HL Deb 27 April 1876 vol 228 cc1746-56

in calling the attention of the House to the dismissal of the Rev. W. Grignon, Head Master of Felstead School, by the Governing Body, said, he did so not so much in the interest of that rev. gentleman as in the interest of Head Masters generally. The vindication of Mr. Grignon had been already ample. During the past Autumn no topic of inferior importance was heard of more frequently than the case of Mr. Grignon, and there was none on which public opinion expressed itself more decisively—his dismissal had been commented upon by every journal in Great Britain; and the refusal of the right rev. Prelate who presided over the diocese of Rochester to re-hear the case had elicited some strong observations. Mr. Grignon had been for nearly 20 years Head Master of the school. On his appointment he found the school in a languishing condition; but during his term of office the school progressed, the number of its scholars increased in a very marked manner, and he raised it to a high state of reputation and prosperity. Indeed, the services of Mr. Grignon in connection with the school were so well established, that no aspersions which might have been cast upon him could affect his character in the eyes of those who had charge of educational establishments, or of the public generally. A large number of Fellows of the University of Cambridge—including some of the most distinguished University men—had expressed their opinion on Mr. Grignon's case in a document which had been extensively published, and no fewer than 60 Masters of Endowed Schools had addressed the Charity Commissioners, protesting against the dismissal of Mr. Grignon without a hearing. Further, when Mr. Grignon had been dismissed by the Trustees, he appealed to the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, whose approval as Bishop of the Diocese was made necessary by the Endowed Schools Act, and he was simply informed by the secretary of the Bishop that he could not find anything in the communication he had received which would induce him to differ from the decision of the Trustees. The general principle involved in the case was that Head Masters should receive a more adequate protection as against Governing Bodies than they did at present. As regarded the Head Masters of schools under the Public Schools Act perhaps no legislation was required; their offices were so conspicuous in connection with historic institutions, that no injustice done them by Governing Bodies was likely to pass unnoticed and unchallenged. But with the Head Masters of schools under the Charity Commissioners the case was different; publicity with respect to the acts of the trustees of such schools was more limited, and no person could have predicted that such a commotion would follow the dismissal of Mr. Grignon. The Charity Commissioners might give Head Masters an appeal from the Trustees; but in the schemes which they were framing he could not find that any such appeal was given—the position of the Head Master was laid down in the scheme of the school. A Resolution of their Lordships' House, recommending that the Commissioners should provide an appeal, would be very appropriate; but he could not move such a Resolution without Notice, and without a reasonable certainty that it would meet with support from a considerable number of their Lordships. He thought, however, that Her Majesty's Government might be able to effect the desired object. The Charity Commissioners were amenable to Her Majesty's Government, and if the propriety of giving the Head Masters an appeal were suggested to the Commissioners by the Government, no doubt the suggestion would be acted on. As there was a relationship between himself and Mr. Grignon, he did not ask their Lordships to rely on his statement alone. He thought, however, they would find that it was amply corroborated. The wrong done to Mr. Grignon might not admit of reparation; but that wrong would not have been suffered without beneficial result, if it led to measures which would protect Head Masters generally from treatment such as that to which Mr. Grignon had been subjected.


said, that before making the remarks he intended to offer to the House he could not help expressing his opinion that the subject was one which was, perhaps, hardly suited for Parliamentary discussion. If it were one affecting any important branch of education in the country, there was no fitter place than that House in which to discuss it; but the question brought forward by the noble Lord (Lord Campbell) was really one of local interest only, and in a few words he would show their Lordships why it was so. Were it a question of the working of the Felstead School, an important establishment, it would be a matter of public importance, but the facts of the case were, shortly, these—Mr. Grignon came to Felstead in 1855, and there were then 69 boys in the school. Six years afterwards there were only 65 boys there, although in the three years and a quarter before 1855 the school had risen in numbers from 22 to 69. In 1862 the number of scholars was suddenly increased to 100, and in 1867 to 174. No doubt Mr. Grignon contributed largely to this result; but that gentleman said himself, when the Trustees doubted whether they ought to spend a large sum of money in enlarging the school— I found my expectation of the school keeping full on the following reasons. … The fact that it is, for the find of education given, and the number and efficiency of the staff of masters, by far the cheapest school in England. This is so decidedly the fact that it would require, I believe, very marked inefficiency in the teaching or domestic management to keep the numbers down. He (Lord Henniker) did not wish to detract from the merits of Mr. Grignon as a Head Master. Even those who dismissed him were ready to say he did well up to a certain period, and a Senior Wranglership and several University honours were gained by his pupils. But numbers were not everything. At present the school, both as regarded numbers and efficiency, was all that could be desired: it was as full as it could hold; its reputation was kept up; two scholarships had been gained a short time ago at one of the Universities, and peace reigned where discord had been the rule for some time past. He contended, therefore, that the question was not one of public interest, but was a local, and he might even say, a personal one between Mr. Grignon and the Trustees. It had been discussed in the local newspapers, in pamphlets issued to the parents, and even in letters which had appeared in The Times. He had no intention of troubling their Lordships with small details connected with the subject. They were endless; but he would endeavour to place as plain and short a statement before their Lordships as possible of actual facts. As the noble Lord opposite had thought proper to bring the question forward, he thought the shortest way of replying to him would be to give an account of the position taken up by the Trustees, leaving their Lordships to form their own judgment with regard to it. The Chairman of the Trustees was his (Lord Henniker's) cousin, and in his capacity of chairman he had requested him to lay their case before the House. He knew none of the Trustees, except Sir Brydges Henniker; he did not know their clerk, or Mr. Grignon; he was not even a resident in Essex, but he had had opportunities of hearing of this case from time to time, and of seeing the documents which bore upon it, and he thought he might claim to place the matter fairly before their Lordships—certainly without any strong personal feeling. The Trustees based their case on the document now before their Lordships, and which was submitted to the Trustees at the meeting when Mr. Grignon was dismissed. It was as follows:— That the relations between the Trustees of Felstead School and the Head Master are so unsatisfactory that great detriment to the school is now imminent. That in consequence of a decision come to by the Trustees on the occasion of an inquiry instituted at Mr. Grignon's request, and at the close of which the Trustees compelled the resignation of several Masters with whom he, Sir. Grignon, had quarrelled, he, Mr. Grignon, felt himself aggrieved, and from that time has set himself in direct opposition to them, and has lost no opportunity of publicly vilifying them. That he shortly after this inquiry voluntarily resigned the house stewardship, giving no reason to the Trustees for so doing, but stating in a letter to the matron that his reason for so doing was the injustice—and intentional injustice—done him by the Trustees. That the Trustees continued in her office the matron who had been appointed by Mr. Grignon himself, and of whom, up to that time, he had always spoken in the highest terms. That her conduct, under very trying circum- stances, subject as she has been to annoyance and misrepresentation at the hands of Mr. Grignon, has given satisfaction to the Trustees; that they believe her to be most conscientious in the discharge of her duties as matron, and kind and attentive to the boys. That on Mr. Grignon resigning the house stewardship, the Trustees appointed the clerk to that office. That the wisdom of that appointment has been fully justified by the fact that the school accounts have been brought into good order out of the confusion they had fallen into under Mr. Grignon's administration. That economy now prevails without any loss of comfort to the boys. That Mr. Grignon has taken on himself to send circulars to the parents of the boys, impugning in every particular the conduct of the Trustees, and speaking of them in such terms as to make it impossible that those cordial relations which ought to exist between the Governing Body and the Head Master can ever be re-established between him and them. That he has thwarted in every way the steward and matron in the discharge of their duties. That when called upon by the Trustees to give an opinion on a change proposed "by them as necessary for the health of the scholars, he returned the most insulting answers to them. That it is impossible for this condition of affairs to last—that the school must collapse, and that it comes to this—that either the Trustees must sacrifice the steward and matron, in whom they have every confidence, in order to please Mr. Grignon, of whose administration of the school they have not that high opinion which he appears himself to hold, or that they should call upon him to resign the post of Head Master. Of these two alternatives, they have preferred the latter. First, then, as to the second paragraph. In 1873 Mr. Grignon quarrelled with one of the under-masters, of whom he had spoken most highly a short time before, and demanded his dismissal. The Trustees thought that if this gentleman were asked to resign, it would be sufficient. However, he would not resign, and was dismissed. In the course of the inquiry, the under-master brought certain charges against Mr. Grignon, with respect to which the Trustees thought Mr. Grignon not entirely free from blame, and in framing their resolution to dismiss the under-master they expressed an opinion to that effect. Mr. Grignon chose to think this was a blow aimed at him. Soon after this two of the Trustees died, and a third was made Dean of Winchester, so that the number of Trustees, already below the full number of 11, was reduced to five. The scheme of the school provided that new Trustees should be appointed when the number fell below seven. Mr. Grignon, who seemed to have been in a state of uncontrollable irritation, took it into his head that the Trustees had no power to act, and attacked them forthwith. He set to work by saying that they had no power, and he called them "shabby," "contemptible," and "ignorant." Now, it was the general rule, as their Lordships were aware, to insert a clause in charitable trust deeds to allow the remaining Trustees, when vacancies occurred, to act till others were appointed. It was so in this case. However, Mr. Grignon thought otherwise, and accordingly, in speeches and in print, used towards them terms such as he had mentioned. The Trustees bore this in silence for more than a year; but at last they instructed their clerk to ask Mr. Grignon officially whether he had said these things, or written of them in this way. He replied that he was "most certainly" the author of the writing attributed to him—he in no way acknowledged his mistake—and had not done so now, up to the present moment; on the contrary, he had never ceased to vilify the Trustees. It must be remembered that this course of proceeding was allowed to go on for a year without notice; and, to show the patience with which the Trustees endured Mr. Grignon's conduct, he (Lord Henniker) would quote one or two of the agreeable things which that gentleman said of them. In a letter to The Guardian newspaper he said:— I have seen this poor remnant of what was once an efficient body of Trustees too often not to have gauged pretty thoroughly the character and capacity of each. On another occasion he charged them with "evasion," and, again, with sending him a communication "colourable and insincere." He held them up to contempt, one by one, as far as he could, in one of his several letters to the parents of the boys, saying some had not been to a University, and some had not taken high degrees—in fact, he seemed to have done all he could to bring contempt upon them; and actually, in his last pamphlet, he charged them with tampering with the funds, writing to the Charity Commissioners to object to the appointment of new Trustees in 1874, while still Head Master, and without notice to them. He said, in his pamphlet— I had reason to think that one of those nominations would lead to an infringment of the very important rule that a body of Trustees should not enter into pecuniary dealings with one of their own number. The pamphlet he issued to the parents of scholars contained many gross misstatements; but he would take one instance only—Mr. Grignon said in his pamphlet that Mr. Onley, one of the Trustees at the time the under-master was dismissed, admitted that it was quite impossible for this Master to stay, but, to avoid injuring him, suggested that the matter might be settled by Mr. Grignon undertaking to give him a good testimonial; that he objected to do so, and that then Mr. Onley said—"You need not say anything about moral character, but you might speak of his ability in teaching, and so on." This statement the Trustees declare to be entirely without foundation. He referred to this incident only for the purpose of showing the sort of man the Trustees had to deal with, one who was not accurate in his facts, and secretly accusing them of dishonourable conduct. There was an episode, which really need hardly be alluded to, but for the fact that it showed that Mr. Grignon was determined to oppose the Trustees in every way: the resignation of the house stewardship by Mr. Grignon. He had held it some time, an extra master had been appointed to help him with the sixth form, as the work was too much for him, and the house management when he gave it up was in confusion. He resigned, as he had said, and soon set to work to complain of the matron, who had virtually taken the position of house steward. She had been appointed by him; an outbreak of scarlet fever took place, and he complained that the boys were neglected, that the Trustees did not agree with him. He then wrote to the parents abusing the arrangements of the school. In fact, he left no stone unturned to oppose the Trustees in every way. Discord, naturally, existed in the school, and it was impossible for the Trustees to go on in a satisfactory manner with Mr. Grignon. He had purposely passed over this episode in detail. He could show that Mr. Grignon was entirely in the wrong all through it, but he could not weary their Lordships with such endless details; details which anyone could read in the pamphlets published. Before concluding he begged to be allowed to allude to one more point: the statement of Mr. Grignon that he was condemned unheard, and that the pre- amble to the resolution passed for his dismissal was in print before the meeting was held. The latter statement was not a fact, and he would leave their Lordships to judge of the truth of the former by what he was about to relate. A meeting of the Trustees was appointed for June 8 last. On June 4 the clerk wrote to Mr. Grignon to call his attention to the authorship of the speeches and letters to which he had already alluded, and he stated— The above will be made the subject of a motion at the meeting of Trustees of which you have had notice. Mr. Grignon, in a previous circular to the Trustees, said in a postcript— On the slightest intimation that it is your wish to take my personal evidence at your meeting at Braintree on the 8th inst., I will make arrangements to be there, notwithstanding the pressure of examination work from which I can ill be spared. The clerk wrote to him as follows:— June 7, 1875. Reverend Sir,—I am not instructed to invite your attendance to-morrow; but I am sure that if you wish for an audience on the subject of my last letter, or on any other matter of business, the Trustees will be ready to receive you.—Your obedient servant, A. C. VELEY. And his remarks on that part of the proceedings the clerk said— Mr. Grignon had thus a plain intimation that his speeches and writings would be made the subject of a motion at the meeting of Trustees, and that the latter, though not choosing to invite a man who had insulted and defied them, were willing to hear anything he had to say. He had proclaimed his desire 'to minimize his communications with these men,' and they did not seek what he had repelled. Mr. Grignon did not attend the meeting or offer any explanation of his letters and speeches. He thought he need say no more on that point. The Trustees long ago applied to the Charity Commission for the appointment of Trustees, and were quite willing for a searching inquiry by a sub-Commissioner. He thought he had shown their Lordships, without going into unnecessary details, that the Trustees and Mr. Grignon could not possibly get on together any longer. The Trustees believed they were in the right; they knew their power of dismissing a Head Master without giving a reason—a power given for the very purpose of meeting a case of this kind—a power which was given under the Endowed Schools Act and to them by their scheme; but they were so confident of the position they had taken up that the moment they heard the Charity Commission had been petitioned to institute an inquiry, they directed their clerk to write to the Commissioners to say they would give every facility for such an inquiry, although the Charity Commission had no power over them by their scheme. He thought their Lordships would see that the conduct of the Master could not be put up with any longer; that they would see what sort of man he was by the mis-statements he made, the intemperate language he used, his extraordinary conduct in insulting the Trustees in every possible way, and his defiance of their authority, both to the parents and in public, while still in their employment. He thought their Lordships would be able to judge whether any other course was open to the Trustees, whether they acted harshly, and he would go so far as to say whether they would have acted honestly to the school if they had allowed such a state of things to go on. He had not gone further than he was obliged into details, for he thought he had stated enough to make his case good, and for the sum of 1s. any of their Lordships who wished to spend a happy and pleasant half hour, would have details repeated over and over again, in a pamphlet written by this martyr to the good cause of education himself. Be that as it might, he must apologize to their Lordships for taking up so much time in discussing a subject which, he thought, would have been far better left to public opinion out-of-doors.


said, that the noble Lord who had brought this matter before the House had commented upon his (the Bishop of Rochester's) acting upon the dismissal by the Trustees without any further or independent inquiry. The Trustees of the School had power to dismiss the under masters summarily, and the Head Master with the approval of the Bishop of the diocese. The reason why he had not instituted a second investigation was that he did not think it necessary: he thought it unnecessary to ask for further evidence, because he thought the evidence on which the Trustees had acted in dis- missing Mr. Grignon was amply sufficient. He was sorry to have to speak harshly of Mr. Grignon; but he might say that the evidence went to show that Mr. Grignon had indulged in reiterated personal vituperation and abuse of the Trustees—in other words, of the persons with whom co-operation on his part was essential to the well working of the school. He believed that no one of the Head Masters or Fellows of Colleges to whom reference had been made would have used language such as that which Mr. Grignon had used. The fact was things had come to a dead-lock between them, and in consequence the Trustees resorted to the step of dismissing him. And he (the Bishop of Rochester) arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Grignon had been properly dismissed. Complaint had been made against him (the Bishop of Rochester) that he had answered Mr. Grignon through his secretary. The facts were these—that while he as Bishop had the matter under consideration a letter came from Mr. Grignon, which he (the Bishop of Rochester) did not answer, because he was considering the case. Then Mr. Grignon wrote to his secretary asking what answer would be made; and he (the Bishop of Rochester) told his secretary to say that nothing had been brought before him to alter his opinion that he had been properly dismissed. He (the Bishop of Rochester) was extremely sorry that the dismissal of Mr. Grignon after his 20 years' service should have become necessary, but necessary he believed it to be. When a Head Master complained continually to parents of the mis-management of Trustees, and actually stated that he had minimized his communications with those persons who, together with himself, were responsible for the well-being of the school, it could not be wondered at that he should be dismissed. He was sorry that their Lordships' time had been taken up in listening to this matter, and with every regret for Mr. Grignon's position, he believed the school would get on very well though he had ceased to be its Head Master.


said, that he considered Mr. Grignon had been hardly treated, and though he did not defend his intemperate language, yet looking at what had taken place at the school, particularly with regard to a case of scarletina, when a boy suffering from it had been placed in the room where the other boys' clothes were kept, it could not be wondered at that Mr. Grignon should speak strongly. He was reminded of the question—"Doth our law judge any man before it hear him? "and he thought the rule of hearing before condemning had not been followed in this instance. If Mr. Grignon had been granted a hearing he might have been induced to apologize. He considered that what had occurred was very much to be lamented.


in reply, said, that nothing but inevitable necessity had prevented two noble Lords—one on each side of the House—from attending that evening to reply to the speeches of the noble Lord and the right rev. Prelate. It was never his intention to enter into all those details which the noble Lord (Lord Henniker) had done. His conviction was that in spite of the defence offered for the conduct of the Trustees and of the right rev. Prelate, the opinion of the public would be still the same. The only object which he had had was to bring about a public good through an unfortunate transaction; and he would endeavour to impress upon the Government the expediency of considering how far it was consistent with their duty to urge upon the Charity Commissioners to frame a different class of schemes from that which had enabled the Trustees to dismiss Mr. Grignon—to frame a class of schemes which would enable Head Masters and others to appeal against their dismissal, and which would prevent such a scandal as the Felstead case from occurring in future. The conduct of the Charity Commissioners must have an extensive influence upon the course pursued by endowed schools' trustees, and the Government might exercise an influence upon the Charity Commissioners. Nothing at all had fallen from the right rev. Prelate which would alter public opinion, that he had declined to hear the Head. Master (Mr. Grignon) before his final dismissal by the Trustees with his permission.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Five o'clock.