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   Chapter 21 No.21

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 5556

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The stream of charity which has so largely enriched and endowed the City of London began very early. You have seen how Rahere built and endowed Bartholomew's, and how Queen Maud founded the Lazar House of St. Giles. The fourteenth century furnishes many more instances. Thus William Elsinge founded in 1332 a hospital for a hundred poor blind men: in 1371 John Barnes gave a chest containing 1,000 marks to be lent by the City to young men beginning trade. You have heard how one Mayor went out to fight a pirate and slew him and made prizes of his vessels. Another when corn was very dear imported at his own expense a great quantity from Germany. Another gave money to relieve poor prisoners: another left money for the help of poor householders: another provided that on his commemoration day in the year 2,400 poor householders, of the City should have a dinner and every man two pence. This means in present money about £600 a year, or an estate worth £20,000: another left money to pay the tax called the Fifteenth, for three parishes: another brought water in a conduit from Highbury to Cripplegate.

But the greatest and wisest benefactor of his time was Whittington. In his own words: 'The fervent desire and busy intention of a prudent, wise, and devout man, should be to cast before and make secure the state and the end of this short life with deeds of mercy and pity, and especially to provide for those miserable persons whom the penury of poverty insulteth, and to whom the power of seeking the necessaries of life by act or bodily labour is interdicted.'

With these grave words, which should be a lesson to all men, rich or poor, Whittington begins the foundation of his College. If a man were in these days to found a College he would make it either a school for boys or a technical school-in any case a place which should be always working for the world. In those days, when it was universally believed that the saying of masses was able to lift souls out of punishment, a man founded a College which should pray for the world. Whittington's College was to consist of a Master and four Fellows-who were to be Masters of Arts-with clerks, choristers, and servants. They were every day to say mass for the souls of Richard and Alice Whittington in the church of St. Michael's Paternoster Royal-which church Whittington himself had rebuilt. Behind the church he founded and built an almshouse for thirteen poor men, who were to have 16d. each per week, about 7s. of our money, with clothing and rooms on the condition of praying daily for their founder and his wife. Part of the ground for the building was granted by the Mayor and Corporation.

The College continued until the Dissolution of the Religious Houses-that is, for one hundred and fifty years:

the almshouse continues to this day: but it has been removed to Highgate: on its site the Mercers' Company has established a school.

Whittington, further, built a library for the Franciscan House; part of the building still remains at Christ's Hospital. It was 129 feet long and 31 feet broad. He also gave the friars 400l. to buy books. He restored and repaired the Hospital of St. Bartholomew's, to which he gave a library. He paved and glazed the new building of Guildhall: he gave large sums for the bridge-and the chapel on the bridge-at Rochester-as a merchant he was greatly interested in keeping this important bridge in order: he repaired Gloucester Cathedral-the cathedral church of his native diocese: he made 'bosses,' i.e. taps of water, to the great aqueduct: he rebuilt and enlarged Newgate Prison; and he founded a library at Guildhall.

Many of these things were done after his death by his executors.

Such were the gifts by which a City merchant of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries sought to advance the prosperity of the citizens. Fresh water in plenty by 'bosses' here and there: the light of learning by means of libraries: almshouses for the poor: mercy and charity for the prisoners: hospitals for the sick: help for the young: prayers for the dead. These things he understood.

We cannot expect any man to be greatly in advance of his age. Otherwise we should find a Whittington insisting upon cleanliness of streets: fresh air in the house: burial outside the City: the abolition of the long fasts which made people eat stinking fish and so gave them leprosy: the education of the craftsmen in something besides their trade: the establishment of a patrol by police: and the freedom of trade.

He did not found any school. That is a remarkable omission. One of his successors, Sir William Sevenoke, founded a school for lads of his native town Sevenoaks: another, Sir Robert Chichele, founded a school, an almshouse, and a college in his native town of Higham Ferrers. A friend of his own, Sir John Niel, proposed to establish four new grammar schools in the City. And yet Whittington left no money for a school. We may be quite sure that there was a reason for the omission. Perhaps he was afraid of the growing spirit of doubt and inquiry. Boys who learn grammar and rhetoric may grow into men who question and argue; and so, easily and naturally, get bound to the stake and are consumed with the pile of faggots. Everything was provided except a school for boys. Libraries for men; but not a school for boys. The City of London School was founded by Whittington's executor, John Carpenter. There must have been reasons in Whittington's mind for omitting any endowment of schools. What those reasons were I cannot even guess.

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