Copies of the School Statutes: Schola Thamensis (1575)

  1. The first specific reference to the whereabouts of the Statutes is quoted by Lee  – see 2 below. He stated that the 18th Century antiquary Richard Rawlinson added a note dated 21 December 1743 to a copy in the Bodleian that the Statutes were ‘as scarce and valuable as any MS’.
  2. References are made to the Statutes and the Prayers (Preces) in Lee’s History of St Mary’s Church (1883) and Lupton’s Lord Williams (1873).  In 1883 Lee refers to five copies of the Preces – by implication attached to Statutes: respectively in the King’s Library and the Grenville library (part of the then British Museum Library), one copy in the Bodleian, one copy in New College, one copy at Thame ‘in charge of the `Headmaster. The fifth copy formerly in the library of Dr Philip Bliss of Oxford’, was sold after his death in 1857. Wikipedia states that the Bodleian ‘acquired 745 of his books’, but Bliss’s copy of the Statutes was not amongst them.
  3. The next list of copies is contained in an article in the September 1918 issue of The Library World by James P R Lyell, owner of one copy, probably the copy previously owned by Bliss.  Lyell lists 10 copies in the possession of:
    1. Earl of Abingdon
    1. Bodleian
    1. British Museum 
    1. British Museum 
    1. Earl of Crawford
    1. James P R Lyell
    1. New College 
    1. New College
    1. New College
    1. LWS

Lyell describes all of these in detail other than the LWS copy which he describes as ‘imperfect, but no particulars available’. A copy of The Library World is located on the inside of the cover of the school’s copy. It is unsurprising that the Earl of Abingdon owned a copy as the Bertie family had succeeded the Norreys family as Lord Williams’s heirs, with the right to appoint the Headmasters. The Earls of Abingdon no longer lived near Thame. However, the brother of the then earl, Francis Bertie 1st Viscount of Thame, a distinguished diplomat and French Ambassador during WW1, lived at Thame Park but died in 1919, succeeded by his son Vere. David Alexander Edward Lindsey, 27th Earl of Crawford was a descendant of one of the oldest English noble families.  A man with a remarkable career that included both enlisting as an ‘other rank’ medical orderly in WW1 and serving as a member of post-war cabinets, I have found no connection with Thame.  Brown – see the next section – explains the route by which he acquired his copy.  That New College was now credited with three copies is partly explained in the next section.

  • J Howard Brown in the Short history of Thame School (1927) devotes a whole chapter of his book to the statutes. He draws heavily on Lyell’s article but he lists 11 copies. He traces the subsequent history of the Bliss copy through two sales until it was acquired by the Earl of Crawford. Crawford seemingly had no connection with Thame but was a cultured and wealthy man, who was perhaps attracted by the book’s rarity or saw it as an investment.  Brown also explains that the 11th copy, belonging to the Charity Commissioners, was discovered in March 1926. (It is this copy that has the annotation that the school opened on the eve of St Andrews Day 1570.)  Brown lists the owners of the other 10 copies in a different order to Lyell:
    • British Museum
    • British Museum
    • Bodleian
    • New College 
    • New College
    • New College
    • LWS, presented by New College Warden Canon Spooner
    • Earl of Abingdon
    • Earl of Crawford
    • Alfred C Chaplin, Williamstown USA (sold by Lyell 1922)
    • Charity Commissioners

He describes two of the copies in New College, the first on vellum as ‘apparently’ the Master’s copy. He gives no source for this statement but the fact that it is secured to the Master’s desk largely confirms his supposition.  The second copy belonged to the Usher as indicated on the fly leaf in early 17th century handwriting.  He clarifies that the LWS copy was one of two more copies found in New College by the then College librarian and Governor of LWS, Dr Ernest Barker in 1916.  It seems certain, therefore, that the copy that LWS still possesses is one of those found by Dr Barker and presented to the school. Brown also mentions a possible 12th copy.  He adds that “A copy is referred to in 1873 [probably by either The Rev. James Young, mentioned earlier in Brown’s chapter as the translator of the Statutes published in that year, or by Lupton, then Churchwarden of St Mary’s Thame who commissioned Young], as ‘now lying in the muniment room of the Parish Church’ (St Mary’s).  The translation of the Statutes and its Appendices that appears in Lupton is almost certainly based on this copy for reasons explained below as it is one of only two complete copies and would have been easily accessible to Lupton as churchwarden.  Brown’s account of the copies in New College is somewhat confusing and possibly misleading as, in addition to the three copies retained in the college, he seemingly describes another copy as ‘the original fair copy in the chest of Thame School in the muniment room at New College … engrossed on four large sheets of vellum and fastened to the Indenture by the lower edges .  This description is quite different from all the other known copies and Brown does not include it in his summary table or count it as one of the 11 known copies.   

  • A 1947 issue of The Tamensian, no author given so probably the editor, relates that Mr E J Lightfoot, a Thame solicitor, discovered ‘old deeds and documents’ in his office.  These were ‘sent to the Bodleian’ where some of them were identified as linked to LWS and were accordingly ‘handed over to the school authorities and are now in the Headmaster’s keeping’. The writer conjectures that this copy was the one previously in the parish church muniment room. This seems highly likely: the muniment room was taken over by Mr Parker, Clerk to the LWGS governors, probably in the mid 1870 during the period when the school was closed and being reorganised under a new scheme of government.  Once the Oxford Road school building was available, the Clerk may have no longer needed the former muniment room as his office.  Whether or not that was the reason, the property passed in 1881 into the possession of the solicitors Messrs Lightfoot where the documents lay forgotten for over sixty years.  The reason why a copy should have been in the possession the parish church is easily explained: the Evidences section of the Statutes expressly require it. Though Thame was never a ‘church school’ and the vicar of St Mary’s had no responsibility for it, Williams’s executors probably believed that the church muniment room would be the safest place for it. Significantly the writer states that the Lightfoot copy has the full 55 pages with separate appendices and conjectures that it is ‘logical to assume that this copy is earlier in date that the eleven known copies … and may possibly the original copy’.
  • For the next 80 years there was no consolidated list of the Statute copies and their locations.  In 2019 the Oxfordshire History Centre featured a copy of the Statutes as the earliest of its kind in its local history collection.  It confirmed that its copy was acquired from the Charity Commissioners in 2014, and it is this copy that has the annotated note regarding the real date of the school’s opening. 
  • The New College library catalogue contains no less than five documents related to the Statutes.  These include the ‘Masters’ and ‘Ushers’ copies – the latter including Lyell’s article of 1918; also the copy found by Dr Barker that was not presented to the school. Most significantly, however, it includes two more catalogue entries with adjacent but much higher numbers, suggesting more recent acquisition. The first is described as ‘the original Statutes’; the second the appendix to the Statutes.
  • In fact on a detailed search of the school’s archives we now know that two copies are held. One is the printed bound copy that used to be kept in a wooden case in the school’s refectory. For reference, this case was ordered by the headmaster Dr Shaw in 1917, from James Rogers & Sons, who had a business on the High Street, Oxford. They used wood from the 16 century Lincoln College chapel, which was being renovated at the time.
  • The second copy held by the school is one of the original vellum copies. This includes the seal of New College. It is possible that in future, this copy will be given to New College, Oxford for safe-keeping.
  • The on-line catalogue of the British Library confirms that it holds two copies of the Statutes. This matches all the earlier listings from the early 20th century.  One page of the catalogue refers to two other copies now in the USA.  More likely, the second US copy was acquired from a later Earl Crawford.

Derek Turner, Honorary Archivist, Lord Williams’s SchoolDecember 2019

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