Chapter VIII

Dr. Holmes' Headmastership



THE LAST 15 YEARS had been a time of upheaval. The next 24 were a period of rest in which, though changes were made and great reforms mooted, nothing revolutionary was done.

DURING THESE YEARS the Headmaster was the Rev. Joseph Holmes, who—an unsuccessful candidate in 1818—was elected on 28 July 1830. He had been 3rd wrangler at Cambridge in 1812 and subsequently fellow and tutor of Queens' College. In 1815 he took the degree of M.A., and of D.D. in 1840. The Rev. R. V. Taylor speaks of him as a sound scholar not only as a mathematician but as a classic and divine, and says that as a teacher he had ability, zeal, and affection, and was much respected by his fellow townsmen and highly esteemed by his scholars.

With him worked as Ushers

1830-1841. Mr. Wollaston.
1841 (-1856). Rev. Richard Wilson (O.L.)
of S. John's College, Cambridge,
B.A. 1833 (38th senior optime and 5th classic).
Examiner 1837 and 1841.
ob. 1890

and as assistants

1830-1831. Mr. Matthew Wilkinson (O.L.)
1831 (-1858). Mr. John Ripley (O.L.)
— apparently John Greenwood Ripley who left the School in 1827 “to be a private tutor.” [In 1838 his place was taken temporarily by a Mr. Milner—perhaps Thomas Darnton Milner (O.L.), who won a Milner scholarship in 1841 and was later Headmaster of Boroughbridge School and died in 1883.] 
1842 (-1855). Mr. Thomas Laurence (O.L.)
1843 (-1855). Mr. Thomas Allman (O.L.)
1843-1847. Mr. John Garland (O.L.),
scholar of S. John's College, Cambridge in 1847;
ob. 1895.
1847-1851. Mr. Thomas Darby (O.L.)
—resigned in 1851, “having entered myself at S. John's College, Cambridge.” Headmaster of Audley Grammar School 1858-1872. 
1851-1854. Mr. (afterwards Rev.) Richard Vickerman Taylor (O.L.)
—B.A. London 1859; author of several books on local history; 
ob. 1914.

It will be noticed that the assistants were still selected from “old boys,” that none apparently were graduates when appointed, and that some never went to a university at all.

BY THE ORDERS of 1830 the Headmaster was to receive £500 annually and £10 for a gown, as well as the house and fees for foreigners and boarders. Dr. Holmes was also allowed to undertake Sunday duty at Trinity Church for Mr. Sheepshanks, now archdeacon of Cornwall. He was not however satisfied with his financial position, for in 1832 he vainly asked for a relaxation in the rule limiting the number of foreigners, in 1837 he raised again the question of the right of the masters to a share in the surplus income, and in 1844 he asked for a gratuity. The Committee voted him £500 and raised his stipend to £600. Possibly this had something to do with the fact that on the death of Archdeacon Sheepshanks Dr. Holmes wished to be appointed his successor, on condition that if a parish should be assigned to the church he should resign either his mastership or the incumbency. This did not suit Dr. Hook, and in 1844 the Committee resolved that the Master should no longer act as curate. Dr. Holmes thought he was badly treated, and published his version of the case. Of this the Committee disapproved, but in 1847 granted him leave, “considering the understanding on which he accepted the headmastership,” to undertake such clerical duties as might not involve his services on weekdays.

The Usher was to have annually £250 with £30 for a house and £10 for a gown, but in 1841 Mr. Wilson received £300 “including allowances heretofore made.” As Third Master Mr. Wilkinson received £60, and £50 also was voted to him for his services during the vacancy. His successor, Mr. Ripley, received £100, raised in 1841 to £130, and in 1844 to £150. He was also voted a gratuity of £100 in 1844, but could not apparently take private pupils even in vacations without obtaining leave. The stipends of the other assistants were small. In 1844 Mr. Allman received £80. In 1853 Messrs. Laurence and Taylor seem to have had £60 each, and the Committee increased the former's stipend by £20. For temporary work Mr. Spence got £20 in 1830, and Mr. Milner the same pay as Mr. Ripley.

THE INCOME OF the School was still rising. In 1837 the average net revenue was £1466, but in 1847 the net rental was £1772.10s.2d. and the Committee owned £3842. 6s.2d. in stock. The expenses however were heavy. Between 1831 and 1836 £4335 were spent on the estates, and the cost of the scheme to be described shortly came to over £6000. Hence in 1853 the Committee, finding themselves faced with an annual deficit of some £25, proposed to reduce the salaries of the masters. Dr. Holmes however urged that this would be unjust and that there were other ways in which money could be saved (e.g. by limiting the number of boys), and the proposal was dropped.

The cause of the deficit was an outburst of reforming zeal on the part of the Committee, who, after the passing of the “Grammar Schools Act” (3 & 4 Vict. c. 77), which gave facilities for framing amending schemes, determined to “form a system of General Education suited to the change of times and the calls of the Inhabitants for an enlargement of the plan of the Founders.”

They decided to base their scheme of reform on the following lines—

(a) that the existing system was good for a complete classical education and should not be disturbed except for some rearrangement;

(b) that the Lower and Middle Schools should not be altered, but in the Upper School boys not intended for the learned professions should have the option of passing to a new master, called the mathematical master, for instruction in such branches of general knowledge, science, and literature as the Governors might fix, but should still study easy Greek and Latin classics for one of the 3 divisions of the day;

(c) that a writing master should be added, to teach possibly also the elements of arithmetic;

(d) that if modern languages were taught a fee should be charged;

(e) that perhaps an extra hour —4 to 5 p.m.—might be added in winter;

(f) that the School should be free only to sons of inhabitants;

(g) that 4 exhibitions of £50 for 4 years, tenable at Oxford, Cambridge, or Durham, should be founded;

(h) that if the numbers should increase extra “Ushers or Assistants” might be appointed in the Lower School;

(i) that new classrooms should be erected as needed.

DR. HOLMES AGREED, except as to the mathematical master, whose appointment he thought inconsistent with the intentions of the founders, and he pointed out that it would be inconvenient to have different masters teaching the same boys, and that the new master would probably not have enough scholars to occupy his time. Some modifications were made, and in 1844 it was resolved to seek the sanction of the Court of Chancery. An unexpected obstacle however presented itself. The buildings were only adapted for 150 boys, and the playground was a mere yard. From 1830 to 1841 the numbers varied between 78 and 123. In 1842 the total was 106, but in 1843, when (without waiting for the passing of the scheme) Mr. Allman was appointed provisionally as writing master, there was a great influx of boys and the total rose to 172, and in 1844 to 205, so that temporary accommodation had to be got in a warehouse in Mark Lane. The Committee proposed therefore to purchase ground on which part of Harrison's Hospital stood, and to rebuild the almshouses on another site; and they arranged to buy 5759 square yards for £3207.2s.0d. To raise the money however they would have to sell land, and this they found they had no power to do. It was found also that the conveyance of the estates to new trustees had not always been properly carried out. The Court of Chancery was accordingly appealed to, and on 22 July 1847 a private Act of Parliament—the “Leeds Grammar School Act”—was passed, vesting all the estates in the Committee, and allowing them to purchase the land, rebuild the almshouses, sell part of the estates to defray the cost, rebuild the School, and invest the surplus revenues. On almost the same date—17 July 1847—the Master of the Rolls gave his assent to the new scheme, as embodied in 27 rules known as the “Fundamental Articles.”

These were really a revised edition of the Orders and the only points that call for special notice are these.

(a) Classical instruction—definitely stated to be the principal object of the foundation—was to be given free to boys entitled to the freedom of the School. The freedom was denned as in 1819, and the number of foreigners was still limited to 20.

(b) “Simultaneously with and not independent of” the classical instruction there should also be taught mathematics, arithmetic, writing, reading, general English literature, geography, English composition, history sacred and profane, and the elements of any of the practical sciences, if the Committee (with the consent of the Headmaster) should so direct. For these subjects a fee might be charged.

(c) No boy was to be admitted under 8 or over 16 unless by special leave, or to remain after 19 unless intending to go to college in the following October. The Committee however might allow a boy to remain till 21 to compete for the Hastings exhibition.

(d) The Committee might for financial reasons limit the number of boys admitted into the 2 lowest forms.

(e) The Headmaster was to receive £600 per annum and a house, the Usher £300 and £30 for a house, the Third Master £150, the Writing Master £80. The Headmaster and Usher should provide themselves with gowns “to be worn always in School.”

(f) The Committee might appoint a mathematical master (with the consent of the Headmaster), and (at their own discretion) such other masters as the School might need.

(g) The Headmaster and Usher might be removed by the Committee for any crime, neglect, or cause reasonable, the other masters by either the Committee or the Headmaster.

(h) The discipline and full control of the School were vested in the Headmaster. The writing master was to teach writing and arithmetic, but the Usher and other masters were to take such part in the instruction as the Headmaster (with the approval of the Committee) might think fit.

(i) 4 exhibitions at least of £50 each tenable for 4 years at Oxford or Cambridge were to be founded. They were confined to boys who had been at the School for the previous 4 years, and in cases of equality free boys were to have the preference.

OF THE POWERS however thus obtained very little use was made. The exhibitions indeed were established, and the first exhibitioner was elected in 1848. By a resolution passed in that year candidates had to give notice of their intention at or before the Whitsuntide meeting of the Committee by a letter in Latin addressed to the Chairman. The proposed ground was bought, but no enlargement of the buildings was carried out, and in fact the number of boys steadily dropped until, at Dr. Holmes' resignation, there were only 100 in the School. The temporary schoolroom however was not closed till 1853. Nor was there much change in the curriculum. The writing master was appointed, but the project of the mathematical master with his multifarious duties—it was even suggested that he might give “evening courses to the inhabitants”—was allowed to lapse. The influx of boys indeed had been almost, solely into the Lower School, and few of them, either through lack of ability or because they left young, ever got out of it, and the new masters were needed in this department and in fact only increased the financial strain, especially as the Committee made no use of the permission to charge a fee for all instruction except in “the learned languages.”

OF THE ACTUAL education given it is not easy to form a reliable estimate.

In classics the teaching was at first well spoken of and in 1838 the examiner was glad to see “a very happy medium between an over-anxious attention to minutiae and that loose, vague, and multifarious reading which tends to dissipate rather than to strengthen the mind.” But in 1847 Mr. Linwood urged that “practical acquaintance with details . . . alone can lead to any sound and accurate scholarship.” Mr. Warter (1849) thought that the boys read too much and too desultorily, and Mr. Kennedy (1850) was struck by the small number of boys reading high classics. Mr. Wood (1851) said that they lacked accuracy and the appreciation of classical idioms, and Mr. Moberley (1852) considered that the composition was very little above a pass standard and that the boys were more apt to reproduce than to think for themselves.

As to mathematics, in 1847 the grounding was criticized as inadequate. In 1850 the algebra was described as better than the arithmetic. Mr. Moberley in 1852 praised the boys for accuracy. Mr. Stocker (1853) advocated the introduction of the differential calculus and algebraic geometry.

In divinity the reports were usually satisfactory; but Mr. Cazenove (1848) complained that Paley was learnt too much by rote, that the boys had a better critical knowledge of the Greek Testament than of the general Scripture narrative, and that “very few knew that Christ retained His humanity after His ascension.” Mr. Moberly (1852) thought that the Bible was too much learnt and too little explained. Mr. Stocker (1853) regarded it as “inconsistent in a Christian school for the Christian names of the boys to be to so great an extent suppressed”—a regret which anyone who has had occasion to consult the early lists of scholars will cordially endorse.

The teaching was not quite as limited as we might imagine. Even in 1834 Mr. Robert Hall lays stress on “the extent of information on subjects usually little attended to at similar establishments,” and protests against “the extraordinary assertion that the funds are expended in teaching nothing but Greek and Latin.” Mr. M. Wilkinson (1836) says that the boys had “much collateral information;” and the Headmaster in 1837 prided himself on having added to the course ancient and modern geography and general history.

To English also real importance was attached. Still it cannot be said that in scope or standard of work there was any great advance during this period.

THE LIST OF honours however was at least respectable. A fair number of boys obtained scholarships, and many have since played a useful part in the life of the town. Of scholars perhaps the most distinguished were E. Atkinson, who was 3rd classic in 1842, and for over 50 years Master of Clare College, Cambridge; J. S. Wood, 4th classic, 22nd wrangler; J. R. Lumby, who besides a first class in classics won the Crosse and Tyrwhitt scholarships at Cambridge and became Norrisian professor in 1879 and Lady Margaret professor in 1892; and C. Sangster, a wrangler and winner of the chancellor's medal for English verse; for the numerous honours of C. M. Gorham, Leeds can scarcely claim the credit. The School also provided in R. Tennant another M.P. for Leeds, and at least two boys rose to high rank in the army, and one in the Indian Civil Service. It is remarkable too how many of Dr. Holmes' pupils became headmasters, though not of very famous schools.

FROM THE “GENERAL RULES,” of which every boy had to have a copy so that “he shall not be allowed to plead ignorance as an excuse for any offence,” we can get some idea as to the organization of the school in 1852. In the hours some changes had been made. In 1838 the Committee resolved that, “for the comfort of masters and scholars and convenience of families,” morning school in the winter months should be from 9 to 12, and in 1852 the hours mentioned are—

Apr. 1 to Sept. 30: 7-9: 10-12: 2-4
October and March: 8-9: 10-12: 2-4
Nov. 1 to Feb. 29: 9-12: 2-4

Wednesdays and Saturdays were still half-holidays. Lateness or absence was punished by the loss of marks. Any boy however who came to School when there was infectious disease at home was to be reported to the Committee. The School was still divided into 7 Forms, and each Form might be subdivided into “removes.” In 1852 the Upper School contained Forms vii and vi, the Middle School v and iv, the Lower School iii, ii, and i. No boy was to be put into the Middle School till he could construe and repeat all the Eton Latin Grammar and up to the defective verbs in the Greek Grammar, or into the Upper School till he could construe and repeat the whole of the Latin and Greek Grammars. In the Upper School all the boys were still taught in all subjects by the Headmaster; but in Forms iv, iii, ii, i, mathematics were taught by the writing master.

A great deal of work was still done by monitors, who supervised the learning of the lessons, were responsible for “industry, order, and compliance with the rules,” collected and distributed exercises, kept the registers of absence and lateness, and apparently added up the weekly marks. The monitors of Forms vii, v, and iii had “the general superintendence of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Schools respectively during school time,” and the highest monitor present was responsible for windows being opened at the end, and shut if necessary at the beginning, of each period. The boys were “expected to behave with attention to their monitor.”

All written work was to be neat, legible, and “correctly pointed;” impositions not done on the appointed day to be doubled; stealing, lying, swearing, indecent language, fighting, playing truant, disorder, laziness, to be punished at the discretion of the master. Boys not provided with whatever was necessary for their work or who should commit any wilful injury, or go into the Master's premises or the Library, or ring the bell, or commit indecencies in the school or schoolyard, or play, loiter, or be off the stone path on the east side of the school, or throw stones, fireworks, or fire about the school or yard, or use the Library books improperly, or be guilty of any other mischief or irregularity, were to pay a fine of 1/-. The whole School was held responsible for all damage done, and for this purpose all boys had to subscribe to a fund, into which also all fines were paid. This fund was under the charge of the head monitor, who had to see that all damages were promptly repaired and paid for. Fines not paid within a week were doubled.

AS TO THE work a few details can be gleaned.

All written exercises were done out of school, and in Greek the words had to be accented. Famous passages in English literature were often selected for translation into Greek and Latin. Stress was laid on the ability to write English, both prose and verse. English repetition was learnt from Form iv upwards, and English grammar taught in Forms i, and ii. In mathematics the standard had somewhat risen since 1820, (e.g. conics were taught), but in classics there was not much change. With every construing lesson a portion of Greek or Latin verse had to be learnt, and in construing each boy was expected to read a passage, scan it if verse, parse the words, translate, and answer questions on time, place, etc. Each Form, beginning with the lowest, came up to say its lessons “in a distinct and audible voice,” while the others were preparing work under their monitors. Every Saturday there was an examination in the Greek work done during the previous fortnight, verse and prose alternately. In divinity the syllabus was much as in 1820, but hymns were learnt by the younger boys and the 39 Articles were studied in Form vii. In the Catechism all were expected to be perfect. The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, were learned in regular order, “in such portions as the master shall think proper.” How much time was allotted to each subject I have not been able to find out.

OF THE INDIVIDUAL masters too we now learn something.

The examiners speak highly of the work of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Ripley, but Mr. Barry thought the boys in the Middle School slack and inaccurate, nor did he like the use that was made of the cane and the “childish punishments” inflicted on lads of 15 or 16. In the “Leodiensian” there are to be found reminiscences of the infirmities—though not of the merits—of the teachers. Of Dr. Holmes himself nothing is said, but Mr. Wilson was remembered for his “habit of supplying during school a beverage composed of oatmeal and water for the comfort of thirsty pupils in the summer, and of encouraging a taste for learning by weekly prizes of coins.” Mr. Laurence is described as a strict disciplinarian and “above the mediocrity of scholastic flagellators”: his favourite implement was “a piece of slate frame.” Mr. Barry gave him credit for “steady devotion to his duties,” but doubted if he was a good enough teacher. Of Mr. Ripley we are told that he was not so hard on his pupils and that he tried to encourage boys to take pains with their writing. An ordinary punishment of his was to make a boy stand upon his seat with his coat turned inside out for a period of days or weeks. Mr. Allman, who had a room behind the main building, is credited with making boys kneel on the benches with a ledge under their knees. He had also a special punishment for liars.

“The culprit was hoisted on the back of another boy, and the Biblical account of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was read out. Before the history of their sin was fully read Mr. Allman would make a sudden stroke at the offender with his piece of gutta-percha and hit the boy anywhere that the blow fell. The consequence was that the boy made a sudden start and jump to the amusement but not to the edification of the boys present. The history of Ananias was never finished, for Mr. Allman's way only produced noise and confusion with no salutary result.”

Mr. Barry described the writing department as “a serious evil to the school”: boys good elsewhere, he said, were bad here, and the master was unable to maintain order or to teach satisfactorily.

Those of course were Spartan days, and punishments did not err on the side of leniency. One writer speaks of being thrashed through every page of the early books of Caesar. Impositions were of daily occurrence—one cause, we are told, of the frequent complaints as to the writing. “One boy,” we hear, “wise in his generation, instead of learning his daily portion of Caesar habitually wrote it out in school hours in the form of the inevitable 'imp,' which he knew full well from past experience was sure to follow his failure in the viva voce lesson and curtail his subsequent hours of relaxation.”

And if the masters were severe upon the boys the boys were not much more merciful to one another. In early days new boys were bumped against a tree in the playground.

IN DR. HOLMES' time another custom was in vogue.

“The youngster [was] captured and laid on his back by four boys, two of whom mounted on to a table holding the struggling neophyte by the arms, whilst two others held his legs, and swinging the captive to and fro forcibly bumped him against the iron-bound edge of the table. The length of the ordeal was in direct proportion to the resistance offered and sometimes resulted in some severe bruises being inflicted, until at last, some flagrant case becoming the subject of investigation by a Select Committee of the Masters, it was finally abolished.”

Even under Mr. Barry we hear of a civil war raging between the Upper and Lower Departments, and that “a long narrow passage in the rear of the School between high walls” was the scene of many pitched battles. There were feuds also with outsiders. The boys used to attack passers-by with pea-shooters from behind the railings, and assail them with opprobrious remarks. The soldiers were more formidable victims.

“When snow lay on the ground we pelted the regiments marching down North Street . . . and the soldiers when off duty would retaliate and a fierce engagement followed. The steps of the School were lost and won amidst the cheers of the victors as the fortune of war varied, and the soldiers would roll their unfortunate prisoners in the dirty snow in the middle of North Street to the great derangement of vehicular traffic. [For many years too] a constant feud or vendetta had been waged between the Grammar School boys and the town boys. The town boys were in the habit of waylaying us in gangs as we went to and from school, and many bloody encounters ensued. We of course imitated their tactics and marched in well-ordered battalions from the school gates, dispersing in our several ways when safely through the enemy's country.” [The boys however were handicapped. A resolution, passed in 1855, ordered “that in future the boys in the School be expected to wear a College Cap, those in the higher department being distinguished by a tassel.”] “The mortar-boards revealed us wherever we went, and solitary individuals were often chivied to the very door by the enemy; it became a serious matter for us to reach the School without molestation, and many ruses and disguises had to be resorted to in order to foil the vigilance of our foes. Our mortar-boards were hid under cloaks or discarded altogether, in spite of reiterated official injunctions to the contrary.”

How long the mortar-boards remained in use I have not been able to discover. “Old boys” say that they were soon discarded. The feud however lasted longer, for even in 1884 I was told that it was not safe for boys coming from certain parts of the town to show by any outward sign that they belonged to the School. The boys however though rough must not be regarded as bad, for Mr. Barry in his first report described the tone of the School as good, the boys as willing, and the upper boys as trying to set a good example both in industry and right-doing, and all that he complained of was “some slight defects in external discipline, and some prevalence of secret and unacknowledged mischief unworthy of the truthful honesty of a Christian school.”


Quick Links -
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7
Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14
Postscript Assistant Masters since 1854

Back to
A C PRICE - opening page

Back to
Home Page