Trusty Servant May 2019 No.127 - Page 13

No.127 The Trusty Servant Eminent Victorians of Win Coll: Robert Lowe (Commoners, 1825-29) The Editor, Tim Giddings, relates: nothing but bread and a pat of butter, plus one pail of milk between 130 boys, which was frequently knocked over in the rush for sustenance. The only way to vary this diet was to supplement it at their own expense: ‘Our pocket money, as long as it lasted, went in buying the food with which we ought to have been supplied.’ ‘David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam… And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him: and he became a captain over them.’ (1 Samuel 22.1) In 1865 Liberal Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston, the swashbuckling Regency rake who had somehow survived and prospered in straight-laced Victorian Britain, died. With his passing, reforming energies pent-up during his premiership were again unleashed. His successor Earl Russell, who had helped pass the Great Reform Act of 1832 and failed with another bill in 1860, was determined to expand the franchise with a new Reform Bill. Gladstone brought the bill to the house in 1866, but it was stopped in its tracks, not by the machinations of Disraeli, but by a faction of Liberals opposed to reform. The Radical MP John Bright dubbed them the ‘Adullamites’, after the group of malcontents who gathered around David to oppose King Saul’s rule over Biblical Israel. And who played the role of David? Not one of the faction’s patrician grandees such as Lords Lansdowne, Grey and Grosvenor, but a short-sighted albino OW named Robert Lowe. A political career – or indeed any career – had seemed impossible when he was born in 1811. His albinism rendered him almost blind, and his parents initially thought he would be unable to go to school. Nevertheless, in 1825 he arrived in the ramshackle Medieval-Georgian complex where Flint Court currently stands, Old Commoners. His description of his school years in his brief autobiographical note (published in Martin’s Life) blunt the sentimental criticism of George Moberly for sweeping the buildings away entirely in 1839. Lowe claims that he writes ‘for the benefit of boys who think they are badly treated’. Modern Wykehamists complaining about the reliability of the WiFi could do with reading it. According to Lowe, the whole system in Commoners was ‘conducted with a view to make the expenses to the Master as small as possible.’ The pupils’ sustenance make Oliver Twist’s workhouse gruel look luxurious. Breakfast was not served until 10:30am, 4.5 hours after the boys had to get up, and 15.5 since their previous meal (of bread and cheese) the evening before. Breakfast was 13 The daily regimen seems like that of a prison. On a full day they were herded into School for work from 7:30-10, 11-12 and 2-6, and worked in their hall from the end of supper until being sent to bed at 8:30pm. They were allotted only an hour of play, and the only permitted venue was the top of St Catherine’s Hill (Meads was reserved for the Fellows). On Sundays they endured five hours of services and were then allowed one hour of walking; the rest of the day they spent shut up in Old Commoners, either in the hall or the tiny court. Studying was difficult, surrounded by ‘perpetual noise and worry’. Lowe was a bookish youth, but his evening studies in hall were hindered by the indoor cricket games that his less cerebral peers preferred: ‘As my cupboard happened to be what is technically called “middle on,” the pursuit of the Muses was attended with some difficulty’. He did manage to find some time for books, although at the time he thought reading English literature ‘a great piece of idleness’. Yet he later credited those hours as the most valuable he spent at the school, ‘for it was thus I learnt the art of speaking and writing correctly.’ However, the general barbarities of life in Commoners pale in