Common Time 2019


The arms of Richard II
14C glass in Fromond's Chantry showing the Arms of William of Wykeham and a bishop.
Flemish tapestry of the second half of C15 - one of the surviving tapestries bought in 1575 at a cost of £16.14.6
 William of Wykeham's seal
William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor (or, as we would now say, Prime Minister) of England, was a self-made man born at Wickham, Hampshire, in about 1323. By his personal talents, by a patron’s gift of an education, and above all by a certain natural toughness, he worked his way to the top of the executive class of his day and amassed a considerable fortune.
In an age when literacy, learning and government were the province of the Church, Wykeham wished to see the central government served by a well educated clergy. Placed as he was at the top of the tree, enjoying contacts with the throne and the Holy See, he was ideally situated to see to the meeting of this need. And his personal revenues lay ready to hand.

In 1382 he obtained his charter to found Winchester; the buildings were begun in 1387, and occupied, though incomplete, in March 1394. Meanwhile by 1386 his other and senior foundation at Oxford (New College, or Saint Marie College of Winchester in Oxford) had begun operations.

Thus by the end of the fourteenth century Wykeham’s great scheme for the supply of educated men dedicated to God and the public service, was realised and in working order. His seventy scholars at Winchester were to go on to New College, and thence out into the world, ready and equipped to serve.

From that day to this Wykeham’s seventy Scholars have lived in College. The original community was self-contained in the mediaeval manner. It numbered 115 persons, governed by the Warden and ten Fellows, with two schoolmasters and three chaplains. Sixteen quiristers (choristers) and three lay clerks completed the foundation proper, but Wykeham also allowed the education he provided to be shared at their own expense by ten others, the sons of gentry and particular friends of the College. These were the forerunners, if not the germinal idea, of the present Commoners.

When Henry VI founded Eton College, he took Winchester as his model, visited it on many occasions, borrowed its Statutes and removed its Headmaster and some of the Scholars to start his new school but apart from that interruption Winchester carried out its Founder’s intentions with great distinction until the Reformation.

The Reformation brought with it a break-up of mediaeval institutions and a deep suspicion of perpetual semi-monastic societies. Winchester and Eton were lucky to survive at all. Their connections with their sister colleges at Oxford and Cambridge saved them; but a very different Winchester emerged, with her revenues becoming the perquisites of absentee Fellows who found their enjoyment of them slightly inconvenienced by the obligation to educate the young.

Despite the abuses, education did continue. Scholars and Commoners were still taught together in Seventh Chamber, the ancient schoolroom, until the numbers made it too small. In 1683, largely by the personal munificence of Warden Nicholas, the brick School was built and it is from this time that we find an increasing interest focused upon the Commoners and a rise in the importance of the Headmaster. At the instigation of the Clarendon Commission of 1868 the Fellows ceased to be resident. The Warden ceased to be resident in 1904, but his importance as titular Head of the Foundation and Chairman of the Governing Body has never diminished.
In 1740 Dr Burton, the then Headmaster (or Head Master as he is often referred to) bought up the leases, and later the freehold, of the old Sustern Spital (a women’s hospital) which was situated on the site of the (present) Headmaster’s offices, and altered it to provide boarding accommodation for Commoners. By 1784 it was established that the Headmaster should move out of College and preside over the fee-paying Commoners, and that the Second Master should reside in College in charge of the Scholars. It is a point to mention that Scholars were more likely to be such for reasons of influence rather than ability.

In 1855 the seventy Scholarships were thrown open to intellectual competition and in 1862 three separate boarding houses, each under the supervision of a housemaster, were in existence but it was under the Headmastership of Dr Ridding (1867) that major changes were made. He added six new boarding houses (another was added in 1905), converted pre-existing buildings into useable classrooms, increased the teaching staff, and by reclaiming the marshy bog south of Meads, presented the School with its main playing fields. It is to be noted that much of this work was done at his own expense.

In 2002 the Friends of Winchester College produced a leaflet on Royal Visits to the School.