and much helps out the distressing flatness of every thing. At one end it is terminated by a sort of island, which boasts of fine trees, and an affair of the grotto genus; – at the other, a bridge or two, and a bath, and a lofty structure of brick, which contains an apparatus for raising water to the top of the dwelling house. Really the tower is rather picturesque, for the tone of its colour is good, and ivy has made extensive encroachments on its surface. The timber is generally very respectable, and a great deal has been done to relieve the oppressiveness of what is as flat as the table I am writing on.
In the office yard there is a large building, consisting of stables, &c., which would do very well for a school room; also a Brew-house, & minor places. We went over the House a second time with a view to the possibility of getting a Dormitory within it, spacious enough for present use, & we thought that by throwing down an infinity of lath & plaster partitions we might manage it. The South front presents the Conservatory already mentioned, which at our ecclesiastical touch instantly became a cloister, as a nineteenth-century verandah, outside some windows above, as rapidly ceased to have any existence whatsoever. The ‘façade’ was clearly capable of improvement, but unhappily is just on the very road, the iron railing which separates them being fortunately concealed by laurustinus, box, & other bushes.
On the other side of the road is the kitchen garden, of about 2 acres, walled in, & standing on the edge of the other portion of what Mr. Lahee was pleased to denominated ‘The Park’, I was not a little vexed to see so many prostrate trunks of trees lately felled. Sewell in vain tried to persuade me that such destruction was no more than necessary for the benefit of the survivors. Though a bold thinner of a plantation, I had no question that the survivors were less thought of than the sovereigns that the dead would yield. Once more returning to the house, we planned the position of our future buildings, venerating the great cedar, though it stood sadly in the way of them. Our last act was to taste the water out of the pump in the yard, which was clear, well-flavoured, and so cold that it made all my teeth ache.
We desired that the chaise should follow us, while we walked on to a fine looking place in the neighbourhood, which we had passed in the morning, & heard was to be let or sold. By the way we saw an announcement that the materials of the house were to be sold by auction, and I confess I was in a great fidget lest his Grace the Duke of Argyle should have ordered to be pulled down what we should have been most anxious that he had left standing. But our apprehensions were soon over, for the headless trunk, and broken wings, and mangled limbs, that were now before us, were evidently the remains of a thing that had no merit of any kind, unless what stiffness and conceit could infuse. However, the time was not lost, for we found in the grounds of the place, or perhaps rather of that next to it, a plantation of cedars, exceeding in number & size any that we had ever seen before. One of them bore an iron plate bearing witness to his majesty of girth and projection, which in 1835 were respectively 16 & 44ft., the latter being the measurement of one branch in horizontal stretch.
While returning to Southall we gravely debated whether Whitton House would answer our purpose. The accommodation was evidently greater than we had yet found, or heard of, any where, and therefore not likely to be equalled. The repair was substantial, the grounds respectable, presenting a noble flat for the boys to play in, the neighbourhood to London was in some respects very important, Twickenham and the Thames within a mile, and the place to be let or sold with immediate possession being given. Yet the immediate country around was terribly dull, the village hard by, if not an evil, an eyesore, the flatness most depressing, without any heights near enough to atone for it. However, too much stress was not to be laid upon defects of this kind, lest we should become too much the slaves of mere sense, – so it was decreed that I should proceed to Town at once, and call upon Mr. Lahee. I found him at home, mentioned the visit we had just paid, our disappointment at finding the road running so close to the windows, and, going through its chief drawbacks, concluded by stating that the rent demanded appeared so exorbitant that it was wholly out of our power to give anything like it. He then asked my object, and the sum I might be disposed to give, as the basis of further negotiation. I named the College as the first, and £250 per annum for the second, – which he noted down, saying that he would communicate with his principal, & write me immediately. On our return Mr Sewell, to our surprise, joined Monk and me at Slough. At 10 o’clock pm we got to Oxford, and were not sorry to get to bed. I had 2 days of hard work, & was fagged enough.
In the event, Kneller Hall was bought later in 1847 as a Government-operated teacher training college, and opened in 1850. This closed shortly thereafter, and it became the Royal Military School of Music. [Twickenham Museum article]
March 14th, 1847 (Sunday) – Letters
Sewell had letters from Miss Angela Burdett Coutts1 and Mr Bowyer. Miss A.B.C. wrote very kindly, saying how glad she was that Sewell should lay before her any scheme for the good of the Church; – that she had been much pressed by the fund for the Colonial Bishopricks, and the building & endowment of Church & Schools at Westminster. The former was paid off, but there was some unforeseen delay about the latter, & she was therefore unable to estimate her liabilities. That the design placed before her seemed an important one, in which would take an interest, but that she could not speak about the ‘money part of it till summer.’ This appeared most favourable, & Sewell wrote to her to beg on her not to take any further step until she should have consulted Dr. Jelf,2 Dr. Wordsworth,3 and other persons of that class, in whom it was known that she reposed great confidence.
Mr Bowyer’s letter was in answer to one that Sewell had written, freely opening our scheme, and at the same time forwarding his Journal; – Likewise offering a fine at the end of 7 years to enable him to build a house; an arrangement to meet his objection, – that a lease of 21 years would exclude the family from Residence on their property for that period, there being no other house that they could occupy; – Sewell also requiring a permanent site on the property for future buildings. Mr Bowyer’s reply was to this effect: – that he liked the idea of a permanent site, but that he felt great hesitation about letting us on his property at all, for that he held opinions, in accordance with those of the British Critic and the Tracts for the Times, that he had great reverence for the Roman Church, & that it would be extremely painful to him to find that he had given any encouragement to a College, which might be found railing at what he revered.
From the whole tone of his letter it was clear that we were dealing with a conscientious man & a gentleman, but we felt uncertain whether he might not be a Romanizer too, & that therefore it might be better to break off the negotiation. Sewell replied in very plain terms, saying that we belonged to no party in the Church, that we had resisted a Romish tendency at Stackallan on the one hand, and, on the other, had seceded entirely from the college, when its Visitor & Trustees were taking a more Protestant course. He then mentioned that I had been offered —— by ——, to show what other persons thought of one’s own theological views. To this Mr Bowyer replied that he was thoroughly satisfied, and would forward our wishes in every way that he could.
It was during this week that Mr Harrison,4 the Architect, came to Exeter about their Chapel, & mentioned to Sewell that wooden buildings to answer the purposes of Chapel, Hall, School, & Dormitory, might be had for a comparatively small sum. This inspired us with hope that the 1st of August might yet see us at work at Latin & Greek.
On Wednesday or Friday we went to Grimsley’s to enquire about Terra Cotta roofs; found him drawing a pretty design for one, and begged him to draw out an estimate for a room 80 feet long and 25 feet wide, which he subsequently did, & told us that a roof for such a purpose would come to £200. He said that he executed Mullioned windows at a cheap rate, & Sewell desired him to go to a Cloister window at Christ Church and see what that would cost, which he afterwards estimated at £5. We were referred to a house which he had erected for a Mr Staines, in Oxford, to which we went the next day. It was used as a factory & store for chicory & mustard, and found of great value as being fire-proof. Mr. Staines said that he found the roof, (which looked very well, with a very good series of pointed Arches,) only a trifle cheaper than timber would have been, though Mr. Grimsley said that there was no comparison between the respective prices. How hard is it to get at truth!
Sewell and I went over to Radley this week, to see where we would erect our temporary buildings. We allocated several rooms to their different purposes, already fancying that it was our own; admired the place once more, and returned.
1: Angela Burdett-Coutts, perhaps the most wealthy philanthropist in the country at this time. Entries in the Dictionary of National Biography; Wikipedia.
2: Richard Jelf, principal of King’s College, London. Entries in the Dictionary of National Biography; Wikipedia.
3: Christopher Wordsworth, the nephew of William Wordsworth, was the Canon of Westminster and would later become Bishop of Lincoln. Entries in the Dictionary of National Biography; Wikipedia.
4: Henry Harrison, architect. Entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.
March 21st, 1847 (Sunday) – New College
Sewell & his brother Henry called on me, & we went to New College gardens, where we had a long conversation about our whole plan. Mr Henry Sewell gave us the benefit of his clear, cool, sound, legal, judgment upon its merits, entering with real interest into it. He considered the Radley project for the present premature, – that we ought to wait and prove the impossibility of obtaining a place with a permanence, before we embarked so much money on so limited a tenure, adding the he had no doubt that places were to be had, embodying all we wanted, if we could spare the time for search.
He told us that he knew of several parents, who were anxious for a proper school for their boys, but recommended us to lower the terms to £80, illustrating by anecdote that, when you asked a high price for an article, people are not much affected by your telling them that the article was one of extraordinary merit, & that others of really less value brought a higher price. I had always a doubt about the charge being too great, & as Sewell remarked that it was a good thing to teach people that education might be done at a moderate cost, we at once determined to diminish the charge to £80 per annum. We found subsequently that other persons, whose opinion was of consequence, agreed in the wisdom of the step. Mr Henry Sewell then undertook to make inquiries at different offices in London for some suitable place.
Dined in Common Room at New College with the three brothers Sewell, James Edwards (the host) William & Henry. Sewell mentioned that in the afternoon he had met Mr Marriott of Oriel,1 who, on being told what we were about, was much pleased, and said he would give us £10. He mentioned a beautiful house at Stanmore, near Harrow, which belonged to a Mr Rhodes, built by Derrick, but on so costly a scale that his employer did not think it right to finish, or live in, it. It was therefore for sale, & as Mr Marriott said it would accommodate 20 Benedictines, & stood in grounds to the extent of 30 or 40 acres, it was determined that I should go & look at it.
Sewell wrote to Mr Bowyer to say that our legal friends considered the proposed tenure of Radley so unsatisfactory that we must beg to pause a little; to which he afterwards returned a civil reply.
I also wrote to Anthony to say that I was engaged in this scheme, & might require my money. I may here mention that to this he answered, (this day week,) that we had his best wishes for our success, but that he much doubted whether the Church feeling even in England was strong enough to carry us through all the difficulties which must lie in our way. He begged of me to be cautious, and to estimate the magnitude of interest, taken in the project, by the amount of contributions; and not to trust to mere profession. He ended by saying that he could not do much in the way of helping us himself, as he felt bound to retain nearly all his funds for our perishing countrymen, but that any other year he might have done a good deal.
March 22nd, 1847 (Monday) – The visit to London
Went with Mr Henry Sewell to London. Called on Mr Pownall the builder, who was out, but one of the firm, or the fore-man, whom Mr Henry Sewell knew, was within. He seemed to know nothing particularly about Wooden buildings or Terra Cotta roofs. We then went to Mr. Hedgers’, the Land Agent in Bond St., who had nothing at present disposal to suit, but believed there were many such places in England. Thence to Daniel Smith in Waterloo Place, whose office contained but one case, which could possibly do. Of this we were furnished with lithographic views of House & grounds, & plan. It was denominated St. Leonard’s Hill, (I think,) and it lies 2 miles from Windsor, just outside the great Park, of which & the Royal Towers it is said to command a striking view. The House is an attempt at a ‘light Gothic’ castle, designed by Sir. James Wyattville, and covered with plaster. However, the accommodation was very extensive, out-offices abundant, fine terrace, handsome trees, and room enough in the grounds, and as the building seemed capable of improvement, we determined to consult S. about it, & if he consented, to go & see it.
We then went to Winstanley’s in the city, who knew of nothing to our purpose; – and lastly called on Mr Hoggart, still further on, who gave us no greater satisfaction. Indeed, he mentioned that they were in many places pulling down these very old houses, after which we were seeking, – an announcement, which coming from a shrewd, experienced, old gentleman, was the reverse of comfortable. The great difficulty is to obtain a long lease with a power of purchase. They all said, however, that they would be on the look out for what we wanted.
Dined with Mr Henry Sewell at his Club, & slept at the Euston Hotel, to be near the train in the morning.
March 23rd (Tuesday) – Monro’s school at Harrow Weald
Left Town by the 7 o’clock train (an endless 3rd class) for Pinner, the 4th Station from London on the Birmingham line. My object was, chiefly, to see Mr Rhodes’ house at Great Stanmore, mentioned by Mr. Marriott on Sunday, and, secondly, to make the acquaintance of Mr. Monroe, who had established a small College for the sons of the poorer classes at Harrowheele.1
His present residence is 1½ miles from the College, & close to the Pinner Station. Bringing a note of introduction from Sewell, I knocked at the door at the unwarrantable hour of 8 o’clock am. I found Mr Monro just setting off to see his father, at no great distance, though he told me he hardly ever left home. However, after breakfast I was to have a guide to Stanmore, & settled to meet him at the College at 1 o’clock. A pupil, resident in his family, & lately come to him, accompanied me instead of a very little, odd-looking, boy. – & I was not sorry for the change.
Our walk lay through Lord Abinger’s Park, the House being called ‘The Priory’. On the other side of it is the Village of Stanmore, and a little above the village stands the structure which I came to see. It is a very beautiful building, composed of rubble of Kentish Rag, with Ashlar & carvings of Caen stone. The ornamental work is very elaborate in some places, & yet it is not oppressive; a lofty turret stretched up, crowned with a conical roof; the gables are good, the irregularities well disposed, (with the exception of the Oratory, which to me appears to be irregular to affectation,) and the grouping of the octagonal kitchen & other offices is very happy. Altogether, it is the best modern thing I have seen. In the interior the rooms are small, & not very numerous, – but nothing is finished, – much not near finished, and all the offices are bare shells as the Masons & Slaters left them. It would take £5000 to complete the design, so that this consideration alone would put it entirely out of our thoughts: and this is not all, for it stands in only 14½ acres, bounded by two roads & two gentlemen’s places, so that the boys wd. have no range, no room, no liberty. Indeed, what little space there is, which is not taken up by garden & pleasure ground, is so uneven that cricket would be out of the question. Yet the view from the Terrace is very fine, commanding an extensive prospect of rich country, with Harrow Hill, crowned with its Church, on the right.
The old house, (not, however, very old,) of which this is to be the successor, stands near, and is soon to be pulled down. I went over it to see if there was any possibility of making a Dormitory out of it, or any other necessary rooms, – but could find nothing to modify the positive sentence against the suitableness of the place for our purpose.
[Later note in Singleton’s hand: This whole place was sold in June or July for about £6000. The house alone must have cost £20,000 at least.]
Between 1 o’clock & 2 o’clock I met Mr Monroe at his College. He has 22 boys, whom he educates, feeds & clothes, (I think) gratis, their parents resigning them to his care entirely, he undertaking to rear & fit them for the service of the Church, as Deacons, or Schoolmasters, or in any office for which they might prove suited. They are dressed in a neat frock of blay linen kept tight at the waist by a strap passing round the body. Soon after I arrived two boys came into the Hall to lay the cloth & dinner things. They kept on whistling & singing, quite unawed by the presence of a stranger. Soon afterwards the School bell, (a very respectable bell, by the way, which Mr Monro told me was the pride of the whole neighbourhood, & so reminded me of Stackallan,) rang a happy release from their studies. They all came in, & got their little books of devotion and then went upstairs into their chambers, where they remained for a quarter of an hour in silence and meditation, a few minutes being devoted to washing and brushing their hair.
The bell rang again, and they came into Hall, not without a little tumultuousness of manner. Being now arranged at table the four senior boys, in gowns over their frocks, in virtue of their office as Prefects, a grace was chanted by Mr Monroe, at the High Table, he also in his gown, to which the boys made 2 or 3 responses in harmony, concluding with the ‘Amen.’ I sat next to Mr Monroe, who had a boiled neck of mutton before him, to which he helped me, one of the prefects attending me with the plate. Mr Monro then carved his dish as far as it would go for the boys, who had likewise other very simple dishes at their table, at which Mr Ashe, Mr Monro’s assistant, presided. When the plain meal was at an end, a similar grace was similarly offered.
The Hall itself is a very unpretending room, built of brick, with a roof of good pitch, about 45 ft. by 20. ft., and yet by a little judicious management, and a little ornament well chosen & happily disposed, the effect is right good, and it bears quite a Collegiate air. The high Table is slightly raised, and the neighbouring window is a little recessed, about double the size of the others, and each of its four compartments bears a device in stained glass by Willement, such as the arms of the College, those of the Bishop of the Diocese, & 2 others.2 On the end wall behind the dais, is a beautiful picture of St. Andrew, in whose memory the College was founded. Thus a very decided character is given to the room, which cannot but tend to elevate the tone of the boys; and yet the cost was trifling: it was built in 2 months for about £100. This fact was not to be thrown away upon us. At the Entrance end was a large square board, on which hung different notices affecting school-work, the subjects for prizes to be contested on the next commemoration time. Scrolls with different texts from Holy Scripture decked the walls; including one over the door, -’the works of the flesh’ – ‘are rioting & drunkenness’, – and another over the chimney piece, which is moveable, and has reference to the Ecclesiastical seasons: – at present it was ‘Lent, – repent’.
The dormitory consists of separate, closed, chambers, containing bed, &c., and the walls of each were enlivened by several prints, one of which is furnished by Mr Monro, of a more pretending class than the rest, and chosen with reference to the inmate’s peculiar character and circumstances. These appeared to be all of German origin. Outside the chamber doors are texts & prints, illustrating our Saviour’s history or impressing some truth in connexion with sleep. To this I paid particular attention, – an important hint.3 Mr Monro’s assistant sleeps on one of the floors. In a general passage, leading to the different apartments of the College, boards are hung up, stating the boys whose occupation is assigned by rotation to each particular office, – the games to be played during the week, – & so on.
Their gardens are close at hand, and a prize is given for the one that is best kept.4 Remarked some lads at work at them, others at different sports; and never did I see a healthier or a happier set in my life. What a mistake it is to imagine that to live under strict rule is to live in melancholy & misery! The very reverse is the case. The contrast of discipline is what makes relaxation so charming. The boys go to church once a day, to an ugly brick building not above ¼ of a mile off. This, however, is to be soon superseded by a decent structure, the chancel of which is now in progress; – as is also a parsonage-house, (nearly finished) which Mr Monro will occupy. This will be very convenient, as his present residence is at a serious distance.
The Study has nothing remarkable about it, but that it shows what can be done with the most unpromising materials by a person who knows what he is about. What wonders may be done by the energy of a right principle! It raises up a world of harmony out of desert & disorder. Mr Monro has clearly got possession of the Philosopher’s stone, – he has turned his community into a Church. As for myself, I saw much to admire, much cordially to approve, & not a little to reflect upon very gravely.
By the way, I forgot to mention that when we sat down to dinner, he observed to me, ‘- you have a brother at Stackallan, have you not?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I have a brother living near it, but not at it.’ ‘And what,’ said he, ‘are you the late Warden?’ ‘Yes,’ was my answer. ‘Dear me, I must have read Sewell’s letter in a great hurry; but had I known that, I should have been in great alarm.’ I assured him that his alarm would have been quite groundless, and then enlarged upon the wonders that he seemed to have effected in so short a time, and on such uncouth subjects. I told him that after dinner I would give him a short sketch of my own history and of that of St. Columba’s. When we got into the Study the clock struck one of the quarters on a coil of steel, which gave him the opportunity of mentioning that while it is striking the hours, silence in preserved that the thoughts may dwell for a few moments on the fleeting nature of time, & on a coming Eternity. I told him the cause of our secession, which he thoroughly justified and admired, and then mentioned our project of raising a St. Columba’s in England. He was delighted; and, when asked if he anticipated a flow of boys to our College, replied that he had not the remotest doubt of it; that numbers of Parents had implored him to take their sons at any remuneration, – which his system compelled him to decline. One gentleman came to him, and said that he was anxious to present the most precious gift in his possession to Him that gave it; that that gift was his son, and he wanted to dedicate him wholly to His Maker’s use, – that he knew of no such opportunity as that which the College of St. Andrew opened out, – and would he refuse that appeal. Mr Monro could no longer withstand his wishes, – he received the boy. ‘This’ he said ‘will be sufficient to show you what interest people are taking in Church education.’ I returned with him to Pinner, and on the way he warned me against trusting in the Bishops, – that the Bishop of London had been very kind to him, – but that —- would meddle if he could. I made his mind easy by telling him that bitter experience had taught us that very lesson, & that we were resolved that their influence should not be admitted one jot farther than the Canons allowed. He took an affectionate leave of me, praying for God’s blessing on what we were about, enjoining me to make whatever use of him we thought fit, and making me promise to go & see him again.
I returned to London, drank tea with Mr Henry Sewell, and settled to meet him at Slough the day after tomorrow, if Sewell thought that St. Leonard’s should be looked at, which I was to mention by early post next morning. Got to Oxford at 10 ¼ pm, where Monk & Sewell were anxiously awaiting my coming. Told them my adventures, and laid the lithographed plans of St. Leonard’s before them. Sewell said that the building was ‘detestable’. Monk & I thought that hereafter something decent might be made of it, that it was as easy to Gothicise it as to Elizabethanize Radley. Sewell was immoveable, saying it was a nasty thing, full of pretence, & and that the only way to improve it was to pull it down, – that if I didn’t think the same, the style should not be fatal. However, he argued strongly against it, on account of its neighbourhood to the Court, and especially to that of Eton. I felt that there was much force in the remarks, but resisted the idea of the objection being unsurmountable. Mr Henry Sewell & I had gone over the same ground in London, but thought that we ought not entirely to throw it aside, especially as it was to be either let or sold. It was therefore ruled that I should go and see it on Thursday. Wrote to Mr Sewell to that effect.
1: Edward Monro, a Tractarian minister. He was the curate of Harrow Weald, where he established an agricultural college which he operated at his own expense. Entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
2: Thomas Willement was a prominent stained-glass artist of the mid-nineteenth century; six panels of heraldic glass which have been attributed to him were inserted into the wall of the barn which Sewell and Singleton converted into the Schoolroom at Radley (now the Library). Entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
3: This may be an early sign in what would be adopted at Radley as sileatur in dormitorio, one of the greatest and most far-reaching of Sewell’s school reforms. When the original Dormitory was built in 1849, it contained 70 cubicles in Upper and 43 in Lower. Each boy had his own cubicle with a curtained entrance, which was to be regarded as a sacred place, where privacy and silence were the order of the day. The resemblance to Monro’s school is very clear.
4: Sewell would later introduce individual gardens to be tended by the boys at Radley.
March 24th, 1847 (Wednesday, National Fast for Famine)
Sewell came to my lodgings before breakfast and renewed his objections to St. Leonard’s Hill, urging that rivalry & jealousy between us & Eton would be sure to arise & be perpetuated, and thus a lasting impediment would be thrown in the way of our success; – that if we became a large School, Eton would sneer at our inferiority in numbers & class, – & that we might value ourselves upon our Religion, – which would be a miserable state of things. I saw not the matter in so strong a light, though I dreaded the collision of the two bodies in some way or other. He then said that he would take upon himself the responsibility of a negative, – to which I instantly submitted, feeling the comfort of so plain a reason as his scruple gave me, for not directing another thought to the place. He then engaged to send a parcel by Rail to his brother, with a charge to have it delivered that evening, telling him our determination. It so happened that the parcel was not delivered till the following morning, 5 minutes after Mr Henry Sewell had set out for Slough. How provoking!
Sewell met Mr Barrow of Queen’s & Mr Heathcote1 at New College Chapel; – as also his brother James Edwards Sewell, who preached the Fast Sermon there before the University. He told them of our plan, with which they were delighted. They quite agreed with him about the proximity of St. Leonard’s to Eton being fatal.
The “National Fast for Famine” Singleton mentions in the title was observed by the Church throughout England and Ireland on this day, as “a public fast and humiliation” for relief from the ongoing Irish famine.
1: William Beadon Heathcote, Fellow of New College, Oxford. He became the second Warden of Radley, 1851-52.
March 25th, 1847 (Thursday) – Bleak prospects
Walked with Sewell for a long time up & down the Terrace in Merton Gardens, – talking of our prospects & difficulties. Saw the great uncertainty of obtaining funds in sufficient time to open on the 1st of August, – and agreed that, in any case, we must provide ourselves with Wooden houses. Sewell willing, ‘if the worst came to the worst,’ to order them on his own responsibility, & pay off the debt by instalments. Spirits by no means high.
March 26th, 1847 (Friday) – Housing worries
Sewell got a letter from Mr Bowyer to say that his brother, who was to be his heir, would not consent to a lease for so long a term as 21 years. Sewell answered it in such a way, that an anxiety to have the place might appear, without any undue pressing. He told me that he thought the brother would strike yet.
Walked in Wadham gardens together, in poor spirits enough; thought we were driven to Kneller Hall, – to me a shocking contemplation. Sewell mentioned a place, of which his brothers had the disposal, which belonged to two heiresses, neither of whom could occupy it, & which therefore would be got at a cheap rate. It is called Trawscoed, near Welshpool, on Montgomeryshire, and such were our difficulties that it was determined that Sewell should go & see it. Though it was sadly out of the way, yet it is a fine, healthy, mountainous, country, & living must be cheap.
However, he did not go after all, as he was unable to finish an article for the English Review in sufficient time.
Wrote to Mr Cox, of Craig’s Court, to inquire if the house & Park would be let or sold, – i.e. at Orchardleigh.1
March 27th, 1847 (Saturday)
Sewell got a letter from Mr Crichton to say that he had lately sent his sons to school, but expressing earnest wishes for our success.
Passed James Johnson’s (builder’s) yard, & being struck by a large Wooden house, went in to ascertain particulars about such things. He told us that they would be very cheap, and that he could get up all that we wanted in 2 months’ time. Saw him with some Poppy heads from Stanton Harcourt, good simple fleur-de-lis, which would do well for the Stauncheons of our Cubicles; – also some well seasoned wood of the oak-kind, of suitable scantling, for the Stauncheons themselves.
It was agreed that Sewell should go to Mr Rawlinson’s place, Chadlington, near Chipping Norton, about 17 miles fm. Oxon., which we understood was to be let or sold; but letters by the late post, which had to be answered, prevented him, and the rain made me rather shrink from the expedition. As it turned out, it was a matter of no consequence that neither went, or rather, of some consequence, for he heard afterwards that we could not get it.
March 30th, 1847 (Tuesday) – Orchardleigh
A letter from Cox, stating that the Park at Orchardleigh was let for a year, – that the house was still to be let; – but that, as to the purchase, no lease could be given without an understanding as to time & price: – all very proper. This determined us at once to go thither. Before we set off, Sewell got a letter from Mr Hornby, the incumbent of one of the largest livings in England, a gentleman of considerable fortune, great liberality, & earnest Church principles. It was an answer to one Sewell had written, seeking his support. He expressed great interest, was anxious to hear more, but warned us that, even if our place received his full concurrence, he would not be able to contribute largely to it, as he was engaged in undertakings of magnitude, being now engaged in building a Chancel to his Church, at an outlay of £4,000. He ended by saying that he feared that Sewell was about placing at the head of his projected College ‘the man, who of all others was the most unfit; – for that he understood that he (that is myself) had endeavoured to introduce at Stackallan arbitrary enactments about Fasting, and other intolerable austerities. At the same time, he added that he would not conceal his extreme anxiety to know the real truth on these points. This letter we considered most satisfactory, coming from a person of Mr. Hornby’s station, character, & influence, – for that there could be no difficulty in setting him right on the subjects which gave him such alarm. Were it a matter of opinion, to establish confidence would be a hopeless task, but it was a simple question of plain fact, which could be set at rest in a moment. Sewell accordingly despatched a hurried note, to relieve his mind for the present, promising a more enlarged account of the state of things, which ended in our retirement from Ireland.
Set off for Bath, and thence took a Post-Chaise for Orchardleigh, 12 miles off. Passing through the village of Norton-St.-Philip’s, we were struck with a beautiful old house, the Inn of the place, which had evidently not always been an Inn. Whatever might be its history, it had seen better days. The projecting windows, the arched Porch, the high roof, were so charming that Sewell insisted on our getting out of the Chaise to inspect it. A very simple, but highly picturesque, turret stands in the back-yard. It is attached to the Wall of the house, terminating below the eave, in a pointed roof with 2 ornamental details. It is a semi-hexagon, I think, and nothing can be more chaste and beautiful. This contains a staircase, which immediately brought before us our Dormitories and their wants. There is not anything of particular interest within, tho’ it was curious to see how the edges of the stone steps were entirely worn away by the trampings of human beings during centuries. The landlady seemed to know nothing of the history of her own house, though she held some vague tradition of its having ‘belonged to the Church’. However, Mr Donkin, of New College, told me afterwards that he knew the country well, & believed it to be the remains of an old Manor House.1
We entered Orchardleigh by a handsome castellated gateway, and found the Park very fine, – the ground diversified – the timber splendid, – and to our serious misgivings, – the drive interminable. How could we ever venture upon such a grand place? How could we ever hope to be the possessors of thousands of pounds worth of timber? The house did at last appear, lying low at the head of a fine lake, between two undulating banks, studded with trees, – one of them inclining to be steep. It is an old, irregular, rather dilapidated building; decent, without pretence & without interest; and unhappily, as we thought, rather small for our purpose; – a defect not at all atoned for by a fine quadrangle of offices, which we had some reason to expect. These, on the contrary, proved to be low, contracted, almost good-for-nothing.
On ringing the door-bell, and asking permission to see the house, the maid went to ask the Master’s leave. Mr Cox had given us to understand that it was untenanted, except perhaps by a mere caretaker, but a Mr Somebody soon appeared and resolutely refused us admission. It was vain to say that we were in communication with Mr. Cox about taking the house; – (perhaps a suspicion of this very thing made him so determined;) – the appeal to his courtesy on behalf of two travellers, come all the way from Oxford, was equally unavailing, – he would not let us in, – vouchsafing at the same time the intelligence that it was not in a fit state for the residence of a gentleman. It appears that he rented the Park, so after obtaining leave to walk around the grounds, we left him to what consolation might be provided by his incivility or prudence. Perhaps, after all, he had some reason which might have justified the act, – though the manner scarcely admitted of defence.
From the outside we made some calculations as to the capacity of the building, and then wandered through the Park. From the summit of the falling ground, below which the House stands, there is a fine flat, which. at the boundary fence, commands a noble view of the neighbouring country, and the town of Frome, which is scarcely 2 miles off. By the way, Monk was there at that very moment, which we as little knew, as he that we were almost in sight of him. We left Oxon at a moment’s notice, so could not have written to him at Oakhill. The view on the other side rests chiefly upon the park itself, which (as already more than hinted) is of great extent, enclosing about 300 acres. The masses of wood are very fine, and the lake, which is well contrived, stretches to a considerable extent in the hollow. It is in one place 30 feet deep, & when we asked whether it abounded in fish, we heard that it contained a wagon-load, our informant evidently thinking that a monstrous proportion.
Sewell & I then talked on the suitableness of the place to our object. The house might do, though we should have to build Chapel, Hall, School-room, & Dormitory, in which respect it was no worse than most other places. There was a grand range for the boys, dignity & some beauty would surround them, the lake would do well for bathing and boating, the position was retired, & yet a Railroad would soon be constructed, giving easy access to it, – at a convenient distance from a capital town, – building stone & gravel on the spot, & so on. On the other hand, the rent would be a very serious liability to incur, and afterwards to redeem, – the sum to be paid for the timber would be great, & much of it would be sunk, without the possibility of fructifying. The house lay low, near the head of the lake, where there must be some shallow & stagnant water; – a church in a spurious style, to which all in the Parish of Orchardleigh repair, (a very small one to be sure,) was close, entered by a little bridge over a narrow belt of fluid, which looked more like dirty soap-suds than water. This would at least impair privacy, though the outrage to tease might be endured. These were some of the points of advantage & of difficulty that we went over, while returning to Bath, and our conclusion was that I should go up to London, & make further inquiries about rent, lease, time given for purchase, &c. – Sewell also went on the Bristol, to find out, if possible, whether Mr Miles would dispose of the House & some ground at Ford Abbey.2
I got some tea, wrote away at my journal, which was sadly in arrear, & went to bed, where I got little or no sleep.
1: The George, Norton St-Philip, Somerset.
2: Forde Abbey. Miles was described as a slavetrader.
March 31st, 1847 (Wednesday) – A wasted journey
Went to London by the Express Train. Went with Mr Henry Sewell to Cox in Craig’s Court, who told us that he had just heard that the house at Orchardleigh had been let for a year to the person, whom we had found in occupation. He added that he would not sell the House or Park separate from the rest of the estate. After quitting the presence of the great army agent, it struck me as a great pity that he had not told me all that before, which would have made me richer by some pounds than I was then. I have no doubt that he must manage his military affairs a good deal better. Had some conversation with my companion about the vast waste that there was in the world. No great things are ever done without great expenditure of material. This seems to be a universal law. What numbers of seeds, that are thrown into the earth, are fated to perish for one that grows! So that our journey was in a certain, and that a sound, sense no waste at all. Mr Sewell called on Mr Sharpe in Fleet St, about a church that the latter wishes to build in the Isle of Wight, – but he found him gone to Oxford to see Sewell about the letter which Sewell had written to him.