Men of Letters

Following on from this morning’s post,  here is Gareth’s latest fantastic Lichfield Grammar School related discovery. The plaque suggests that this stonework was originally the front doorway to the Grammar School, and was redressed and placed around this doorway in the Lichfield District Council Offices in 1928. The second photograph shows our oldest dated graffiti yet – RS 1681.

As I’ve been reading about the school’s history, I’ve been jotting down the names of students. Here they are so far, in no particular order….some you may recognise, others you may not.

Isaac Hawkins Browne    Gregory King
John Wyatt                       George Smallridge
David Garrick                    Andrew Corbet
Thomas Newton                John Willes
Robert James                   Thomas Parker
Elias Ashmole                   William Talbot
Edmund Hector                William Noel
John Taylor                       Richard Lloyd
Charles Congreve            Samuel Johnson
William Wollaston            Theophilius Buckeridge Lowe
Francis Chetwynd            Joseph Addison
John Rowley                     Henry Salt
John Colson                     Joseph Simpson
Walter Bagot                    Charles Bagot
William Bailye

Do any of them match any of the initials found throughout the school? I have to say it’s the ones we don’t know much about that interest me the most. We all know what Mr Ashmole did, but what about those whose achievements weren’t documented to the same extent? What about those poor boys (with or without their brooms)? How did attending the school affect the course of their lives?

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Murray, John. Johnsoniana, 1835. reprinted Lane, Margaret (1975), Samuel Johnson & his World, p. 26. New York: Harpers & Row Publishers

Several engravings and drawing of the Grammar School exist showing the schoolroom building at various stages in its history. Gareth is working on something that will hopefully show the changes in the schoolroom since it was first erected on the site in around 1577. This should hopefully help us to discover the original location of the stone doorway too.  The schoolroom was rebuilt in c.1848, and as the dates on the stonework are before and after this date, I wonder whether materials from the old schoolroom of 1577 were reused in carrying out this restoration work?  I’m hoping to go to the Lichfield Record Office as the National Archives catalogue is showing that the hold lots of information on this, and on may other aspects of the school’s history, dating back to around the same time RS carved his initials into the old doorway.

Finally (for now!), I’ve suggested that the doors of the Old Grammar School, both inside and out, be opened to the public for the Lichfield Heritage Weekend.

Update:

I found a book ‘The Wanderings of a Pen and Pencil’ from 1846, in which the authors FP Palmer and A Crowquill desribe their visit to Lichfield. Illustrations of the exterior and interior of the Grammar School are included in the book. Interestingly, their visit was at the time the school was in decline, and there were no pupils attending (see previous post).  They record that the upper schoolroom was tenanted by lumber, and the lower school room unoccupied, and asked ‘How is it the Lichfield Grammar School is so shamefully deserted and what amount is received by the master for doing nothing?’. In the interior, the stool that they have sketched was apparently the ‘flogging-horse’. The exterior drawing confuses me further – hopefully Gareth will be able to shed more light on how this compares with the other views of the schoolroom we have!.

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Making a Mark

I’m pleased to say that Gareth took my hint and very kindly sent me some great photographs of the names carved into old attic doors in the Lichfield District Council office building on St John St.  This part of the offices was the old school master’s house, dating back to 1682 and it’s thought the attic was used as a dormitory for boarders at the old grammar school.

One of the carvings seems to be dated 1715. If authentic, it means this door could be around 300 years old, possibly even original? Also there’s a rogue 4 nearby, is this a red herring or something to do with the change in calendar from Julian to Gregorian? This is about as clear as a pint of guinness to me, so any possible explanation would be welcomed!

 

Gareth also sent me a scan of a document – an indenture outlining the sale of the school buildings to Theophilus Basil Percy Levett, dated Christmas Eve 1902, and signed by the the school’s governors. It’s a fascinating document, there’s  information about the buildings,  the stamp of the Birmingham Paper and Parchment dealer, the seals and the names and professions of the governors (some are more familiar than others -Lonsdale, Cooper, Lomax, Ashmall and Andrews stand out for me).   In 1903 the school moved from St John St to Upper St John’s St, merging with Kingshill Secondary Modern in 1971, to form the present King Edward VI school.

Gareth’s photographs and images from the last few days are fascinating, but what I also think is interesting is the contrast.  The inky signatures of men who have already made their way in the world, compared with names carved into wood and brick by children starting out in life.  And what about the contrast of these grammar school boys with their peers?  Whilst they may or may not have gone on to fulfil their potential (see the comments on my previous post)  what of those other children that never even had the opportunity?

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the headteachers of our state secondary schools here in Lichfield talk about what their school offered to students. Each of them spoke convincingly about their commitment to giving each and every pupil in their care, regardless of ability or background, the opportunity to reach their potential in life.   I found myself moved by their words. This is how it should be.

Edit 2/11/2012

Yesterday at Lichfield Library, I found the book ‘A Short History of Lichfield Grammar School’ written by Percy Laithwaite in 1925. Mr Laithwaite refers to the graffiti, and I suspect this may be the original source (I found out about the existence of the graffiti on a Lichfield District Council document. I also saw it referenced in Howard Clayton’s Coaching City, whilst I was at the library yesterday). As well as providing small biographies of some of the masters and pupils of the school,  Mr Laithwaite also mentions that wooden panelling from the old school room is now used in the council offices, and that an oak desk from the school room was used as a locker at Bridgeman’s on Quonians Lane. If we could track that down, that’d be something!

Footnote:

 

I’m really pleased to say that Gareth Thomas who provided me with the graffiti photos and the indenture document, as well as other information over the last weeks has started his own blog http://lichfield.keepsblogging.com/ Gareth’s going to be sharing the things he discovers and judging by the gems he’s come up with so far, it’s going to a great read for those of us who enjoy exploring the history of this old city.

Sources:

http://www.lichfielddc.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/588/history_of_district_council_house/2

http://www.kingedwardvi-lichfield.staffs.sch.uk/history.html

https://wiki.leeds.ac.uk/index.php/HIST2530_Building_the_literate_nation:_the_historical_debate#Literacy_Rates