Saturday, June 27, 2009

William Henry Gladstone went to prep school in Geddington

For some time I have been planning a visit to Geddington in Northamptonshire, which was at the heart of the old Rockingham Forest, because it has the best surviving Eleanor cross and connections with the novelist J. L. Carr.

My interest was piqued even further when I read the following on a website devoted to the village:
In the mid 19th Century The Vicarage was extended to become a boarding school and boasts among its pupils William Gladstone who later became the Liberal Prime Minister.
When I asked Lord Bonkers about this he said it rang true, reasoning that the young William Ewart Gladstone had must have learnt the fundamentals of Liberalism from the elves of Rockingham Forest.

I was not so sure. The biographies all agree that Gladstone was first educated at Seaforth, before being sent to Eton at the age of 11.

Then I came across Monica Raynes book Geddington As It Was and the mystery was solved. She quotes A. C. Ainger's Eton 60 Years Ago from 1917 on the school at Geddington Vicarage (Ainger was himself a pupil):
The school undoubtedly stood high in popular favour; it was always full and there was a strong flavour of aristocracy about it ... Nearly all the boys went to Eton ... Among the pupils were one cabinet minister, Lord Gladstone (son of the Mr Gladstone); two bishops, Augustus Legge of Lichfield and Edward Talbot of Winchester; three admirals, Charles Scott, Walter Kerr and Arthur Moore; and two generals, Ralph Kerr and Neville Lyttleton.
I suspect the interpolation about "the Mr Gladstone" comes from Monica Raynes rather than Ainger, but there is still enough here to interest a good Liberal.

William Henry Gladstone was the Grand Old Man's eldest son and himself an MP for 20 years. He sat for Chester, Whitby and East Worcestershire. He also played football for Scotland in an unofficial international against England.

And Neville Lyttelton (not Lyttleton) was the father in law of my favourite Edwardian Liberal Charles Masterman.

Monica Raynes further quotes Ainger on the Geddington school:
There were only twenty pupils, so that personal supervision was easy enough; we were well fed, lodged and looked after - I believe that in the twenty years or so of the school's existence no inmate of it died.
Perhaps that sets the bar a little low for modern tastes, but it may be wiser to treat it as a reminder of the greater fragility of life, young life in particular, in the 19th century.

The school was owned by the Revd William Montagu Higginson Church. In his The Rise of the English Prep School, Donald Leinster-Mackay writes:
Perhaps the reason why the school kept by the Rev. William Montagu Church at Geddington, near Kettering in Northamptonshire, was shortlived was that he was unable to control his temper, despite the school's being patronized by the sons of nobility.
Google Books does not let you see the footnote referring to Church's temper, but we know that the school lasted for 20 years. And as far as I can make out from other snippets on Google Books - and that is rapidly emerging as an important academic skill - Church moved to a new living in Norfolk and educated some of Gladstone's other sons there. So this speculation may be wide of the mark though, it it were true, it would place Church in a great tradition of prep school headmasters.

Anyway, I went to Geddington today and my photograph shows (I hope) the wing Church added to what was then the vicarage to house his pupils. The school closed when he left the village in 1861.


Tory Outcast said...

I always had a great deal of respect for Gladstone in my history lessons (although preferring Disraeli and Peel obviously).

What do you actually think he has in common with the modern Lib Dems though?

Simon Titley said...

W.E. Gladstone: "I think that the principle of the Conservative Party is jealousy of liberty and of the people, only qualified by fear; but I think the principle of the Liberal Party is trust in the people, only qualified by prudence." (speech, 1878)

Is that good enough for you?

Jonathan Calder said...

I think you can fairly say that Gladstone's emphasis on individual conscience and instistence that international disputes should be settled peacefully remain at the heart of Liberalism.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan have you seen the Eleanor Cross in Waltham Cross? It is in much better shape than the Geddington one. Possibly they have done restoration work on the one in Waltham Cross?