Soham Grammarians : from the School History


from the History of Soham Grammar School (Browning, revised Abbott 1972) which unless otherwise specified is the source of images.Visitors able to provide photographs or illustrations to enhance this text should please contact the editor.

[ Whilst Soham Grammarians grew up with the pre-1971 pre-decimal money system, younger and overseas visitors to the website may find it useful to note that the pound () was made up of 240 pennies (d) and that 12d = 1 shilling (s), so there were 20 shillings in a pound. For example, 13-5-6, or 13 5s 6d was thirteen pounds five shillings and sixpence (13.275). 5/- was another way of writing five shillings (0.25). A crown was 5/- and half a crown was 2s 6d or 0-2-6 ]


A commission followed 11 years after the report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons and in 1853 the first Charitable Trusts Act was passed under which Charity Commissioners were appointed. By this and by other similar acts, passed at intervals up to 1869, the Charity Commission was given extensive powers including the remodelling of various charities and endowment schemes. A particular aspect of this, the regulation of trusts, charities and endowment funds for schools, was provided for in Endowed Schools Acts in 1869, 1873 and 1874.

In accordance with these very wide powers, which were quite distinct from the working of the 1870 Education Act, though in a way complementary to it, the Charity Commission proceeded to put the Soham Free School Moor Charity on a completely fresh basis. This was done by framing a Scheme of Administration approved by Her Majesty in Council 29th June 1878 which laid down the following provisions.

The name of the School was now to become the Soham Moor Endowed School with a Governing Body replacing the old Feoffees. It was to comprise eventually 10 Governors, 6 Representative and 4 Co-optative. The 6 Representative Governors were to be appointed for a term of 3 years as follows:

- 2 by the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College
- 2 by the Soham Parish Vestry
- 2 by the Soham School Board.

The latter two were not to be appointed until the Cooptative Governors, at first 10 in number, should be reduced to 4. These first 10 Cooptative Governors who held office for life were: (All of Soham)

The Reverend John Cyprian Rust, Vicar of Soham
George Willis, Surgeon
James Horsley Staples, Farmer
Warren White, Farmer
Thomas Hustwick, Gentleman
Alfred Slack, Farmer
John Taylor, Farmer
William White, Farmer
John Mann the younger, Miller
William Mann, Farmer

Thereafter, when the number of these Cooptative Governors fell below 4, all Governors were to meet and appoint as many as necessary, for a term of 5 years, subject to Charity Commissioners' approval.

The main points about the Governing Body were frequency of meetings twice a year, the election of a chairman and the number for a quorum - 3. They were to keep a minute book and an account book, publishing an abstract of the accounts annually. An unsalaried clerk could be appointed: telling of lands was to continue as before. All lands not copyhold were vested in the Official Trustee of Charity Lands: all stock in public funds was vested in the Official Trustee of Charitable Funds.

To this new Governing Body, the old Governors were to hand over the administration within three months. The present School was to be used temporarily and closed when the Governors thought fit. (This, presumably, would be when the new buildings were erected on the old site.) The Scheme mentions the offer, in 1877, by Bond's Feoffees to sell the School house, cottages and premises in the Hempland in Soham for 200. The Governors could accept this offer and were in any case to promise, by altering or adding to the present buildings, or by erecting new buildings, a day and boarding school with a Headmaster's House, playground and accommodation for 60 day Scholars and 12 boarders or thereabouts. The sum envisaged was in the neighbourhood of 1,000.

The Headmaster was to be a graduate of some university in the United Kingdom or hold some equivalent qualification: in consequence of this, William Feather, the present Master of the School, had to relinquish the office. However, he received an annual pension of 25. The Headmaster could appoint his assistants: none of them was required to be in Holy Orders.

The salary of the Headmaster was to be not less than 50 pa, not more than 75 pa with a capitation payment of not less than 2 per boy, not more than 4. On these figures and taking the number of boys at the maximum 72, the salary envisaged was at its least favourable, 194 pa (50 + 72 boys at 2) and at its most favourable, 363 (75 + 72 boys at 4), a fantastic figure in these days, especially when the House was supplied rent free. Probably a figure somewhere between the two would be the best guess.

Boarders were to pay tuition fees of between 3 and 6 per year and up to 35 per year maintenance fees. Boys of good character and sufficient health between the ages of 7 and 15 years could apply for admission and the subjects for examination on entrance were Reading, writing from dictation and sums in the first 4 simple rules of Arithmetic with the multiplication table. Preference would be given, if there was not room for all, to sons of inhabitants of Soham: perhaps it was not altogether fair to throw open the school to any others since the rents, profits and investments all came originally from the lands in Soham. The Scheme mentions no other sources of income which might justify this particular clause.

Scholarships of a minimum total value of 40 per annum were to be given to boys from public elementary schools in Soham and district. This is strongly reminiscent of the old Free Scholars although, of course, the number would be considerably less than the fifty mentioned in 1845.

The course of instruction was:
Reading, writing and Arithmetic including book keeping. Geography and History.
English Grammar and Composition.
Mathematics and in particular Geometry, Mensuration and Pure and applied Mathematics.
One foreign language and Latin, or two foreign European languages.
Natural Science and in particular, Chemistry and Experimental Physics.
Drawing and vocal music. Drill.

Once a year an examination was to be held by some examiner not connected with the School.

The Governors were authorised to establish Exhibitions tenable at any place of higher education approved by them, awarded to boys who had been not less than 2 years at the School. These last three provisions are important since they indicate the renaissance of the School, if not as a Grammar School, at least as a School giving secondary and higher education, The drawing of candidates from the elementary schools, the curriculum itself, and the provision of leaving exhibitions all point to this conclusion.

Several inhabitants of Soham, including Mrs Fenton and Mr. E Leonard an old Boy of the School and now (1951) Chairman of the Governors, recall that the School was, in fact, called the Grammar School in those days.

From the date of this Scheme, all rights and powers reserved to, belonging to, claimed by or capable of being exercised by the Master of Pembroke College or the Vicar of Soham as Visitor of this Foundation, were transferred to Her Majesty to be exercised through the Charity Commission for England and Wales. They were to be the sole interpreters of the Scheme and they alone could alter the scheme in whole or in part.

These provisions absolutely replaced all other and former schemes, Act of Parliament, Charter or letters patent, statute or instrument.


An old prospectus for the School shows that the Headmaster was now Charles E Le Maitre, FSA, late Second Master of Wallasey Grammar School, while the Chairman of the Governors was the Reverend John Cyprian Rust. It is undated but since the curriculum is as laid down in 1878 and since the list of cooptative Governors is almost unaltered, it must have been published within a short time of the new scheme.

The school fees were 1 10s 0d per annum for boys under 10, and 2 per annum for those over 10: for boarders the fees were 30 per annum with these tuition fees in addition. The School year was now divided into three terms, with vacations at least 6 weeks in the Summer, 4 weeks at Christmas and a fortnight at Easter. Boys were entered for the Oxford and Cambridge Local Examinations and the course of Education, we are told, was intended to prepare boys for an agricultural, commercial or professional life: Greek could be learnt without extra charge, although lessons on the pianoforte cost 15/- extra per term.

It is interesting to see that Mr. W Feather was Clerk to the Governors, probably some understanding arrived at after he retired from the Mastership of the School.

In March 1885 the Reverend Cyprian Rust applied for a variation of the scheme which was allowed by the Board of Charity Commissioners in August 1885. The curriculum was amended by substituting for the words following "mathematics" in the previous scheme the following words:

Geometrical drawing and mensuration
Principles of agriculture
Latin or one foreign European language
Vocal Music

Thus pure and applied Maths and the Natural Sciences were temporarily dropped and the addition of the Principles of Agriculture was, in view of the future development of the School, both interesting and important. An additional clause permitted the establishment of a preparatory class for boys and girls between 5 and 9. Below 7 they were excused the entrance examination and paid 30/- a year tuition fee, which went direct to the Headmaster instead of a capitation fee.

The following general description of the School about the period 1885-1890 is adapted from information generously given by Mr HL Porter of Haddenham; and Mr E Leonard of Soham, the two oldest surviving old Grammarians.

There were about 60 boys at the School taught by Mr. Le Maitre and two other masters, one of them a Mr Evans who seems to have been a very knowledgable man. At first, there was little organisation of games: later Football was played and Athletic Sports were held both on Bugg's Close although the Recreation Ground was also used. Having once gained a place in the Football XI, Mr Leonard retained it until he left and they had a very successful playing record. He also performed well at the Sports but, as was the custom, was allowed to bring away only two prizes.

There is an extract from the Parish Magazine for 1883 where, it is to be noted, the School was called the Grammar School. Then distribution of Prizes took place on Friday, 27th July in the morning and awards were made for highest aggregate marks in the Upper School for English and Religious knowledge, Mathematics, Latin and French, and for the same subjects in the Lower School. Good Conduct, General Progress and Perseverance prizes were also awarded, The Athletic Sports were held in the afternoon of the same day: the events were for two age groups, those above and those below 13 years.

There was a wonderful selection of prizes, including cricket bats, dressing cases, silver pencil cases, silver scarf pins and for the high jump over 13, in which G. Ecclestone cleared 4ft 3in, a set of gold links and studs. However no boy was allowed more than two prizes so Ecclestone who won also the long jump, the 440 yards flat and the hurdle race had to be content with a cricket bat and a dressing case.

In the October 1883 Parish Magazine "the Headmaster and Boys of the School acknowledge with many thanks, the receipt of three volumes from the Rev J Bell of Fordham, one of the Governors, towards the School Library". They were "Life and Lectures of Lord Macauley", 2 volumes, and "Life of President Garfield". "Further donations of the same kind will be most welcome" concluded the paragraph which also was headed "Grammar School".

The year 1885 was notable for the arrival of Mr WH Mould as well as for the variation of the 1878 scheme.

Further slight amendments came in 1899 and 1901 but details exist only of the former. It was provided that 2 Representative Governors should be added to the present 4 to he appointed by the Cambridgeshire County Council. The approval of the Charity Commissioners to the appointment of Cooptative Governors was no longer required. Slight variations were made in the arrangements for the yearly examinations still carried out by examiners not connected with the School; a source at once, possibly, of relief and nervousness to the Staff. The Governors could now expend a yearly sum of 5 to assist needy scholars. All these alterations were approved in the variation of the scheme placed before Her Majesty's Committee of Council on Education in 1899.

Note: Mr. Porter was a boarder and recalls that one of the masters used to sleep in a tiny cubicle at the end of the dormitory which was familiarly known as the Kennel. It is most interesting in view of the provision laid down for Wm. Warren's observance (Feoffees' Account Book 1826 see page 42 of the History) that he and other boarders had to walk in procession to the Church on Sunday morning wearing a type of mortar-board with a scarlet tassel. These tassels were traditionally cut right down leaving on top only a red "thistle".

last updated 28 Dec 2007