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Lincoln School during the Reformation and its Aftermath:

A Tribute to the Work of Professor Charles Garton

From the Garton Archive at Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School


A Drawing of the Greyfriars Building

Occasional Paper No 41

compiled by Peter Harrod

April 2015

This article is a compilation of material from a number of different sources, but in particular from two of Professor Charles Garton’s unpublished typescript volumes, Lincoln School: 1500-1585 (Garton, 1983) and Lincoln School – Oddments (Garton, 2001). I have attempted to do justice to the style and substance of Professor Garton’s detailed and scholarly work by summarising and synthesising its content. As with many other articles in this series I take full responsibility for bias through selection and omission.

The eminent historian A F Leach has written that there is no doubt that Lincoln Grammar School was part of the original foundation of the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Mary of Lincoln, recorded in the confirmation charter of Lincoln Cathedral by William Rufus in 1090. All early mediaeval schools were creations of the church, and during the early middle ages it seems probable that the scholars were taught in the Cathedral Close. However sometime during the later middle ages, the School appears to have moved downhill into what is now known as Danesgate, and later still in the 1330s further downhill into Free School Lane in the parish of St Rumbold.

Professor Charles Garton has written that it was through the bishops of the diocese, and notably John Longland (1521-1547), that Lincoln and its School were to experience the Reformation and, to a lesser extent, the Renaissance (Garton, 1983). He also informed us that one of his predecessors was Thomas Wolsey, who was Bishop of Lincoln for only one year before becoming Bishop of York, and who of course went on to achieve notoriety. The Lincoln Tudor inn, ‘The Cardinal’s Hat’ was named after him.

Education during the period known as the Reformation was hardly recognisable from what it is today. To place this brief article on Lincoln School in the sixteenth century in its historical context, the state, which now dominates the education system, had no part to play in it, being preoccupied as it was with law, order and taxation. It was the Church that provided such education as was available, and of course until the mid-sixteenth century all English men and women were Catholics.

Other differences included the relative size of the population, governed as it was by pestilence, starvation and medical ignorance. Moreover, in those days society was largely rural, agricultural, and immersed in poverty. Those conditions were hardly conducive to formal education in schools, and it was only the privileged few who attended institutions such as Lincoln School, where they learned to read and write the prestigious language of the time, Latin, which was not only the language of the Church, but also of the learned professions and of the law, trade, and business. Lawson (1967) wrote that in such conditions schooling was out of the question for most children, and that a well-established town school might consist of no more than two or three dozen boys taught by one master in a single room. Most schools were founded by the Church, and were known as ‘grammar’ schools, which meant that they taught Latin though grammatical analysis and translation. They served not only to provide the Church with clergy, but also to educate future professions, clerks and schoolmasters. As Lawson pointed out, however, our knowledge of mediaeval education is far from complete.

It is beyond the scope of this article to describe in detail the changes which the Reformation brought about. Suffice it to say that it was probably the changes in the social and economic life of the country, brought about by the decline in the territorial influence of the Church, and the rise of the new class of the landed gentry, with its concomitant control over government policy, which exercised the most far-reaching effects on education. Neither must the religious dimension be underestimated, as the Reformation was religious in essence, and the Church exercised considerable power and control over the schools. Lawson (1967) points out that, as a direct result of the dissolution of the monasteries, grammar schools were established, or re-established, in many of the monastic cathedrals, including Lincoln, and Henry VIII’s statutes prescribed in detail the appointment and duties of the masters and ushers, and the curriculum, organisation and conduct of the schools. Other schools were created at some of the dissolved abbeys, and these ranked among the leading ones in the country until the emergence of the ‘public’ schools at the end of the eighteenth century.

Professor Garton’s detailed and meticulously researched chapter on the Reformation (Garton, 1983) has informed us that, one summer’s day in 1534, the poor clerks (see Note at foot of article) of the Close School in Lincoln were required to attend a meeting in the Chapter House of Lincoln Cathedral for certain important business, which turned out to be for the purpose of signing assent to the new order promulgated by the King and Parliament that spring. All the active Cathedral clergy were required to sign the document, which was prepared in Latin and presumably read out first. The document recognised King Henry VIII as supreme head of the English Church to whom all signatories were required to pledge faithful obedience, and to renounce the Pope’s authority. The entire assembly totalled seventy-two, of whom nearly half were present or past Lincolnians and, as Professor Garton put it, rarely can there have been gathered in one place such a tally of young and old alumni of Lincoln School and their mentors. The Act of Supremacy, Parliament’s confirmation that the King was supreme Head of the Church of England, became law later that year in November.

Professor Garton (2001) wrote that the Reformation and Renaissance brought many changes to schooling in Lincoln and elsewhere. Church establishments were cut, funds were taken over by the state in many cases, and the very fact that services and rituals were reduced and simplified brought the actual rhythm of life in the Cathedral close much nearer to life in the City itself. At the same time the Renaissance called for an upgrading of school work, and the appointment of new and more able teachers. During the period 1539 to 1584, there were two schoolhouses in Lincoln, one uphill serving the Cathedral and its choristers, and the other downhill probably in the parish of St Rumbold and serving the City. However, both the schoolhouses in Lincoln were small, and neither of them alone could afford improvements. By Elizabethan times they were losing ground, and parents were beginning to withdraw their boys. Then, in the 1560s, ‘amalgamation’ was in the air, although Charles Garton is quick to point out that the word did not exist at the time, but was coined by a scientist in the following century. However, the idea certainly existed, and became fashionable. Readers are referred to Hill (1956:102) for a fuller account of the amalgamation.

Professor Garton reported that the amalgamation was completed on a relatively small scale, as the population was small, but some of the watchwords, problems and solutions have a familiar ring to our ears today: ‘Merging means greater efficiency’; ‘The bigger the school the more able the staff it will attract’. Long and delicate negotiations between the two sides followed, and great care was taken not to hurt anyone’s pride. Economic considerations were paramount, and there was a considerable amount of bargaining about rights and responsibilities, especially where expense was involved. There was also the question of the building. If the school had to be built from scratch, the scheme would not have come to fruition.

However, as it happened, the corporation had earmarked the vacant Greyfriars, the former Franciscan friary, for its own pupils, and with a few minor structural alterations and repair of the windows, everything was ‘fine and commodious’. Greyfriars was let and subsequently owned by Robert Monson, who generously donated it to the City for the School, and paid for the alterations himself. In due course, following protracted discussions, all the problems were resolved and the Mayor and Corporation, and the Dean and Chapter became what would be known today as the Board of Governors. Historically, it is because of this agreement, cemented some 450 years ago, that both parties are represented on today’s Governing Body at LCHS. Of the two former masters, one continued in the reorganised school and received a pay rise, whilst the other was appointed to a post elsewhere.  There were no school fees apart from a small one-off payment from each pupil to the master and usher. Salaries were higher than in other schools, and as a result attracted better teachers. One headmaster, Master Plumtree (1548-56), was apparently so inefficient that he was dismissed and given the living of St Mary Magdalene instead.


The Greyfriars Building in Lincoln

The union of both schools was completed by the year 1584, early during the Headmastership of William Temple, and shortly afterwards the Bishop endorsed the agreement and made a promise that, in effect, he and his successors would always be the School’s friends. Indeed, in about 1850, only 266 years later, the Bishop was to become the School’s official ‘Visitor’, whose role was to oversee the efficient running of the school as a kind of latter day inspector. Charles Garton made the point that, allowing for the enormous shifts in our handling of education and our power structure over the centuries, it can safely be said that the Bishop’s promise has been kept. Charles Garton went on to point out that there were enormous differences in comparison with the amalgamation of the four schools in 1974 to form LCHS. The catchment area was in effect a circle around Lincoln measuring six miles across, although pupils could attend from further afield as boarders. Each one had to be able and prepared to do ‘grammar school work’, which excluded many as a basic level of literacy was required. Both staff members were men, all the pupils were boys, and girls were not yet on the horizon, of course. Charles Garton estimated that the total number of boys was around sixty, which fluctuated but never reached 100 until the nineteenth century, climbing steadily to about 500 between 1900 and 1974. The pupil-teacher ratio was probably about 1 to 30. Cathedral choristers were to attend, and did so for many years into the twentieth century, commuting up and down the hill, but somewhat restricted by their duties at the Cathedral.



The Upper Floor of the Greyfriars Building

Present staff at LCHS will be envious to know that there was no overcrowding, the School being housed on the relatively spacious main or upper floor of Greyfriars, accessed through its own porch by an outside staircase. Curiously, part of the upper floor was also used as a store room, which at one period included gunpowder, arms and what was known as ‘the matches’. Today’s Health and Safety rules would probably have forbidden the storage of such volatile classroom companions, but their luck held out, and neither the boys nor the building were blown up! When classes were in session there were about seven ‘forms’ or long benches on which the boys would sit. This is the origin of the word ‘form’ which is still used today as an alternative term for a class of pupils. The Headmaster taught the senior ones, and the junior ones were taught mainly by the usher, who was a subordinate or assistant teacher. Clearly not all the forms could be taught simultaneously, so some early type of ‘differentiation’ would have taken place, with the master and usher teaching what are currently termed ‘focus groups’, and other groups being supervised by prefects or monitors, whilst others were expected to ‘get on with their work’ independently. I wonder if some early form of ‘partner discussion’ was allowed by enterprising masters and ushers?  Probably not! Pupils were no doubt to be seen and not heard!

‘And what did they learn?’ was the question posed by Charles Garton, who informed us that Erasmus, one of the greatest European educators of all time, had expressed a wish in the 1520s that a complete set of his works should be sent on his death to the Bishop of Lincoln, as part of a plan to distribute his oeuvre among half a dozen  countries in Western Europe. It is not known whether Erasmus’s wish was carried out. However, he and the Bishop, John Longland, did correspond about some of his books, including one intended for schoolboys, called ‘Conversation Pieces’, or ‘Familiar Colloquies’. The book was in Latin, because at that time Latin was the lingua franca of educated men, and according to Lawson (1967) Erasmus, as a prolific writer of school textbooks, was the principal means of introducing the cultivation of pure classical Latin into the schools. The original purpose of the book was to help boys to become more fluent in the language. However, it had a broader set of principles which were to bring life into grammar, to provide an opportunity to learn another language, to open up another major literature, to encourage articulacy and self-expression, and to put educated ‘men’ of different nationalities in communication with one another.

The book itself began as a set of exercises, but developed into lively pictures and colourful vignettes of the world as he knew it, including subjects such as hunting, soldiering, sailing, the butcher, the fishmonger, the innkeeper, tennis, and even the cheating horse-dealer, marriage, and funerals. Apparently they were similar to plays, and could be acted out. A copy of a translation of the book The Colloquies of Erasmus forms part of the extensive Charles Garton ex-libris collection in the Garton Archive (Thompson, 1965). This suggests an interesting challenge for an enterprising teacher at LCHS to create a role play activity!

However, in addition to the teaching of Latin, there was also what we would term today as a ‘hidden curriculum’, in which Erasmus was teaching the values of good sense, good manners, principles of right and wrong, and civilised behaviour. And although there were very few schools for girls at that time, Erasmus also focussed on subjects which were often regarded as too delicate to raise in schools, and brought women and girls freely into his ‘Conversation Pieces’, including one in which a boy tried to dissuade a girl from becoming a nun. He failed! Many churchmen were apparently angered by this piece of drama, especially as Erasmus named the boy ‘Eubulus’, which means ‘good advice’! Other equally provocative scenes involved a temptress trying to lead a young man astray (she didn’t succeed either!), and a family courtship scene during which the boy’s ardent advances were resisted by a ‘more cautious and more sensible girl’.

Erasmus also ventured beyond the day-to-day scenarios to embrace the great themes which run through all his works, and which questioned the established traditions and superstitions of the Middle Ages, and heralded the arrival of the Renaissance. In this respect, although no scientist himself, he prepared the way for a new scientific approach by suggesting that everything that needed to be changed must be changed. Not surprisingly he was regarded by many as immoral, irreligious and seditious. Such themes are touched upon in the ‘Conversation Pieces’, as in his other works, and as such provided impetus to reform by boys and school masters who began reading his ideas with a keen relish, attracted by Erasmus’s concern to show up popular delusions for what they were. Erasmus claimed that his book for schoolboys contained humour, and that it was designed to so enjoyable as to entice its young readers, without being unwholesome, corrupting or subversive in any way.

Ironically, Erasmus remained with the Church of Rome, despite the fact that his book was later banned by the Pope, and it was Bishop Longland, who was Henry VIII’s confessor, who appeared in Shakespeare as ‘my Lord of Lincoln’, who carried out the Reformation in the huge diocese of Lincoln, and who instructed the schools to shape their teaching accordingly. Hill (1956) summarised the curriculum of Lincoln School at the time. ‘Both master and usher must use their utmost care to improve the boys in Latin and Greek, teach them the true science of religion towards God, conformity to the church, obedience to their prince, and good manners towards their betters.’



A View up Broadgate with the Greyfriars building on the left

The years passed, Erasmus and the Bishop died, and unscrupulous printers published pirated editions of ‘Conversation Pieces’ which led to inaccuracies and misrepresentation of Erasmus’s original ideas and values. It was left to a new Headmaster of Lincoln School, John Clarke (Headmaster 1622-1640), to sort out the problem. Professor Garton wrote:

Imagine his problem. In those days there was no British library where you could go and look everything up. And there were no funds for travel. He had to do most of his work in Lincoln, with only such resources as were available there. Maybe something was sent to him from the Bishop’s library. What he did was to gather together as many different printed versions as he could find. He gathered eleven all told. Two of them were so old and battered that they had lost their dates and title pages. Another was one that Erasmus himself had passed for the press.

Clarke’s task was to produce something quickly and sufficiently compact to be affordable to his own pupils at Lincoln School. The resulting volume, complete with an index and short explanatory notes, was published in 1631 under the title of The Golden Work of Erasmus: Familiar Colloquies. Clarke claimed that it was the best available edited version, and the most convenient and well-stocked with aids for the reader. According to Professor Garton it was a great success, and served the English schools of the day as far as the end of the seventeenth century. Clarke did much for Lincoln School for eighteen years from his appointment in 1922 at the age of twenty-six. Through his Latin teaching, he gave all his pupils a grounding in grammar, and a feeling for the craft of words. However, following the example of Erasmus, he was the first known English headmaster to stress the importance of English, and as such was a rarity among grammar school masters at that time. The King James Bible had been published during his teenage years, and he had read it from cover to cover. Clarke wrote:

To speak our mother-English tongue purely, properly, elegantly is…as commendable as to speak French, Spanish, Latin, or any other exotic and foreign language…I speak not this to undervalue those more learned languages…but to provoke in us a love of our own language, and learning therein contained.

It is also important to remember that the Protestant Reformation insisted that services in every church should be in English, with an English Bible and prayer book translation, and a copy of the paraphrases of Erasmus in English. This afforded everyone who was literate the right to read and understand (Lucas, 2015).

Although Clarke taught no science at Lincoln School, one boy was apparently found with a telescope in his hand at the very time when Galileo was being tried by the Inquisition. Professor Garton also recorded that it was during Clarke’s headship that Physical Education was encountered, though it took the form of military drill – a sort of junior training corps. A man famous for his learning and piety, Clarke sent several boys to the university, and they became ‘mostly men of considerable note’. A man clearly ahead of his time, he also educated his two daughters at home, as it would have been unheard of to educate them at the School.

In his tribute to the work of John Clarke, Professor Garton wrote that he set his stamp on the School in many ways, and increased its self-respect, which lasted not only through the centuries in Greyfriars, but also later when it moved uphill to Upper Lindum Street, and then to the Wragby Road site on 1907. The boys in Greyfriars were described as much like the boys of the present day. ‘They skated on Brayford when it froze, goggled into the Headmaster’s desk when he wasn’t looking, and carved  their names high and low on every available surface, despite the vigorous effects of authority to stop them’. Boys will be boys! There was one boy called Garmston who climbed up unobserved, and carved his name high up on the east window of the upper floor of Greyfriars in 1695. What he did not foresee was that he would one day return to the School in the post of headmaster, with discipline to enforce! Garmston was also notable as a Head for his Greek textbook, with the words, ‘For the use of the Schola Lincolniensis’ on the title page. It was a great distinction for a school to have its own textbook, and Garmston’s is now among the rarest in the world.


One of the treasures of the Garton Archive; a surviving Greyfriars oak table, possibly pre-1700

As late as the 1960s sixth-formers at Lincoln School sat around it in the school library (now Room 232)

for lessons in Latin, Greek and Modern Languages


One of many carved initials on the old oak table

Professor Garton concluded his section on Lincoln School during the Reformation period by sounding a cautionary note. As with many such institutions the School was in fact insulated from a great part of the world which surrounded it. It also went through good and bad patches, and at times the numbers were unhealthily low. Too much of its work looked backwards instead of forwards, and one prospective parent grumbled in 1762 that boys might more profitably spend their time in gathering flowers and catching butterflies rather than in the trifling ‘hic’ and ‘haec’ business of the grammar schools. In co-operation with the universities the School did help to produce gentlemen, scholars, professional men, clergy and schoolmasters, but huge sections of the population were left uncatered for, including the vast majority of girls.

Before I conclude this somewhat brief and truncated account of Lincoln School during the Reformation, it is worth mentioning that one of its most long-serving headmasters, William Dighton (c1517-1548), had the honour of meeting Henry VIII, an event most eloquently recorded by Professor Garton (1983). I refer readers to the original text for the full account, but will attempt to do justice to it in a summary of his elegant text. Picture the scene; Lincoln in August 1541, shortly after Dighton had been elected Mayor of Lincoln, the only headmaster of Lincoln School known to have held that highest of civic offices. The King’s party was to arrive from the south down what is now known as Cross O’ Cliff Hill (then known as ‘The height’), having rested for a while at Temple Bruer. Henry had decided to make a royal progress with his fifth wife Katherine Howard through parts of his kingdom that had been torn by rebellion a few years earlier (Hodgett, 1975). The route took the procession through Bargate, the main gate from the south, and along the present High Street. Dighton was responsible for choreographing the King’s arrival in the City, and the moment arrived when he stepped forward to the royal stirrups and ‘looked full into the King’s face’. At that moment, the man who had been at the helm of Lincoln School for about twenty years, looked into the masterful eyes of the author of the English Reformation. The King in turn looked down upon a municipal worthy, respected by his peers in the locality, a man of some education and judgement, whose name could be noted. As his office required, Dighton then tendered to the King the great civic sword, the keys of the City, and the mace, which he kissed in token of lowly duty. Dighton was then singled out for a place of honour in the procession which led the King through Wigford, the long south suburb, and into the City proper, to the sounds of the ringers lustily pulling the bellcords of St Botolph’s, St Peter-at-Gowts’, St Mark’s, St Mary le Wigford’s and St Benedict’s. Many of Dighton’s russet-gowned fromer pupils would have been among those lining the route, and savouring the moment of their former teacher. In due course, as the procession made its way up the hill, Professor Garton imagined the arrival at the gates facing the west front of the Minster to the bells which welcomed them there, ringing as loudly as they had perhaps ever done since the funeral of Bishop Hugh 341 years earlier. One of the consequences to the City of the King’s visit was a hefty expense. Hodgett (1975) reported that, in addition to other gifts of pike, tench and bream, the Council had decided to present the King with twenty fat oxen and one hundred fat sheep costing £50, which was a substantial sum in those days. The royal party left Lincoln three days later on 12 August 1541.

It is clear from the evidence we have about education at Lincoln School during the Reformation and its aftermath that there were many similarities to today’s schooling. The pupils attended lessons. They were taught by masters and ushers, now known as teachers and teaching assistants. They sat on forms rather than individual plastic chairs, and moved from one form to another as they progressed up the school. The curriculum was different, but reflected the needs and demands of the time as it does now. The main difference in today’s schools, however, in the wake of the 1944 Education Act and its slogan, ‘Education for All’, is that every single pupil, regardless of gender, background or ability, has the right to a formal education in our schools; an achievement well worth celebrating as we look back, perhaps with rose-coloured spectacles, on days long since gone by.

Miner (1975) summarises the function of the medieval grammar school in an appraisal of the work of the eminent historian A F Leach. It was an institution designed primarily for training in Latin, both oral and written, which ordinarily served as the entrance requirement for university. However, it also provided for a much more extensive range of the population than would normally proceed to university. Leach showed that grammar schools were originally intended to supply a constant source of trained recruits for the clerical state, but that all such schools shared a common learning experience. The National Curriculum is certainly not a new concept! The majority of such students would either revert to lay status after leaving school, or avail themselves of training for employment in such areas as estate management, business or, more rarely, government service. Some, presumably, would also fill vacant positions in the grammar schools themselves. Thus, as Miner put it, the grammar school, in short, was the common ground in England for both church and state.



‘Poor clerks’ were clerks who sat in the second row of choir stalls. Their duties were largely connected with the ‘cantarists’, or chantry priests


I am indebted to Professor Charles Garton whose meticulous research, and elegant prose style, suffuses every page of this article.

Grateful thanks are also due to Dr Mary Lucas and Chris Williams for their knowledge and expertise, and  for proof-reading the text and suggesting helpful additions and amendments.

Thanks are also due to Peter Pickering, an eminent Lincoln School alumnus from the 1940s and ‘50s, who challenged me to write this article.



Garton, Charles (1983)   Lincoln School: 1500-1585   Unpublished

Garton, Charles (1901)   Oddments   Unpublished

Hill, J W F ((1956)   Tudor and Stuart Lincoln   Cambridge University Press

Hodgett, G A J (1975)   Tudor Lincolnshire   Lincoln: History of Lincolnshire Committee

Lawson, John (1967)   Medieval Education and the Reformation   London: Rouledge & Kegan Paul

Leach, A F (1906)   Lincoln Grammar School   In: William Page (ed)   The Victoria History of the County of Lincoln Vol. 2   London: James Street, Haymarket

Lucas, Mary (2015)   Proof-reading annotation

Miner, J N (1990)   The Grammar Schools of Mediaeval England   McGill-Queen’s University Press

Thompson, Craig R (1965)   The Colloquies of Erasmus   University of Chicago Press

NB Many of the sources of Professor Garton’s references were from the Lincoln Record Society, founded in 1910 to print records and documents relating to the ancient county and diocese of Lincoln