Merchant Taylors' School (MTS) is a British boys' independent, day school, originally located in the City of London, and since 1933 located at Sandy Lodge in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire (but within the Northwood post town).
The school was founded in 1561 by Sir Thomas White and is one of the original nine English Public Schools as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868. Today the school caters for approximately 827 students between the ages of 11 and 18.
Merchant Taylors' was not the first school to be founded by members of the Merchant Taylors' Company for the Tudor period in England was a period of expansion for education. Sir John Percival (Master of the Company in 1485, Lord Mayor of London in 1498) established a grammar school at Macclesfield in 1502 while in 1508 his widow founded one at St. Mary's Wike in Cornwall (which moved to Launceston shortly thereafter). Also in 1508, Sir Steven Jenyns (Master in 1490, Lord Mayor in 1508) founded Wolverhampton Grammar School which still maintains strong links with the Company.
Many of the earlier Tudor schools were attached to monasteries and were dissolved after 1535 by Henry VIII and his son Edward VI, only to re-emerge after 1550, some of them even bearing Edward's name as founder. MTS missed these turbulent times being founded instead at the opening of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and in a period of cultural richness and advancement.
The first Head Master, Richard Mulcaster, took up his post in 1561. His educational philosophy is embodied in two books, The Positions (1581) and The Elementarie (1582), the latter an instalment of a larger work and one of the first dictionaries in English. One of his first pupils was Edmund Spenser. His goal was that English as a language might claim its place side by side with Latin:
He held many views which were uncommon at the time, advocating the importance to children of relaxation, games and a knowledge of the countryside and world of nature. He, "wished that schools were planted in the suburbs of towns near to the fields". He was also, "tooth and nail for womankind in matters of education; although as a man of his time he believed that education should fit women for their appropriate station.
The successive outbreaks of plague, such as in 1592, 1603, 1626, 1630, 1637 and 1666, had a damaging effect on the school and its pupils. The school was obliged to break up during these periods, losing pupils and was sometimes unable to take on new ones. The headmaster, Nicholas Gray, in 1626 complained of the loss of pupils and was given £20 to keep the school going; in 1630 he was given £40. Many parents kept their sons away from school and boarders were summoned home.
The school was closed for at least a year in 1636 and 1637 with no new boys admitted until the contagion abated. The outbreak of 1666 was curtailed by the Great Fire of London which started on 2 September close to Suffolk Lane and completely destroyed the school buildings.
In the aftermath of the fire, the headmaster and ushers gathered what pupils they could and carried on the work of the school in temporary accommodation in Kentish Town. In 1672 the school had just 155 pupils on roll but by 1675 it was rebuilt on the same site and reopened. The headmaster of this time, John Goad, was a tower of strength to the school and its pupils but in 1681 he was dismissed for alleged sympathy with Catholic doctrines.
Being situate neere the middest of this honourable and renowned citty is famous throughout all England ...First, for number of schollers, it is the greateste schoole included under one roofe. Secondly, the schollers are taught jointly by one master and three ushers. Thirdly it is a schoole for liberty most free, being open especially for poore men's children, as well of all nations, as for the merchauntailors themselves.
The probation was imposed without consultation with the schoolmasters. During the probation, the headmaster was required to open his copy of Cicero at random and read out a passage to the Sixth form. The boys had to copy the passage from dictation and then translate it, first into English, then into Greek and then into Latin verse. After this, they had to write a passage of Latin and some verses on some topic chosen for the day. This was for the morning - in the afternoon the process was repeated in Greek, based on the Greek Testament, Aesop's Fables, "or some other very easie Greeke author". The standard in Greek was not as high as in Latin but Hebrew was also taught.
This form of inspection was also the model for teaching every day of the school year, there being no mathematics or science in the curriculum. The pattern of teaching seen in the Probations at MTS was described in a popular work published in 1660, A New Discovery of the Art of Teaching Schoole by Charles Hoole. Points made by Hoole which give a guide to the nature of education at this time include:
The headmaster William Hayne (1599-1624) presided over these new methods of examination but his success here did not save him from dismissal for purported financial misdemeanours including the selling of text books to pupils for profit, and receiving gifts of money at the end of term and on Shrove Tuesday when the 'Victory Penny' might be presented by pupils.
The next headmaster William Dugard (1644-1661), previously headmaster of Stamford School, also ran into trouble when in 1649 he acquired a printing press and published a pamphlet by Claudius Salmasius, a continental sympathiser with Charles I, entitled Defensio Regia pro Carolo Primo. Dugard was arrested and imprisoned but the pamphlet was not actually published and his cousin Sir James Harrington was able to exert sufficient influence to have him released.
In 1647 Dugard had been appointed a member of the Stationers' Company but he did not declare his interests to the Court and they were most annoyed at this extracurricular activity. In 1652, a puritanical and intolerant time, Dugard again put his head above the parapet with his publication of Catechesis Ecclesiarum Poloniae et Lithuaniae, which you may gather from the title was not written in praise of Luther, Cromwell or Protestantism. The work was seized and publicly burned yet Dugard once again survived as headmaster, requiring only that he should give up his printing enterprise.
At this time the school fees were set at 2s2 or 5s (£0.11 or £0.25) per quarter or nothing but Dugard charged a variety of amounts and the number of pupils was down on the 250 expected by the Company. When he left in 1661 he set up a new school in Coleman Street and took a number of MTS pupils with him.
The dismissal of John Goad may have been strongly influenced by the accusations of Titus Oates who was a pupil at MTS for a few months in 1665-66. Oates had similarly brief stays at other schools, being dismissed from each in turn. In 1678 Oates 'discovered ' the 'Popish Plot' which was supposed to include a threat to kill Charles II but was later found to be a hoax dreamed up by Oates. William Smith, a master at MTS and later headmaster at the Brewers' School in Islington, writes of his first encounter with Oates thus:
In the year 1664 he was brought to Merchant Taylors' School, as a free Scholar, by Nicholas Delves, Esq., now living; he happening to be in Books that were taught in my Form, I was sent down to receive him into the School, which I did in an unlucky hour. And truly, the first trick he played me was That he cheated me of our Entrance Money which his father sent me, which the Doctor generously confessed in his Greatness at Whitehall and very Honestly paid me then.
In 1676 Oates caught up with Smith and accused him of involvement in another imaginary plot so the latter was obliged to commit perjury to escape punishment. In the MTS Probation Book Oates was initially listed as 'The saviour of the nation, first discoverer of ye damnable Popish Plot in 1678; in 1685 a postscript was added: 'Perjurd upon Record and a Scoundrell Fellow'. In this suspicious climate just a whiff of Romanism was enough to condemn a man like Goad. After his dismissal Goad became a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
The headmastership fell vacant again in 1686 whereon King James II tried to force his nominee James Lee on the Company. The election was postponed and the Master, Sir William Dodson, persuaded James to withdraw his nomination. James Lee, formerly second usher at MTS and then headmaster at St Saviour's Free School, Southwark, then stood against Ambrose Bonwicke but lost. Bonwicke, OMT, was a former pupil of Goad and had an acute mind but he too suffered dismissal for his sentiments.
James abdicated in 1688, William and Mary acceded and men were obliged once again to proclaim their loyalties. The majority avoided controversy by swearing allegiance to 'the king', whoever he may be, but Bonwicke was more scrupulous and delayed for a year before the Court was forced by Act of Parliament to hear his oath of allegiance. Bonwicke declared himself a supporter of James and was duly dismissed.
Under Matthew Shortyng, headmaster 1691-1707, the top boys of the Sixth began to be called 'The Table' and 'The Bench', with nine at the Table, the captain and eight monitors, and nine at the Bench, called prompters because they prompted the monitors on election day.
In 1710 Ambrose Bonwicke, son of the former headmaster, was captain of the school and refused to read prayers for King William on St Barnabas Day. Despite his intellectual prowess, his family's continuing support for James cost him his election to St. John's College, Oxford and he went to St. John's College, Cambridge instead. At this time there was a shortage of places at the school as its reputation for scholarship and consequent chance of a university education attracted parents from all over the country. In 1750 a regulation was passed that boys should not be eligible for election to St. John's Oxford unless they had been in the school for at least three years.
One pupil who would not have qualified for election under this rule was Robert Clive, a pupil from 1738-1739 who completed his education at Shrewsbury in his native Shropshire. The headmaster at this time was John Criche, OMT, a man who had occupied every position in the school and was not predisposed to change it. Criche was also a Jacobite and the school suffered because parents were unwilling to send their sons to a school where anti-dynastic sentiments might prevail. He died in office at the age of 80 and by then the school numbers had fallen from 244 to 116.
Schools in the 18th century were not generally in good shape, with understaffing leading to poor teaching, brutal enforcement of discipline, lack of supervision outside school and self-government by the pupils. The London schools were more successful in retaining numbers but apart from Christ's Hospital and Westminster none changed its curriculum and classics reigned supreme until the mid 19th century. As Gibbon wrote:
A finished scholar may emerge from the head of Westminster or Eton in total ignorance of the business and conversation of English gentlemen in the latter end of the 18th century.
The next three headmasters over the period 1778-1819, Green, Bishop and Cherry were all OMTs. One of Bishop's pupils, Charles Matthews, went on to become a successful actor. His memoirs, from the late 18th century, include these observations:
I was now translated from Dominie the flagellator's garden of knowledge in St Martin-in-the-Fields to Merchant Tailors' School, to gain what Pope so aptly terms 'a dangerous thing', a little learning. This was about the year 1786. Bishop, the head master, wore a huge powdered wig, larger than any other bishop's wig. It invited invasion, and we shot paper darts with such singular dexterity into the protruding bush behind that it looked like 'a fretful porcupine'. He had chalkstone knuckles too, which he used to rap on my head like a bag of marbles, and, eccentric as it may appear, pinching was his favourite amusement, which he brought to great perfection.
There were six forms. I entered the school at the lowest, and got no higher than the fifth, but was of course alternately under the care and tuition of the four masters. Gardner, the lowest in the grade, was the only mild person amongst them; the others had a little too much, and perhaps he had much too little, of the severe in him for his station.
Two more cruel tyrants than Bishop and Rose never existed. .. Lord, the fourth master, was rather an invalid, and, I believe, had been prescribed gentle exercise; he therefore put up for, and was the successful candidate for, the flogging department. Rose was so adept at the cane, that I once saw a boy strip, after a thrashing from him, that he might expose his barbarous cruelty, when the back was actually striped with dark streaks like a zebra.
Bishop's wife claimed that the headmaster 'avoided all unnecessary severity' and 'there was no revolt or riot during the whole time of his continuance at the school '. It is more than likely that Matthews' account is true for there were at the beginning of the 19th century a number of rebellions in schools, some of which had to be put down by troops - at Westminster in 1791, 1801 and 1820, at Eton in 1768, 1783, 1810 and 1818, at Harrow in 1805 and 1808, at Winchester in 1770, 1774, 1778, 1793 and 1818, at Rugby in 1786, 1797, 1822, and at Charterhouse and Shrewsbury in 1818 - which left only St. Paul's riot-less from the so-called 'Great Nine' of the Clarendon Commission of the 1860s.
This behaviour may have been influenced by the French Revolution and the Gordon Riots in London in June 1780. (The Gordon Riots were fomented by Lord George Gordon following the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 which lifted some restrictions on British Catholics and angered fanatical Protestants.) In 1796 two pupils at MTS, John Grose and Richard Hayward, were expelled for hoisting a French tricolour over the Tower of London and for writing anti-dynastic graffiti on the walls near Suffolk Lane. On 11 April 1811 there was a pitched battle between boys of St. Paul's and Merchant Taylors' in Old Change at the western end of Cheapside as the boys met on their way to school. On the building of the City of London School in Honeylane Market, Cheapside, frequent fights took place between the pupils of that school and M.T.S.
Still, in the 1870s, Sir D'Arcy Power comments on the curriculum he faced:
It seems to me, as I look back on the education at school in my time, that it was conducted with the design of giving a broad training without any utilitarian object. Every boy gained a sound knowledge of the classics, could write a little Latin and Greek prose and make a few verses; if he reached the higher forms, he learnt at least the Hebrew alphabet, but every boy was passed through the same mould without discrimination, no attempt was made to find out what his special aptitude might be. The best boys got on through sheer ability. .. The vast majority of boys went as stockbrokers' clerks, into merchants' offices or into business.
Nor was there much teaching of English. Bishop Samuel Thornton wrote:
Incredible as it may seem, we were left to pick up our acquaintance with the classics of our own language out of school, as best we could. I read my English poets in the street as I walked from school.He adds however:
In what was professedly taught there was instilled (and this is my deepest debt to Merchant Taylors') a passion for thoroughness and accuracy, and a contempt for all smatteriness and mere pretence of knowledge.It is likely that many parents cared little what was taught as long as their boys did well enough to attain a scholarship to university.
The city environment around it included a brewery which belched smoke and soot and a printing works whose apprentices fought with M.T.S. boys almost daily. According to the Rev. A. J. Church in 1857:
there were no desks in the schoolroom. The monitors had a table; the prompters had a bench. Everyone else had to write, when there was occasion for writing, on his knees. And there were no lights. Every boy had to supply his own candle, which was required to be of wax...
For more than two centuries the only place where teaching was carried on was the Great Schoolroom; its dimensions were about 85 feet by 30 feet. It as lighted very imperfectly by windows on either side, large enough, indeed, but obscured by the heavy leading of the diamond panes and by the long-standing accumulations of dirt ... The four classrooms were all more or less recent additions to the school accommodation . Bishop Samuel Thornton remembered the London fogs of his schooldays in the 1840s when "little was done on those dark days, the dreamy and unwonted state of affairs generating an excited condition in the Forms, unfavourable to discipline and work". There was also a constant din from outside the school which interfered greatly with the conduct of lessons. Until the 1860s no provision was made for feeding the boys at lunch time. In 1838 there were 58 boys in the Fourth, being taught in this room and without gas lighting - small wonder that the masters resorted to the stick to keep control.
In 1866, following reasoned argument from Hessey and the report of the Commission, the Company bought five and a half acres (22,000 m²) of estate in Goswell Street for £90,000 from the Governors of the Charterhouse. Building of the new school began in 1873 and was completed in 1875. Plans for the new school included immediate expansion to 350 and thence to 500, the development of a more modern curriculum to meet demand for "Modern Languages, Science and Commerce", and the raising of fees from 10 to 12 guineas for the lower school and 12 guineas to 15 guineas for the upper. William Baker, OMT, headmaster from 1870-1900, wanted to develop the whole of the new site for games, "to foster a corporate and public spirit among the boys of the School, by drawing them together in common amusements and giving them common interests". On the development of playing fields around the school Baker wrote in 1872:
Besides this, I regard such an arrangement as desirable for the healthy development of a boy's character and as furnishing a wholesome corrective to the narrowing effects of excessive competition.These ideas were in line with the policy of other public schools, which had placed great emphasis on games and outdoor activities (as they still, for the most part, do) since the time of Dr Thomas Arnold at Rugby School. Baker was conservative in his views, considering the classics as the best means of training the mind but he was almost equally keen on mathematics and paid much attention to its development in the school. Also in his time chemistry and physics were introduced and a new science building was finished in 1891. Dr. Baker proposed the introduction of biology which was introduced as an extra in 1900.
French was still in a precarious position within the school curriculum - from a total of 3900 marks (from 78 scripts worth 50 marks each) in an examination in 1874 only 123 marks were actually scored and 53 boys submitted blank papers. The master in charge of the 'Modern Side' pointed out that boys joined his area not because they showed promise in French but because they had no obvious gift for the classics. On the appointment of John Nairn in 1900 to succeed Dr. Baker the new headmaster asked Professor Ernest Weekly to inspect the modern language teaching. He drew attention to the dominant role of Latin in determining a boy's promotion, to the beginning of Greek at too young an age and to the lack of systematic instruction in English. Meanwhile, Dr. Baker recommended the adoption of the newly established Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board for examination of higher work which for the first time provided a means for comparison between schools. Until this point schools could differ considerably in the ways they assessed pupils and conducted their affairs; today we take for granted the existence of national standards and criteria and the use of public examination results to compare one school, however invidiously, against another.
In the early 1900s the number of boys at the school began to fall, due in part to the rise of good and not too expensive schools in the country around London such as Bedford Grammar, Berkhamsted, Tonbridge, University College School, King's College School, St. Dunstans, St Olave's and Latymer Upper School, amongst others. Science and technical subjects were being developed in institutions funded by public money and there was some pressure on the incomes of the class that sent its sons to schools like Merchant Taylors'. It became increasingly apparent that boys were travelling long distances to school each day, from as far as Hertford, Guildford and Leigh-on-Sea, the school needed a prep. school for boys aged 8-11 and a sports ground nearer than Bellingham. Nairn began to think that the school might be better placed on the outskirts of London. In 1914 the Oxford and Cambridge School Examination Board inspected the school and, amongst their conclusions, found the hours of the school too short and the homeworks too long, all of which limited their time for fresh air and recreation. The Board also said that the curriculum was too narrow, that the needs of a few potential classical scholars were dominating the needs of the many. Even at this stage the only education in English teaching was gained from the translation of Latin and Greek. In the 1860s the school had been 'one of the nine' but its position was declining annually in the face of competition. In 1925 the matter of the school's location was raised again but any suggestion that it should be moved was vetoed by the School Committee.
In 1908 Lord Haldane reorganised the school cadet corps, making them into a single body, the Officer Training Corps, which provided an essential source of officers for the First World War. In 1912 the London Rifle Brigade was permitted to billet three companies in the school and when war came the regiment was billeted there. The Old Merchant Taylors held a meeting at the Hall and 200 enlisted forthwith. In 1918 enlistment in the O.T.C. became compulsory and in 1921 a house system was introduced with four houses named Hilles, White, Spenser and Clive.
The next headmaster, Spencer Leeson, served for just nine years but in that time he proposed and supervised what was probably the greatest single event in the history of the school, the movement from the city of London to the green suburbs of Northwood, Watford and Rickmansworth, an area bounded by branches of the Metropolitan Railway Company. Many of the pupils of the school in the city now came from north London and the movement of the school was perhaps a case of Mohammed going to the mountain. Leeson made his mind up quickly and advised a move and the Company fell quickly behind him. He invited an inspection by the Board of Education in 1928 and concluded from their report that the school must move: "At Charterhouse Square we can never rejoin the number of the great schools of England". He attached a letter from Cyril Norwood which included these words:
In these next twenty years we shall see a belt of good secondary schools built all round London at a sufficient distance out to provide playing fields and space, and with all that is modern in equipment. These schools will be efficient and the middle class parent will send his sons either to boarding schools, if he can afford it, or to these schools. He will not send them to the noise and congestion of London, to premises which are congested and largely out of date, with playing fields miles away from the teaching centre...
The site at Sandy Lodge was bought in late 1929 and plans were drawn up for the new school. The cost of the initial proposals was greeted with some dismay but the Court eventually accepted them. The site at Charterhouse Square was sold to St. Bartholomew's Hospital who had been previous owners, having bought the site in 1349 from the Master of the Spital Croft hospital. Both the senior partner of the architects chosen to design the new school and the prime mover of the Charterhouse sale to Bart's were O.M.T.s The move to Sandy Lodge was completed in March 1933 and the school was formally opened on June 12.
The school has the feel of an Oxbridge College with that same air of unhurried calm and timeless beauty. ..The school's philosophy is about achievement without pressure - it's a place to breathe and experience a childhood.
The school has a strong sense of history and in particular retains close links to other Merchant Taylors' schools through the Merchant Taylors' Educational Trust and to the Merchant Taylors' Company itself. The members of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors visit the school at least twice a year, notably on Speech Day and Doctor's Day and form the school's governing body.
There is an extensive co-curricular programme of clubs, activities and societies run by the pupils with support from their teachers. These include school magazines ("Third Dimension", "Tech 'n' Mech", "Eclipse" and "The Sixth Estate") and religious groups ("J-soc" (Jewish Society), "Islamic Society" and "Christian Forum") - the school is noted for its capacity to combine a multi-cultural approach with a dominant ethos of mutual respect and tolerance. Not-for-profits from outside the school, such as Amnesty International, Model United Nations and Young Enterprise aso feature strongly. The Charity Drive runs many annual events, most notably Mufti Day and Charities Day, and is essentially run by the pupils themselves, as is PHAB - the school's major charity - where an Easter residential week for physically challenged youngsters is run by selected Sixth Form volunteers. The Asian Cultural Society runs an annual show celebrating the contribution of the Asian Community to school life and raises thousands of pounds (GBP) for that year's selected charity. Many other societies meet regularly at the school, including the Senior Debating Society, the Law Society, the 6th form Current Affairs Society, the environmentalist Protect Our Planet (POP) and most recently, Cortex (Politics and Current Affairs Society).
The school has a close relationship with its "sister school" St Helen's, Northwood (Drama and CCF) but this is not an exclusive one and the boys also work with girls from several other schools, notably Northwood College (Asian Cultural Society).
Drama continues to be important at the School, and recent OMTs include Luke Aikman (the young Paul Ashworth in Fever Pitch) and Rizwan Ahmed (The Road to Guantanamo and Britz). The school is always keen to add new clubs and societies to its repertoire, and in the last month, ClubDMX (a technical theatre club), has been set up by a group of boys and Mr Gimmi (the school's drama technician). This club will allow students to experience backstage and technical theatre first hand, helping out in the school's large scale productions, as well as visiting professional theatres and seeing how they work.
Music and sport are also major activities at the school, with many bands and orchestras meeting in almost every available slot in the timetable, and strong teams in a wide array of sports, ranging from Cricket to Rugby Fives and Squash. The 2007 Rugby season was the best since the move from central London in 1933 and the London Evening Standard named the First XV their "team of the season" - other events, such as the recent tour of South Africa have been great successes.
The school has two main publications. "Concordia" is sent out each term as a round up of recent events, trips and excursions. The name is a reference to the motto of the school and the Merchant Taylors' Company: Concordia parvae res crescunt. This is taken from Sallust's Bellum Iugurthinum (X.6) and appears on the school's coat of arms. It literally means , "In harmony, small things grow" (and is half of the full motto - Nam concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur which means "For harmony makes small states great, while discord undermines the mightiest empires"). "The Taylorian" (published annually since 1868) is a record of the highlights of the preceding year and includes the names of all who join the school or leave, the Head Master's speech on St Barnabas' Day (the school Feast Day), sports reports, cultural reviews, artwork and essays.