16–20: Marlborough's First Masters

This batch of objects focuses on Marlborough’s first Masters. It is particularly appropriate to celebrate two of these figures now because their aims and aspirations for the College are still relevant today.

January 2021, marked the 150th anniversary of the departure of George Granville Bradley, Master between 1858 and 1870, who left to become Master of University College Oxford, en route to the Deanery of Westminster and simultaneously, the arrival of Frederick William Farrar, Master between 1871 and 1876. Farrar also went on to an illustrious career at Westminster and he became one of the most celebrated writers of the age as well as a famous preacher. These two men were something of a ‘double act’ at Westminster, and Marlborough was extraordinarily fortunate having two such talented Masters in succession; indeed three if their great mentor George Cotton is included.

Bradley’s rigorous approach to ‘godliness and good learning’ and his brilliance as a teacher of Classics changed the nature of Marlborough and showed the Victorian world what a reformed public school could do. As work on the current Science project at Marlborough proceeds, it is worth noting that it was Farrar who was the real pioneer of Science at Marlborough. Some would have regarded his educational views as startling and even a dangerous challenge to orthodoxy. His Essays on Liberal Education prevented him from becoming Master of Haileybury in 1867, the year that this work was published. Farrar was also an aesthete who wanted his pupils to be uplifted by works of art and, as Michael Hall observed, by the standards of mid-Victorian schoolmasters he ‘had an exceptionally broad intellectual range’.

Bradley and Farrar were heroic and deserve a fanfare at this time of anniversary.

16. Wilkinson’s Prefects

It is often thought that under Matthew Wilkinson, the College’s first Master (1843–52), that chaos ruled all the time. This is not entirely true, but he had to lead a large community with limited resources and he was hampered by awkward restrictions; for example, in order to change the time of supper for the Chapel choir so that they did not starve he had to write to the governing body in London to ask for permission. After the Great Rebellion of 1851 he decided to step down. Although he did not establish a strong Prefect system in the Arnoldian sense, there were Prefects and portraits of some of these survive in the archives, painted by the remarkable Art Master Henry Joseph Fleuss (1811–88).

Fleuss may have been born in Dusseldorf but by 1830 he was a British citizen. He taught in a room in the lower floor of what is now New Court, and it may be the case that he taught the young William Morris there during his time at the College. In the archives there are six portraits of some of the College’s first Prefects. Five of these are the sons of clergy. They may not be great works of art, but they are charming pieces by an artist braving the life of a teacher in a challenging new educational venture.

The portrait illustrated is of Clement Francis Cobb, the College’s first Senior Prefect (C1 1843–46) and Captain of the 1st XI. His brother Gerard Francis Cobb (C1 1849–57) donated the Glee Cup which was presented for the first time on 13th April 1872. This occasion marked the beginnings of the tradition that was eventually to become the ‘House Shout’.

Fleuss and his wife Charlotte had 11 children. Of these Henry became an important pioneer in the history of diving equipment, and Margaret married John Francis Bentley, one of the most interesting architects of the Victorian era, whose masterpiece is Westminster Cathedral.

17. Cotton Socks


Wilkinson’s extraordinarily dynamic successor George Cotton (1852–58) undertook a wholesale reform of the school in a time of economic austerity, taming the school with words from the pulpit and channelling boyish energies by introducing organised games as a way of inculcating lessons about leadership and responsibility. Marlborough, Harrow and Uppingham were the first schools to do this. However, the ‘object’ chosen to represent Cotton is a reflection of his career after Marlborough.

In 1858, as Bishop of Calcutta, Cotton established schools for Eurasian children. As part of his philanthropy, he ordered hundreds of pairs of socks to be sent over for the children, to help against the cold, blessing all the socks on arrival. According to one story, a zealous member of staff one day distributed socks before the blessing, so thereafter every time a shipment arrived a note was placed on them to the effect: ‘Cotton’s socks for blessing’. Cotton’s socks soon became corrupted to cotton socks. Another account relates that Cotton asked for donations of clothing, often emphasising ‘warm socks’ for the children, and ladies all over England spent their time knitting socks for him. When the Bishop was drowned in the Ganges on 6th October 1866, a despatch was sent to the Archbishop to ask: ‘Who will bless his cotton socks?’

The phrase is now a term of endearment for a child who has done something sweet. It is also used ironically to praise somebody for suggesting a benevolent but simplistic view regarding a complex situation.

18. The Brass of George Granville Bradley at Westminster Abbey


George Granville Bradley (Master 1858–70) was responsible for making Marlborough one of the country’s leading schools. George Cotton, who had saved the College from bankruptcy and given it a sense of direction, was determined that Bradley, his former colleague at Rugby, should be his successor. Within two years of Bradley’s arrival at the College both Open Scholarships to Balliol had been won by Marlburians and this was at a time when such awards were rare. The achievement of the two successful boys, Ibert and Papillon, electrified the school. Bradley’s vitality and rigour terrified some boys but his intellectual drive made a profound impression as he drove the College forward. Tennyson, who became a great friend, sent his son Hallam to Marlborough because he wanted him to benefit from Bradley’s teaching (see the entry for Tweedledum). Bradley’s Arnold’s Grammar became one of the great textbooks for the teaching of Latin. This frequently reprinted volume came to be regarded as essential reading for all who wished to attempt to write perfect classical Latin prose.

Bradley’s success at Marlborough resulted in his promotion to University College Oxford where he was Master for ten years, and from there he went to the Deanery of Westminster to succeed Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, whose pupil and intimate friend he had been, and whose biographer he became. Stanley had been one of Thomas Arnold’s most brilliant pupils at Rugby and he witnessed the transformation of the school under his leadership. Stanley became a member of Council at Marlborough. Bradley, like Stanley, became a key figure in the Victorian church.

The last grave that a visitor sees on leaving Westminster Abbey through the west door is that of the Unknown Warrior, having passed by the memorial to Winston Churchill: before this, in the south aisle, is the fine but worn brass by Clayton and Bell that covers Bradley’s grave.

The College’s memorial to Bradley is the Bradleian, originally a library, and now a theatre. It was designed by the eminent architect George Edmund Street, who designed the Law Courts in The Strand as well as dozens of remarkable churches and rectories.

Image copyright: Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

19. The Memorial to Frederic William Farrar in St Margaret’s Westminster


Frederic William Farrar was born in Bombay and was sent to England to live with his aunts. His school on the Isle of Man was the inspiration for his well-known book Eric, or, Little by Little (1858), the tale of a young boy falling into sinful ways. He became a successful novelist and he made his mark teaching at Marlborough and Harrow before returning to the former as Master (1871–76). It was in the Master’s Lodge that he wrote his phenomenally successful Life of Christ (1874). Irreverent wits at the time commented that Judas may have received 30 pieces of silver for the life of Christ but Farrar received far more. His writing may well have been spurred on by the fact that he and his wife had five sons and five daughters to support.

In 1876 Farrar left Marlborough to become the Rector of St Margaret’s Westminster. He became Archdeacon of Westminster and his preaching became so famous that people flocked to hear his sermons. He became Chaplain to Queen Victoria and Dean of Canterbury Cathedral in 1895, where he is buried. There is, however, a bronze portrait head in the west porch of St Margaret’s by the sculptor Nathaniel Hitch, who worked with many leading architects of the day, notably John Loughborough Pearson. Lord Peel unveiled the work, given by Farrar’s curates, on 21st November 1904.

20. The Canon Bell Memorial Window


Farrar was succeeded by George Bell, the College’s longest serving Master who presided over the community between 1876 and 1902. His years witnessed the expansion of the College and the construction of many fine buildings. It was an era of splendid consolidation rather than innovation.

Bell is buried in Preshute Churchyard but there is a memorial window in the Chapel that is dedicated to his memory. Situated in the middle of the north side of the nave, it was made by an important OM artist, Selwyn Image (1849–1930), who was a designer, illustrator, writer and poet associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement that was started by fellow OM, William Morris. The basis of Image’s stained glass design was a simplicity of treatment, not only in figure drawing and ornament but also in the use of leading. The Bell window is characteristic of his mature work with its bold figures, comparable to the work of his friend the Arts and Crafts stained glass artist Christopher Whall. The lettering and the trees of paradise are typical of the best work of this period. There are two more works by Image in the chancel. He influenced a number of other stained glass makers of this period, notably Mary J Newill (1860–1947) and Helen Coombe (1864–1937).

The son of a clergyman, Image was in C1 between 1864 and 1868. He went on to New College, Oxford, where he studied under John Ruskin. Together with Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo he founded the Century Guild of Artists and established workshops which produced furniture, wallpaper, stained glass, metalwork and decorative painting. Image was co-editor of the Guild’s important magazine, The Hobby Horse, from 1886 to 1892. Pevsner identified the very first Art Nouveau whiplash curves in the famous frontispiece of this journal. In his work Pioneers of Modern DesignFrom William Morris to the Bauhaus (1936), Pevsner described how important such guilds were in developing the ideals of Morris and preparing the way for 20th century design.

Image was an active member of the Art Workers’ Guild and became Master of the Guild in 1900. He went on to become the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford between1910 and 1921.