The Warden ~ London Reading Group Introduction

The London Reading Group met to discuss The Warden on Wednesday 3rd May 2023. Dr Sati McKenzie introduced the discussion and has kindly agreed for her talk to be published below.

The Warden

by Anthony Trollope, published January 1855

I’ll start with a brief recap of the plot and Trollope’s attitude to change as compared to his contemporaries. Then a quick summary of the political climate in 19th C England, the challenges to the established church and the pressure for reform.

Trollope drew upon two contemporary scandals which involved the Anglican church – the Rochester Cathedral Grammar School and Hospital of St Cross, Winchester. We’ll have a look at those and then finish on a lighter note. A short passage from the novel describing a fiercely fought battle at the warden’s tea party, where the archdeacon emerged triumphant.

The Plot

The Warden is Trollope’s fourth novel, published in January 1855. His first two books were set in Ireland while the third, La Vendée was set in 18th century revolutionary France. This is the first of the Barchester series. It introduces the location, characters and life in the cathedral city, setting the scene for the rest of the series.

We see the cathedral community struggling to cope with change, as cherished traditions are being questioned and the authority of the Anglican church and the sanctity of ecclesiastical revenues are under attack. The characters react in different ways – sadness and dismay, defiance, acceptance and even active support of reform.

Central to the plot is Hiram’s Hospital – established in the 15th Century, from property left by Hiram, a wool trader, to support 12 wool carders in their old age. They get their room and board and an allowance of 1s 4d per day. Septimus Harding, the warden, is responsible for looking after them for £800 pa plus house. He is also Precentor of cathedral, friend of the bishop and father in law of the Bishop’s son, the archdeacon Grantly. His younger daughter Eleanor still lives with him.

The income from the trust has increased over the centuries, as has the warden’s salary, but the bedesmen still get the same amount. The rest of the income is retained by the church. It is not entirely clear who manages the charitable trust, but it is implied that the bishop has final responsibility as constitutional visitor.

This arrangement is challenged by John Bold, rich son of a Barchester doctor and a doctor himself. He feels that Hiram’s wishes are not being carried out and that the beneficiaries should get a bigger share of the income; he starts a campaign to redress this. The case is taken up by Tom Towers, the editor of The Jupiter (representing The Times). Articles appear in the press, critical of the cathedral clergy and the warden.

We have two warring factions: the church militant led by the archdeacon, supported by Chadwick the steward, lawyers Cox & Cummins, barrister Abraham Haphazard and reluctantly by the bishop and Mr Harding.

Opposing them are the reformers – John Bold, Tom Towers and their lawyer Finney who persuades nine of the bedesmen to sign a petition to the bishop asking for what they believe is their due.

Caught in the crossfire is Eleanor Harding, who loves John Bold and is loved by him, though nothing formal has been said between them.

The archdeacon rejects the petition as groundless. Mr Harding is much distressed by all the criticism and press articles; he is not sure that he has a moral right to the salary and feels he ought to resign, but is taken to task by the archdeacon who tells him to be loyal to his church. He goes to London in secret to consult Sir Abraham Haphazard. But he is not convinced by the barrister’s arguments and sends in his resignation to the bishop in defiance of his son-in-law.

Eleanor meanwhile decides to strike a blow for her father. She will persuade John Bold to drop the case, then sacrifice her future happiness by rejecting him. She is compared to heroines from ancient history – Iphigenia in the Trojan war, who faces death at the altar to ensure victory for her father and the Greeks. Another is Jephthah’s daughter (an OT character, inadvertently sacrificed by her father after his victory over the Ammonites).

Eleanor succeeds in persuading John to give up his campaign, but under pressure from him and his sister Mary, she admits her love and tacitly accepts him. Here Trollope recalls Lydia Languish (Sheridan’s The Rivals); Lydia, impelled by her romantic nature, gets engaged to a Captain Beverley believing him to be a poor half pay soldier. She then discovers he is actually the rich suitor her friends want her to marry, and is most annoyed at not being able to sacrifice herself to a poor man.

Eleanor’s sacrifice too comes to nothing. Mr Harding exchanges the hospital for a small benefice in Cuthbert Parva, retaining the precentorship; Eleanor marries John with her father’s approval and provides a second home for him. The archdeacon is reconciled. Everyone is happy except the bedesmen who have lost their warden, get less money than before and gradually die of old age. The hospital is neglected and goes to rack and ruin.

Charity reform

Trollope, though a shrewd critic of the times, was against change. He disapproved of the reforms and reformers. In his opinion, A time-honoured abuse is frequently less bad than its remedy. Critics have found fault with Trollope’s inconsistency in criticising the press – its dominance, influence and lack of accountability while absolving the established church from the same faults. In Chapter 15 he attacks Dr Pessimist Anticant for his pamphlet ‘Modern Charity’, a satirical retelling of the history of Hiram and his hospital. He is also scathing about Mr Popular Sentiment and his new novel The Almshouse published in shilling numbers; the first instalment has just appeared. These are savage parodies of Carlyle and Dickens, their political views, literary style and content.

Trollope is critical of Dickens’s writing, his style, characters and his habit of trying to convince his readers by monthly numbers rather than learned quartos. However, we notice that he sometimes adopts Dickens’s ways: his characters have names like Abraham Haphazard and Mr. Quiverful, not to mention Philgrave, Chaffenbrass, Slow and Bideawhile. And, several of his novels were published in instalments. The Duke’s Children appeared in All the Year Round, a magazine edited by Dickens.

Dickens was a serious social reformer and a champion of the poor. The Rochester case was reported in his magazine Household Words (The History of a Certain Grammar School by Theodore Buckley, a friend of Dickens). The Hospital of St Cross is the setting for one of his Christmas Stories, The Seven Poor Travelers. He leaves us in no doubt as to his views. It has been suggested that his last novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood (left unfinished in 1870) was inspired by Trollope’s success with his Barchester series.

Despite these differences, their friendship was quite cordial, and Dickens even published The Duke’s Children in All the Year Round. They mainly saw each other at literary functions where occasionally they would speak on the same platform.

Moving on, 19th century England was in a state of flux – political, social and economic. There were many reasons: the cost of the Napoleonic wars and consequent economic hardship, advances in science and engineering, the Industrial Revolution and of course, Darwin’s book On The Origin of Species and Natural Selection. There was an influx of new ideas from Europe advocating modern structures and institutions. There was a call for a more rational approach to government, based on measurement & accountability. This extended to the established church and associated charities.

The authority of the Anglican church was challenged by dissenters (Wesleyans, Unitarians, Methodists, Quakers), freethinkers, atheists. The Oxford movement (Tractarians) went the other way – closer to Rome. The majority of the population in Wales was non-conformist, Scotland had its Presbyterian church; the Irish population was mostly RC and resented the established church. Several bills were enacted to address the Church’s position within the state, as well as giving increasing rights – civil, military, political and educational to other religious groups including Jews and even atheists. This left the Anglicans feeling threatened and vulnerable. High profile scandals didn’t help.

Rochester Cathedral School

The Rochester Cathedral School was established in 1542, endowed with the estates of the old 7th century monastery and church; this was in the time of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, the dissolution of the monasteries.

There was provision for – a dean and 6 prebendaries; also six bedesmen to be looked after in their old age, a school for 20 poor boys (tuition and maintenance plus £2 5s 6d pa) and a schoolmaster. Four of these pupils would go on to Oxbridge scholarships at a stipend of £5 pa for the first four years of study, further increased if they stayed on. The number of pupils was later increased to 40.

In 1838, it was discovered that the schoolroom was empty, but the master was still being paid. He resigned in 1841 and Robert Whiston was appointed in 1844 at a salary of £150 pa. The school flourished under his leadership. He was dynamic, self-made, devoted to the school and his pupils.

Whiston campaigned for an increase in the stipends paid to scholars in line with inflation. This was flatly refused by dean and chapter as it was not an explicit requirement under the terms of the endowment; the bishop refused to hear the case and referred him to the chancery court notorious for its delays. Whiston produced a pamphlet (Cathedral Trusts) with details and statistics from the Ecclesiastical Commission:

Salary increases over three centuries (factor of 150 for 2020):

  • Dean £100 increased to £1426
  • Prebendaries £20 increased to £680
  • Minor Canons £10 increased to £30
  • Headmaster £13,6s increased to £150
  • Gross receipts pa £821, £7044.
  • Spent on grammar school/pupils £99 increased to £126 13s
  • Retained by Dean £220 increased to £5,572

Then there were other dubious practices:

  • Oxbridge Scholarships reduced to two; the selection of candidates was often delayed for a year till scholars reached the age of 20, too old to qualify; they then became available to the children of the clergy.
  • A classical curriculum was taught, not deemed practical enough by working class parents, the places allocated to middle class children, friends of the clergy.
  • Support for the bedesmen abandoned 1774
  • Land leased for low rents, lump sum ‘fines’ charged at renewal and retained by the church.

When all this came out, Whiston was sacked by the dean, but the press (including the magazine Punch) took up the case, then parliament got involved. The case was shunted between Dean and chapter, the Bishop and Chancery; eventually a compromise verdict was reached in 1852. Whiston was reinstated (but his unpaid salary not reimbursed), the administration’s fault was grudgingly admitted, the stipends increased. Whiston continued till 1877, campaigning to the end. He died in 1895, to the sound of the cathedral choir singing Purcell’s O Give Thanks. Coincidence, I am sure.

The Hospital of St Cross

The Hospital of St Cross was founded in the 12th Century by Henry of Blois (grandson of William the Conquerer, brother of Stephen). He was a monk, soldier and politician, bishop of Winchester. The hospital was meant to house and support 13 old men and provide a further 100 meals for the poor every day. The hospital was endowed with land, mills and farms, providing food and drink. As the water was unfit for drinking, there was plenty of ale and beer. The almshouse was added in the 15th century.

Fast Forward to the 19th Century

  • Rev Francis North, the master of St Cross, appointed 1808; son of the Bishop of Winchester and nephew of Frederick, Lord North, prime minister under George III. His salary was £2,000 pa, compared to the cost of running the hospital (£1,000 pa).
  • He had control of the land and used the usual trick of keeping the rent well below market rates and charging a ‘fine’ every time the lease was renewed, and pocketed that. In 1843 – lease of Crondale was renewed for a rent of about £6 pa (market value £2,000 pa), with a fine of £13,000, the master receiving £10,700. Estimated that he had made a profit of £300,000 over the 40 years.

He held numerous other salaried benefices given to him by his father, employing curates to do the work. His appointment at the hospital was ‘temporal’, so involved no clerical duties or ‘cure of souls’, a common trick to avoid the charge of pluralism. He later became Earl of Guilford and inherited even more assets.

A campaign was launched in 1849 by Rev Henry Holloway, a retired clergyman living at St Faith’s Parish. St Faith’s didn’t have its own church, but was attached to St Cross for religious services. The tithes paid by the parishioners went to St Cross, but they received nothing in return, not even their own curate. The Rev Holloway found out that Francis North had maintained up until 1845 that his appointment did not involve clerical duties, but now claimed the opposite. The national press had a field day. Parliament launched an investigation. The earl argued that he had a right to the surplus revenues after he had paid what was required to run the hospital. He was following established practice. Both true enough. He also contended that the case was outside the remit of the Chancery and only the bishop as visitor had jurisdiction. We can assume the bishop was on his side.

The inquiry ruled against him. Changes were made to the administration of the hospital. The warden’s salary was reduced to a modest £250 pa and included clerical duties, but only after the present master retired (which he did in 1855). A nominal repayment was required for past years, just under £4000, nowhere near the £300,000 he had appropriated over his tenure. The system of fines was abolished, and leases had to be for less than 21 years. Fifteen trustees were appointed to oversee the hospital. So the publicity generated by these scandals did result in some good.

But enough of reform; let us finish with another battle, just as serious, at the warden’s soirée. The assembled guests have had their tea and cake, the music has started and dancing is in full swing. But, we are told:

another combat arises, more sober and more serious. The archdeacon is engaged against two prebendaries, a full-blown rector assisting him, in all the perils and all the enjoyments of short whist. With solemn energy do they watch the shuffled pack, and, all-expectant, eye the coming trump. With what anxious nicety do they arrange their cards, jealous of each other’s eyes! Why is that lean doctor so slow,—cadaverous man with hollow jaw and sunken eye, ill beseeming the richness of his mother church! Ah, why so slow, thou meagre doctor? See how the archdeacon, speechless in his agony, deposits on the board his cards, and looks to heaven or to the ceiling for support. Hark, how he sighs, as with thumbs in his waistcoat pocket he seems to signify that the end of such torment is not yet even nigh at hand! Vain is the hope, if hope there be, to disturb that meagre doctor.

With care precise he places every card, weighs well the value of each mighty ace, each guarded king, and comfort-giving queen; speculates on knave and ten, counts all his suits, and sets his price upon the whole. At length a card is led, and quick three others fall upon the board. The little doctor leads again, while with lustrous eye his partner absorbs the trick. Now thrice has this been done,—thrice has constant fortune favoured the brace of prebendaries, ere the archdeacon rouses himself to the battle; at the fourth assault he pins to the earth a prostrate king, laying low his crown and sceptre, bushy beard, and lowering brow, with a poor deuce.


… and so the game goes on;  at the end of the evening, we are told, the archdeacon pleasantly jingled his gains.