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News > 300th > History of Churcher's College, 1722-1877

History of Churcher's College, 1722-1877

As we celebrate our 300th year, we look back at the first 150 years of Churcher's College.
3 Feb 2022
Old College 1729
Old College 1729

Article taken from 'The History of Churcher's College' by Donald Brooks and Gillian Clarke.

1722-1877 The Old College 

Richard Churcher, resident in Petersfield, was a shrewd investor in the East India Company; he may well have become aware through bitter experience of the need for navigators in its service. His will of 1722 provided for a school in the town with a Master and 10 or 12 boys to be trained in the mathematics of sea navigation with a view to their joining the East India Company. It was significant and somewhat surprising for those times that he laid down that the Master should be a layman: he clearly wished it to be free of domination by the classics and chapel. 

The school was built during 1729 and opened in 1730, under the Master, Charles Eade. It was certainly more than adequate for its purpose. But Petersfield was not really the place for a merchant navy: comparatively far from the sea in those days, it had no tradition of sea-faring and was essentially an agricultural and market town. It is no surprise to us, with our hind-sight, that by 1743 there was pressure to overrule the condition of its founder’s will. After the Parliament Act of 1744, there ceased to be any expectation that any pupils should become apprenticed to a sea-farer: furthermore, the need for foundation boys to board was lifted. It was not restored, indeed, until 1835, which is an extraordinarily long time. It is a little sad, also, that the blue gowns, with their East India metal badge, had probably also gone because the dress was now laid down by the Trustees. 

J.H. Smith gives a fascinating list of the jobs that Churcher’s boys went on to in the eighteenth century: a few entered the learned professions; but most became tradesman (tailors, butchers, bakers, grocers) or artisans (blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelwrights, cordwainers, bricklayers, masons, plumbers). It is an interesting commentary on the society of a small town that any practical job could be done locally. 

The first two Masters appeared to have fulfilled their tasks to the satisfaction of the Trustees: a Philip Jones reigned from 1745-56; Mr Richard Figg followed and was the first to supplement his meagre salary (still the original £40 annually) by taking private boarders in the Master’s rooms and eventually in adjacent houses. This seemed to be condoned as an alternative to raising the wage. As numbers crept up, it also became necessary to employ ‘ushers’ (as the deputy headmaster is still called, in some public schools). Because of the insistence on the Master not being in Holy Orders, there was considerable confusion as to who was running the school between 1784 and 1797. The nominal Master was a Mr Robert Steele (formerly one of the ushers) who received the salary but passed it on to the one that did the work, the Rev. James Cookson. 

He was resident in College: how he managed to be Rector of Colemore and Prior’s Dean at the same time is a puzzle; he was afterwards Curate of Steep and Vicar of Harting and produced several books, the most prestigious being ‘The Grand Imperial Family Bible’ (a copy of which is in the school archives). 

When this strange double act resigned in 1797, William Trimmings was appointed; there were some odd goings on in the matter of letting school premises to supplement his income: but, since rooms were let to some of the Trustees themselves, it was difficult to make too much of it. However, it did seem to be going too far to allow some ‘upper class’ girls to be educated in part of the College. At any rate, Mr Trimmings was allowed to leave on pension – extraordinarily deducted from his successor’s salary. The complaint of parents that the holidays were too long seems adequate grounds for dismissal, possibly.  

There was a long period following, dominated by the father and son, George Dusautoy and Alfred, from 1815-1876. One wonders if the boys were allowed out on to the main London Road to wave and cheer as Wellington went by, as he surely must have done: a few years earlier, of course, Nelson passed by the College doors on his final journey to Portsmouth; that must have been an excuse to leave classes). 

Early in this period, from 1818-1835, occurred the almost Dickensian saga of the Chancery case. There was an attack on the lack of integrity of the Joliffe administration and in particular on the increasing use of the boarding facilities for private pupils – there were no foundation boarders at this time, of course, which really was disgraceful. What would Richard Churcher have thought, one wonders. It was a blow to finances when the Charity had to pay £3,392 in tax to the government. In spite of this, the College was still well endowed by contemporary standards. In 1836 the number of Foundation scholars was raised to 14 boarders and the Master’s salary to £100 annually.

Things began to move in the right direction after the report on the school in 1864; by then numbers had fallen seriously: there were only 30 pupils and the educational standards were low – only mathematics was satisfactorily taught, a legacy of the Founder. With pupils aged 6-14 Churcher’s was a Third Grade School and, clearly, a third rate one too. Keeping it in the family for nearly 60 years had a depressing effect. There is a detailed description, in J.H. Smith’s book, of life under Alfred Dusautoy by Mr W.J. Chapman who was in the old college from 1864-1871. As in most school boy tales, life to the pupils seemed bearable – evidence, perhaps, for the suggestion that boarders at Public Schools survived being prisoners of war better than others. But educationally, the picture is just boring, with much of the teaching and supervision done by ‘ushers.’ All work was done in one schoolroom, on 6 long, sloping desks with 4 to each. Fine though it was, the building was insanitary, cold in winter and totally unsuitable for expansion. Something drastic had to be done.  

Look out for next months article, 1881-1919 The Move.

You can view Churcher's College online archive here.

To buy 'The History of Churcher's College' visit our online shop here.


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