The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
"Hoc fecit Wykeham."

Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 53

A visit to Winchester is as truly a "pilgrimage" as a visit to Haworth, or Olney, or Straford-on-Avon. It is the Winchester of Wykeham one goes to see; and one would like to restore for an hour the manners of the mediaeval city he grew up in. The College, especially, is nothing without the Founder: we want to know how he looked, and spoke, and bore himself. But the odd thing is, that though there is hardly a man of the vigorous age he belonged to whose name we come across oftener than that of William of Wykeham -- every seer of sights, every school boy, knows it -- yet, after all, it is very little we know about the man. "Hoc fecit Wykeham" on great institutions and great works, here and there, shows what was in him. What faculty he had, what sympathy with all that was going on in the earnest days he lived in! we say; and that is all. His biographer, Bishop Louth, has no doubt done all that was possible with the materials he could get; but in an age when books were written and read, when men took delight in what we call "character," why is it we are told so little of Wykeham, the Chancellor of England, and the king's bosom friend and counsellor, when that king was no less a man than Edward III.; the king's architect, when architecture made its great and final national effort; the bishop of a great see, and the founder of two noble institutions for the fostering of the "new learning," which was even then turning all men's heads? Perhaps it was that great men and great events crowded each other off the canvas. Perhaps Wykeham's own modesty kept him in the background. At any rate, we know that the king loved him. Froissart, most delightful of gossips, spares a page from knights and ladies, fights and tourneys, to tell us that.

Sir William Wykeham was made Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England. But who was this sir William, and how came he in such high favour with the king? Sir William he was hight only because, according to Fuller, "Such priests as have the addition of 'sir' before their Christian names were men not graduated in the university, being in orders, but not in degrees."

He was born in 1324, in the village of Wickham, where you may still see monuments of those Uvedales, lords of the manor for centuries, one of whom became the little William's patron and friend. Wickham is on the western edge of New Forest, a royal hunting ground in those days, full of delights and temptations to the country-bred child, who spent his days in weeding, or "leasing," or in herding the geese, and his holidays in the Forest, until Sir Nicholas Uvedale picked him up, and sent him to the "Great Grammar School," at Winchester, where he himself was a governor of the castle.

Here was a promotion! Perhaps the priest had found out that the little lad had good parts; or was it that his mother, Sibyl, was known for a superior woman? However it was, in the great city the boy found himself, and free to watch the "mysteries," carried on in the open shops, under the projecting gables.

The Priory School appears to have been within a stone's-throw of the Cathedral, without the west wall of the Priory enclosure; a grammar school of the old type, where, on great occasions, the boys held disputations amongst themselves in Latin verse, their inspiriting themes being the tenses of a verb, or the declension of a Latin noun! Perhaps it was his deadly weariness of the old grind that made Wykeham, when he was able, lay himself out to foster the "new learning," the quickening power which was then stirring in the men's hearts. "Sire, I am unworthy," said he, on his presentation to the coveted bishopric, "but wherein I am wanting myself, that will I supply by a brood of more scholars than all the prelates of England ever showed." But he got himself educated in spite of his school; what with the great fair and other doings of the town, and, a greater factor in his life, the Cathedral, where the boys went to hear mass every day. It would seem as if he received impressions here which were to last him for life, because, simple and earnest soul though he was, he had no sympathy with Wyclif and his movement; he no more wanted a new religion than did Sir Thomas More in his day. The old is better, he said; but let us raise up priests who shall be abreast with the times, raised by a worthy education above the vices which give a handle to the enemies of the Church -- hence, his "brood of scholars." We scarcely do justice to the significance of his efforts as a counter-reform to that of Wyclif.

A dedication of his powers was surely going on, unconsciously, within the boy, impressed, as he grew able to take it in, with the chaste beauty and symmetry of the great Norman Cathedral, whose counterpart must be looked for in that of Chichester or Durham, rather than in the Winchester Cathedral of to-day. He was taught, by and bye, to look with critical dissatisfaction at the great building which had over-powered his young soul and given bent to his genius. This was an era of great achievements in architecture, of new ideas of symbolic expression, and Winchester was behind the times. Near two centuries ago was it ruled by every canon of sound taste that the vertical line of Gothic composition could alone express the aspirations of the Christian Church -- clustering shafts, pointed arches, vaulted roofs, alike reaching upwards to the heavens; and here was Winchester with circular arches and horizontal lines, quite pagan in principle! Men's mouths, especially the mouths of churchmen attached to a cathedral, were full of the great works but lately finished, or even now in hand, after the new style: York, Lincoln, Ripon, Carlisle, Gloucester, were receiving great additions or alterations. The matter worked on the mind of the Bishop, who doubtless, talked it over freely with his gossip, the Prior of St. Swithin's, who talked it over with the minks, through whom it filtered to the school boys, and what bold schemes would they conceive as they walked in the cloisters of which no trace remains! Was it the vigorous, if wild, dream of the school boy -- a wonderful transformation -- which the old man lived to carry out?

The young scholar appears to have said or done something to bring him into notice: he does not leave Winchester. Somewhere after his twentieth year we find him secretary to Sir John de Scures, then governor of Winchester Castle. By and bye (1345) Bishop Edingdon is installed at Winchester, a man full of purpose and character, with the power of saying good things. "If Canterbury is the higher rack, Winchester is the better manager," is ascribed to him on the occasion of his refusing the Archbishopric of Canterbury, really in order that he might be free to go on with his improvements in Winchester. What his predecessors had talked about he determined to do; he would restore the Cathedral on a grand scale; and young Wykeham was early recommended to his notice and taken into his counsels. The west front was in a ruinous state. Bishop Walkelyn's Norman nave dragged its huge length some forty feet beyond the present west front. Bold counsels prevail: the ruinous fragment is pulled down; a new patch is put upon the old garment; the old Norman nave is pieced out with two bays on the north side and one of the south side of a totally different character; clustering shafts carried up to the springers of the roof encase the heavy Norman piers. The pier arches are pointed, a graceful balcony above them disguises the thickness of the Norman wall, the base giving the square head for the arch, which is a feature of the new style; the triforium loses its distinctive character, being merged in the balcony, which again appears to belong to the clerestory windows above. Then a new west front is added, still forty feet short of the original limit; and in this front an immense magnificent window, very simple in design, little more than a grating in stone, the mullions carried up in straight lines until they reach the curve of the arch, and crossed at right angles by transoms -- in a rod, a perpendicular window -- though, conventionally speaking, the perpendicular Gothic, our essentially English style, was not introduced until the close of the reign of Edward III. Bold innovations these! And only to be justified by a bolder project still, -- the complete transformation of the vast Cathedral in such a way that, while retaining the original Norman structure as a groundwork, the features of the perpendicular Gothic should be employed to make of Winchester one of the finest naves in the world! Wykeham worked for Edingdon, planned, suggested, hurried his patron on with all the force of his youth and his genius. When he is only twenty-three, Edward III. visits Winchester, and the brilliant young architect is introduced to the King, who carries him off to assist in the fortifications of Calais, and in other great works afoot at the time: he becomes "so high in the King's grace that nothing was done in any respect whatever without his advice." And poor Edingdon, with his works not more than well begun, is he left in the lurch with a vast scheme in hand, designed by an infinitely bolder, more fertile genius than his own, and to be carried out -- how? On the contrary, the probability is, we should say, that the works were carried on under Wykeham's instructions, and, whenever he could get away from the King's business, under his eye; not impossibly the original conception was his, for he would hardly have carried out another man's plan so faithfully that you must look twice to observe the differences in detail between his work and Edingdon's. And, again, when his old patron died, was it only as a cure of souls that Wykeham was so eager to hold the see of Winchester, or was it not partly that he craved to have in his own hands the carrying out of the great design which Bishop Edingdon and he had projected in his youth? At any rate, the ten last years of the old man's life are spent in embodying with increased beauty and grace the vision of his youth. Meanwhile, Edward keeps him fully employed. The famous chapel of Saint Stephen, in the Palace of Westminster, was in progress, and was completed in 1347, the gem of English art, beautiful and glowing as the Saint Chapelle of Paris, and who but Wykeham could be entrusted with a work so dear to the King's honour? The castles of Dover and Queensborough gave him employment, and in 1349, Edward, who had a great affection for Windsor, resolved to put it in the hands of his friends for enlargement and beautification. Letters patent went forth to press hewers of stone, carpenters, and other artificers, and at the head of the 300 workmen thus collected. Wykeham labored until he was able to write "hoc fecit Wykeham on a tower of that royal castle.

The ancient grammar school taught by the monks of St. Swithin's, of very early date and a school for kings in its day, appears to have fallen into decay, and Wykeham, who, we have seen, wished to raise up students of another pattern, taught by men filled with the new enthusiasm for learning, took no pains to revive his old school on the old lines. But he lost no time in gathering his students, though he was not yet at leisure to build for them. Temporary housing was contrived for masters and scholars on St. Giles's Hill, as good, surely, as the universities furnished for their students in the first days, and then he devoted himself to the foundation and building of "St. Marie's College of Winchester at Oxenford," soon known as "New College." This was a work to enlist the sympathies of Wykeham, none more so, and while he built his college at Oxenford, his Winchester scholars lodged meanly for twenty years upon St. Giles's Hill.

But other matters off his mind, and a suitable site secured, Wykeham devoted himself to the building of his new college at Winchester. On the 26th of March, 1387, an assemblage of notable persons was gathered to assist at the laying of the first stone of the chapel, on the plot of ground known as Otterbourn Mead. For nearly nine years the great work went on, under the superintendence of Simon de Membury, Wykeham's clerk of the works. In 1393 the college was ready for habitation. On the 28th of March a noble procession wound down St. Giles's Hill, and across the Soke Bridge, and up the High Street; then, to the left, through a narrow alley, there overhanging chambers almost met, to the quiet, green Cathedral precincts; then through Kingsgate, upon which rests the little church of St. Swithin's, and so into what is now College Street. Here the company halt before the glorious group of Saint Mary's College buildings, clean and fresh from the hands of the workmen, lying under the shadow of the grey cathedral. They chant as they go -- is it Te Deum that breaks from them at this great sight? On they go, the warden and ten priests, who are fellows of the college -- the eleven faithful apostles, they represent; the seventy scholars and their two masters -- the seventy-two disciples; through the great gateway they make their solemn procession into the college, chanting all the time.

Now they are within the first quadrangle; and lo, on all hands what provision for their well-being! -- needful in days when great households did not depend upon outside supplies. There, ranged round the court, were the malt-house, the brew-house, the bakery, the butchery -- for the feeding of a hundred souls or more. Another gateway now, and over it rooms for John Morys, that day appointed warden, and walking at the head of the procession; most likely they all filed through their warden's chambers, for everything was on show that day, and it would be wholesome for the scholars to remember after, how, from his windows, he would have an eye on all that went on in either "quad"; within the second quadrangle, and they would have the great buildings of the college in an imposing line before them -- the beautiful chapel, with bold buttresses; the great hall, with its mullioned windows, forming the south wing. One hopes that when this sight broke upon them the chanting was suspended, and the founder's heart gladdened by such a cheer as British schoolboys can produce.

Let us follow the procession through the long schoolroom, low, and not too light -- points not much considered in those days -- and up to the refectory or hall above it, the great timbers of the high open roof, well arranged for the escape of the fumes of dinner, looking fresh and new that day, with heads of kings and bishops, bright in their new gilding, adorning the joists; and there, on the long, narrow oaken tables, were the square wooden trenchers, off which they would feast presently, when they had given thanks to God in the beautiful chapel; and, at the entrance, the tub for the broken meat which their founder desired should be saved for the poor wives of Winton. You may see it all to-day as the scholars saw it five hundred years ago, only the oak timbers of the roof are black now with great age. Then, coming down from the hall, they would look into the great kitchen, full of savoury odours and goodly sights, for all the world was to be feasted on that great day, and the cooks were the only busy folk. Through the scholars' dormitories now, with oaken bedsteads and clean straw for sole bedding; and then, into the beautiful chapel, lofty for its size as a French cathedral, and aglow with the warm colouring of walls and windows, warmly ceiled, too, with timber done into the beautiful fan-tracery, which was a new design of the time, and has been mistakenly ascribed to Wykeham himself. What a crowded chapel that day! What with great visitors from London, and friends from the country, and every citizen of Winton who was not bed-fast! Only a few could enter; the Bishop's guests, perhaps with the members of the college, but the service of thanksgiving was to be heard without, and all the people could cry "Amen." Then the feasting and the making of speeches afterwards! The compliments of the great lords, the modest answer of the founder, and his wise, kindly words to his "sons." Early to bed was the rule for all conditions of men; and long before the curfew rang, Wykeham would carry his guests away to lie at Wolvesey Castle.

The last decade of the nineteenth century is upon us, and, whatever else we have effected, we have failed to leave any great expression of ourselves in stone. The archaeologist of five hundred years hence will regard such of our works as remain with a shrug or a shiver. "Debased, ineffectual, inexpressive!" he will say; "Inspired by no ideal beyond the barren uses of the hour." It is a pity, for architecture is a speech known and read for all men; and it is by its great buildings, even more than by its literature, that a country or an age is estimated by posterity. Wherein have we failed? Perhaps we have lost sight of the fact that architecture, as one of the fine arts, is aspirational, emotional -- or nothing! We send out our young architects eager for fame and fortune, but we do send them forth with the passion upon them to produce great work, fame or no, fortune or no, purely for the work's sake?

The inquiry is beyond us; but this cognate question is very much our concern, because it may influence the careers of our sons. Can we do anything to secure that the new age close upon us shall do better than we? Very possibly the architects of the twentieth century may be moved to nobler expression than this, our own age, has found. Nobler ideas are stirring amongst us, of domestic life, of social life, of civil life -- perhaps, of religious life. But we need not wait idly for the moving of the waters. We can do this, any way, for the arts and professions of the future. We can see that before a youth takes up his profession, architecture or another, he gets a worthy ideal of that profession before his attention is taken up with its mechanical details. It has been well said by Coleridge that "There is scarcely any one of the powers or faculties with which the Divine goodness has endowed His creatures, which may not in its turn be a source of paramount benefit and usefulness; for every thing around us is full of blessings, nor is there any line of honest occupation in which we would dare to affirm that, by a proper exercise of the talent committed to his charge, an individual might not justly advance himself to highest praise. But subordination necessarily arises among the different branches of knowledge, according to the difference of those ideas by which they are initiated and directed." [The Science of Method.]

To convey to him this initial and directing idea, by which his whole after career shall be dominated, is, perhaps, one of the greatest services that a parent can render to his child. Let us say, for example, that a father has thought of the career of an architect for his son. He does not know whether the lad has leanings that way, and he does not wish to force his inclinations. He takes the boy to Winchester, city full of the personality of the great mediaeval architect, retails some such slight sketch as we have given of Wykeham's career, recovers, by an effort of imagination, the great Norman Minster, with its three tiers of semi-circular arches; puts vividly the problem as it must have occurred to Wykeham, how to transform this into a Gothic Church, and shows the bold conceptions, the marvelous constructive power, the dominant ideal, the artistic idea feeling that went to the making of that glorious nave. The idea does not take; the boy does all but yawn in your face! Even so, it is as well to know definitely that architecture is not his vocation. He listens greedily, ponders in silence, hunts up old books about architecture, remodels (on paper) his parish church! He has the making of an architect in him, and he is beginning at the right end, with the idea, the great thought, and not with the small details, of the thing.

Typed by Kristina, Sept 2015