A Few Words on the Future of Westminster School

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A Few Words on the Future of Westminster School  (1868) 
by James Lee-Warner














The writer has no other claims to express himself upon the subject of the following pages than the interest he cannot cease to feel in it, after his recent connection, during four years, with Westminster School. Possibly, too, there may be some advantage in its being handled by one educated under different school-associations at Rugby. He does not for a moment presume to forestall the decision of any future governing body: but the subject is at least ripe for discussion, if not for action; and he ventures to bring together those points which seem to him to bear most materially upon its settlement.

Univ. Coll., Oxford,

May 5, 1868.




The practical issue of how best to constitute Westminster School permanently on its present site, has long been partially suspended by the uncertain prospect of its removal into the country. That idea first gained currency in consequence of a meeting of old Westminsters, held under the presidency of the late Dean, in 1860. It subsequently received the partial sanction of the Public Schools Commissioners in their Report. It may however be fairly said, that in neither case was the idea examined very closely in detail with a view to the practical carrying of it out: the opinions passed afiected only the desirability and not the practicability of the scheme. For instance, in neither case was any estimate made, either of the whole endowment fund at the disposal of the School, or of the proportion of it which it was desirable should be expended on the purchase of ground and the erection of suitable school-buildings. This indecision was no doubt due to the fact that the School, as a school, had then, as is the case too now until the present Public Schools Bill becomes law, no property or endowments which it can deal with as its own; but it is plain that, if there really exists any reasonable hope of this idea being ever accomplished, the time is more than fully come when plans should be forthcoming and estimates at hand with a view to its immediate realization. If, on the other hand, the difficulties are such as to make it unlikely, then it is of the utmost importance for the interests of the School, which have suffered not unnaturally by this long pending possibility, that the idea of removal should be distinctly renounced, and that the question of how best to deal with it on its present site should be deliberately entertained as the only practicable issue.

The question of the removal of any school from its existing site really turns on the possibility of carrying out the scheme in such a way as to give the school when removed[1] a start worthy of its past pretensions in respect of site, buildings, &c., as compared with other schools of the same grade. An exaggerated notion of the wealth of Westminster School is not uncommon. Its case is often quoted as identical with that of Charterhouse, whose removal to a country site is now in course of being carried out. It may be well to state a few considerations tending to suggest the limits within which the removal of Westminster would be practicable as well as desirable.

1. It may be instructive to compare more closely the cases of Charterhouse and Westminster. The annual income of Charterhouse, as stated in the Reports of both the Schools Commissions[2], averages 8000l. This sum comprises both the net annual value of school endowment, and that of exhibitions, tenable as school property, at the Universities. In the case of Westminster these two items[3] amount respectively to 2,250l. and 685l. With the additional income of 912l. recommended by the Public Schools Commissioners, the whole annual income of Westminster which it would be competent for either the existing or proposed new governing body to deal with, would even then be less than 4000l. as compared with 8000l. for Charterhouse. But it is in her connection with Christ Church that the main wealth of Westminster lies, through the junior studentships and exhibitions restricted to the competition of Westminsters, and amounting to the annual value of nearly 3000l.[4] These emoluments are tenable, of course, not as school, but as college property[5]: it follows then that any scheme for a satisfactory removal of the school must depend, in the absence of other funds, on the willingness of the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church to capitalise a portion of this fund, and to submit to the corresponding sacrifice. Such a suggestion was indeed thrown out in some of the evidence given before the Public Schools Commission. But inasmuch as the recommendation of the Commissioners to include the Dean of Christ Church and the Master of Trinity in the new governing body does not extend to their respective societies, fresh legislation, such as the clauses of the present Public Schools Bill do not at any rate seem to contemplate, would be required for a measure affecting the property of either of those bodies. Upon this contingency the question of removal must to no small extent depend. Again, the net return from the sale of all the ground and buildings occupied by Westminster School in Dean's Yard and Vincent Square—supposing that this area were assigned to the School as its own, which hitherto it has never been—was estimated[6] in the evidence given before the Public Schools Commission at no more than 30,000l. Charterhouse has sold its site and buildings for 90,000l. Again, the character of Charterhouse is in no way bound up with its present site: the School is enclosed within its own walls, and the neighbourhood is nothing but an inconvenient appendage, which may be dropped with positive and obvious advantage. In the case of Westminster School, however, its most characteristic features depend upon the locality: separated from the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, the School would no longer be Westminster. Removed into the country, there would be some difficulty in its retaining its identity.

2. But assuming the Public Schools Bill to pass, and to put the School definitely and directly in possession of a fixed income, the present time does not seem very favourable for the foundation of a new school of the Public School type in the country.

(a) The need of more Public Schools, felt some years ago, has been since met by the rise of Marlborough, Cheltenham, Wellington College, Haileybury, and Clifton, not to mention other schools. To some extent Westminster, if removed now, would start at a disadvantage as compared with them.

(b) Action may be expected soon to be taken upon the Report of the Middle Class Schools Commission, which, while it will set some rich foundations free to compete on equal terms from their existing sites with the above-named schools, may be expected to give rise to a different class of schools, the comparative absence of which hitherto, in any satisfactory form, has tended to increase the numbers who have been glad to avail themselves of schools of the Public School type.

More positive reasons are not wanting which have been urged in favour of retaining the School upon its present site. If less frequented than of old by the sons of old Westminsters, it has met the wants of an increasing number of London parents, and in their behalf it is pleaded that the schools at present existing in London are not more than are required, and that they ought to be retained for the benefit of the resident population. As an additional recommendation of this view, it is further urged that the situation of Westminster is eminently convenient of access by railways and public conveyances; the neighbourhood has been greatly improved in recent years, and still further changes in the same direction are in prospect. The School has ever enjoyed a singular immunity from serious epidemics, with the single exception of a fever in Dean Buckland's time, which was clearly caused by a mismanagement of the sewage.

If, then, it be determined that the School remain on its present site, the question arises whether any alterations in its present constitution, with regard either to the arrangement of hours or the use made of the endowment-funds, are desirable, in order to make it as efficient as possible in its character of a school of the highest class situated in London. A 'school of the highest class' is said, because the connection with Christ Church and Trinity, as well as a universally felt desire among all old Westminsters, which is not unpardonable, seem to point indisputably to its remaining a school mainly preparatory for the Universities.

Any alterations made must depend to a considerable extent on the relation which exists between the arrangement of the school hours and the use made of the endowment fund. As regards the former, the convenience of London parents is the first element to be taken into consideration. As regards the latter, by which is understood mainly election to 'college,' and the subsequent election to Christ Church and Trinity, the first element to be taken into account is to secure the largest range of competition possible. It is evident that it would be easy to sacrifice one of these considerations to the other. But is it possible to adjust them to one another in a manner altogether satisfactory?

1. To consider the arrangement of school hours as affecting the character of the School. Under present circumstances the School is more of a boarding-school than a day-school. Besides forty boys who are boarded in college, there are about sixty boys now boarding in two other houses. The day-boys consist of two classes—half-boarders, who remain in the middle of the day and dine at one or other of the boarding-houses, and home-boarders, as they are called, for whom their parents provide dinner either at their own homes or in the neighbourhood. While the increase of the day-boy element, whether half-boarder or home-boarder, is the result now to be mainly aimed at for the School, the local circumstances of Westminster do not seem to demand that the result should be attained in precisely the same manner as at King's College School, for instance, or the City of London School.

As compared then with these two schools, the situation of Westminster is not such as absolutely to preclude recreation finding any place in the school system. It is presumed that, in the cases of King's College School and the City of London School, it is necessity rather than desirability which compels the school hours to adapt themselves to ordinary business hours in London, and to be concentrated within the hours from 9 or 9.30 to 3 or 4, with only a short interval for lunch in the middle of the day. It is not so much for the convenience of the parents as of the school that the return of the boys home at so early an hour as 3 or 4 in the afternoon is rendered necessary. In the case of Westminster, there exists, besides a gymnasium and racket-courts in Little Dean's Yard, a playground within less than ten minutes' walk, of considerable size, in Vincent Square. There is nothing to prevent the relation of day-boys to the School conforming rather to the type of the position of day-boys at country schools, who take part in the school games, than to that of boys educated at the above-named schools. The practical details of this would be morning school from 9 to 12.30; from 12.30 to 3 or 3.30 recreation and dinner; afternoon school from 3 to 5 or 3.30 to 5.30 p.m. There is reason to think that many London parents will always be glad of such opportunities of amusement as well as instruction being provided, which are none the less fully compatible with the possibility of their sons returning home at a conveniently early hour in the evening. This means of fusing the common life of the school in out-of-door life beyond school hours, while it holds out the advantages which the Public Schools in the country (though some of these too are situated under analogous conditions in large towns) are enabled to supply, would be more satisfactory in many ways to the masters than a system where their intercourse with the boys is limited entirely to the hours spent within the walls of the school-room.

2. To consider next the best use of the endowment fund. The two main elements of this are election of boys to 'college,' and the election to junior studentships at Christ Church and exhibitions at Trinity.

(a) To consider the case of the last of these two elements first. Under the present constitution the competition for Christ Church and Trinity is confined to members of 'college' only. No change seems to the writer more imperatively required than that the competition should be opened[7], as it has been at Winchester with the happiest results, to the whole School, a certain amount of previous residence, say three years, being the only condition requisite for eligibility. This would create a wholesome feeling of rivalry within the walls of 'college,' and save its members from the intellectual stagnation which, it cannot be doubted from the past history of the School, has tended to arise from the too great certainty of securing the ultimate election to Christ Church or Trinity. The privilege of an almost gratuitous education in 'college' for four years, which will be the case if the Public Schools Bill passes in its present form, is quite sufficient attraction in itself to render it wholly unnecessary to make it imply absolute certainty of further emoluments at the University. It is probable too that the ablest boys, as at Eton and Winchester, will be generally found among the 'Queen's Scholars.' On the other hand, cases will arise where, either from the affluence of the parents or from their living in the neighbourhood, or owing to ill-health, it may not be an object to have sons competing for 'college,' to whom, at the same time, the honour of winning ultimately the election to Christ Church or Trinity would be a great stimulus[8]. Besides, the effect of excluding all but collegers from the competition for Christ Church or Trinity has been to withdraw one great inducement from that class of boys, half-boarders and home-boarders, whose presence it is the interest of the School most of all to encourage.

(b) As regards 'college,' the existing system requires a year's residence in the School previous to eligibility for the foundation. The tendency of this is undoubtedly to narrow the field of competition. Two other courses are open: (1) On the supposition of the conversion of Westminster into a day-school of the same type as the City of London School and King's College School, to annul 'college' and to convert the fund at present devoted to its maintenance into exhibitions tenable at home; (2) Retaining 'college,' to open the candidature to all comers with or without previous residence in the school, as at Eton and Winchester.

As regards (1), apart from the question of converting Westminster into a day-school pure and simple, which does not seem necessary, the tendency of exhibitions tenable at home would be really, in the case of a prize—shown by the similar cases of Eton and Winchester to be one greatly valued by parents—to narrow the competition to boys who happened to live within such a radius as would admit of their being day-boys. Moreover, the plan of residence as boarders seems to combine with the reward offered to merit the advantage of giving valuable assistance to a class of parents who, living at a distance from good Public School instruction, show by their eagerness for success that some such help in the education of their sons is a real boon to themselves.

As regards (2), it has been objected that the present limit of residence in 'college' to four years involves the admission of boys averaging from fourteen to fifteen years of age, and that at such an age, as compared with the usual age of candidates at Eton and Winchester, there is less chance of the masters securing any good influence over a boy of unruly disposition then first entering the School. To remedy this, one suggestion made has been to limit the number of annual vacancies to eight, which would allow of five years' residence, and limit the maximum of age at entrance to fourteen, where under the present system ten annual vacancies only allow a residence of four years, there being room for forty boys in all in 'college.' Or again, a combination of the existing system with that of Eton and Winchester might meet the difficulties of the case: half the annual vacancies might be opened to public competition with the restriction of previous residence, the other half being limited to boys who had already been members of the School for one year. For both the same examination would suffice, which should be thoroughly simple in its details, and for which parents living in the country, or private schoolmasters, might be able to prepare boys without need of any special initiation into the technicalities of a peculiar system of examination, such as the present system of 'the challenges' undoubtedly is.

Finally, the circumstances of the School as regards its situation, which is universally acknowledged to be healthy, and its playground in Vincent Square, do not seem to require the breaking up of the existing boarding-houses. While there is no room to extend the boarding-house system further at Westminster, the existence of the present houses is quite compatible with the presence of a large day-boy element, and may satisfy some needs which are felt even in London. To some parents in the country it is an attraction that their sons should be brought up within the neighbourhood of such historic associations. Other parents again, resident in or near London, are attracted by the possibility of having their sons home for the Saturday afternoon and Sunday, which is an especial feature of the School. Moreover, it has been the experience of schools less favourably situated, like the City schools, that with the growth of the reputation of the School as a place of efficient teaching has come a demand from parents living at a distance for boarding-house accommodation. All these claims the continuance of the existing boarding-houses would be ready to meet. With the forty Queen's Scholars, the boys in these boarding-houses would form a valuable nucleus, of sufficient permanence in itself, round which might cluster an addition of some 150 or 200 more day-boys, whether half-boarders or 'home-boarders'—the class of boys which it is anticipated the throwing open of the competition for Christ Church and Trinity, the definite liberation of the School from the long-pending uncertainty of removal, and the advantages expected to accrue from the final passing of the Public Schools Bill will draw. It is only of late years that an alteration of school hours to suit day-boys has been made, and that a willingness to accept such half-boarders and home-boarders has been put forward as a prominent feature of the School. No doubt with this increase in the numbers of the School, fresh accommodation will be required, and it is hoped that the Dean and Chapter, who in recent years have shown so much kindness towards it, will not be wanting in readiness to grant space for its expansion.

Nothing has been said about changes in the educational system itself, though this is a question of paramount importance; because full confidence is felt that the present Head Master is quite alive to the important changes which the progress of opinion is enforcing on the Universities and which will necessitate, if they do not even presuppose, corresponding changes in the Public Schools.

Nor, again, has it been thought pertinent to the present remarks to discuss the question of the comparative morality of schools in London or in the country. It would be too much to hope for, even if it were desirable, that schools should cease to exist in London and other large towns; but the present writer, without entering into details, can honestly assert that Westminster boys as known by him may be very favourably compared in this respect with those of schools situated in the country.

  1. In illustration of the cost of land and buildings suitable for a school of the Public School type, it may be stated that out of the 160,000l. constituting the endowment fund of Wellington College, 55,000l. was spent at the outset on the site and buildings.
  2. Middle Class Schools Report, vol. i. App. v. p. (93.) Public Schools, vol. i. p. 177.
  3. As kindly furnished to me, on inquiry, by the Head Master. The details of the Exhibition fund are—Triplett's, 380l.; Bp. Williams', 75l.; various funds, 150l.; election moneys, 80l.
  4. Twenty-one Junior Studentships, of more than 100l. yearly value, tenable for seven years, and 600l. for the interest of the Carey money.
  5. The Trinity College Exhibitions, with Samwaies' Fund, amount to 430l. in all annually; they are not specially discussed here, as not bearing so much on the removal question.
  6. Vol. iii. Westminster Evidence, 3809.
  7. As recommended by the Public Schools Commissioners.
  8. The great value of the junior studentships at Christ Church, which fully equals, if it does not surpass, that of the best scholarships in Oxford, still further enhances the importance of the prize.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.