The Great Public Schools of England

It should be mentioned at the outset that by the “Great Public Schools” are meant those open only to the members of the Public who have long purses or long pedigrees. They are institutions peculiar to England, where the sons of the propertied-class are taught to play games well, and to despise both healthy labour and those who are foolish enough to provide them with free education and free maintenance, while refusing to claim the same for their own children. For centuries past it has been the aim of all members of the capitalist-class to obtain places for their sons at Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, or any other great public school, the mere mention of which is to stamp the youths as “gentlemen.” The majority of our “famous statesmen” have been educated at these “theatres of athletic manners and training places of s gallant, generous spirit”; and it is in these pleasant places that our rulers and owners have acquired that “education” which is so powerful a factor in fostering class prejudice. It will therefore be interesting to learn for what purpose they were founded.


In the 14th century, William Wykeham, the son of a small farmer, founded the first English Public School at Winchester; the Statutes declare that his purpose was to establish s school where a liberal education might be given to those who desired it but who were unable to pay the cost; they were to be pauperes et indigentes (poor and needy), and they were to be “clothed, boarded, lodged, and taught entirely free of cost”; further, 70 Fellowships at New College, Oxford, were to be reserved for them. The number of well-to-do scholars, paying full fees, was limited to 10! Well, in 1873 the “poor and needy” were being charged £60 a year, while 150 scholars were paying full fees.


The world-renowned Eton College was founded in the 15th century by Henry VI. The scholars, who were to be “pauperes et indigentes, apt for study and of good morals,” were entitled to board and lodging, clothing and education, free of charge! It is needless to say that only the wealthy can afford or dare to send, their sons to Eton, and the founder would find it difficult to recognise his carefully formed, constituted, and endowed school in the present famous “patrician seminary.” For high-class snobbery an Etonian easily beats all records, and those of some of the other public schools are hard to beat.


In 1512, Thomas Sutton was given permission to found the Charterhouse School for the free education and maintenance of poor children. The air of London proving unwholesome, the “poor children” now resort to Godalming, where plenty of good food and healthy exercise help to form those fine, strapping fellows that form such a contrast to the stunted growth of the slum dweller.
In 1567 L. Sherriff started a free school at Rugby, chiefly for Rugby boys.
In 1571, John Lyon, a yeoman, formed a school at Harrow for the “perpetual education of the poor children of the parish of Harrow, without any charge for the same.” Harrow School, second only to Eton!


The Merchant Taylors’ School was founded in 1560 for the free education of 250 boys, who alone should be eligible for some 50 Scholarships and Fellowships at St. John’s College, Oxford.


In Edward VI’s reign many free schools were started, including Shrewsbury School, and Christ’s Hospital in London for the sons of the “very poor.” Christ’s Hospital, indeed, has long been of advantage to the hard-worked city clerk and the ill-paid curate, but with its removal to Horsham, it will doubtless soon become, like Charterhouse, a place where the working-class will give free education and free maintenance to the sons of the wealthy.


St. Paul’s School was founded by the great Dean Colet, who ordained that it should be free to “153 children of all nations and countries.”
At Westminster School it was placed on the statutes that 40 scholars were to be educated free and freely boarded at the expense of the Dean and Chapter.
Dulwich College was founded by Edward Alleyn for the “free education of poor boys.”


Perhaps these notes on the charters of eleven of the most famous public schools will suffice to indicate the purpose for which they were founded and bow that purpose was fulfilled; of course there are many others whose origin and development were the same.
Although as long ago as 1855 the annual revenues of only four of these schools amounted to £74,000, gratuitous education is now practically non-existent; there are indeed at all the above institutions various scholarships, that often considerably reduce the fees, which vary from £80 to £150, but they are only to be gained by those who already have the qualifications of birth, influence, and education.


Among the boys, wealth and aptness for games are of primary importance, and those “apt for study and of good morals” have to endure the “ ragging,” so popular, too, at the Universities. It is incredible what suffering has to be endured by those who come to school to work or who refuse to join in the immoral practices so prevalent. The weak are oppressed, and the poor are treated with such contempt that they often run into debt to escape the stigma of poverty. Sham patriotism runs riot, and the daily attendance at chapel. engenders that sham religion which is seldom believed in but which proves of service in keeping in its place the working-class. The ignorance of the average public school boy astounding, and well accounts for the mismanagement of the late South African War, and in a degree, for the decline of British industry. Literature, top, may well become degraded when the leisured classes, can hardly write half-a-dozen lines in correct English.


The Rev. R. J. Campbell has denounced the working-class in a way that has even called forth remonstrances from most of the capitalist papers; no one, however, who knows anything of the “Great Public Schools” will deny that the boys, as a rule, are “lazy, unthrifty, improvident, immoral, foul-mouthed, and untruthful and sometimes drunken.” “Betting and gambling” and “idle self-indulgence” are almost as prevalent in some public schools as in Park Lane.


This is the way in which the commands of the founders have been obeyed, and it is for this that the poor and needy have been so disgracefully robbed. The history of the “Great Public Schools” is symbolical of the history of the world ; the good things produced by and belonging to the working-class, stolen from them and devoted to luxury and riotous waste. It is to pot an end to all this that The Socialist Party has been formed, and there is only one method by which the Working-class may recover its possessions from the capitalist-class, and that is—Expropriation.


Sydney Chase