Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Warre, Edmond

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4175506Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement — Warre, Edmond1927Henry Elford Luxmoore

WARRE, EDMOND (1837–1920), head master of Eton, born in London 12 February 1837, was the second son of Henry Warre, of Bindon, Somerset, by his wife, Mary Caroline, third daughter of Nicholson Calvert, M.P., of Hunsdon House, Hertfordshire. Born a puny infant, he went a high-spirited boy to the Rev. Edward Wickham's school, Hammersmith, whence came other great head masters, and later he passed to Eton, then under the enlightened sway of Edward Craven Hawtrey [q.v.]. With his elder brother Francis, who had been there two years as the pupil of Charles John Abraham, afterwards first bishop of Wellington, New Zealand, he boarded first at Miss Vavasour's, next at Mr. Vidal's, with Edward Coleridge for tutor. Edmond in his last year was removed to Mr. Marriott's, where he had Redvers Buller [q.v.] for fag. His energy and concentration of purpose were remarkable; though a devoted ‘wet-bob’, he was Newcastle scholar at seventeen, and with John (Jack) Hall (neither of them in the eight) won the Pulling in the same year. A fine drawing by George Richmond shows Warre as a lad of great beauty of feature, keen-looking, with light hair, and a delicate complexion. In 1855 he went up as a scholar to Balliol College, Oxford, where he won first classes in moderations and ‘greats’, and in 1859 a fellowship at All Souls. Meanwhile he had won the sculls twice, the pairs three times, and had helped Balliol to be head of the river and to win the ladies' plate at Henley. In 1856 he refused to row in the Oxford eight because of his reading, but next year was No. 6 in the boat which defeated Cambridge, and with J. A. P. (Heywood-) Lonsdale won the Goblets at Henley. In 1858 he was president of the university boat club. The Oxford university rifle volunteer corps was founded in his rooms without help from government or university. As first officer he attended a musketry course at Hythe, and gradually secured 500 members and War Office aid; also with the fifth Earl Spencer [q.v.] he helped to launch the National Rifle Association in 1859.

So far Warre's future career, whether it was to be the bar or the army, was undecided. But he had already met his future wife, Florence Dora, second daughter of Colonel C. Malet, of Fontmell Parva, Dorset, and it chanced that his Eton tutor, Marriott, fell ill and asked his temporary help. He went, and found his vocation. Dr. Goodford [q.v.] offered a mastership: the income enabled him to marry at the cost of his fellowship (1861), and to his elder sister he wrote ‘I feel education is my work in life and the one in which I shall show God's work to this generation’.

For Eton that was a critical time. The Public Schools Commission (1864) impended, ‘new schools’ were building, chapel and hall were being gothicized, mathematics introduced, and in 1871 new statutes partly suppressed the college and altered the government of the school. On his marriage Warre boldly built himself the house called ‘Penn’. Next year Edward Balston, though a fellow, became head master, and Warre received some of his Manor-house boys. Warre's Oxford reputation and the pains and ability spent on his new work naturally attracted distinguished pupils. One of the first, Sir William Anson, writes ‘We all thought it creditable to work, a new idea to most of us’. Warre started with good material: of twenty-one boys whom he sent to the university in 1864 three became fellows of colleges; a Tomline and Oppidan scholar came next year. In the 'nineties all three of the Indian governors and two governors-general were from his house. No less remarkable were its athletic successes. And yet with Warre duty and learning always came before athletics: he hated ‘pot-hunting’ and competition, avoided Henley when it became a huge picnic, and shunned fashion and crowds. In 1867 he took up the Volunteer movement at Eton. He instructed the shooting and secured for the corps the Chalvey range. But the corps often languished, and Warre rejoined to reorganize it. It now flourishes as the Officers' Training Corps.

Not less demand was made on him by the river. He became river master, with charge of watermen and bathing, and at the special request of the captain of the boats undertook the training of the eight, involving hard physical work, as well as much delicate tact to avoid infringing the liberty or authority of the boys. This, with schoolwork conscientiously prepared, was too much even for a very strong man. He sketches a day to his sister … ‘rise at 6.30 and, but for breakfast, be on duty till 2; half an hour's rest after lunch, and then two schools; corps drill and Duffers (pacing crew) till 8; dinner and boys till 10; nap till 11 and work till 2.30.’

In March 1867 Bishop Samuel Wilberforce ordained Warre deacon and gave him priest's orders in December. That month Balston resigned the head-mastership, and, to the disappointment of some, the college appointed Dr. J. J. Hornby [q.v.], whom for seventeen years Warre supported and strengthened with all the loyal fidelity of his masterful will. In 1869 he moved to the larger boarding house which now bears his name. From 1882 to 1904 he gave his sons the advantages of country life at Baron's Down, near Dulverton, on the slopes of Exmoor. He became a farmer and bred sheep, a gardener and laid out beds scientifically for a son's study. He rode, shot, and fished, cleared woodlands, helped harvesters, fraternized with the peasantry, and seemed to be on intimate terms with all the wild things of wood and field. The love of gardening so grew with years that he could identify classical plant-names and meet on equal terms experts such as Sir W. Thiselton Dyer or Canon Ellacombe. In 1904 Baron's Down was left for a house at Finchampstead, nearer Eton.

In 1884, on Dr. Hornby becoming provost, Warre as head master came ‘like a breeze from the sea’, vigorous and refreshing. At first some petty jealousy of a few collegers in VI form vexed him, but the energy of his work and plans put fresh spirit into most. He spent incredible labour on time-tables and curricula, which, like the grammars which he set his assistants to prepare, proved inelastic for the growth of the school. He sank money in a school of mechanics too advanced for the times. But it was no longer possible for any boy to avoid working. Terminal examinations and superannuation did much; also, the moral tone of the school seemed to rise; numbers grew, and the fame of Eton spread world-wide. Much building was done in Warre's reign, but some of it was mediocre, partly through faults of the architects. Colenorton house, the drill hall, lower chapel, Queen's schools, the Warre schools, the memorial of the Boer War, are of this period; and a corner of Cloisters was converted into a residence for the head master. Queen's Eyot he secured for ‘wet-bobs’, and for ‘dry-bobs’ he planted Agar's Plough, which he daily visited even during his later illness. Warre also started the Eton mission at Hackney Wick, too far off and overbuilt, but he let G. F. Bodley [q.v.] set there one of the most beautiful of London churches. He invented the school office, the pivot of all the intricate school arrangements, perhaps his most enduring practical work, as the most triumphant, was the celebration of Queen Victoria's first jubilee, when for days there was complete and enthusiastic unity of the whole school, men and boys, under his direction. By consenting to coach the eight and the rifle corps he brought masters nearer the boys. Official dress was changed for play-time, and the boys, losing some of their free initiative and perhaps of their respect, gained by friendlier intercourse.

But Warre had lived too hard for a constitution less sturdy than his magnificent frame. In 1894 there was heart-trouble. The movement for new studies distressed him and divided the staff, injuring the tutorial system, a corner-stone of Eton. He did not find that the modern subjects were better done when classics were omitted, yet he could never long withstand outside opinion and the pressure of authorities. In 1896 the doctors sent him away for a month's rest, and next year forbade him early school. In 1903 came the terrible blow of a fatal fire in one of the boarding houses. Though he had previously been urgent about fire-drills, yet he was never quite the same man afterwards. In 1905 he resigned, and resided at ‘Finch’ till recalled to the provostship in 1909. But the change was too trying. Grave and impressive was his entry and reception in school yard, but after a time his bodily strength failed altogether, and his resignation in July 1918 was followed by his death at Colenorton 22 January 1920. He left five sons and two daughters.

Never was character better expressed by outward appearance than in Edmond Warre. A big frame, great-limbed but just a little clumsy, and handsome features, full of dignity and kindliness, bespoke the man. He combined a very humble simplicity and a tender heart with true religion and remarkable energy. But his commanding nature made him sometimes inconsiderate of weaker vessels, and his megalopsychia might seem self-centred. Had he retired when his health first failed he would have been remembered as the greatest of Eton head masters. In the long period of decline men forgot the pristine Warre. His extraordinary memory was never at a loss for a classical quotation, nor his kindly humour for a classical epigram. He was a sound scholar, not a bookworm nor yet an orator or ready preacher. To prepare sermons weighed on his spirits, but of talk he took all his share. As division-master, therefore, he was weighty rather than inspiring, active rather than vocal. His scientific boat and oar designs are now only remembered: the raft of Ulysses, Caesar's bridge, the trireme and the axe are still famous models. Compared with great head masters he seems to overtop them in humanity, genuineness, and all-round efficiency. He would have been a great soldier or a great squire. The effect of his personality in making Eton so widely famed ranks him above Edward Barnard [q.v.], John Keate [q.v.], and Edward Hawtrey: he was more complete and lovable than they, and if not the greatest of head masters a very great and typical Englishman.

There is a portrait of Warre by J. S. Sargent in the school hall at Eton.

[C. R. L. Fletcher, Edmond Warre, 1922; Eton school lists; Eton College Chronicle; intimate acquaintance since 1864.]

H. E. L.