St. John's College, Cambridge
by Robert Forsyth Scott
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An effort was made by the Statutes of the Realm to improve the condition of members of colleges. It seems to have been assumed that the rent of a college farm, like its statutes, could not be altered; but by an Act of Parliament passed in the eighteenth year of Elizabeth, known as Sir Thomas Smith's Act, it was enacted that from thenceforth one-third of the rents were to be paid in wheat and malt; the price of wheat for the purposes of the Act being assumed to be 6s. 8d. a quarter, and of malt 5s. a quarter. Thus if before the Act the rent of a farm was L6 a year, after it became law the tenant had to pay L4 in money, three-quarters of wheat, and four quarters of malt, these two latter items coming to L1 each. But the tenant now paid a rent varying according to the prices of the day—namely, the money rent plus the cash value of the wheat and malt according to the best prices of these commodities in Cambridge on the market-day preceding quarter-day. Thus as the prices of wheat and malt rose the College benefited. By the Act this variable one-third, or "corn-money," went to increase the allowance for commons. As time went on the amount of the corn-money was more than sufficient to pay for the commons, and a further modest allowance out of the surplus was made to all who participated in the College revenues, whether as Master, Fellow, scholar, or sizar, under the name of praeter.

In process of time another source of revenue arose. Leases of College estates were usually granted for a term of forty years, and there was a general custom that the tenant might surrender his lease at the end of fourteen years and receive a new one for forty years. As prices rose tenants were willing to pay a consideration for the renewal known as a "fine"—this was calculated on the full letting value of the estate at the time of the renewal, the rent reserved remaining at its traditional amount. At first this fine-money was regarded as a species of surplus, and grants were made from it to Fellows or scholars who were ill or in special need of temporary assistance. The cost of entertaining royalties or other distinguished visitors, and part of the cost of new buildings, were defrayed from this source. In the year 1629 the practice arose of dividing this fine-money up among the Master and Fellows in certain shares, and the money so paid became known as the "dividend." At the present time the College property is managed like any other landed estate, and after the necessary expenses of management and maintenance have been met, and certain fixed sums paid to the scholars and exhibitioners, and to the University, the remainder is by the statutes divided up into shares called dividends, each Fellow getting one dividend, the Master and the members of the College Council receiving certain additions calculated in dividends; there is a general restriction that the dividend shall not exceed L250 a year. The fall in the value of land at present automatically provides that this limit is not exceeded; if the revenues become more than sufficient for the purpose, additional fellowships and scholarships must be established.

The reader will gather that the chief endowment of the College arises from land. The College estates lie scattered over most of the eastern side of England, from Yorkshire to Kent. There is no large block of property anywhere. The estates in past times, when means of communication were poor, must have been difficult to visit. In the leases of the more distant farms it was usual to stipulate that the tenant should provide "horse meat and man's meat" for the Master and Bursar and their servants while on a tour of inspection. That some care was bestowed on the management is clear from the regular entries, in the books of accounts, of the expenses of those "riding on College business." Probably the estates were visited when leases came to be renewed, and an effort made to discover the actual letting value of the property. Land agents seem to have been first employed to make formal valuations towards the end of the eighteenth century, and about the same time plans of the estates were obtained, some of these, made before the enclosures, showing the land scattered in many minute pieces, are very curious and interesting.

The actual life within the College walls is not so easy to describe with any certainty. At first, as we have seen, the undergraduates actually lived with Fellows of the College, and overcrowding must have been a constant feature of College life. On 15th December 1565 a return was made to Lord Burghley of all students, "whether tutors or pupils," residing in the College, with notes as to whether they had come into Chapel in their surplices or not. The return concludes with this summary: "The whole number is 287, whereof there came into the Chappell with surplesses upon the last Saturdaie and Sondaie 147; and abrode in the country 33. And of thother 107 whiche cumme not in as yet, there be many cumme to the Colledge of late and be not yet provided of surplesses." At this time we have to remember that the buildings of the College consisted only of the First Court, the Infirmary or Labyrinth, and a small block of buildings in a corner of the ground now occupied by the Second Court, swept away when that was built. The arrangement seems to have been as follows. The ground-floor rooms were occupied by junior Fellows, each with a few pupils. The rooms on the first floor, known in the College books as the "middle chambers," were in greater request; with these went the rooms on the second floor, with sometimes excelses or garrets over them—these could accommodate a senior Fellow with several pupils. In the older parts of the College the rooms occupied the whole depth of the building, and so were lighted from both sides; in the corners, when light could be obtained, cubicles or studies were partitioned off. From a sanitary point of view, life under such conditions must have left much to be desired, and the burial registers of All Saints' parish (in which the older part of the College is situated) leave the impression of frequent and almost epidemic illness in the College during the sixteenth and early part of the seventeenth century.

The undergraduates in early times were much younger than the men of the present day. The statutes prescribed that the oath should not be required from scholars who were under sixteen years of age; the frequent occurrence of non juratus in the admission entry of a scholar shows that many came to the College before that age. Probably the average age was about sixteen; the idea being that after the seven years' residence required for the M.A. degree they would be of the proper age to present themselves for ordination. Those under eighteen years of age might be publicly whipped in the Hall for breaches of discipline.

Students from distant parts of England probably resided continuously in College from the time they entered it until they took their degrees. The statutes of King Henry VIII. contemplate a period of some relaxation at Christmas; providing that each Fellow in turn should be "Lord" at Christmas, and prepare dialogues and plays to be acted by members of the College between Epiphany and Lent. The brazier in the Hall seems to have been kept burning in the evening about Christmas time; of this practice a curious relic survived until comparatively lately, it being the custom to leave a few gas-jets burning in the Hall until midnight from St. John's Day (December 27) until Twelfth Night.

There were three classes of students. The Fellow Commoners, sons of noblemen or wealthy land-owners, who sat at the High Table, or, as it was phrased, were in Fellows' commons. Some came in considerable state. In 1624 the Earl of Arundel and Surrey sent his two sons, Lord Maltravers and Mr. William Howard, to the College. The Earl's chaplain, or secretary, in making arrangements for their coming, wrote to request that they should have one chamber in the College, with a "pallett for the gromes of their chamber"; the rest of "his lordships company, being two gentlemen, a grome of his stable and a footman, may be lodged in the towne near the College." At this period the Second Court had been built, and the accommodation for residence thus somewhat greater than in Elizabethan times. The Fellow Commoner wore a gown ornamented with gold lace, and a cap with a gold tassel. The last Fellow Commoner at St. John's to wear this dress was the present Admiral Sir Wilmot Hawksworth Fawkes.

The next class in order of status were the Pensioners—men who paid their expenses without assistance from the College, sons of middle-class parents. In times of which we have any definite record this was the most numerous class in College. Lastly, we have the sizars. A sizar was definitely attached to a Fellow or Fellow Commoner; he was not exactly a servant, but made himself generally useful. For example, those members of the College who absented themselves from the University sermon were in the eighteenth century fined sixpence, and the sizars were expected to mark the absentees. The sizar at Cambridge had, however, always a better status than the servitor at Oxford, and in the days when scholarships were strictly limited as to locality, a sizarship was something of the nature of what at the present day we should describe as an entrance scholarship or exhibition, the assistance given consisting in a reduction of expenses rather than in actual direct emolument. At the present time there is no difference in status among members of the College; the foundation scholars, however, having special seats in Chapel and a separate table in Hall if they choose to make use of it.

Until 1882 the condition of celibacy attached to all fellowships in the College; Queen Elizabeth held strong views on the matter, even discouraging the marriage of Masters. The necessity of taking orders was somewhat relaxed in 1860. The system had its advantages—it tended to produce promotion; for the natural inclination of mankind to marry, vacated fellowships; the disadvantage was that men with a real taste for study or teaching had no certain career before them. The question of allowing Fellows to marry was raised in the eighteenth century, but met with little support and much opposition. Even in the middle of the nineteenth century a University Commission inclined to the view that celibacy was inseparable from the collegiate system.

The clerical restriction had the effect of chiefly confining selection to College offices to those who were in orders. These in due course went off to benefices in the gift of the College, these acting as a species of pension. One form of benefaction frequently bestowed by past members was the gift of an advowson; one or two benefactors left estates, the revenues from which were to accumulate, and with the sums so raised advowsons were to be purchased. Presentation to livings went by seniority of standing, and this practice, with the restriction on marriage, gave rise to the belief, still prevalent in many parishes where the College is patron, that the College on a vacancy always chooses for the next incumbent "the oldest bachelor." It seems probable, without any minute statistical inquiry, that most of the Fellows left the College before the age of forty. A few remained on for life.

It is difficult now to reconstruct a picture of the High Table, made up as it was for many years of a group of middle-aged or elderly men, with a considerable admixture of youthful Fellow Commoners. During the eighteenth century the proportion of Fellow Commoners was probably from one-fourth to one-third of those dining together, and constraint on both sides must have been almost inevitable. The terms "don" and "donnishness" seem to have acquired their uncomplimentary meaning about this period. The precise significance of "don" is not easy to express concisely; the most felicitous is perhaps that of the Oxford Shotover Papers, where we read that don means, in Spain, a gentleman; in England, a Fellow. The abolition of the Fellow Commoner was perhaps chiefly due to the rise of the democratic spirit and a general dislike of privilege, but there are other grounds for welcoming it.

Of the individuals who make up the stream of youthful life which has ebbed and flowed through the College gate there is but little official record. An Admonition Book exists, in which more than a century ago those who were punished for graver offences against discipline signed the record of their sentence and promised amendment. One youth admits over a trembling signature that he was "admonished by the Master, before the Seniors, for keeping strangers in my chamber till twelve o' the clock, and disturbing the Master by knocking at his gate in an irreverent manner at that hour for the keys of the gate." When the College gate was closed it may be explained that the keys were placed in the Master's keeping. We are, however, left in ignorance of what passed in that chamber until the midnight hour. Yet no doubt the student in past days had his amusements as well as his successor of the present day—rougher perhaps, but not less agreeable to him.

In Bishop Fisher's statutes archery was encouraged as a pastime, and we know from Ascham's writings that he indulged in it. In the sixteenth century the College built a tennis-court for the use of its members. John Hall, who entered the College in 1646, recommended "shittlecock" as fit for students—"it requires a nimble arme with quick and waking eye." We hear of horse matches and cock-fighting, but in terms of disapproval. Football is mentioned in 1574, when the Vice-Chancellor directed that scholars should only play upon their own College ground. In 1595 "the hurtful and unscholarly exercise of football" was forbidden, except within each College and between members of the same College. Certain general orders for the discipline of the undergraduates, which gave rise to much controversy about 1750, forbade cricket between the hours of nine and twelve in the morning. In 1763 the Vice-Chancellor required that no scholar, of whatever rank, should be present at bull-baiting. We read in the eighteenth century of "schemes" or water-parties on the river, but these appear to have been more of the nature of picnics than exercises of skill. Riding was probably very common, the student arriving on his nag, perhaps selling it and using the proceeds as a start in his new life. The phrase "Hobson's choice" took its rise from the rule in the livery stables of Hobson the carrier that a man who hired a hack had to take the one that stood nearest to the stable door. In later days stage-coaches supplied a more regular means of conveyance. Students leaving Cambridge for the North betook themselves to Huntingdon, and were housed at the George Inn there till places could be found for them in the coaches. The landlord of the George sending over to Cambridge to let it be known that one batch were gone and that another might come over.

Traditions linger in parishes round Cambridge that the University "gentlemen" used certain fields or commons for the purpose of riding races; the Cottenham steeplechases are presumably a survival of this practice. Shooting and coursing, with a little hunting, came into vogue at the end of the eighteenth century.

The rise and organisation of athletic sports as an essential element of College life would require a bulky history in itself. The first to take definite form was rowing. The historic boat club of the college is the Lady Margaret Boat Club; this was founded in the October term of 1825. The actual founder of the club seems to have been the Hon. Richard John Le Poer Trench, a son of the second Earl of Clancarty. Trench afterwards became a captain in the 52nd Regiment, and died 12th August 1841. The club was the first to start an eight-oared boat on the Cam, though some Trinity men had a four-oar on the river a short time before the Lady Margaret was started. Among the first members of the club were William Snow and Charles Merivale, afterwards Dean of Ely. Trench acted as stroke of the original first boat crew in the Lent Term of 1826. There were at first no regular races, but impromptu trials of speed with other crews frequently took place. In 1827 the University Boat Club was started, and regular bumping races begun. The first challenge to Oxford was determined on at a meeting of the University Boat Club held 20th February 1829, when it was resolved: "That Mr. Snow, of St. John's, be requested to write immediately to Mr. Staniforth, Christ Church, Oxford, proposing to make up a University Match." The match was made up, and the race rowed at Henley on 10th June 1829, and from this the annual boat-race between Oxford and Cambridge takes its rise. Snow acted as stroke of the Cambridge boat, George Augustus Selwyn, successively Bishop of New Zealand and Lichfield, rowed "seven," and Charles Merivale "four." Snow (afterwards Strahan) became a banker, and died at Florence 4th July 1886. In after years when, from 1861 to 1869 inclusive, Oxford had uniformly beaten Cambridge, the Lady Margaret supplied the late John H. D. Goldie to break the spell and restore hope and confidence to Cambridge crews. Thus the College club has taken an important part in the establishment and maintenance of Cambridge rowing. Two verses of the College boat song run as follows:—

"Mater regum Margareta Piscatori dixit laeta 'Audi quod propositum; Est remigium decorum Suavis strepitus remorum Ergo sit Collegium.'

* * * * *

Sic Collegium fundatum Et Johannis nomen datum Margareta domina, Ergo remiges gaudendum Triumphandum et canendum In saeclorum secula."

So that, if we can trust the historic insight of the author (Mr. T. R. Glover), the intentions of the foundress have been duly carried out.

The uniform of the club was at first much what it is now, a white jersey with pink stripes; with this was worn a jacket of scarlet flannel, popularly known as a "blazer"—a name which has passed into the English language as descriptive of the coloured jackets of all clubs. It is said that some one, whose feeling for analogy was stronger than for decorum, described the surplice as "the blazer of the Church of England." Organised cricket clubs, athletic clubs, and football clubs grew up, and in process of time clubs for the pursuit of every kind of athletic exercise have been started. Originally each club in College had a subscription, paid by its members, towards the expenses of the special game. About twenty years ago all the clubs in St. John's were united into one club—"The Amalgamation." The subscription to this entitles a member to join in any of the recognised games. The funds are administered by a committee consisting of the representatives of those interested in the different games, and grants made from the general fund towards the expenses of each game. The presence of a few senior members of the College on the committee provides the continuity so difficult to maintain with the short-lived generations of undergraduate life. The College provides the ground for the cricket, football, and lawn-tennis clubs, while through the generosity of members of the College of all standings a handsome boat-house has recently been built on the river. The College also possesses flourishing musical and debating societies, and from time to time clubs arise for literary and social purposes, dying out and being refounded with great persistence.

In another sphere of work the College has taken a leading part. St. John's was the first College in Cambridge to start a mission in London—the Lady Margaret Mission in Walworth. Preaching in the College Chapel on 28th January 1883, the Rev. William Allen Whitworth, a Fellow of the College, then Vicar of St. John's, Hammersmith, afterwards Incumbent of All Saints', Margaret Street, suggested that the College should support a mission in some neglected district of London. The matter took form a little later in the year, and since then the College Mission has been a College institution. Members of the College visiting the mission district, and visitors from Walworth coming for an annual outing, including a cricket match, in August.

Another flourishing institution is the College magazine, The Eagle. Founded in the year 1858, it has maintained its existence for nearly fifty years, being now the oldest of College magazines. It has numbered among its contributors many who have subsequently found a wider field and audience: some of the earliest efforts of Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon, are to be found in its pages.

* * * * *

I now bring my sketch of the College history to a close. I have endeavoured, within the prescribed limits, to give an outline of the corporate life of an ancient and famous foundation. In writing it two classes of readers have been borne in mind: the visitor who, within a short compass, may wish to learn something more than can be picked up by an inspection of the buildings; members of the College who feel a lively interest in the habits and pursuits of those who have preceded them. I have, perhaps, thought more of the latter than of the former class.

Members of the College have always been distinguished for a certain independence of thought and adherence to principle, not always guided by motives of mere worldly prudence; they have always been noted for that strong corporate feeling which finds expression in the words of Viscount Falkland's letter, before alluded to: "I still carry about with me an indelible character of affection and duty to that Society, and an extraordinary longing for some occasion of expressing that affection and that duty."

To one who has spent much of his life in the service of the institution to which he owes so much, the words of the Psalmist (a Scot naturally quotes the version endeared to him by early association) seem to put the matter concisely—

"For in her rubbish and her stones thy servants pleasure take; Yea, they the very dust thereof do favour for her sake."


Adams, J. C., 16, 25, 26, 29, 82

Admonition Book, 100

Armorial Bearings, 2

Arrowsmith, J., 57

Ascham, R., 19, 23, 44

Ashton, H., 19

Baker, T., 28, 32, 61

Balsham, Hugo de, 36

Baronsdale, W., 50

Barwick, J., 31

Bateson, W. H., 81

Beale, W., 56

"Blazer," 104

Blunt, J. J., 22

Boat Club, 102

Bohun, H., 47

"Bridge of Sighs," 8, 10

Briggs, H., 51

Brown, "Capability," 10

Bull-baiting, 101

Burghley, Lord, 18, 48

Carey, V., 28

Catton, T., 70

Caxton, 31

Celibacy, 97

Chapel, New, 13-17

Chapel, Old, 4, 13

Charles I., 26, 30, 52, 56, 86

Charles II., 31

Cheke, Sir J., 44

Churchill, C., 70, 72

Clarkson, T., 26

Clayton, R., 49

Clive, R. H., 22

College Leases, 91

Combination Room, 5, 23, 25, 27

Commons, 43, 90

Corn Rents, 91

Cricket, 101

Cromwell, O., 56, 63

Cromwell, T., 29, 30

Dallam, R., 22

Dawson, J., 70

Denman, T., 71

Digby, E., 48

Dividend, 92

Eagle, The, 106

Eagle Close, 10

Edward VI., 45

Elizabeth, Queen, 46, 47

Estates, 93

Examinations, 24, 69

Fairfax, T., 31, 56, 62

Falkland, Viscount, 18, 62, 107

Fawkes, Sir W. H., 96

Fellow Commoners, 66, 96, 97, 99

Fisher, John, 37

Floods, 7

Football, 101

Forster, T., 63

Frost, H., 35

Ganton, R., 70

Gilbert, W., 18, 50, 51

Glover, T. R., 104

Goldie, J. H. D., 103

Gower, H., 7, 59, 60

Gunning, P., 57

Gwyn, O., 52, 62

Hall, The, 23

Hare, Sir R., 25

Hawksmoor, N., 8

Heberden, W., 73

Henrietta Maria, Queen, 26

Henry VII., 38

Henry VIII., 18, 38, 41, 45, 86

Herrick, R., 63

Herschel, Sir J. F. W., 25, 26, 82

High Altar, 46

Hill, R., 84

Hoare, H., 16

Hoghton, General, 70

Hopton, Sir I., 63

Horne Tooke, 72

Hospital of St. John, 14, 35

Howard, Lord Thomas, 3

Hutchinson, H., 8

Infirmary, 17

James I., 26, 49, 52

James II., 58

Jenkin, R., 61, 64

Kennedy, B. H., 25

Kikuchi, D., 83

Kirke White, H., 4, 20

Kitchen, 32

Knox, E., 17

Knox, John, 17

Knox, N., 17

Labyrinth, 17, 18, 94

Lady Margaret, 1, 2, 37

Laud, 30

Leases, 92

Library, 25, 27, 28

Lillechurch, 30, 41

Linacre, T., 49

Liveing, G. D., 25

Longworth, R., 47, 89

Ludlam, W., 70

Martyn, H., 71

Mary, Queen, 46

Mason, W., 72

Master's Lodge, 15, 25

Mayor, J. E. B., 25, 61

Mengs, R. A., 22

Merivale, C., 102, 103

Metcalfe, N., 20, 40, 42

Mission, Walworth, 105

Mortuary Roll, 30

Mossom, D., 63

Newcome, J., 31

Nonjurors, 59

Norton, F., 72

Oates, Titus, 63

Okeley, F., 84

Organ, 22

Ospringe, 41

Palmer, E. H., 25

Palmerston, Viscount, 71

Parsons, Hon. C. A., 83

Paul's Cross, 43

Peckover, Dr. A., 39

Pennington, Sir I., 90

Percy, A., 40

Peterhouse, 36, 37

Pilkington, J., 89

Powell, Sir F. S., 16

Powell, W. S., 69

Powis, Earl, 21

Praeter, 91

Prior, M., 32, 63

Reform, University, 80

Registers, 61, 62

Reyner, G. F., 16

Rickman, T., 8

Rowing, 102

St. John's Street, 16

Scott, A. J., 71, 72

Scott, Sir G. G., 15, 17

Scott, J. O., 22

Seaton, G., 55

Selwyn, G. A., 26, 103

Selwyn, W., 15

Seven Bishops, 58

Shittlecock, 101

Shorton, R., 40

Shrewsbury, Countess of, 5, 19, 28

Sizar, 97

Smith, R., 50

Smith, W., 73

Snow, W., 102, 103

Stag Staircase, 4

Stage Plays, 23, 95

Staincoat, 5

Stankard, 5

Statues, 18

Statutes, 42, 43, 61, 74, 79, 81

Strafford, Lord, 18, 56, 62

Tatham, R., 22, 80

Taylor, B., 63

Taylor, C., 82

Thomas, Sir N., 25

Townshend, Marquis, 70

Trench, R. J. Le P., 102

Trinity College, 44

Tuckney, A., 57

Tutorial System, 77

Tyrrell, W., 26

Victoria, Queen, 18

Washington, Geo., 64

Whitaker, W., 48

Whitgift, J., 48

Whitworth, W. A., 105

Whytehead, T., 22

Wilberforce, W., 26

Wilderness, The, 9, 10

Williams, John, 7, 18, 25, 27, 28, 29, 52

Wood, J., 20, 78

Wordsworth, W., 25, 26, 32

Wren, Sir C., 7

Wren's Bridge, 8, 9


Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO. Edinburgh & London

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General: Spelling of words in quotations has been preserved.

General: Corrections to punctuation have not been individually documented.

Page 51: logarithims corrected to logarithms (second occurrence)

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