Haig Brown, William (DNB12)

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HAIG BROWN, WILLIAM (1823–1907), master of Charterhouse, born at Bromley by Bow, Middlesex, on 3 Dec. 1823, was third son of Thomas Brown of Edinburgh by his wife Amelia, daughter of John Haig, of the family of 'Haig of Bemersyde.' In his tenth year he received a presentation to Christ's Hospital, where he remained, first in the junior school at Hertford, and later on in London, until 1842. Throughout life he maintained a close connection with the Hospital, of which he became a 'donation governor' in 1864, and from that time took an active part in the work of the governing body, his experience being of especial service in connection with the removal of the school to Horsham in 1902. He was author, in 1899, both of 'The Christ's Hospital Carmen' in Latin, and of 'The School Song' in English, with an added version in Greek, French, and German. In 1842 he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1846 as eighth junior optime in the mathematical and second in the first class in the classical tripos. Elected a fellow in October 1848 (M.A. 1849), and taking holy orders (deacon 1852 and priest 1853), he engaged in college work until 1857, when he was appointed headmaster of Kensington proprietary school.

In 1863, on the resignation of Dr. Richard Elwyn of the headmastership of Charterhouse, Haig Brown was appointed his successor on 12 Nov., in spite of the long established tradition that 'the Schoolmaster,' such was then his title, should have been educated at the school. On his first public appearance in Charterhouse at the Founder's Day dinner (12 Dec), Haig Brown sat next to Thackeray, who died twelve days later. Next year Haig Brown proceeded LL.D. at Cambridge.

The position of Charterhouse was at this time critical. Placed in the heart of London, and with the new Smithfield Market at its doors, its existence as a boarding-school was rapidly becoming impossible, and the report of the Public Schools' Commission, issued early in 1864, definitely recommended its removal. Apart from the objections of politicians like A. S. Ayrton [q. v. Suppl. I], who denounced the removal as an injury 'to twenty, thirty, or even 50,000 families in the metropolis,' who had a claim to benefit by its endowments, a stubborn resistance was offered by the governors and their chairman, Archdeacon Hale, the master of the hospital, whose authority was then superior to that of 'the Schoolmaster.' Haig Brown thereupon issued a circular to old Carthusians, laying the whole case before them, the result being that they voted in the proportion of ten to one for removal, while he also won over Lord Derby, an influential governor, who became prime minister in June 1866, and he secured the support of Gladstone, who had recently been made a governor. In May 1866 the governors decided on the removal, and a private bill, giving the necessary powers, was introduced in the House of Lords, passed the House of Commons on 16 August, and became law four days later.

The new and admirable site at Godalming was accidentally discovered by Haig Brown, who, when on a visit to his wife's father at his rectory of Hambledon in the neighbourhood, heard that the 'Deanery Farm estate' was for sale, walked over the same day, and made up his mind. The governors, who had sold a large portion of their London estate to Merchant Taylors' school for a price far below its real value, refused, by what proved to be a very costly error, to purchase more than fifty- five acres, a large part of which was useless either for buildings or for playing-fields, and made provision for the accommodation of only about 180 boys. But the main point was carried; the first sod was turned on Founder's Day 1869, and on 18 June 1872 the new school was occupied by 117 old and 33 new boys. From that moment its progress was marvellous. 'The Schoolmaster' no longer occupied a position subordinate to the 'Master' of the hospital, but by the appointment of a 'now governing body of Charterhouse school' (distinct henceforth from the 'governors of Charterhouse'), in accordance with the Public Schools Act of 1868, he became a headmaster, with the very ample statutory powers which that act bestowed. Once Haig Brown held power he knew how to use it. Fearless himself, he inspired all around him with his own courage and confidence. Within a few years, in addition to the three houses originally built by the governors, eight others were erected by various masters entirely at their own risk, until by September 1876 the number of boys had grown to 500, the number to which it was then wisely limited, though it afterwards crept up to 560. In 1874 the school chapel was consecrated, and from then for more than thirty years frequent additions were made to the school in the shape of class-rooms, a hall, a museum, and new playing-fields. When Haig Brown retired in 1897 he had earned the title which he everywhere bore of 'our second Founder.'

In 1872 the future of Charterhouse was precarious; in 1897 it was secure; and the result was mainly due to the powerful, single-minded personality of the headmaster. He was not a great teacher, certainly no theorist about education, no lover of exact rules, and rather one who allowed both boys and masters the largest measure of independence. Like the other three great schoolmasters of the century, Arnold, Thring, and Kennedy, he neither sought nor received ecclesiastical preferment. Though bold to make changes, he was loyal to the past, so that he became the living embodiment of 'the spirit of the school,' both in its old and its new 'home.' A man 'of infinite jest,' though he could be very stern, he was always very human, so that 'Old Bill,' as he was called, was an object equally of awe and of affection.

On his retirement from the school in 1897 he was appointed master of Charterhouse (in London). He took an active part in the government of the hospital, and remained an energetic member of the governing body of the school. Among other distinctions bestowed on him were those of honorary canon of Winchester in 1891, and honorary fellow of Pembroke, his old college at Cambridge, in 1898. He was also made officier de l'Académie in 1882, and officier de l'Instruction publique in 1900. He died at the Master's lodge at the hospital on 11 Jan. 1907, and was buried in the chapel at Charterhouse School.

Haig Brown married, in 1857, Annie Marion, eldest daughter of the Rev. E. E. Rowsell. During the forty years of his school work she rendered him untiring assistance. By her he was father of five sons and seven daughters.

As a memorial of his work at the school a seated statue in bronze by Harry Bates, A.R.A. (who died before the work was wholly finished), was set up in front of the school chapel in 1899. His portrait by Frank Holl (etched by Hubert von Herkomer) was placed in the great hall in 1886.

Haig Brown's published works are the 'Sertum Carthusianum' (1870); 'Charterhouse Past and Present' (Godalming, 1879); and 'Carthusian Memories and other Verses of Leisure' (with portrait, 1905), a collection of various prologues, epilogues, epigrams, and other fugitive pieces. Three of his hymns, 'O God, whose Wisdom made the Sky,' 'God, Thy Mercy's Fountains,' and 'Auctor omnium bonorum,' have a permanent place in the service for Founder's Day, and are worthy of any collection.

[William Haig Brown of Charterhouse, written by some of his pupils, edited by his son, H. E. Haig Brown, 1908; personal knowledge.]

T. E. P.