Ralph Arnold: The Whiston Matter

The Rev­erend Robert Whis­ton ver­sus The Dean and Chap­ter of Rochester

Chap­ter I



N his Barset­shire nov­els, which began with The War­den and ended with The Last Chron­i­cle of Barset, An­tho­ny Trol­lope es­tab­lished an un­for­get­table image of a cathe­dral and its chap­ter; and gen­er­a­tions of Trol­lop­i­ans have pre­sum­ably been sat­is­fied, if they have thought about the mat­ter at all, that his por­trait of Barch­ester was a rea­son­ably true- to-life pic­ture of a south-coun­try cathe­dral es­tab­lish­ment in the mid­dle of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Yet, as the nov­el­ist ad­mits in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, when he wrote The War­den he had never, since his school­days at Winch­ester, lived in a cathe­dral city, he had no first-hand knowl­edge of the ways of a close, and no archdea­con had as yet crossed his path. He had evolved his cathe­dral dig­ni­taries, ap­par­ent­ly, from an in­stinct for what a bish­op, a dean, a prebendary, an archdea­con and a minor canon ought to be like, and how they might be ex­pect­ed to be­have; com­ple­ment­ed, as he ex­plains, by a study of the news­pa­per re­ports of two cler­i­cal scan­dals of the time — in fact the case of the Hos­pi­tal of St Cross at Winch­ester, and the Rev. Robert Whis­ton's dis­pute with the Dean and Chap­ter of Rochester. In the light of this ad­mis­sion the ac­cept­ed pic­ture, on a clos­er ex­am­i­na­tion of the facts, might well turn out to be hope­less­ly mis­lead­ing.

The out­line plot of The War­den was con­ceived one evening in May or June 1851; and the book was writ­ten be­tween the sum­mer of 1852 and the au­tumn of 1858. The re­cent dis­cov­ery in the Chap­ter-house strong-room of all the doc­u­ments and let­ters re­lat­ing to the Chap­ter's side of the case of Whis­ton ver­sus the Dean and Chap­ter of Rochester, cov­er­ing the years 1848-1853, af­fords an un­ex­pect­ed op­por­tu­ni­ty of check­ing the ac­cu­ra­cy of Trol­lope's in­tu­ition, for it is pos­si­ble from these pa­pers to dis­cov­er how an ac­tu­al dean and chap­ter at this date, with the bish­op of the dio­cese as the Cathe­dral's Vis­i­tor, did in fact be­have, in­di­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, in a sit­u­a­tion which, today, would in­evitably be de­scribed as "Trol­lop­i­an."

The Rev. Robert Whis­ton, a Fel­low of Trin­i­ty Col­lege, Cam­bridge, had been ap­point­ed Head­mas­ter of the Rochester Cathe­dral Gram­mar School in De­cem­ber 1842. The ap­point­ment was in the hands of the Dean and Chap­ter, and at the time both par­ties had had good rea­sons to feel happy about the ar­range­ment. It was com­mon­ly said of Mr Whis­ton's im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor at the Cathe­dral School that "he had flogged away every boy but one." This was an un­der­state­ment. When the Rev. D. F. Warn­er had be­come Head­mas­ter in 1825 he had in­her­it­ed a rea­son­ably flour­ish­ing school of six­teen boys, all of them Gram­mar Boys or King's Schol­ars — boys, that is to say, on the Cathe­dral's Foun­da­tion. By 1881 the num­ber of schol­ars had dropped to nine. Six years later there were only two boys left in the school, one of them being the Head­mas­ter's son. From the au­tumn term of 1887 to the spring term of 1838 Mas­ter Warn­er was alone in his glory. He had no suc­ces­sors.

"It was with sad­ness," Mr George Es­sell, the Chap­ter Clerk, was to tell Coun­sel, "that the Dean and Chap­ter saw their School with­out a pupil, and this they more than once ex­pressed to the Head­mas­ter. His only reply was, 'Mr Dean, I am ready to teach, but where are the schol­ars?' "

In 1840 some carp­ing let­ters had ap­peared in the Press. It was vague­ly un­der­stood in Rochester and in the ad­join­ing Med­way towns that the Dean and Chap­ter had an obli­ga­tion, under the Statutes of their Cathe­dral, to main­tain a Gram­mar School at which twen­ty poor boys would re­ceive a free ed­u­ca­tion and a small year­ly stipend. Here then was an ed­u­ca­tion­al trust from which the pub­lic ought to ben­e­fit. The fact that it had been al­lowed to lapse was an­oth­er nail in the coffins of the over-rich and over-idle deans and canons, whose con­duct and short­com­ings were being bit­ter­ly at­tacked in the course of ac­ri­mo­nious de­bates in the House of Lords in con­nec­tion with the Dean and Chap­ter Bill.

In pub­lic, the Dean and Chap­ter of Rochester had blamed com­pe­ti­tion from other schools in the neigh­bour­hood for the Cathe­dral Gram­mar School's col­lapse — Mr Es­sell had writ­ten a let­ter to this ef­fect to the Rochester, Chatham and Strood Gazette and Week­ly Ad­ver­tis­er, point­ing out that the school and its fa­cil­i­ties were avail­able, and that it was up to the fa­thers and guardians of boys of a suit­able age and pos­sessed of suit­able ed­u­ca­tion­al qual­i­fi­ca­tions to take ad­van­tage of them. In pri­vate, the Chap­ter had recog­nised that so long as Mr Warn­er was Head­mas­ter no par­ents in their sens­es would en­trust their sons to his care; and they had made some rather fu­tile ef­forts to get rid of this high­ly un­sat­is­fac­to­ry mas­ter. With this end in view they had al­ready pre­sent­ed him to the valu­able Chap­ter liv­ing of Hoo St Wer­burgh. Mr Warn­er had failed to take the hint, and had con­tin­ued to cling to his sinecure post and to the house in Minor Canon Row which, fol­low­ing the re­cent re­duc­tion in the num­ber of their minor canons, the Chap­ter had in­cau­tious­ly hand­ed over to him, the Head­mas­ter's of­fi­cial res­i­dence hav­ing been con­demned on the grounds of age, damp and de­crepi­tude. Fi­nal­ly, in De­cem­ber 1841, Mr Warn­er had been bribed to re­sign by the promise of a pen­sion and the use of the house in Minor Canon Row, rent-free, for the rest of his life.

The Chap­ter had been en­cour­aged to be­stir them­selves by the for­tu­nate cir­cum­stance that an ideal re­place­ment was ready and wait­ing on their doorstep.

The Rev. Robert Whis­ton was born in 1808, one of the eleven chil­dren of William Whis­ton, a so­lic­i­tor who, in 1810, had found­ed the still flour­ish­ing firm of Whis­ton & Sons at Derby. Robert Whis­ton had been ed­u­cat­ed at Rep­ton, and had gone up to Trin­i­ty Col­lege, Cam­bridge, as a schol­ar. He had read clas­sics, had been elect­ed a Fel­low of his col­lege in 1888, and in this same year had be­come Head­mas­ter of a pro­pri­etary school in Rochester, the Rochester and Chatham Clas­si­cal and Math­e­mat­i­cal School. For a young man of Whis­ton's back­ground, cir­cum­stances and at­tain­ments, school­mas­ter­ing had been an al­most in­evitable choice. His tastes were schol­ar­ly and ath­let­ic. Al­though he was pre­pared to take Holy Or­ders, and was in fact or­dained in 1840, he had no de­sire to be­come a parish priest. Ei­ther tu­tor­ing or, bet­ter still, the pro­pri­etor­ship of a school was the ob­vi­ous course for him to pur­sue — as it had been for Thomas Arnold, al­though with Arnold tu­tor­ing had been forced on him by his wish to get mar­ried. Whis­ton, a bach­e­lor, had re­gard­ed the Pro­pri­etary School as a spring­board. When he had gained ex­pe­ri­ence and had saved some money he had the am­bi­tion, again in the Arnold tra­di­tion, to ob­tain the head- mas­ter­ship of one of the great pub­lic schools.

At first, ev­ery­thing had worked out rather well for him at Rochester. With an un­mar­ried sis­ter to keep house for him he had taken in board­ers and had made money out of them; he had got on well with his pupils and had found that he liked teach­ing; he had gained the rep­u­ta­tion of being a se­vere but good mas­ter; and he had made friends in the Rochester Precinct. Dr Robert Stevens, the Dean of Rochester, and the five Rochester Canons, the Rev. and Hon. Fred­er­ick Hotham, Dr Matthew Irv­ing, Dr John Grif­fith, Dr Ed­ward Hawkins, and the Archdea­con, Dr Walk­er King, had all come to like this huge, good-look­ing, ex­u­ber­ant, en­thu­si­as­tic, yet se­ri­ous-mind­ed and well-read young man who, at din­ner par­ties, had shown a con­sid­er­able tal­ent as a racon­teur and a re­mark­able gift for recog­nis­ing and cap­ping quo­ta­tions from the poets and from the clas­sics.

Then the ques­tion of the head­mas­ter­ship of the Cathe­dral Gram­mar School had cropped up. What the Chap­ter had need­ed, in order to get rid of the taste of Mr Warn­er and to at­tract boys to their mori­bund school, had been a mas­ter with a good local rep­u­ta­tion — a cler­gy­man, a gen­tle­man and a schol­ar, who would be pre­pared to ac­cept the ap­point­ment at the com­par­a­tive­ly low stipend they were able to offer.

Mr Whis­ton had seemed ex­act­ly to fill the bill. He had re­cent­ly been or­dained. He was a Fel­low of Trin­i­ty. He had been ac­cept­ed in Precinct so­ci­ety. He was an ex­treme­ly com­pe­tent school­mas­ter, and was recog­nised as such in the Med­way towns. And he had an­oth­er out­stand­ing ad­van­tage in the Chap­ter's eyes. By a for­tu­nate chance the Rochester Statutes not only per­mit­ted but even en­cour­aged the pres­ence of "pri­vate pupils," over and above the twen­ty Gram­mar Boys on the Foun­da­tion, at the Cathe­dral Gram­mar School. Mr Whis­ton had let it be known that if the va­cant head­mas­ter­ship were of­fered to him he would close down his own school and trans­fer his thir­ty pupils to the School-house in the Precinct. This would serve to prime a pump that had run dry, en­able him to ac­cept a fair­ly low salary as he would be mak­ing an in­come from his own pupils, and at­tract can­di­dates for places on the Cathe­dral's Foun­da­tion.

From Mr. Whis­ton's own point of view the propo­si­tion had also had its at­trac­tions — in­deed the first sug­ges­tion had come from him. He had al­ready on two oc­ca­sions ap­plied for a head­mas­ter­ship, and two of the Rochester Canons had given him glow­ing tes­ti­mo­ni­als. To his sur­prise and cha­grin he had not been se­lect­ed, and it had oc­curred to him that, de­spite his Cam­bridge Fel­low­ship, the head­mas­ter­ship of a small pro­pri­etary school in a provin­cial town did not cut much ice with trustees or gov­ern­ing bod­ies. They would pay more at­ten­tion, he thought, to a can­di­date who was Head­mas­ter of a Cathe­dral Gram­mar School and a mem­ber of the Cathe­dral es­tab­lish­ment at Rochester. He had reck­oned that after a few years he should be able to ob­tain an im­por­tant ap­point­ment.

Some hard bar­gain­ing had en­sued. The School-room in the Precinct had been as old and as di­lap­i­dat­ed as the Head­mas­ter's house. Mr Whis­ton had made it a con­di­tion of ac­cept­ing the post that a new School-room should be built; and the Chap­ter had re­luc­tant­ly agreed to spend £800 on putting up a build­ing, com­pris­ing one large un­par­ti­tioned form-room, on the site of some derelict farm-build­ings close to the Cathe­dral. Mr Whis­ton had also got his way in the mat­ter of his own salary or stipend, and on the ques­tion of the ap­point­ment of an Un­der-mas­ter.

By their Statutes, the Dean and Chap­ter were obliged to ap­point a Head­mas­ter and an Un­der-mas­ter to teach the twen­ty boys on their Foun­da­tion. The stipends pre­scribed in the Statutes, which dated from 1545, were £13 6s 8d a year for the Head­mas­ter, and £6 11s 10d for the Un­der- mas­ter. For long enough it had been recog­nised that, for the Head­mas­ter at least, this stip­u­lat­ed salary was too low. Mr Warn­er's im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Dr Grif­fiths (not to be con­fused with Canon Grif­fith), had been given a stipend of £38 6s 8d a year and, in ad­di­tion, the Chap­ter had hand­ed over to him £2 13s 4d a year for each of the Gram­mar Boys at­tend­ing the school — a high­ly ir­reg­u­lar prac­tice for, by Statute, this was the sum which should have been hand­ed by the Dean and Chap­ter to each Gram­mar Boy in­di­vid­u­al­ly, as con­sti­tut­ing his statu­to­ry stipend. The Chap­ter had ap­par­ent­ly nei­ther known nor cared what Dr Grif­fiths, a sound enough Head­mas­ter, had done with these £2 13s 4d's. He had in fact di­vid­ed the boys' stipends into three parts. He had given each boy 19s, he had given £l 3s 6d to his "usher," and he had kept the bal­ance for him­self. He had been obliged to em­ploy an usher be­cause the of­fi­cial­ly ap­point­ed Un­der-mas­ter of the Gram­mar School who re­ceived the statu­to­ry Un­der-mas­ter's stipend, the Rev. Mr Al­free, one of the Rochester minor canons, had never done a day's teach­ing in his life and was un­der­stood never to have set foot in­side the School-room. It had been an old Rochester cus­tom that this sinecure post should be the perquisite of one of the minor canons.

When, in 1825, Mr Warn­er had suc­ceed­ed Dr Grif­fiths as Head­mas­ter, these cu­ri­ous ar­range­ments had been re­viewed, and the Chap­ter, up to a point, had put mat­ters on a bet­ter foot­ing. Mr Warn­er had been given the same stipend as his pre­de­ces­sor but, most un­wise­ly as events proved, the Chap­ter had guar­an­teed him an ad­di­tion­al an­nu­al sum of £28 13s 4d, ir­re­spec­tive of how many Gram­mar Boys there might be at the school at any time. To off­set this extra ex­pen­di­ture they had de­cid­ed to give each Gram­mar Boy a stipend of only £1 a year in place of his statu­to­ry £2 13s 4d; but they had taken no steps to cor­rect the anoma­ly of an Un­der-mas­ter who never taught. As Mr Warn­er had had so few pupils, he had not need­ed the ser­vices of an usher.

When the terms of his ap­point­ment had been dis­cussed, Mr Whis­ton, who had stud­ied the Statutes with some care, had in­sist­ed that mat­ters should be put straight. He had de­mand­ed and had ob­tained a stipend of £150 for him­self, and he had stip­u­lat­ed that his fu­ture broth­er-in-law, the Rev. John Lloyd Allan, who had also been a Schol­ar of Trin­i­ty Col­lege, Cam­bridge, should be ap­point­ed Un­der- mas­ter at a stipend of £100 a year. He had also de­mand­ed, and the Chap­ter had agreed, that each Gram­mar Boy, when there were any Gram­mar Boys again at the school, should be paid his full an­nu­al statu­to­ry stipend of £2 13s 4d.

The Chap­ter in their turn had been cau­tious. They had ex­press­ly stip­u­lat­ed in the terms of their new Head­mas­ter's ap­point­ment that Mr Whis­ton was to be under "the en­tire con­trol of the Dean and Chap­ter, sub­ject to such reg­u­la­tions in every re­spect as they shall from time to time pre­scribe"; and he had been in­formed in writ­ing that he had no claims on a Chap­ter liv­ing, though he might be given one if at some fu­ture date he en­joyed "the Chap­ter's ap­pro­ba­tion." Mr Whis­ton, in the event, never re­ceived a Chap­ter liv­ing.

It had been Jan­uary 1844 be­fore the school had re­opened in its new premis­es and with its new Head­mas­ter. A copy of the orig­i­nal prospec­tus has sur­vived. For the tu­ition of pri­vate pupils in clas­sics, math­e­mat­ics, writ­ing and arith­metic a fee of £14 per annum was charged. Board in the Head­mas­ter's house, in­clud­ing wash­ing and a sin­gle bed, cost £47 5s 0d per annum. Both for pri­vate pupils and for Gram­mar Boys, French, Ger­man, draw­ing and danc­ing or drill were op­tion­al sub­jects, and were charged as "ex­tras."

In the mean­time, since the orig­i­nal Head­mas­ter's house had shared the same fate as the old School-room, the Chap­ter had of­fered Mr Whis­ton yet an­oth­er of its re­dun­dant hous­es in Minor Canon Row — under the Dean and Chap­ter Act of 1840 the num­ber of minor canons at Rochester had been re­duced from six to four. This house, Mr Whis­ton had de­clared, was far too small for his pur­pose — which was to ac­com­mo­date board­ers, both Gram­mar Boys whose par­ents lived at some dis­tance from Rochester, and his own pri­vate pupils. Since the Chap­ter had re­fused to con­tem­plate spend­ing still more money on build­ing Mr Whis­ton a house, he had from his own re­sources raised £4,000 with which to buy a large house ad­join­ing the Precinct called the Old Palace: and he had ar­ranged to lease the house in Minor Canon Row to Mr Allan, the Un­der-Mas­ter — an ar­range­ment which had suit­ed both par­ties.

The Old Palace had had a cu­ri­ous his­to­ry, typ­i­cal per­haps of the ec­cen­tric­i­ty ap­par­ent­ly in­sep­a­ra­ble from the af­fairs of the Rochester dio­cese. In 1674 it had been left by a Mr Fran­cis Head to the then Bish­op of Rochester and his suc­ces­sors in order, as Mr Head had ex­plained in his will, that there should be a con­ve­nient cen­tre for epis­co­pal en­ter­tain­ment near the Cathe­dral. The Bish­op's Palace was then at Brom­ley. No Bish­op had ever oc­cu­pied Mr Head's house, which had been let to suc­ces­sive ten­ants. In 1886 it had passed into the hands of the Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal Com­mis­sion­ers, from whom Mr Whis­ton bought it. Today, by a cu­ri­ous turn of events, re-chris­tened Bish­op­scourt, it has at long last be­come the of­fi­cial res­i­dence of the Bish­ops of Rochester.

From the point of view of their school, by ap­point­ing Mr Whis­ton the Chap­ter had ob­tained an ex­cel­lent Head­mas­ter. From the point of view of their own fu­ture peace of mind they had un­wit­ting­ly har­nessed them­selves to a tiger.

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