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


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


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.

Carol For St Stephen's Day Christ-tide Carols facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail