HL Deb 01 April 1909 vol 1 cc584-92

rose to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying him to withhold his consent to the scheme settled by the Board of Education in the matter of the foundation known as Walwyn's Free School, in the parish of Colwall, in the county of Hereford, on the grounds set out in the petition of inhabitant ratepayers of the said parish, presented in pursuance of statutory enactment in that behalf to the said Board objecting to the said scheme, and praying that the same might be laid before Parliament.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I have placed this Motion on the Paper on behalf of the parishioners of Colwall, an important parish in my diocese on the western slopes of the Malvern Hills, and a parish which, I am told, is likely in the not remote future to become something like a rival to Malvern. The inhabitants of this parish arc of opinion—I think rightly—that if they had an adequate scheme for what is known as the Walwyn Free School Trust it would be of great service to the parish and neighbourhood. The objection which the parishioners take to the scheme before your Lordships is that the Board of Education have not adequately, in this scheme, safeguarded the interests of the parishioners or given sufficient attention to the purpose for which this trust exists. The parishioners feel also that the Grocers' Company in London, who have hitherto been trustees of this endowment, are being allowed to commute their obligations—which are, as I think I shall be able to show your Lordships, long-standing and Serious obligations—for a very trifling sum of money.

The case is, very briefly, this. Mr. Humphry Walwyn was a native of Colwall and a member of the Grocers' Company, and in the year 1612 he ordered that a school should be erected in his native parish for the benefit of the poor inhabitants of that parish and of Little Malvern in the neighbourhood; and, in connection with this, he left a sum of £600 to his executors to be handed over to the Grocers' Company for the benefit of this school. This sum the Grocers' Company were to undertake to invest in good buildings in the City of London, and they showed no unwillingness to take up this trust. They had some little difficulty in obtaining the £600 from the executors, and they actually, so I am informed, instituted proceedings against the executors before they secured the money. I mention this to show that the Grocers' Company were perfectly willing to undertake the trust, with all its obligations; and the £600 was paid over with the very distinct obligation that with the money the Grocers' Company were to purchase house property in the City of London.

According to the records, they actually took some preliminary steps with regard to purchase, but eventually, instead of purchasing property in the city, they placed the £600 as a charge on some property of their own, and thenceforth they allowed £40 a year to this school in Colwall, £10 of which was absorbed by members who paid visits with a view to ensuring proper administration. Therefore, as a matter of fact, instead of fulfilling their trust the Grocers' Company simply placed the money as a charge on their own property and paid to the school something like £30 a year. This seems to have gone on uninterruptedly till within the last thirty or forty years. We have it on the evidence of the clerk to the Grocers' Company, given before a Commission held in Colwall, that during this period of thirty or forty years the Grocers' Company have spent upon this school, which includes an elementary school, no less a sum than £260 or £270 a year; and naturally the inhabitants of Colwall are of opinion that when a new scheme is promulgated the trust ought at least to benefit by a sum equivalent to that which the Grocers' Company have been spending hitherto. It is assumed, and I presume with a fair amount of justice, that the Grocers' Company have not been doing this out of pure benevolence, but because they recognise some obligation; and if there ever was an obligation to do it it surely took its rise in the original neglect to fulfil the fundamental conditions of the trust by purchasing, as they were instructed to do, house property in the City of London. I do not know what that property might have been worth to-day if the trust had been properly fulfilled, but the opinion is held in Colwall and the neighbourhood that it would have been of great value by this time.

This brings me to the new scheme. The new scheme allows the Grocers' Company to commute their obligations for the trifling payment of £2,000 down. It has also one or two other objectionable provisions. The scheme, as drawn by the Board of Education, seems to me a very reasonable one, except as regards the most important part of all, the financial part. The parishioners object to the scheme and hope that your Lordships will agree to my Motion on three particular grounds. First of all, the parishioners have been advised apparently that the endowment comes under the Elementary Education Act as a purely elementary endowment. In that I venture to think they have not been well advised. I find that in his will the founder of this trust expressed the desire that while it was to be a free school for the poor the better portion of the parishioners, meaning, apparently, those who were better off, might be charged fees, but should not be charged more than ten shillings a year. He further required that the master should be a learned person, which has generally been determined hitherto, I believe, in that particular instance, to be a clergyman of the Church of England, and that he should preach a certain number of sermons in the year. I venture to think that those conditions in the original document carry with them the conclusion that the school was not intended to be solely what we now call an elementary school. I do not suppose that the different types of education would be differentiated in those days as we now differentiate them, and my belief is that it was intended to be a school more of the general grammar school type. Therefore I do not press the first objection, though I may be wrong and the parishioners right.

I now come to the two other objections to the scheme. One is to Section 13, which provides that all the tenant's fixtures on the premises being the property of the present headmaster of the school, who will necessarily retire if this scheme takes effect, shall be taken over from him by the governors at a valuation. The parishioners ask why should not the ordinary law governing tenant's fixtures take effect in such a case as this. Why should this tenant be specially protected by a clause in the scheme? What has he done, they ask, to earn this very special protection? The present headmaster has occupied this sinecure office for over thirty years. The Grocers' Company have spent a certain amount of money year by year on the elementary school, and, I imagine, have spent something year by year on the repair of the premises which the headmaster has occupied. But this headmaster has himself done nothing in the elementary school, so I learn from the parish council. The elementary school has been conducted by the elementary schoolmaster, who has been paid an annual salary, partly, if not entirely, by the Grocers' Company.

What has this headmaster who is to be compensated under Section 13 for his fixtures been doing? He has been living the whole time as a privileged person on those premises, with three or four acres of land, and conducting a successful private boarding school preparatory for such schools as Winchester. I cannot gather that it has occurred to him as part of his duty that he should do anything for the education of Colwall children. I asked the question whether any of the cleverest children in the elementary school had been taken into this gentleman's private school, and the answer I received from the chairman of the parish council was that he could not remember during all those years a single case of that having been done. I am attributing no blame, but simply endeavouring to place before your Lordships the plain facts. This gentleman has been doing nothing for the parish of Colwall or for the trust under which he is established there. The object of this section, apparently, is that when this gentleman moves out the governors, out of the moneys of the trust, shall be compelled to pay him at a valuation for any fixtures he may leave. The parishioners think that is unreasonable, and I am bound to say I entirely agree with them. I think it is a hardship on this parish that this small sum should be depleted by possibly a rather heavy payment for these not very valuable fixtures, which, it should be borne in mind, were put up entirely for his own private purposes and for his own private profit. So much for that section.

There is another and more important provision to which exception is taken—the Schedule which allows the Grocers' Company to slip out of all their obligations on the payment of a sum of £2,000. Now, what are those obligations? I suppose a company never dies, and that its legal responsibilities go on from generation to generation. Then let us go back for a moment to the origin of this foundation. The Grocers' Company took over the £600 from the testator knowing full well his benevolent desire, but, instead of fulfilling the fundamental condition by investing it in house property in the City of London, they made it a charge on some property of their own and paid, until thirty or forty years ago, the paltry sum of £30 a year. First there is their failure to fulfil the fundamental condition of the trust. The second part of their obligation, I hold, arises out of what they have been confessedly doing for the school for the last thirty or forty years, during which time they have been spending between £260 and £270 a year; and we feel that unless some explanation can be given, the Board of Education have not sufficiently safeguarded the interests of the trust and the parish. A capital sum of £2,000, I suppose, represents £60 a year, so that the Grocers' Company will now get off with a payment of £60 a year instead of the £260 or £270 which they have been spending during the last thirty or forty years of their own free motion and without the slightest pressure from any quarter. I repeat that I do not think that sum has been spent out of pure benevolence, but because they considered they had an obligation to spend it. Therefore we venture to ask that some further consideration should be given to this matter before it is finally decided in this, as we think, very inequitable way.

We appeal to your Lordships, if you are satisfied with my very inadequate description of the case, to ask for a suspension of judgment and for further inquiry, and we appeal to the Board of Education not to be too ready to acquiesce in the claim of the Grocers' Company to retire on these very easy teams, and certainly not to insert such a clause as I have referred to with regard to fixtures. I should also like, if I had the opportunity, to appeal to the Grocers' Company, who, like other great City companies, act, as a rule, very generously in educational matters. I think they would be very sorry to have it generally felt that they had acted shabbily in this particular case; yet, if this scheme goes through as it stands at present, I do not think I am using too strong language when I say that it would be a shabby proceeding. In their zeal for education the Grocers' Company have displayed much generosity in other parts of the country; and I feel sure that it would be a great satisfaction to them in time to come if they could see a really flourishing educational endowment in the important parish of Colwall as a result of action on their part and as some amends for what I cannot but think was very strange neglect on the part of their forefathers. We make this appeal very earnestly. It may seem a small matter to your Lordships, but I can assure you that to people living in a country parish like Colwall, with humble prospects and hopes, it is no small matter, but one of very real importance. Therefore we beg your favourable consideration to this Motion.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying him to withhold his consent to the scheme settled by the Board of Education in the matter of the foundation known as Walwyn's Free School, in the parish of Colwall, in the county of Hereford, on the grounds set out in the petition of inhabitant ratepayers of the said parish, presented in pursuance of statutory enactment in that behalf to the said Board objecting to the said scheme, and praying that the same might be laid before Parliament.—(The Lord Bishop of Hereford.)


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has dealt with two matters of a very different character. In the first place, there is the question as to whether the £2,000 is a sufficient amount, and, in the second place, there is the question of the actual scheme which has been framed by the Board of Education. Technically speaking, the point in regard to the £2,000 is not really before the House. It has been already dealt with as an ordinary matter of administration by the Board of Education in the Order which they made on September 11th last year, and the scheme dealing with the establishment of the new school is really the only matter comprised in the Paper to which the right reverend Prelate has called your Lordships' attention. But the right reverend Prelate has said so much on the subject of the position of the Grocers' Company in this matter that it is only right I should explain the reasons which led the Board of Education to agree to this compromise.

The matter was first taken in hand by the Board in the year 1904. The company, who took the best advice they could get, were then told that their legal liability at the most was to provide a sum of £600. I think your Lordships will agree that, supposing that to be the case or even likely to be the case, it would have been a foolish step on the part of the Board of Education to enter into a course of litigation which might have swallowed up the larger part of that £600. That was often done many years ago, with the result that a comparatively large amount of the moneys originally left disappeared in legal expenses. The Board of Education were anxious that that should not take place in this case, and as they found a disposition on the part of the Grocers' Company to go beyond what they had been told was their legal obligation they came to this reasonable compromise and agreed to the payment of £2,000; and this compromise is embodied in the Order to which I have already referred. Supposing this £600 had been strictly dealt with from the moment it was left by Walwyn. It must not be forgotten that the great Fire of London had a very adverse effect on the value of property in the City, and an especially bad effect on the affairs of the Grocers' Company, who were, I believe, obliged to appeal to Parliament for assistance. Certainly a Commission was held, and a release given to the company from obligations which at that moment were overpowering and too burdensome for them. So much for the question of the £2,000.

Three actual grounds of complaint have been urged on behalf of the Colwall Parish Council. With one of these—the inadequacy of the sum of £2,000—I have already dealt. The second ground of complaint was that, in their opinion, the money should go to the expenses of elementary education. The right reverend Prelate himself expressed his disagreement with the parish council on that point, and therefore it is perhaps unnecessary for me to deal with it. The last remaining ground of complaint has reference to the fixtures and the special compensation to be given to Mr. Black, the headmaster. As the right reverend Prelate told your Lordships, Mr. Black has for a great many years resided in Colwall, and it is not unreasonable in those circumstances that, on the conclusion of this arrangement between him and the Grocers' Company, he should receive some compensation. I will read the words of the section, which seem to me to be not unreasonable— Provided that in the case of such sale or letting all tenant's fixtures on the premises being the property of the Rev. Charles Black, M.A., the present headmaster of the Free School, not previously removed by him, shall be taken over from him by the governors at a valuation in such manner as may, in case of dispute, be determined by the Board of Education. The position of Mr. Black has, perhaps, been an anomalous one, but that is not unusual when the amount of money is so small. I think your Lordships will agree that the provision I have read is not an excessive one to insert in a scheme of this kind. In these circumstances, much as the Board of Education regret that they are unable to meet the wishes of the right reverend Prelate, they ask your Lordships to resist this Motion and to allow the scheme to go through.


My Lords, I had no intention of addressing your Lordships on this question, but as I was Minister for Education very shortly previous to the year 1906 I think it only right that I should say a few words in support of the view put forward by the noble Earl the Lord Steward. I have not had an opportunity of refreshing my memory as to what occurred shortly before the late Government left office, but I remember that the dispute between the trustees of this foundation and the Grocers' Company had been going on for a great number of years. In order to conclude this long-standing dispute the Board of Education stepped in, and the sum of £2,000 was agreed upon. That was carried out by my successor at the Board of Education, but I have no doubt that had His Majesty's late Government continued in office, I should have recommended the adoption of the same course. Then we come to the question as to how the £2,000 was to be spent. I gather from the observations of the right reverend Prelate that it was desired that the money should be devoted to the establishment of a secondary school. I think £2,000 for the establishment of a secondary school would be of no use whatever.


No objection was made to the rest of the scheme, which is for exhibitions, I think.


In my opinion the Government have pursued a wise course in giving scholarships in the schools of the two capital towns of Hereford and Gloucester; and the applica- tion of £600, part of the sum of £2,000, to the purpose of improving the elementary school of the foundation, is putting the money to a practical use. In these circumstances, I venture to endorse most cordially what has fallen from the noble Earl.


May I be permitted to put a question to the noble Earl who spoke on behalf of the Board of Education, and who said that, so far as the Grocers' Company are concerned, this is a settled question and the House has no power to intervene with regard to the amount to be paid? If I rightly understood the noble Earl to say that, I should like to ask by what authority and on what ground the Company were allowed in that manner to slip out of their obligations.


I am quite out of order in answering the right reverend Prelate, but I would point out that these powers are conferred on the Board of Education by Act of Parliament. They are well known and are not unusual; indeed, the Board act upon these powers very frequently, if not hundreds of times, every year.

On Question, Motion negatived.