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“Rotten Effeminate Stuff”: Patriarchy, Domesticity, and Home in Victorian and Edwardian English Public Schools

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2019

Jane Hamlett*
Royal Holloway, University of London


During the nineteenth century, British public schools became increasingly important, turning out thousands of elite young men. Historians have long recognized the centrality of these institutions to modern British history and to understandings of masculinity in this era. While studies of universities and clubs have revealed how fundamental the rituals and everyday life of institutions were to the creation of masculinity, public schools have not been subjected to the same scrutiny. Approaches to date have emphasized the schools’ roles in distancing boys from the world of the home, domesticity, femininity, and women. Focusing on three case-study schools, Winchester College, Charterhouse, and Lancing College, this article offers a reassessment of the relationship between home and school in the Victorian and Edwardian period and contributes to the growing literature on forms of masculine domesticity in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the reformed public schools, the ideal of the patriarchal household was often essential, and in producing it, the presence of significant women—the wives of headmasters and housemasters—could be vital. The schools also worked to create a specifically masculine form of domesticity through boys’ performance of mundane domestic tasks in the “fagging” system, which was often imagined in terms of the chivalric service ideal. Letters from the period show how the everyday worlds of school and home remained enmeshed, revealing the distinctive nature of family relationships forged by the routine of presence and absence that public schools created.

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Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2019 

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The research for this article was supported by an Economic and Social Research Grant for the project At Home in the Institution: Asylum, School and Lodging House Interiors in London and South East England, 1845–1914. I am very grateful to colleagues and friends who read and commented on the article, including Michele Cohen, Stephanie Olsen, Hannah Platts, and David Wilson, and to the editors and anonymous reviewers of the Journal of British Studies. I would also like to express my thanks to the college archivists who have provided help and advice, in particular Suzanne Foster and Catherine Smith.


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53 Sabben-Clare, Winchester, 8–10.

54 While the hardy masculinity of Tom Brown is often discussed, less attention has been paid to the novel's representation of women and femininity, which is also important. For a discussion of the role of Mrs. Arnold in the transformation of Tom's character, see Hughes, Thomas, Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857; repr., London, 1997), 180–83Google Scholar. For a discussion of the contemporary significance of the less-read second half of the novel, which takes a stronger moral tone than the first half, see Patrick Scott, “The School and the Novel: Tom Brown's Schooldays,” in Simon and Bradley, The Victorian Public School, 34–57.

55 Tod, Charterhouse, 91.

56 Mrs. Haig Brown's Albums, Charterhouse School Archive, ACC/0118/1-25.

57 Geoffrey Polson to his mother, 16 October 1904, Charterhouse School Archive, ACC/0300/5.

58 Frank Lucas to his father, 23 November 1891, Winchester College Archive (henceforth WCA), G14/31.

59 Pupils at Winchester College were divided into “scholars” (who had some financial support to attend the school) and “commoners” (whose fees were paid by parents or friends). Historically, the two sets of pupils lived in different places, and this separation continued in the nineteenth century as a series of houses were built for the commoners while the scholars continued to live together in a set of older buildings known as “Chambers.” Effectively, “Chambers” functioned like a large house with the college's second master at the helm, although the spaces that the boys lived in were more ad hoc than the newly built houses, and sleeping and studying might take place in the same room.

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103 Bramford, 132.

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119 1891 England, Wales and Scotland Census (Streatham, 1891).

120 Frank Lucas to his father, 27 September 1891, WCA, G14/13.

121 Frank Lucas to his father, 27 November 1891, WCA, G14/32.

122 Frank Lucas to his father, 25 September 1891, WCA, G14/12.

123 Frank Lucas to his father, 10 March 1892, WCA, G14/54; 23 March 1892, WCA, G14/58; 6 October 1892, WCA, G14/75.

124 Frank Lucas to his father, WCA, G14/75; 6 October 1895, WCA, G14/177.

125 Frank Lucas to his father, 28 January 1896, WCA, G14/190.

126 Frank Lucas to his father, 16 November 1892, WCA, G14/77; 5 May 1895, WCA, G14/167.

127 Frank Lucas to his father, undated [ca. October 1896], WCA, G15/218.

128 Wiccamicis, Passing of Old Winchester, 4.

129 Diary of Sam Brooke, 21 April 1862, Corpus Christi College Archives, 498 (1).

130 Benson, My Memoirs, 54; Sir Henry Leveson Gower, Off and On the Field (London, 1953), 21.

131 Memoirs of R. E. Grice-Hutchinson, 1902–3, Charterhouse School Archive, 180/2/3.

132 Waugh, Evelyn, A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography (London, 1973), 9596Google Scholar.

133 Frank Lucas to his sisters Rosamond and Phyllis, 24 September 1891, WCA, G14/11.

134 Frank Lucas to his sisters Rosamond and Phyllis, 19 September 1891, WCA, G14/5.

135 Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 1 October 1891, WCA, G14/16.

136 Frank Lucas to his mother, 24 September 1893, WCA, G14/92.

137 Frank Lucas to his mother, 18 January 1896, WCA, G14/186; Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 13 February 1896, WCA, G14/193.

138 1901 England, Wales and Scotland Census (Streatham, 1901).

139 1901 England, Wales and Scotland Census.

140 Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 4 November 1891, WCA, G14/27; 31 January 1892, WCA, G14/40.

141 Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 1 October 1891, WCA, G14/16.

142 Frank Lucas to his mother, 17 March 1895, WCA, G14/162; Frank Lucas to his father, 28 January 1896, WCA, G14/190.

143 Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 26 January 1894, WCA, G14/110; 12 March 1895, WCA, G14/160; 10 October 1895, WCA, G14/178; undated [ca. October 1895], WCA, G14/179.

144 Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 10 February 1896, WCA, G14/192.

145 Frank Lucas to his mother, 23 February 1896, WCA, G14/195.

146 Frank Lucas to his mother, 4 October 1891, WCA, G14/17.

147 Frank Lucas to his mother and father, 17 September 1891, WCA, G14/2.

148 Frank Lucas to his mother, 30 October 1891, WCA, G14/25.

149 Frank Lucas to his mother, 2 February 1892, WCA, G14/41.

150 George Scott to his sister, 21 May 1864, WCA, G84/7.

151 Frank Lucas to his sisters, 19 September 1891, WCA, G14/5.

152 Graves, Robert, Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (London, 1929), 64Google Scholar.

153 Geoffrey Polson to his mother, 27 November 1904, Charterhouse School Archive, ACC/0300/11.

154 Frank Lucas to his mother, 28 January 1892, WCA, G14/38; Frank Lucas to his sister, 31 January 1892, WCA, G14/40.

155 Frank Lucas to his mother, 2 February 1892, WCA, G14/41.

156 Frank Lucas to his mother, 2 February 1892, WCA, G14/41.

157 Frank Lucas to his mother, [October 1896], WCA, G14/235.

158 Pontoppidan, Henrik, Emanuel or Children of the Soil, from the Danish of Henrik Pontoppidan, by Mrs. Lucas, Edgar, trans. Mrs. Lucas, Edgar (London, 1896)Google Scholar; Pontoppidan, Henrik, The Promised Land, from the Danish of Henrik Pontoppidan by Mrs. Edgar Lucas, trans. Mrs. Lucas, Edgar (London, 1896)Google Scholar.

159 Frank Lucas to his mother, 26 October 1893, WCA, G14/104.

160 Frank Lucas to his mother, 13 November 1894, WCA, G14/148.

161 Frank Lucas to his mother, 15 November 1894, WCA, G14/149.

162 Frank Lucas to his mother, 1 April 1895, WCA, G14/163.

163 Frank Lucas to his father, 6 October 1892, WCA, G14/75.

164 Frank Lucas to his sister Rosamond, 15 November 1891, WCA, G14/29.

165 Frank Lucas to his mother, 20 September 1895, WCA, G14/173.

166 Frank Lucas to his mother, 22 September 1895, WCA, G14/174.

167 Frank Lucas to his mother, undated [probably 16 October 1895], WCA, G14/181; 18 October 1865, WCA, G14/182; 20 October 1895, WCA, G14/183.

168 Letter from Frank Lucas to his mother, 16 October 1895, WCA, G14/181.

169 Frank Lucas to his mother, undated [1895–96], WCA, G14/202.

170 C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Memories and Letters (London, 1931)

171 Undated letters written by G. R. Snow to parents and siblings, WCA, G122/1/6/31-33.

172 G. R. Snow to his mother, 19 November [ca. 1911–15], WCA, G122/1/6/19.

173 G. R. Snow to his mother, undated [ca. 1911–15], WCA, G122/1/6/58.

174 Waugh, A Little Learning, 103.

175 Waugh, 102.

176 Waugh, 103.

177 Montague John Rendall, Winchester's headmaster between 1911 and 1924, appears to have been a divisive and eccentric figure, liked by some but not by others. Sabben-Clare, Winchester, 10. Cecil H. King, who was at the school during the First World War, criticized Rendall for his distant attitude toward the boys. King, Strictly Personal, 29. After Haig Brown, the Charterhouse headmasters also seem to have been more distant. Grice Hutchinson, a pupil in the 1900s, claimed not to have exchanged more than six words with the headmaster during his six years at the school. Memoirs of R. E. Grice Hutchinson, 1898–1904, Charterhouse School Archive, 1/8. Augustine Courtauld, who was at the school just after the First World War, recalls speaking to Frank Fletcher only twice during his stint there. Courtauld, Augustine, Man the Ropes (London, 1957), 24Google Scholar.

178 For further discussion, see Olsen, Stephanie, Juvenile Nation: Youth, Emotions and the Making of the Modern British Citizen, 1880–1914 (London, 2014), 164–69Google Scholar.

179 See Graves, Good-Bye to All That. In the preface to a collection of essays on school experience published in 1934, Graham Greene was convinced that the public-school system was doomed and would either disappear or be radically overhauled. The essays in the collection take critical perspectives on the school experiences of various writers in the early twentieth century. Greene, Graham, ed., preface to The Old School: Essays by Divers Hands (London, 1934), 67Google Scholar.

180 “Obituary,” Wykehamist, no. 593, 21 May 1920, 470.

181 “Obituary.”