Robert Corbet Singleton was born on 9 October 1810, the second son of Francis Corbet of Aclare, co. Meath; his father later altered his surname to Corbet Singleton.
He graduated BA from Trinity College, Dublin in 1830, then MA in 1833. He was instrumental in setting up St Columba’s College, Stackallan (now at Rathfarnham), near Dublin, with William Sewell, and was appointed its first Warden when it was opened in 1843. St Columba’s proved extremely controversial, particularly Singleton’s insistence on a rigorous regime of fasting for the boys, culminating in his resignation in 1846. The events at St Columba’s remained a matter of deep sorrow and anger for Singleton, and of considerable speculation by many of those approached by Sewell and Singleton about the founding of Radley.
After the St Columba’s debacle, Singleton moved to Oxford where in 1847 he was admitted ad eundem to Trinity College. He had retained the support of Sewell throughout the events at St Columba’s and was certainly deserving of the term co-founder of St Peter’s College, Radley. He was appointed the first Warden of Radley on 9th June, 1847.
Singleton was committed to a monastic and ascetic regime for the boys at Radley, and, although ostensibly supported by Sewell, the two frequently clashed over Sewell’s more relaxed, arcadian approach to education, and over Sewell’s increasing disregard for the Warden’s authority, particularly in the matter of expecting any visitor sent ad hoc to be feted immediately by the Warden and Fellows. While at Radley Singleton published The Psalter Arranged for Chanting (1847), and discourses entitled Uncleanness, the Ruin of Body and Soul (1850).
Singleton resigned as Warden in 1851, and Sewell began the systematic removal of his name as co-founder of Radley College. He had no lasting memorial at Radley before the Singleton Library was named in his honour at the centenary in 1947.
In 1851, he returned to Kingstown in Ireland, where he lived with his mother until her death, and then moved to York, where he bought Minster Court. In York, he continued his long acquaintance and collaboration with Edwin Monk, which had begun at St Columba’s. In 1868 he edited, in conjunction with Edwin Monk, The Anglican Hymn-Book, which contained nearly thirty original hymns by him, most notably ‘With gladsome feet we press’. He also published a complete verse translation of the works of Virgil.
Singleton was the second most significant benefactor of St Columba’s. His gifts there and at Radley were estimated to amount to £30,000. At Radley, he gave the first organ, which was lent for the International Exhibition in Dublin in 1853.
He died at Petergate, York, on 7 February 1881. The funeral service was sung by the choir of St Columba’s. He was buried on the 12th in the Corbet vault, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
This article was adapted from the obituary in The Radleian Magazine, May 1881. There is also a short entry on Singleton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.