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Open Letter to Ratepayers of Towcester (1890)


Transcript of an open letter from R. W. Watkins to the rate payers of Towcester. The punctuation, spelling and capital letters are as in the original.

The Towcester Grammar School

To the ratepayers of TowcesterAt the Vestry Meeting on Easter Monday some aspersions were made upon the conduct of the Governors of the Grammar School, and when the accuser was challenged to define or explain the grounds of his accusations he declined to do so, but contented himself with vague insinuations and expressed his determination "to bring everything to light and to let the whole parish no all that was going on, if they elected him as Governor."

I am anxious that the whole history of the Grammar School should be made known to the inhabitants of Towcester, and as one of the oldest Feoffees I am willing to undertake that task, and to explain the causes of its gradual decline during the first half of the present century, until it became rather a discredit than an advantage to the town, and to narrate the strenuous efforts made by some of my colleagues and myself (acting under the advice of gentlemen of high education and great experience) to restore it to its original efficiency, and to provide the means of a sound liberal education for the middle-class of the inhabitants, corresponding to that which has been affected in our National Schools during the last 40 years for the working class. Time however would not be sufficient, nor would your attention to that object be secured during the present week of excitement; I therefore address you only on the insinuations against the Governing Body, and the election of a new Governor.

The Governing Body is composed of a Noble Duke highly respected, and having large interest in the surrounding district, (who have I believe not been absent from one meeting,) of three other County Magistrates, of the Vicar of the parish who has in a few years gained the respect and esteem of all classes of his parishioners, of three professional gentlemen all of whom have been elected to public offices and of two (in the first instance three) esteemed tradesmen. Do you, the ratepayers of Towcester, believe the imputation that these gentlemen have been concerned in any dishonourable, underhand, or secret proceedings, in promoting any personal interest, or that they had any other object than the success of the School and its benefits to the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, in electing to the Mastership the most competent of the 95 candidates, a gentleman who until the day of election was an entire stranger to every one of them, whom not one of them had previously seen, and who had no personal connections with any of them? I can assert for myself, and I believe that I might also do so for the majority of the Governors, that I went into the room on the day of election without having decided for which one of the candidates I should vote, but with the full determination to vote for the one I should, after the interview, believe to be the best for the appointment.

I should not however have thought it necessary to defend the conduct of the Governors, but would have left that to be good sense of the parishioners, if it had not happened that a much more important question has now to be decided. The vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr S. C. Tite has now to be filled, and Dr Knight one of the disappointed candidates for the office of Master now asks your votes for himself. I had no wish to say one unkind word of Dr Knight, or to disparage his abilities in tuition; but the real question is, How will his election affect the interests of the school? How will it affect the position of the gentleman who has been elected Master of the School? Mr Wetherell was the second master of the Modern School of the Liverpool College; he presented to ask the highest testimonials from the Headmaster of Uppingham School (a Public School of very distinguished reputation) who was formally Principal of Liverpool College, from the present Principal, and the Vice Principal of the College, and from the Headmaster of the College School. The testimonials we received of his private character and conduct were all most satisfactory. Last week on leaving the School, he was presented with a handsome illuminated Address from his colleagues and pupils which was accompanied with a substantial proof of their grateful feelings towards him.

I ask you now, brother ratepayers, to consider what is the object of Dr Knight in seeking to be placed on the Governing Body of the School? Does he wish to interfere with or exercise any control over the management of the School? The answer to these questions will be found in Dr Knight's remarks at the Vestry, and in the language addressed by him to the other candidates while waiting for the decision of the Governors. Hasty expressions in the moment of disappointment might have passed unnoticed, but similar remarks after an interval of several months indicate a continuance of the feeling of animosity. It is impossible for any thoughtful person to believe that Dr Knight can be actuated by any honest desire for the welfare of the Grammar School. Let Dr Knight placed himself in the position of the present Headmaster, and then ask himself what his own feelings would be if the proprietor of a private school were placed in a position to interfere with or in any way control him. The anomaly of such a position could never have been contemplated by the Charity Commission when the Scheme for all public schools of the same class as Towcester was drawn up. It is not the universal practice, not in Parliament only, but in all public Institutions, that persons who have an interest, pecuniary or otherwise, in any Public Establishment should not take part in its government.

I submit these reflections to you for Ernest consideration before you decide for whom you will vote, and ask you to be guided by the good old maxim "do unto others, as you would they should do unto you."

Towcester, April 9th, 1890. R. W. Watkins
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