Valuable work sheds light on school’s past

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Newcastle City Library has a booklet, c.1817, called Northumberland Schools, with sections on six schools, including the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI in Morpeth.

It begins at page 232 and is clearly part of a larger work. That work is Nicholas Carlisle, A Concise Description of the Endowed Schools of England and Wales, 1818. The author made his fortune by trading on his own account when he was a ship’s purser with the East India Company, and thereafter devoted himself to literature.

He remarks how foolhardy it was for ‘an humble individual ... to undertake a description of all our Endowed Grammar Schools’. But he had already written topographical dictionaries on England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and so had considerable expertise in the collection and presentation of material.

He also occupied a position of unusual advantage. He was Assistant Librarian to the King, Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London and dedicated his work – over 1,500 pages in two thick volumes – to Queen Charlotte, writing his dedicatory letter in the Queen’s Palace Library.

He got some of his information from published works, including Wase’s Considerations concerning Free Schools, 1678, Ackerman’s History of the Principal Schools of England, 1816, and an investigation by a Mr Beckwith, 1808, into the Institutions for the Relief of the Poor, which included schools.

In December 1816 he published a letter and list of questions in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and copied it to all the headmasters of every known grammar school in England and Wales. There are 18 questions, ending: ‘Any other matters, which you may be pleased to communicate, will be gratefully received.’

He tells us that he had read ‘every printed authority, independently of the multiplied correspondence’ resulting from his enquiries, which amounted to more than 1,400 letters sent or received.

In short, his Concise Description was no hackneyed repetition, but was compiled from the best authorities and from up-to-date material supplied by the schoolmasters themselves.

The second report of the Select Committee on the Education of the Lower Orders, 1817, states that they had: ‘considered the information communicated to them ... from various parts of the Country, touching the State of Education and more particularly the misapplication of Funds.’

Drawing attention to cases of ‘misapplication’ was one of Carlisle’s objects in writing his Concise Description.

Of the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI at Morpeth, he says: ‘The Chantry at Morpeth was situate on the North-East of the Bridge, near the side of the river Wansbeck, in a beautiful vale of wood and water ...

‘The Grammar School is kept in the West part, which is entire. And a very handsome modern Chapel, for the use of the Town, was erected some years since on the South side of the ancient edifice.

‘It is said, that some of the estates mentioned in the Grant of Edward the Sixth, have been alienated from the good purposes of the Founder, and are fallen at length into private property ...

‘The present amount of the Endowment is about £240 a year.

‘There are twelve boys at present upon the foundation and fifty others are educated at the School.

‘Valpy’s Latin and Greek Grammars are used.

‘The present Head Master is, The Revd. James Harrison, M.A., formerly Scholar of Catherine Hall, Cambridge.

‘The present Usher is, The Revd. Thomas Fallowfield, M.A., of Peter-House, Cambridge.

‘The Master receives two-thirds of the rents of the Endowment, and the Usher the remainder. The net emolument, arising from Scholars not free, is also divided in the same proportion.

‘In the principal Boarding-house the annual charge for board is £26 for boys under 14 years of age, and £32 for boys above. The Head Master, who lodges in this house, makes no charge for the private Instructions which he gives in the evenings.’

Anyone wanting information on KEVI’s past history will normally look for it in Kennedy’s Story of Morpeth Grammar School, published in 1951. As I read the chapter on KEVI in Carlisle’s Concise Description, however, it occurred to me to wonder if Mr Kennedy knew of it when conducting his research.

It naturally covers some of the same ground as Kennedy, with information on the charter of 1552 and the statutes of 1811. But that is about the extent of the overlap. Carlisle was writing a Concise Description, not a History.

Much of Mr Kennedy’s book is about money, statutes, properties and disputes, some of which were very long-running. Until near his own time he had little information about the school itself. He has rather more information about it in Mr Harrison’s time, however, thanks largely to William Woodman:

‘In August, 1812, James Harrison, M.A., of Catherine Hall, Cambridge, was elected Master. ...

‘Under Harrison and Fallowfield ... the school made a great recovery. The number of pupils rose to 60 (12 being free scholars) and great attention was paid to the ‘other branches of useful and elegant education’... three extra masters ... were employed, M. Duhamel for French, Mr Milner for Mathematics, and Mr Honsby taking the younger boys. The main school was still one large room with the master at one end and the Usher at the other. (Woodman) speaks with great respect for the work of Mr Harrison, whom he describes as ‘a most indefatigable master. He wore knee breeches and white stockings, and I have seen him hurrying down the street in the morning with a black leg and a white one, carrying a gaiter in his hand.’

‘Woodman was a pupil in the school from 1815 to 1821, (from the age of nine years to 15 years) and he states that he read in that time, Ovid, Vergil, Greek Testament and Homer.’

Kennedy takes a close interest in the Latin textbooks used in schools, and in his later chapters makes several references to school fees and boarding charges.

Bearing these things in mind, it looks as if he was unaware of Carlisle’s valuable work. If he had known about the boarding fees and the free tuition, and the fact that Harrison used Valpy, I think he would have said so.

Acknowledgment: Our last Morpathia, of November 6, included a photograph of hearth tiles etc. from Newminster Abbey. Due to lack of space, we omitted to record our thanks to Andrew Parkin, Keeper of Archaeology at the Great North Museum, for the opportunity to photograph them.