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Chapter Vii






Paddington Charity (Bread and Cheese Lands)


Until Christmas eve there is nothing remarkable about this Novena of
Christ-tide, excepting a curious charitable custom which used to
obtain in the parish of Paddington, which may be well described by a
quotation from the London Magazine (December 1737, p. 705).

Sunday, December 18, 1737. This day, according to annual custom,
bread and cheese were thrown from Paddington steeple to the populace,
agreeable to the will of two women, who were relieved there with bread
and cheese when they were almost starved; and Providence afterwards
favouring them, they left an estate in that parish to continue the
custom for ever on that day.

Three pieces of land situated in the parish were certainly left by two
maiden ladies, whose names are unknown, and their charity was
distributed as described until the Sunday before Christmas 1834, when
the bread and cheese (consisting of three or four dozen penny rolls,
and the same quantity of pieces of cheese) were thrown for the last
time from the belfry of St. Mary's Church by Mr. Wm. Hogg, the parish
clerk. After that date the rents arising from these bread and cheese
lands, as they are called, were distributed in the shape of bread,
coals, and blankets, to poor families inhabiting the parish, of whom a
list was made out annually for the churchwardens, stating their
residence and occupation, and the number of children under ten years
of age. Subsequently the Court of Chancery assented to a scheme
whereby the rents are portioned amongst the national schools, etc.

A curious custom used to obtain in some schools just before the
Christmas holidays, of barring-out the master, and keeping him out
of the schoolroom until the boys' grievances had been listened to and
promise of redress given; and the best account of this custom that I
have ever met with is in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1828, vol. ii.
p. 404, etc.

It was a few days before the usual period of the Christmas Holidays
arrived, when the leading scholars of the head form determined on
reviving the ancient but obsolete custom of barring-out the master
of the school. Many years had elapsed since the attempt had succeeded;
and many times since that period had it been made in vain. The
scholars had heard of the glorious feats of their forefathers in their
boyish years, when they set the lash of the master at defiance for
days together. Now, alas! all was changed; the master, in the opinion
of the boys, reigned a despot absolute and uncontrolled; the merciless
cruelty of his rod, and the heaviness of his tasks, were
insupportable. The accustomed holidays had been rescinded; the usual
Christmas feast reduced to a non-entity, and the chartered rights of
the scholars were continually violated. These grievances were
discussed seriatim; and we were all unanimously of opinion that our
wrongs should, if possible, be redressed. But how the object should be
effected was a momentous and weighty affair. The master was a
clergyman of the old school, who for the last forty years had
exercised an authority hitherto uncontrolled, and who had no idea of
enforcing scholastic discipline without the exercise of the whip. The
consequences of a failure were terrible to think upon; but then the
anticipation of success, and the glory attendant upon the enterprise,
if successful, were sufficient to dispel every fear.

At the head of the Greek class was one whose very soul seemed formed
for the most daring attempts. He communicated his intentions to a
chosen few, of which the writer was one, and offered to be the leader
of the undertaking if we would promise him our support. We hesitated;
but he represented the certainty of success with such feeling
eloquence that he entirely subdued our opposition. He stated that
Addison had acquired immortal fame by a similar enterprise. He told us
that almost every effort in the sacred cause of freedom had succeeded.
He appealed to our classical recollections:--Epaminondas and Leonidas
were worthy of our example; Tarquin and Caesar, as tyrants, had fallen
before the united efforts of freedom; we had only to be unanimous, and
the rod of this scholastic despot would be for ever broken. We then
entered enthusiastically into his views. He observed that delays were
dangerous; 'the barring-out,' he said, 'should take place the very
next morning to prevent the possibility of being betrayed.' On a
previous occasion (he said), some officious little urchin had told the
master the whole plot, several days having been allowed to intervene
between the planning of the project and its execution, and, to the
astonishment of the boys, it appeared they found the master at his
desk two hours before his usual time, and had the mortification of
being congratulated on their early attendance, with an order to be
there every morning at the same hour!

To prevent the occurrence of such a defeat we determined on
organising our plans that very night. The boys were accordingly told
to assemble after school hours at a well-known tombstone in the
neighbouring Churchyard, as something of importance was under
consideration. The place of meeting was an elevated parallelogram
tombstone, which had always served as a kind of council table to
settle our little disputes as well as parties of pleasure. Here we all
assembled at the appointed time. Our leader took his stand at one end
of the stone, with the head boys who were in the secret on each side
of him. 'My boys (he laconically observed), to-morrow morning we are
to bar-out the flogging parson, and to make him promise that he will
not flog us hereafter without a cause, nor set us long tasks or
deprive us of our holidays. The boys of the Greek form will be your
Captains, and I am to be your Captain-General. Those that are cowards
had better retire and be satisfied with future floggings; but you, who
have courage, and know what it is to have been flogged for nothing,
come here and sign your names.' He immediately pulled out a pen and a
sheet of paper; and having tied some bits of thread round the
finger-ends of two or three boys, with a pin he drew blood to answer
for ink, and to give more solemnity to the act. He signed the first,
the Captains next, and the rest in succession. Many of the lesser boys
slunk away during the ceremony; but on counting the names we found we
mustered upwards of forty--sufficient, it was imagined, even to carry
the school by storm. The Captain-General then addressed us: 'I have
the key of the school, and shall be there at seven o'clock. The old
Parson will arrive at nine, and every one of you must be there before
eight to allow us one hour for barricading the doors and windows.
Bring with you as much provision as you can; and tell your parents
that you have to take your dinners in school. Let every one of you
have some weapon of defence; you who cannot obtain a sword, pistol, or
poker, must bring a stick or cudgel. Now, all go home directly, and be
sure to arrive early in the morning.'

Perhaps a more restless and anxious night was never passed by young
recruits on the eve of a general battle. Many of us rose some hours
before the time; and at seven o'clock, when the school door was
opened, there was a tolerably numerous muster. Our Captain immediately
ordered candles to be lighted, and a rousing fire to be made (for it
was a dark December's morning). He then began to examine the store of
provisions, and the arms which each had brought. In the meantime, the
arrival of every boy with additional material was announced by
tremendous cheers.

At length the Church Clock struck eight. 'Proceed to barricade the
doors and windows,' exclaimed the Captain, 'or the old lion will be
upon us before we are prepared to meet him.' In an instant the old
oaken door rang on its heavy hinges. Some, with hammers, gimlets, and
nails, were eagerly securing the windows, while others were dragging
along the ponderous desks, forms, and everything portable, to
blockade, with certain security, every place which might admit of
ingress. This operation being completed, the Captain mounted the
master's rostrum, and called over the list of names, when he found
only two or three missing. He then proceeded to classify them into
divisions, or companies of six, and assigned to each its respective
Captain. He prescribed the duties of each company. Two were to guard
the large casement window, where, it was expected, the first attack
would be made; this was considered the post of honour, and,
consequently, the strongest boys, with the most formidable weapons,
were selected, whom we called Grenadiers. Another company, whom we
considered as the Light Infantry, or Sharp Shooters, were ordered to
mount a large desk in the centre of the School; and, armed with
squibs, crackers, and various missiles, they were to attack the enemy
over the heads of the Combatants. The other divisions were to guard
the back windows and door, and to act according to the emergency of
the moment. Our leader then moved some resolutions (which, in
imitation of Brutus, he had cogitated during the previous night), to
the effect that each individual should implicitly obey his own
Captain; that each Captain should follow the orders of the
Captain-general, and that a corps de reserve should be stationed in
the rear, to enforce this obedience, and prevent the combatants from
taking to flight. The resolutions were passed amid loud vociferations.

We next commenced an examination of the various weapons, and found
them to consist of one old blunderbuss, one pistol, two old swords, a
few rusty pokers, and sticks, stones, squibs, and gunpowder in
abundance. The firearms were immediately loaded with blank powder; the
swords were sharpened, and the pokers heated in the fire. These
weapons were assigned to the most daring company, who had to protect
the principal window. The missiles were for the light infantry, and
all the rest were armed with sticks.

We now began to manoeuvre our companies, by marching them into line
and column, so that every one might know his own situation. In the
midst of this preparation, the sentinel whom we had placed at the
window, loudly vociferated, 'The parson! The parson's coming!'

In an instant all was confusion. Every one ran he knew not where; as
if eager to fly, or screen himself from observation. Our captain
immediately mounted a form, and called to the captains of the two
leading companies to take their stations. They immediately obeyed;
and the other companies followed their example; though they found it
much more difficult to manoeuvre when danger approached than they
had a few minutes before! The well-known footstep, which had often
struck on our ears with terror, was now heard to advance along the
portico. The muttering of his stern voice sounded in our ears like the
lion's growl. A death-like silence prevailed: we scarcely dared to
breathe: the palpitations of our little hearts could, perhaps, alone
be heard. The object of our dread then went round to the front window,
for the purpose of ascertaining whether any one was in the school.
Every footstep struck us with awe: not a word, not a whisper was
heard. He approached close to the window; and with an astonished
countenance stood gazing upon us, while we were ranged in battle
array, motionless statues, and silent as the tomb. 'What is the
meaning of this?' he impatiently exclaimed. But no answer could he
obtain, for who would then have dared to render himself conspicuous by
a reply? Pallid countenances and livid lips betrayed our fears. The
courage, which one hour before was ready to brave every danger,
appeared to be fled. Every one seemed anxious to conceal himself from
view: and there would, certainly, have been a general flight through
the back windows had it not been for the prudent regulation of a
corps de reserve, armed with cudgels, to prevent it.

'You young scoundrels, open the door instantly,' he again exclaimed;
and, what added to our indescribable horror, in a fit of rage he
dashed his hand through the window, which consisted of diamond-shaped
panes, and appeared as if determined to force his way in.

Fear and trepidation, attended by an increasing commotion, now
possessed us all. At this critical moment every eye turned to our
captain, as if to reproach him for having brought us into this
terrible dilemma. He alone stood unmoved; but he saw that none would
have courage to obey his commands. Some exciting stimulus was
necessary. Suddenly waving his hand, he exclaimed aloud, 'Three cheers
for the barring-out, and success to our cause!' The cheers were
tremendous; our courage revived; the blood flushed in our cheeks; the
parson was breaking in; the moment was critical. Our Captain,
undaunted, sprang to the fire-place--seized a heated poker in one
hand, and a blazing torch in the other. The latter he gave to the
captain of the sharp shooters, and told him to prepare a volley; when,
with red-hot poker, he fearlessly advanced to the window seat; and,
daring his master to enter, he ordered an attack--and an attack,
indeed, was made, sufficiently tremendous to have repelled a more
powerful assailant. The missiles flew at the ill-fated window from
every quarter. The blunderbuss and the pistol were fired; squibs and
crackers, inkstands and rulers, stones, and even burning coals, came
in showers about the casement, and broke some of the panes into a
thousand pieces; while blazing torches, heated pokers, and sticks,
stood bristling under the window. The whole was scarcely the work of a
minute: the astonished master reeled back in dumb amazement. He had,
evidently, been struck with a missile or with the broken glass; and
probably fancied that he had been wounded by the firearms. The schools
now rang with the shouts of 'Victory,' and continued cheering. 'The
enemy again approaches,' cried the captain; 'fire another
volley;--stay, he seeks a parley--hear him.' 'What is the meaning, I
say, of this horrid tumult?' 'The barring-out, the barring-out!' a
dozen voices instantly exclaimed. 'For shame,' says he, in a tone
evidently subdued; what disgrace are you bringing upon yourselves and
the schools. What will the Trustees--what will your parents say?
William,' continued he, addressing the captain, 'open the door without
further delay.' 'I will, Sir,' he replied, 'on your promising to
pardon us, and give us our lawful holidays, of which we have lately
been deprived; and not set us tasks during the holidays.' 'Yes, yes,'
said several squealing voices, 'that is what we want; and not to be
flogged for nothing.' 'You insolent scoundrels! you consummate young
villains!' he exclaimed, choking with rage, and at the same time
making a furious effort to break through the already shattered window,
'open the door instantly, or I'll break every bone in your hides.'
'Not on those conditions,' replied our Captain, with provoking
coolness;--'Come on, my boys, another volley.' No sooner said than
done, and even with more fury than before. Like men driven to despair,
who expect no quarter on surrendering, the little urchins daringly
mounted the window seat, which was a broad, old-fashioned one, and
pointed the fire arms and heated poker at him; whilst others advanced
with the squibs and missiles. 'Come on, my lads,' said the captain,
'let this be our Thermopylae, and I will be your Leonidas.' And,
indeed, so daring were they, that each seemed ready to emulate the
Spartans of old. The master, perceiving their determined obstinacy,
turned round, without further remonstrance, and indignantly walked
away.

Relieved from our terrors, we now became intoxicated with joy. The
walls rang with repeated hurrahs! In the madness of enthusiasm, some
of the boys began to tear up the forms, throw the books about, break
the slates, locks, and cupboards, and act so outrageously that the
captain called them to order; not, however, before the master's desk
and drawers had been broken open, and every play thing which had been
taken from the scholars restored to its owner.

We now began to think of provisions. They were all placed on one
table and dealt out in rations by the Captains of each company. In the
meantime, we held a council of war, as we called it, to determine on
what was to be done.

In a recess at the east end of the school there stood a large oak
chest, black with age, whose heavy hinges had become corroded with
years of rust. It was known to contain the records and endowments of
the school; and, as we presumed, the regulations for the treatment of
the scholars. The oldest boy had never seen its inside. Attempts,
dictated by insatiable curiosity, had often been made to open it; but
it was deemed impregnable. It was guarded by three immense locks, and
each key was in the possession of different persons. The wood appeared
to be nearly half a foot thick, and every corner was plaited with
iron. All eyes were instinctively directed to this mysterious chest.
Could any means be devised for effecting an entrance? was the natural
question. We all proceeded to reconnoitre; we attempted to move it,
but in vain: we made some feeble efforts to force the lid; it was firm
as a block of marble. At length, one daring urchin brought, from the
fire-place, a red-hot poker, and began to bore through its sides. A
universal shout was given. Other pokers were brought, and to work they
went. The smoke and tremendous smell which the old wood sent forth
rather alarmed us. We were apprehensive that we might burn the records
instead of obtaining a copy of them. This arrested our progress for a
few minutes.

At this critical moment a shout was set up that the parson
and a constable was coming! Down went the pokers; and, as if
conscience-stricken, we were all seized with consternation. The
casement window was so shattered that it could easily be entered by
any resolute fellow. In the desperation of the moment we seized the
desks, forms, and stools to block it up; but, in some degree, our
courage had evaporated, and we felt reluctant to act on the offensive.
The old gentleman and his attendant deliberately inspected the windows
and fastenings: but, without making any attempt to enter, they
retreated for the purpose, we presumed, of obtaining additional
assistance. What was now to be done? The master appeared obdurate, and
we had gone too far to recede. Some proposed to drill a hole in the
window seat, fill it with gunpowder, and explode it if any one
attempted to enter. Others thought we had better prepare to set fire
to the school sooner than surrender unconditionally. But the majority
advised what was, perhaps, the most prudent resolution, to wait for
another attack; and, if we saw no hopes of sustaining a longer
defence, to make the best retreat we could.

The affair of the Barring Out had now become known, and persons began
to assemble round the windows, calling out that the master was coming
with assistance, and saying everything to intimidate us. Many of us
were completely jaded with the over-excitement we had experienced
since the previous evening. The school was hot, close, and full of
smoke. Some were longing for liberty and fresh air; and most of us
were now of opinion that we had engaged in an affair which it was
impossible to accomplish. In this state of mind we received another
visit from our dreaded master. With his stick he commenced a more
furious attack than before; and, observing us less turbulent, he
appeared determined to force his way in spite of the barricadoes. The
younger boys thought of nothing but flight and self-preservation, and
the rush to the back windows became general. In the midst of this
consternation our Captain exclaims, 'Let us not fly like cowards; if
we must surrender, let the gates of the citadel be thrown open: the
day is against us; but let us bravely face the enemy, and march out
with the honours of war.' Some few had already escaped; but the rest
immediately ranged themselves on each side of the school, in two
extended lines, with their weapons in hand. The door was thrown
open--the master instantly entered, and passed between the two lines,
denouncing vengeance on us all. But, as he marched in we marched out
in military order; and, giving three cheers, we dispersed into the
neighbouring fields.

We shortly met again, and, after a little consultation, it was
determined that none of the leaders should come to school until sent
for, and a free pardon given.

The defection, however, was so general that no corporal punishments
took place. Many of the boys did not return till after the holidays:
and several of the elder ones never entered the school again.

This curious custom can hardly be considered as dead, for a writer,
mentioning it in Notes and Queries for December 22, 1888 (7th
series, vi. p. 484), says: This old custom, strange to say, still
exists, in spite of the schoolmaster and the Board School. It may be
of interest to some of your readers if I give an extract from a letter
to the Dalston (Carlisle) School Board in reference to this subject,
received at their last meeting on December 7th. 'I would ask the
sanction of the Board for the closing of the school for the Vacation
on the evening of Thursday the 20th. If we open on the Friday we
shall, most likely, have a poor attendance. My principal reason for
asking is that we should be thus better able to effectually put a stop
to the old barbarous custom of Barring Out. Some of the children might
possibly be persuaded by outsiders to make the attempt on Friday, and
in such a case I should feel it my duty to inflict an amount of
castigation on offenders such as neither they nor myself would
relish.'

The majority of the Board sympathised with the Master's difficulty
and granted his request; though as Chairman I expressed my curiosity
to see the repetition of a custom I had heard so much about.





Next: The Bellman Descriptions Of Him

Previous: Commencement Of Christ-tide



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