THE WEST LAVINGTON SCHOOL CASE.
-LAST autumn, in consequence of a speech of Mr. Chamber- lain's, which betrayed, as we thought, ignorance of the particular case, and also a total misconception of the powers and duties of the Charity Commissioners in reference to Endowed Schools generally, we had a controversy on the Lavington case with Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Jesse Collings, on behalf of the proposed scheme of the Charity Commissioners. Since then, a Select Committee of the House of Commons has been sitting upon the working of the Endowed Schools Acts, and consider- ing how far it may be expedient to amend the powers exercised under them by the Charity Commissioners. The West Lavington case has been heard by this Committee at considerable length, and the result has been completely to break down the case of Mr. Jesse Collings. It is only to be regretted that Mr. Jesse Collings was not able to attend on the Committee, from which he is now removed by his unfortunate loss of his seat. We feel sure that if he had bean there, he would have been pre- pared to reverse his previous verdict. The facts appear, in truth, to have been far stronger in favour of the Commis- sioners than we had previously supposed. We thought at the time that there was some misunderstanding, and that Mr. Jesse Collings, in quoting the will of the founder, on which the whole question turns, was quoting part of a document we had not seen, or from a different document to that before us. It now appears that Alderman Dauntsey, the founder, temp. Henry VDT., made two wills, one dated July 5th, 1542, the other dated March 10th, 1542, and while we relied on the latter, Mr. Jesse Collings was quoting from the former. There is an essential difference between them. In the former will the worthy Alderman says :—" I will that myn executors newly make at Lavington within the said countie of Wiltsse, a church-house, stole-house, and almeshouse ; and for the con- tynuance of the same, to have all my lands and tenements in London for ever." In the latter will, published in the Report of the City Livery Companies' Commission, from which our informa- tion was derived, the founder directed his executors to purchase land in West Lavington to build a church-house, schoolhouse, and eight chambers for a schoolmaster and seven almspeople, " that the parishioners of the said parish should have the use of the schoolhouse, to continue for ever, for scholars to be taught in the same." He gave to his brother and his heirs the appointment of the schoolmaster, " who should have yearly for stipend £10," and also of the almspeople, " from the in- habitants of West Lavington, and for lack of such persons, from the inhabitants of East Lavington, Little Cheverell, Tottern, Imber, Sibside, and of the Vize," i.e., Devizes ; but the lands in London he gave to the Mercers' Com- pany, instead of to his executors, subject to the perform- ance of certain covenants, to be contained in a subsequent deed to be made by his brother, for the payment of £10 a year to the schoolmaster, and 10s. 10d. each to the seven alma- people. The second will, therefore, entirely differs from the first, and clearly gives the property to the Mercers' Company, subject only to the maintenance of school and almshouse. The rents at the time came to £47 8s. 4d., and the specified pay- ments amounted only to £25 3s. 4d., so that the balance, £22 5s , or little short of half, was clearly intended as a benefit to the Company of which the Alderman was a member. Mr. Jesse Collings, not, perhaps, being much of a historian, might be pardoned for having assumed that a will dated July 5th, 1542, was later than one dated March 10th, 1542, in ignorance of the fact that March was later in the year than July under the old style, the year ending in March and not in December, and that, therefore, March, 1542, was what we should call March, 1543. But he might surely have looked at the Report of the Livery Companies' Commission, or inquired of the Charity Commissioners themselves, before founding or prompt- ing an indignant attack on the action of the latter body, on the assumption that they were burking a will and making a corrupt compromise with the Mercers, and abetting them in " robbing the poor." As a matter of law, there is little doubt that the Mercers are entitled to the whole value of the pro- perty, subject to the payment of the stipends mentioned and the keeping in repair of the schoolhouse and almshouse. Besides, a decree to that effect was made by the Court of Chancery in 1633, and an attempt by a speculative solicitor to reverse that decree in 1833 ended in his having to pay the costs.
By 1880, the income of the property—houses, or the pro- ceeds of sale of houses—was, according to the City Companies' Commission Report, some £2,400 a year, representing at twenty years' purchase a capital value of £48,000. The founder, we have seen, gave 25-47ths of the value to the Charity, and the rest to the Company. The Charity Commis- sioners obtained for the Charity £30,000, or 30-48ths. As
there is little doubt that if the matter had been fought out in the Courts, the Charity would have got nothing beyond the sum of £60 a year agreed on in 1633, and a yearly sum for repairs, it can hardly be maintained that in getting a larger proportion than the founder gave, the Commissioners have basely compromised their client's case. In fact, the West Lavington Committee have expressed their gratitude to the Mercers for having given so much. And though Mr. Saunders, M.P., who does not live in West Lavington, and has ceased to belong to the Committee, is still dissatisfied, yet, as the only alternative he proposed was an "ordinance "—whatever that may mean—of the House of Commons to take the property from the Mercers and hand it over to the people of West Laving- ton, it would seem that his dissatisfaction rather proceeds from a predetermination to be dissatisfied than any solid reason.
There are, from Mr. Saunders's evidence, two other points in the indictment,—first, that West Lavington and the poor are to be robbed for the sake of Devizes and the middle classes ;
and that, as regards the Governing Body of the West Lavington School, no representation is given to the West Lavingtonians.
To take the last point first. The scheme proposes to establish
five Governors, of whom three are to be appointed by the Mercers,—they being, in fact, the founder's nominees, and themselves the re-founders of the School ; two by the rate- payers of West Lavington in Vestry assembled ; two co-opted by the rest of the Governors, the first two being Mr. Pleydeil-
Bouverie and another gentleman resident in the parish. The only way in which Mr. Saunders could establish his case that there was no representation of the inhabitants of the parish on this Governing Body, was by the extraordinary contention that the ratepayers in Vestry assembled did not represent the in- habitants, but represented only Lord Churchill, the Lord of the Manor. He might just as well have said that the Members for Westminster do not represent the people of Westminster, but the Dean and Chapter. There is always power to demand a poll at a Vestry meeting, and every ratepayer can vote as in a school-Board election, but with the advantage that there is no cumulative vote. As the two members elected by the Vestry, together with the two co-optative Governors, could outvote the Mercers' representatives, the allegation that the locality is not represented on the Governing Body breaks down. The last point, that West Lavington and the poor are to be robbed for the sake of Devizes and the middle classes, depends on matters of detail rather than principle. For many years prior to 1880, every one is agreed that the Dauntsey School in West Lavington was a very bad school ; and what was worse, it prevented the establishment of a good school. The effect of some £400 to £500 a year spent on the school by the Mercers' Company, who had no voice in the appointment of the master nor any control over him, was that, while the school pretended to be a grammar-school, it was in fact a thoroughly inefficient elementary school ; but as every boy in West Lavington was admitted to it free, it was impossible to establish a good Voluntary or Board school in the parish. Lord Churchill, a member of the Marlborough family, who was heir to Mr. Dauntsey, appointed the master ; and, in fact, the master was the Vicar of the parish, who, out of a stipend of £250, pocketed £170 himself, and paid an usher £80 to do the work. The Commissioners proposed to set aside £14,000, or £420 a year, for West Lavington, £250 for the alms- house, and the rest for the school. The school was to be an elementary school, but under Government inspection (and therefore, of course, earning a Government grant in aid of its endowment), with an upper division where additional subjects were to be taught, while £85 a year was to be given in scholar- ships, to take a certain number of boys on to higher schools. As the whole population of West Lavington is only 1,500, this would appear to be a tolerably adequate endowment.
With the rest of the money, £16,000, it was proposed to establish a county school at Devizes, one of the parishes specially named in the founder's will, and selected as being the most convenient of access. It is difficult to see any great objection to this scheme. A grammar-school in West Laving- ton could only be successful if it was a boarding-school ; and if it were a boarding-school, it clearly would not depend on " the poor " of West Lavington, but on rich strangers, and the result would probably be a repetition of Harrow and Rugby, in which the upper and middle-class non-residents ulti- mately expelled the town boys. On the other hand, to spend the whole £900 a year on a merely elementary school for 1,500 people would be a sheer waste of money, and could only have the effect of relieving the rates, or the voluntary contri- butions, or the small payments of those who could afford to pay for educating their children, without in the smallest degree improving the character of the education given. Indeed, the chances are that it would lower the character of the education by making the master independent, and there- fore careless, of results. By establishing a grammar-school at Devizes, or some other large and central town in the county, a chance of better education is brought within the reach of a far larger population, with the probability of a really good school. The net result of the Commissioners' scheme would thus appear to be the establishment of an efficient elementary school in West Lavington, with a division higher than the ordinary elementary school, instead of a very inferior and inefficient elementary school ; and the establishment besides of a good secondary school; to which all classes in West Laving- ton and elsewhere could resort, and with special facilities for the poor of West Lavington. It is quite possible that a couple of thousand pounds more might have been given with advantage for West Lavington, so as to ensure that every boy there who was fit for it, might be able to attend the upper division. This, however, is a point for those who have studied the particular case, in view of general experience, to decide. There is at least as much to be said for the scheme as it stands, even in this respect, as there is against it. As regards the main points of the scheme, there is certainly nothing to justify a furious onslaught on a public body by a politician in the position which Mr. Chamberlain held ; and if the cry of " robbing the poor of their endowments" rests on no better foundation than this case, there is very little wool over which to cry so loud.