George William Fisher.

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In a former chapter mention has been made of a fancy
dress ball as one of the entertainments connected with the
Tercentenary celebration in 1851. But this was by no means
the first appearance of that somewhat curious form of

1 The corps made its first appearance in public on December 5th, 1860. The
first officers, who were chosen by popular election, were E. Calvert, M.A., captain;
G. W. Fisher, M.A., lieutenant; and H. R. A. Johnson, ensign. The school
volunteers paraded for the last time on the occasion of the marriage of the Prince
of Wales, when they took part in the municipal procession.


amusement at Shrewsbury School. For several years after
Dr. Kennedy became Head Master the boys had been allowed
as a general rule to have a fancy dress ball at some time
shortly before the Christmas or Midsummer holidays. 1 It
took the place of the annual play at Christmas, which had
been the great school festival in Dr. Butler's time and a very
popular entertainment. Some carping critics, however, had
spoken of Shrewsbury boys as no better than strolling players^
and the new Head Master was unfortunately somewhat over-
sensitive of criticism. So the annual play was given up and
the fancy dress ball was started instead.

For some time before the day fixed for the ball it was the
custom for Mr. Bourlay, the dancing master, to go to the
different halls two or three times a week to give the boys
lessons in his art. On the day of the ball the assistance of
the town hairdresser and some of the maids in the different
houses was procured, and those boys who seemed best
adapted to play the role were dressed up as girls. Old
Salopians who remember these balls describe them as
"amusing and pleasant." But the fancy dress ball expired
as a school institution in 1846, though temporarily revived
in 1851 in honour of the Tercentenary.

In the following year, 1847, the boys had for their annual
entertainment a performance by a company of Ethiopian
serenaders, whose songs were then quite a novelty, and this
was probably much more to the taste of the majority among
them than the fancy dress ball would have been. On one
subsequent occasion, December 6th, 1848, the Play, which had
been so long a feature of Shrewsbury school life, was revived
in the modified form of acted charades. The same year, 1 846,
in which the fancy dress balls came to an end saw also the
death of another school institution, which dated back to
Butler's earliest years, the annual speech day. But happily
the speech day has risen again from its ashes during the last
few years, and brings every summer to the beautiful school

1 An Old Salopian who was at school 1839-42 does not remember any fancy
dress ball being given in his time. But there is no doubt that the ball took place
in 1843 an d in subsequent years up to 1847.


grounds on Kingsland a goodly assemblage of Old Salopians
and other distinguished persons. Perhaps on these occasions
it would be an advantage if there were more speeches from
the boys and fewer from the visitors. Schoolboys are rarely
quite contented with their lot, and latter-day Salopians have
sometimes been heard to whisper sotto voce that they have
almost heard enough about Sir Philip Sidney. But speech
day is an excellent institution, even though Old Salopians
who revisit Shrewsbury on these occasions may sometimes
be tempted when they look around them to ask, " Why did
not these changes come in our days ? "

Pleasant it is too to all who cherish affectionate recollec-
tions of their old school home on Castle Hill, in spite of its
many inconveniences and drawbacks, to recognize the praise-
worthy efforts that have been made to keep up old school
traditions under such altered circumstances. Many of the
stones of the walls which bounded School Gardens, engraved
with the names of generations of former scholars, have been
carefully removed to Kingsland, and now help to form a con-
necting link between the past and the present. Old Salopians
cannot remember much that was beautiful or interesting in
John Meighen's school chapel, but the little that deserves to
be called either the one or the other has been preserved. The
oaken pulpit still serves its old purpose at Kingsland, and the
fine carved woodwork that once formed a screen at the
entrance of the old chapel is now to be seen at the western
end of the new. But some institutions have vanished. Bat fives
is a game unknown to the present generation of Shrewsbury
boys, and yet it was an excellent game, and had probably
been played at Shrewsbury for at least a hundred years.

Seven courts for hand fives ', built on the well-known Eton
model, two of which are covered in with glass and are con-
sequently available in wet weather, have, it is true, been
provided at Kingsland ; and on one of these courts a match
was played for the first time in 1897 between Shrewsbury
and Uppingham. 1 Still, old Salopians may reasonably ask,
" But why not a court for bat fives as well ? "

1 The Uppingham boys were the victors, as they were also in a second match
played at Uppingham in 1898.


It is possible that boys of the present day still occasionally
settle their little differences in the old boyish fashion, of
which we know Dr. Butler at heart approved, although his
pupils were probably mistaken in their belief that he was
often a secret spectator of their fights from one of the
windows of his house. But there is no fear that the renewal
of the game of bat fives would resuscitate those sanguinary
instincts which were wont to find their vent in the old Ball
Courts in the days when fights are said to have numbered
seventy a week, and when few mornings passed without
John Bandy making his appearance in the amphitheatre at
nine o'clock to warn the spectators that time was up, and
that they must go in to breakfast.

Another school institution, which was interesting from
its antiquity, had become a thing of the past before the
migration to Kingsland. This is the custom of chorusing
on the last four Saturdays before the Midsummer and
Christmas holidays. There is no doubt that the practice
dates as far back as the early years of the present century,
and it is believed that Shrewsbury borrowed it from Rugby.
An old traditional story of Dr. Butler has been handed
down, which proves, at any rate, that he did not disapprove
of chorusing. A gentleman who lived in the immediate
neighbourhood of the school came one day during the
chorusing season to complain that he was seriously disturbed
in the evenings by the singing of the boys. The Doctor
listened attentively ; but perhaps the complainant was some-
what peremptory in his manner. However this may have
been, the reply which he received was not couched in
language as courteous and conciliatory as that which was
commonly employed by the Head Master in his intercourse
with his Shrewsbury neighbours. " What ! " he exclaimed,
" my boys not sing ? But my boys shall sing." Then the
bell was rung, and the gentleman was shown to the door.

Shrewsbury boys seem to have been as conservative in the
matter of songs 1 as they were in other traditional habits and

1 A song, for example, which was added to the list after a visit from a company
of Ethiopian serenaders in 1847, " There was an old nigger, and his name was
Uncle Ned," was always unacceptable to many of the boys on account of its

2 E


customs, and the following list of chorusing songs, which
belongs to 1850 or thereabouts, undoubtedly contains most
of the songs which had been sung on the Saturday evenings
immediately preceding the holidays for at least twenty-five
years previously, and which continued to be sung for twenty-
five years afterwards :

1. " Spankedillo, Spankedillo, the prince of jolly fellows."

2. " Troll, troll, the jolly brown bowl."

3. " In good King Arthur's reign."

4. " The Pope, he leads a happy life."

5. " Here 's a health to all good lasses."

6. " Three jolly post-boys drinking at the Dragon."

7. " Begone, dull care."

8. " Come, cheer up, my lads."

9. " Gaily the troubadour."

10. "Away with melancholy."

11. "Old King Cole was a jolly old soul."

12. "Dame Durden."

13. "A frog he would a- wooing go."

14. " Weel may the keel row."

15. "Rule Britannia."

1 6. " God save our gracious Queen."

The songs in question are nearly all of them really good
songs, and when a fair proportion of the boys had good
voices, and were musically disposed, the practice of chorusing
is said to have had its charms. But boys there would oc-
casionally be, as might naturally be expected, who took a
delight in introducing some offensive interpolation, or substi-
tuting some coarse expression for the genuine words of a
song, and shouting out of the window their unauthorised
additions with all the greater zest if they could be made
to convey some allusion to an unpopular master, or to a
school - fellow against whom they had a grudge. Various
old Salopians of different generations have consequently
retained an unfavourable impression of the chorusing, which
does not seem to have been altogether deserved. But there
is no doubt that, during the last few years of its existence,
chorusing had become more noisy than musical, and when
it was suppressed, about 1875, few were found to sorrow
over its disappearance.


No account of traditional amusements at Shrewsbury
could be considered complete which did not include some
allusion to the strange delight which the boys used formerly
to take in putting in an appearance on the racecourse during
the time of the spring or autumn race meetings, even when
they could only remain a few minutes, and had some five
miles to run in order to secure their brief pleasure. Various
were the means which were employed by the school authori-
ties to keep them away. Not only were holidays, extras, and
excuses never given in race week, but Tuesday and Thursday
were made long-lesson days. " Douling " games at football
were arranged every day between 10 a.m. and 11.30 a.m.,
second lesson being taken from 12 to 2 p.m., and for all boys
who were "off douling" there was a "calling over" every
half-hour in School Gardens. For the football players there
was also a "calling over" in the cricket field about 10.30 a.m.
Sometimes one of the shorter " runs," generally the Tucks, 1
was taken one day during the week, and boys were allowed
to choose between football and "the run."

These checks and precautions mostly belong to a com-
paratively late period of school history. In earlier days an
examination would sometimes be fixed for the race week,
and a special " calling over " would occasionally be imposed.
But, from the time when the Shrewsbury race meetings first
began, boys who were inclined that way appear from all
accounts to have rarely failed to manage a flying visit to the
racecourse. Sometimes they must have accomplished a good
deal more than this, for sporting Salopians who were at
school more than fifty years ago may even now be sometimes
heard to recount the many triumphs of Isaac, the old grey
gelding, who had once been a coach-horse, or of Catharina,
the indefatigable mare, who ran thirteen heats at one Shrews-
bury meeting. But the difficulties and dangers, even in
those days, were not inconsiderable. A book of Milton

1 As a curious illustration of the tenacity with which schoolboys cling to
traditional customs, even when all reason for their observance has passed
away, it may be mentioned that at the present day, although the Shrewsbury
race-meeting is no longer in existence, a "douling" game at football is always
announced to be played on the day appointed for the so-called " Tucks Run."


awaited the sixth form boys, and a more substantial punish-
ment was in all probability in reserve for their juniors, should
either chance to be caught on their way to or from the race-
course. So surely also as a boy made his appearance at third
lesson during the races with hot face and untidy appearance,
so surely would he be called up by the form master to
construe, and a " shipping," with an extra amount of " penals "
attached, would almost inevitably ensue. Old Salopians are
still living who remember how on one occasion during the
race week Henney, who was taking the sixth form for a
Lucretius lesson, called up in turn Munro, the great Lucretian
scholar of after days, and Morse, when both were hopelessly

Sometimes the racegoers would take extra pains to avoid
being caught on their way back to school, and instead of
returning by the English bridge would make a short cut
through the meadows opposite to the Castle, and cross the
river in a boat awaiting their arrival. But these excitements
have long been things of the past, for the Shrewsbury race-
meetings themselves came to an end shortly after the
migration of the school to Kingsland.

The May races, however, and steeplechases remained for
many years witnesses of the attraction which the Shrewsbury
horse-races had for the boys in former days. On the morning
of the day fixed for either of these races to take place it was
the custom to issue a programme arranged after the fashion
of a race-card, the intending runners being entered under
jocose names as horses, and the names of subscribers to the
races being given as their owners and nominators. 1

The so-called mile race also, which was the chief event of
the May Races for many years after their foundation, seems
almost from the first to have been described as " the Derby." 2
It was doubtless due, we may add, to the existence of race

1 The jocose names were given up, so far as the athletic sports programmes
were concerned, more than twenty years ago, but they continued to be used on
the steeplechase cards up to the time of the school migration to Kingsland.

2 There is evidence that one of the races was called "the Derby" in 1840 or
1841. But in the programme for 1843 we find the St. Leger stakes mentioned
but no " Derby."


meetings at Shrewsbury that it became an established
custom in the school in Dr. Butler's days to commemorate
the two great horse-races of the year, the Derby and the
St. Leger, by a general sweepstakes. The amount of each
boy's stake was not large, nor was the practice one of which
Dr. Butler would be likely to take a very severe view. At
any rate there is no record of his having ever interfered with
it. The St. Leger sweepstake was probably soon dropped ;
but the " Derby lottery," as the boys called it, seems to have
been kept up during the whole of Dr. Kennedy's head-
mastership, and for some years afterwards, without any
interference by the authorities.

Another old school institution, "boxing and singing," to
which the short amount of time that was available on Friday
evenings between tea and top schools in Jee's hall, and
between top schools and bedtime in Doctor's hall, was for-
merly devoted, has been for some years a thing of the past.
The proceedings in both halls were under the direction of
"the hall constable," and were intended mainly to promote
the discomfort of new boys, though now and then two
older boys would condescend to put on the gloves.

The new boys' races, which used to take place on the first
Monday after the holidays in School Gardens, are still carried
on, though under more favourable circumstances and in a
less confined space, at Kingsland.



NO date is given to this letter, which is still preserved among
the Town Records, but internal evidence suggests that it
was the first of the series. One only of the other letters is at
present forthcoming, but they were all in existence in the time
of Hotchkis, who has given copies or abstracts of them. The
spelling has been modified in the following copy:

"To the right worshipful Mr. Bailiffs, the Aldermen, the Common
Council and the Burgesses of the Town of Salop.

"Whereas it hath pleased you heretofore to grant unto me the
setting of the living appertaining to the Free School of this town
after the leases be expired, for the maintenance of the said school
for the term of my life. And whereas, in your such grant, I meant
nothing less than to make the only stay of my living thereupon,
but that rather I thought it should have been so granted that I
might have been thereby a bar or let for the perpetual establishment
of the same school against such, who, in time coming, might seek
to make a spoil of the same, my request is therefore that you will
grant me the setting of the living thereof as I shall think good to
the use of the said school to some continuance for ever, with the
further devising of all orders for the same, 1 and that any such device
you will ratify and establish under your seal when the same shall be
perfected. As I will first be sworn not to alienate one penny thereof
from the use of the said school, but that all that can be made of it
shall be employed to the discharging of the wages of the school-
masters thereof, the reparations of the same (which in few years
will be no little thing) and further sustentation of your children
going out of the same as the living will extend unto. And thereof

1 As the Indenture of Elizabeth of May 23rd, 1571, expressly reserved to
Ashton the power of making ordinances for the government of the school, it is
evident that this letter was written between October, 1568, when the Bailiffs
made him the grant to which he refers, and May, 1571.



yearly an account to be made to the Bailiffs, Aldermen and Common
Council of the said town for the time being at their yearly audit.
This is my request ; consider of it as ye shall think good.
"Your servant and suppliant in this behalf,

"Thomas Asheton."

" Oct. 27^, 1573, from Chartlcy" Hotchkis gives an abstract of
this letter. Ashton writes :

" My Lord's affairs and my Lady's case is such as I cannot satisfy
your request with my presence," and adds that he is " entangled and
tyed now by the Prince more streightly." The chief purport of the
letter was to threaten the Bailiffs that he would discharge himself of
all further care about the school, and refer it to Mr. Lawrence, then
Head Master. Ashton complains that he had been reflected on for
charging 6 for his expenses in London and Cambridge in con-
sultation about the Indenture and Ordinances. He tells the Bailiffs
that with the first money that should come in they must buy an iron
chest, and that they must call on his servant David Longdon to give

The next letter to which Hotchkis refers is dated Nov. *]th, 1573.

Ashton tells the Bailiffs that if they would agree at a Common
Hall to alter the ordinances, and that what was to go to poor
artificers or poor scholars in the university should be converted
to the finding of a Third Master, and frame orders accordingly,
he would be willing to agree to whatsoever they should think good.
. . . Else, he would frame ordinances himself and appoint a
third schoolmaster. . . .


" Whereas your Worships have requested me to alter the Orders
for the Assistant and to place a second Schoolmaster who may have
yearly for these Six Years Sixteen Pounds, without respect of a
dead Stock for the School, the use whereof the poor Artificers
of the Town should have had, I have agreed to your request, and
as time will serve have satisfied the same. If you like of it you
may ingrosse it and annex it to the former Schedules. If you
mislike it, correct it as you think good. I will set my Hand unto
it as most of you shall agree thereupon. My Life is short and
therefore I would it were done out of Hand. Yet as my Duty
requireth I will give you some Reason of my doing. Seeing your


minds be to have the School's Money to serve only the School's
use (Howsoever pity moved me to apply it otherwise) I have now
done the same, yet reserving a Surplusage still, first, to the use
of the School to be first served; after, as it will appear by the
Orders, I reserve the Surplusage to this end, to have provision
made in either University for such your Children as come out of
the same School thither: for you see how the poor are forced to
give over their Learning and Study, for that they can have no place
in neither University, in any Colledge, in default neither the Shire
nor the School aforetime hath made provision therefore. Seeing
then you will have all applied to the School use, I agree thereto,
and have made Surplusage first, to serve that use, neither have
disannulled the Orders in the Schedules before (that only excepted
of the Assistant) but reserved them to the time when the School-
masters are all first discharged. My reason I make or would make
so large a Surplusage is this. I think all that may arise of the
School's Rent is too much to go to the Salaries of the three School-
masters, and the Reparations of the School, for if one Schoolmaster
have in the end ^"40, another 20, the third ;io, I think no
School in England hath a Salary exceeding this. And seeing we
exceed others, Let us know when we be well. The principal care
then is to make provision for those which shall go out from this
School, for their further Learning and Study, and if the Town be
benefited by the School, should not the Children rejoice to help
their Fathers ? And now for the dead Stock of the School of ^"200,
this is my reason. You know that the School is old and inclining
to Ruin, also casualty of Fire may happen. The Stock is ever
ready without hindering the Town to build a new School. Yet
this was not only my reason, which now I will declare unto you.
I have considered many times with myself in what an Evil Place
the School doth stand in, both for place of Easement whereby the
Fields is abused to the annoyance of them that pass by there, as
also for that they cannot have access thither, but that it must be
by the Prisoners, whereby great Inconvenience cometh. My
meaning therefore was in time to have bought that plot of ground
S r Andrew Corbett hath on the other side of the Street, and to have
builded a fair School there with the dead Stock of the School, and
to have had a door through the Town Walls, and Stairs or Steps
with great Stones down to Severn, where a fair House of Office
might have been made, &c. Thomas Asheton."


"Feb. I2//&,

Ashton says that he has been complained of for setting a tithe
to his man. 1 ... In reference to the masters' stipends, he declares
. . . "I have made their wages with the best of the schools in
England, and it is reasonable they should live upon the same, and,
if they be diligent, something will come in besides." . . . He adds :
" I marvel what the magistrates and heads of the town did mean
to make such ado to have the Orders altered, and afterwards to be
so careful to let it lie unfinished. Before God, if you look not
better to it, I will alter all anew. My credit is not so much lost,
but, if it be thought I have done what I can, and by law am barred
to go any further, and, by that is done, some holes be espied to
creep in at, to make a spoil, I will work upon my credit what I can
to prevent it, whatsoever it cost me. It shall but make me take
such livings which now are offered, to bear the charges thereof, and
to give them over when I have done. Therefore I pray you, good
Mr. Bailiffs, let me know your minds herein that I may in time work
accordingly. Thus, with my hearty commendations and good
wishes, I leave, Y r assured, Thomas Asheton."

"May loth, 1576. To Mr. Lloyd \ Bailiffg

Mr. Okell / '

"... It is not unknown to you, how at the motion of Mr.
Bailiffs, then from the Aldermen, Common Council and Burgesses,
I altered the first Orders, which, then being read amongst you, was
signified to me of the good liking of the same and that they should
be put to engrossing. But I understand it is not done, notwith-
standing I have yearly written to the Bailiffs succeeding and never had
answer thereof, or cause set down of the stay of the same. I know
not what meaning may be in some to the overthrow of the School
thereby, but this I promise ; before it shall be any longer deferred,
seeing the thing done stands now undone, I will take a new course,
both to defeat the purpose of those ill-meaners, and establish the
thing more surely for learning, though less beneficial for the Town
hereafter. Pray, let me know what you will do. ... "

1 Ashton refers of course to David Longdon, the first School Bailiff, to whom

Online LibraryGeorge William FisherAnnals of Shrewsbury School → online text (page 41 of 56)