Staff Problems at Dulwich College - delving into the archives

The Rev. David Fletcher was superseded early in 1635 for having “absented himself three times longer than the Statutes of the Colledge allow”.  The only explanation offered for his five-month absence was that he had gone to Scotland to see his parents, and that “having occasion to staie longer in Scotland, he could not returne according to the time given him by the Statute.”  The Officers of the College were unanimously of the opinion that he would have to do much better than that, and appointed in his place the Rev. Simon Mace.  This, as it turned out was a mistake, for it appears that the new Preacher was not the most peaceable of men.  Accused of having quarrelled with the Master, “affronting him in his place, and abusing him with many uncivill words, calling him hypocrite and cussener”, and having challenged the Warden to a fight, he was hauled before the Magistrate, Sir Thomas Grymes, but abused him, too, with very uncivil names.

The only person he did not personally affront, it seems, was the Schoolmaster, the Rev. Samuel Porter, but he nevertheless rendered him a singular disservice by telling the boys “that learning of Lattin and singing would do them no good at all”.  Mr. Mace was further accused of having taken some of the boys to the Alehouse with him, “so that they have been overtaken in drink”.

Too skilled a tactician, perhaps to inveigh against the Visitor [the Archbishop of Canterbury] himself, he attacked the lesser Primate, speaking “these scandalous words in the publique Hall at dinner of the most reverend Father in God, that he was the most devilish plotter of villainy in the world; O hee would make a brave pope!”

Mr. Mace’s request for a sabbatical year was approved, nem. no doubt con., and he went off to serve aboard the pinnace ‘Greyhound’ as chaplain, his previous record suggesting that he would have had little difficulty in adapting himself to service jargon.  He returned in due course to his land-lubberly living, as determined as ever, it seems, not to live at peace with anyone; for the order for his expulsion charged him with having abused the Master and Warden and Fellows “in very uncivil terms, storming and contemning civil government appointed by statute”.

At other times, it was alleged, the said Mr. Mace had in the presence of the servants “railed upon the said Master, calling him hypocritical slave, vilifying his person, and wishing that the said Master and Warden were both of them hanged upon the top of the steeple”.

When Thomas Waterhouse was elected Usher, in June 1735, he found himself up against the new Warden, Joseph Allen, who succeeded to the Mastership only two years later.

Things came to a head in 1749, when the Master appealed to the Visitor.  Reading his petition, a man might be forgiven for leaping to the conclusion that the Usher could not possibly have any defence against the charges of absenting himself without leave, ordering special food on his return, and being very rude to the Master; of having, as the latter expressed it, “abused the said Master in a most virulent manner, calling him vile, despicable fellow, telling him he looked like the Devil, that he was perjured, and said many other reproachful speeches, grinning in the Master's face, and using the most provoking Gestures.”

The Master’s reaction, by noble contrast, was to speak to him in the most mild and gentle manner, only telling him his behaviour was inconsistent with that duty and respect which was due to the Master of the College.  So the Master informed the Archbishop.

The accused at first expressed surprise, having had no kind of notice, he said, that the complaint was being forwarded.  He then submitted that the facts had been greatly misrepresented, his behaviour stigmatised by the most reproachful terms, and Truth made to suffer an equal violation with his character.

His alleged absence he claimed to have been in fact no more than an hour’s lateness, explained by his having gone to a “place of Publick Breakfasting about a mile distant from the College”, and his return being delayed by “a most rapid rain which lasted with the greatest violence till about two o'clock”.

Mr.Waterhouse admitted having, with a little too much haste, told the Master he was a despicable man, being riled by his unfair action in entering a charge against him in the Private Sittings Book before it had even been discussed, let alone found proven.

It was now Mr. Waterhouse’s turn to request His Grace to investigate the “aggressive and arbitrary conduct” of the Master.  The Fellows now combined to challenge the “uncontrollable and independent power” arrogated by the Master, and the “unsupportable tyranny and oppression” resulting from his pretensions.  They claimed that they had been induced by “perpetual terrors and apprehensions of his threats” to submit tamely to his “irregular and oppressive fines and other punishments.”

Mr. Waterhouse supplied further particulars of the Master’s undue exercise of power: on one occasion he had upbraided him for having given a boy leave of absence to visit his parents, and had beaten the boy on his return; on another he had threatened to break the fishing-rod of Sir William Billen’s son, whom the Usher had invited into the College garden to angle in the pond.

No record is extant of the Archbishop’s verdict – perhaps the exchanges had enabled both parties to get the matter out of their system, and the matter was dropped.  Mr. Waterhouse resigned two years later …

This article was discovered in the local history archive of the late William Darby and has been edited by his son Patrick.

Go to top