Old Monovians Association; History of the School

Decline and Refoundation; 1820 - 1889


The trustees now decided to improve the status of the Monoux School. They advertised for a grammar-school master, able to teach the classical languages in accordance both with the 1659 Commission and with what they conceived to have been Monoux's intentions. The person appointed was Rev. F. Parsons, who lasted no more than a month or so, and he was replaced by Rev. J. F. Roberts, who appears to have arrived in March 1820. He was previously Second Master at Felsted School, where the First Master, Rev. E. Squire, had at that time (1813-29) completely run down the charity school provisions and substituted a fee-paying boarding school of his own devising in the premises.

The name of Roberts has been much vilified, and some strange misconceptions have been accepted of the running of the school during his time, the most popular of which is that the numbers taught were reduced at one time to five boys. Roberts, it is certain, ran the school for his own profit. After his arrival, he changed the course of instruction, such that the boys then in the school were taught quite different subjects. He also increased the charges for extras to between 20s. and 44s. per year, with the result that most of the scholars left forthwith. From then on, he taught Latin and Greek free of charge, but made a charge of six guineas a year for instruction in English, History, Geography, Mathematics. In doing this he had adopted the Felsted system in its entirety. Roberts therefore altered the whole outlook of the school. His real purpose was to take boarders, outside the foundation, and teach them at a much more remunerative rate, together with a few local boys. He took a house in Church Lane, identified as the Walnuts, opposite the Ancient House. The Chestnuts nearby has also been suggested as his base; perhaps he moved about as the size of his establishment varied. There he ran a boarding establishment, seemingly holding some thirty boys at any one time. Teaching, however, took place in the building belonging to the foundation.

Of this period we have a remarkable narrative by Edward Berthon, clergyman and marine inventor. He was the son of a London merchant, with Walthamstow connections, who had become bankrupt. Edward was sent to the Monoux School in 1820, after a spell in a larger private school in Wanstead. He was nine at the time and the youngest in the school. The boarders seem to have been ill-fed and strictly taught, but Berthon himself later went on to Cambridge, as did some of his contemporaries. The schoolroom over the almshouses is described as "a wretched draughty loft, with a steep open-tiled roof". He describes a riot in the boarding house and its consequences; Roberts threatening to flog the whole school and, after some hectoring, commuting the sentence to a thousand lines. One of Berthon's memories concerns the long board, still in the present School's possession, reading "Georgius Monox, Eques, hanc Scholam fundavit, AD 1527", which he says "was nearly three hundred years old". If so its inscription must have been renewed, for the "s" of "Eques" is painted as "f ", in the style of the eighteenth century. Roberts was doing no more than schoolmasters up and down the country were doing. Many a Tudor institution was converted into a reputable school by the same process; but he might have succeeded more had he been less restrictive in the course of education offered to the free scholars. Something of the kind happened at Chigwell School and at the Colchester Royal Grammar School, these schools prospered greatly later in the century. As it was, his method of expanding the profitable boarding side at the expense of the foundation led eventually to his removal in 1836, shortly after the Charity Commissioners' Report.

Ironically, four years after Roberts had been dismissed, Parliament passed the Grammar Schools Act, which would effectively have deprived him of his basis for conducting the school. This was that the trustees, in appointing him, had stated that the school was a classical one, following the edict of the 1659 Commission, which he interpreted, whether in good faith or not, as an obligation upon himself to teach gratuitously only Greek and Latin, as was the case in many classical schools up and down the country. The Act of 1840 put an end to this, so that Roberts could have been required to teach English subjects free of charge also. In any case, the return the Parish made in 1833 to a Commons Committee states that Roberts was teaching fifteen in the Charity School, as well as his boarders, so if that was true, obviously some effort had been made to comply with the Charity Commissioners' ruling.

After Roberts, came Thomas Waite, who in 1838 obtained permission to appoint a deputy. This deputy was Robert Watkins, "late second master at Corrie's Grammar School, Madras". A prospectus of Watkins' time has survived in which it is stated foundationers paid 2 gns p.a. and non-foundationers, 4 gns. p.a. for day boys, and 22 or 25 gns p.a. for twelve boarders, "including Washing, Mending Linen and use of separate beds". There were about fifty boys in the school in the late 1830s. Waite left the school in 1842 and the Vicar of Walthamstow required of his successor, Dalton, the  services in church prescribed in Monoux's will, which had long since fallen into desuetude. Dalton and his successor, Pennington, came to have less and less contact with the school. Indeed, in 1848, it appears that some teaching, probably scripture, was in the hands of a clergyman of independent means, Dr Greig, of Walthamstow House. When Watkins departed, the trustees prohibited the taking of boarders, and numbers sank to twenty-five or fewer. For the last thirty years of the School's life in the almshouses, the master was Mr. Henry Griggs, a Norfolkman from Diss, born in 1809. During this time the school usually had between fifteen and twenty-four pupils, in the age range 9 to 14. Latin was latterly taught "when required", and everyday work consisted of English, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, geography and  History. All were foundation scholars, unlike what obtained in most grammar schools, where a system similar to that devised by Roberts still prevailed. Lessons took place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with half-days on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The state of the schoolroom gave rise to continual problems, despite alterations and repairs in 1814, 1834, and 1842. In June 1854, Mr. Griggs wrote a strongly worded letter to the trustees, complaining of decaying timber giving rise to noxious odours. He was still complaining about this in 1867! In April 1866, the School was visited by an inspector from the Schools Enquiry Commission, which in 1868 presented to the House of Commons a comprehensive record of every anciently endowed school in England and Wales. The inspector, James Fearon, made some ambiguous remarks about the Monoux School's history in his report which have been perpetuated by subsequent writers. He tells only half the story about Roberts, says that only English was taught immediately prior to 1782 (meaning "no Latin was taught"), and mis-states the date of the Foundation. But his report of the school in action is very illuminating. For just as Roberts had advisedly contrived to defeat the ends of the Foundation, so had a combination of insufficiency of funds and maladministration in 1866 produced a school inefficient in three distinct ways.

First, Henry Griggs was not a graduate, nor was he required to be. The alms-priest was a graduate, as required by the 1659 Commission, but he did not teach in the school at all, for he had been allowed, or required, by the Vicar to appoint a deputy. The inspector did not openly criticise Griggs, but stated "(he) professes to teach Latin, Greek . . . and other subjects required for a liberal education", with the direct implication that he was not capable of teaching all those subjects. Secondly, for no boy was the course gratuitous, as Monoux and Maynard had intended. Each scholar paid 4 guineas a year, some 8 guineas, and, additionally, books cost 30s per year. It will be remembered that Roberts had charged £6 6s. even in the inflationary times of 1820. Thirdly the results attained by the schools were of an extremely low standard; lower, Fearon said, than the second grade of many British or National (i.e. elementary) schools. The reasons for this were fourfold. Firstly the master could not take boarders, for this the trustees had prohibited after Watkins' departure. So he could neither increase his own, nor the foundation's, income. Secondly, the Forest School, opened in 1834, had become a first-rate and prestigious establishment, offering a course of education which for day-boys in 1859 cost only £5 per annum more than that of the Monoux School, at a much higher and more professional level, which naturally attracted the sons of the middle class of the district. There was also a higher-elementary grade in the Walthamstow National School for poorer children. Thirdly, by insisting that the alms-priest be his curate, the Vicar had necessarily reduced the standing of the school, although he may with justice have thought the money better expended in that way. Fourthly the income from the foundation was absurdly low, and the trustees did not, as some trustees of schools did, seek to augment the income by public subscription or any other method. Little responsibility could be attached to Griggs personally, who apparently to willing learners was a painstaking and thorough master in the most adverse of conditions.

The 1868 Report gave a number of interesting details. Griggs' daughter took the boys for drawing and possibly for French. She also ran a girls' school - presumably a small one - in the Monoux master's house. The average age of the seventeen Monoux boys was just over eleven years. More important, they had been in the school on average less than six months. Only three boys had been there more than a year. Griggs explained this by saying that most of his older boys had recently left, but even so, it goes some way to explaining the unusually low standards in the school at the time of the inspection. The inspector wrote tartly, "Into the attainments of the lowest class, I did not enquire". The occupations of the fathers are interesting. One was a lawyer, the only profession represented (his son was in the infamous "lowest class"). Six were clerks, one was a contractor, and the goods agent at Snaresbrook Station sent both his sons to the school. The remaining seven boys were the sons of two coachmen, a tailor, a silversmith, two butchers, and a scientific instrument maker. The subjects taught were Latin (to three boys), Greek ("there is never any demand"), history, geography, arithmetic, book-keeping, French and drawing (to two boys and to one respectively). Griggs also claimed sometimes to teach German. Punishment was by caning, and "rarely used". The school was inspected twice a year by the alms-priest. Scripture was not taught as such, but the school day began and ended with prayers. In the immediate post-Roberts period, it is thought that the alms-priest had continued to give religious  instruction. Even this had ceased by 1868, though candidates were still prepared for confirmation.

We have few first-hand accounts of the school in Grigg's time, and only two by his pupils. A. A. Peacock, writing in The Monovian in the late 1920s, mentioned the slight ambition of most of the boys. He refers also to the high esteem in which Griggs was held, and to his extreme care and diligence with any boy who had the makings of a scholar. Peacock attended in the last years of the unreformed school. The other account comes, in 1936, from George Keable, who was at the school in the early 1860s, and apart from being a splendid, if brief, cameo of life in the old, rural, Walthamstow, is interesting in two ways. Firstly, he says that the school then was of "twenty or thirty boys" - which lends credence to Griggs' statement to Fearon that a large roportion of his boys had recently left. Secondly, he mentions that a favourite astime of the boys was to pour water through the cracks in the floorboards so hat it dripped on to the almsfolk below! One begins to doubt the wisdom of Monoux's dual provision for youth and age.

The question of whether girls were taught in the Monoux School after 1819 is a vexed one. Certainly they were not admitted to the foundation in the the Roberts regime (1820-36), or the Griggs era (c.1850-1879). The origin of the speculation here was an undated local newspaper clipping in a school scrapbook of the late 1920s, which was an obituary for a lady who is stated to have "attended as a girl the old Monoux school by St. Mary's Church". Exact dates were not given in the clipping, but her attendance must have been between 1858 and 1863. The probable explanation for this is that this girl was one of the private pupils of Mr. Griggs' daughter, noted by the inspector, Fearon, in 1866. Since Miss Griggs also taught some of the boys for French and Drawing, it is possible that joint lessons were held. Since the boy foundationers were paying mandatory fees at that time, it is quite likely that the distinction between Miss Griggs' private pupils and her father's school became a fine one.

The first major attempt to reform the school appears to have taken place in 1870, when three factors combined to make the time opportune. Firstly, the office of almspriest-schoolmaster became vacant after George Hignett, a successful applicant for the curate's post, refused to accept the job. Secondly, Henry Griggs had obviously been heavily criticised through the report of Fearon. Thirdly, in 1869, the Endowed Schools Act had become law, which provided the means to the trustees of augmenting the endowment of the school. This was Section 30 of the Act, which provided that, if certain conditions were met, the Endowed Schools Commissioners could make an order diverting to educational purposes the resources of under-used dole, apprenticeship, and miscellaneous charities. Thus it was that on 26 April 1870, a group of the Walthamstow establishment gathered in the Vestry Room to resolve that the Monoux School be converted to "a middle-class school, for which there is great need in the Parish of Walthamstow". This date is one axiomatic to Walthamstow's development, for it was the very day on which the railway reached the town, which was to lead to a complete change in its social and  demographic make-up. The group then wrote to the Commissioners to that effect, mentioning several charities that could be appropriated under Section 30 of the 1869 Act.

After the usual meetings, a draft scheme was agreed, and published in January 1873. But this scheme, and an attempt to revive it in 1877, both failed because the governors of the charities to be diverted felt unable to agree to the terms, and their concurrence was essential for the purposes of the Act. There was also a certain amount of disquiet in the town. The Working Men's Institute - one of whose officers was Henry Griggs - made objections, and very reasonable criticisms were offered by the normally-moderate Walthamstow Chronicle in its editorials in February, 1877. Griggs' own position was precarious. If either of the plans of the seventies had been accepted, the trustees had it in mind to pension him. He would certainly have lost his job, because the draft schemes insisted the master of the reformed school be a graduate. He himself knew this, for a letter still exists in the school from him referring to the first meeting between the interested gentlemen and the commissioners in May, 1870, as "determining my whole future".

As things happened, it was a combination of Griggs' death, and the regrouping of all the Walthamstow charities under single direction, that led eventually to the refoundation of the school. There is no record of the exact date of closure of the old school. Henry Griggs was paid by the trustees up to 25 November 1879. There is no exact record of his death, but Peacock says it was in 1879 or 1880. The Trustees were still advertising places in the school on 20 December 1879 and it is possible that a temporary master was engaged during 1880, but the school was certainly closed by 6 January 1881, when the Trustees leased out the rooms in the almshouse building.

Funds were then allowed to accumulate, the school being held in abeyance by virtue of a decision of the Charity Commissioners in 1880. On 9 September 1884 the Commissioners made a scheme which provided for the re-foundation of the Monoux School. This diverted the income of certain other charities to augment the Monoux and Maynard income, taking £130 per annum out of the Inhabitants' Donation Trust (a fund set up in 1650 which was endowed with a field to the south of Hagger Lane, and which had just been divided up, some parts let on building leases, and some sold to the Great Eastern Railway), and £50 per annum from Wise's Charity, a fund established in 1734. This fund was endowed with land in the Leytonstone Road, which had also in the 1870s been let on building leases.

The 1884 scheme was the first clear and unambiguous basis that the school had ever had. It laid down in considerable detail the aims and conduct of the charity. The Head Master was to be a graduate secured by public advertisement. The School was to be for day scholars only, not fewer than two hundred in number, between the ages of seven and fifteen. The upper limit was subject to raising in individual cases. Preference was to be given to Walthamstow boys. An entrance examination in reading, writing from dictation, and arithmetic, was to be held. Fees were set at between £3 and £6 per annum, but twenty free places were to be maintained unless more than 200 boys were being educated, when one additional free place for every ten additional scholars was to be made available. (it will be remembered that Monoux had provided for free education for only 20 or 30 children.) Free places were to be awarded preferentially to Walthamstow elementary school scholars.

The Headmaster's salary was fixed at £100 and a house, and a capitation allowance of 30s. to £3 per annum for each pupil in the school. The Headmaster was superannuable at the Governors' discretion. The school was to teach the following subjects : non-denominational religious instruction, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, English grammar, composition and literature, mathematics, Latin, at least one modern language, natural science, drawing, drill, and vocal music. The arrangement of the timetable was left to the Headmaster's discretion. The school was to be inspected annually for its attainment and efficiency (in addition, the Board of Education held inspections from 1902 onwards).

The really significant factor of the 1884 scheme was that it allowed the school to expand. The old system had restricted its size, and thus its efficiency. But by the 1884 arrangements, the demand for private education was to subsidise the education of the poor, in a much larger foundation. But because £180 per annum was diverted from the dole charities to the educational charity, the scheme laid the Governors open to later allegations that, in fact, the reverse was happening.

The school therefore re-opened on 14 January 1886 in the schoolroom in West Avenue belonging to the Trinity Congregational Church. The Head Master appointed in 1885 was Henry Allpass, a young man of 25, who had previously taught at the Bristol Cathedral School. He later entered the ministry, and combined his post with that of curate of St. James' parish. By the 1884 scheme, the Governors had been empowered to hire buildings pending completion of their own. At first, they had intended to use the house "Woodlands" near Wood Street, but the Endowed Schools Commissioners had objected. The site for the new building was in High Street and construction began in February 1889 to a design by W. Jacomb-Gibbon and J. W. S. Burmester, though the actual erection was less ornate than the plans owing to lack of funds. It cost £4,095. The foundation stone was laid on 13 July 1889, and the building was formally opened on 18 December 1889 by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Henry Isaacs, though lessons did not begin there until 20 January 1890. For recent migrants to Walthamstow, the High Street building stood on the site now occupied by British Home Stores and the forecourt to the Selborne Walk Shopping Centre - the old school, having served as offices for various departments of the Council, was demolished in 1986.

It is difficult to assess realistically the School's standing in its first years after re-foundation. Allpass most certainly was a popular and energetic master. Reports of the period which survive by disinterested visiting examiners are uniformly good - the mathematical and scientific side being especially strong. A chemistry laboratory was given by W. E. Whittingham, a governor, in 1892, which was a facility few schools possessed at that time. The social and corporate life of the institution seems to have been thoroughgoing prize days, athletic meetings, and school outings being well patronised. The School Song, composed by J. F. H. Read, another governor, dated from 1890. Whether the school less than four years after its re-foundation really was a monument of fame from "England's shore to India's strand" is to be doubted, but the serious lesson of Read's words perhaps is that such a spirit of pride in the school did exist that the School Song's inaccuracies could be unflinchingly and enthusiastically accepted by its contemporaries. The Monoux tradition was often glibly spoken about, but a school has a short memory, and a tradition is often more a product of ten years than of a hundred. We may  accept, I think, that the first decade of re-foundation was one of solid achievement. It was the time when the school's precarious first 350 years, when its existence at all was often to be seen as an  ineffectual fulfilment of the wishes of a long-dead founder, was consolidated into a really thriving institution. Between 1544 and 1886, the School could have closed at any time without many regrets. After 1890, its demise was unthinkable.

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