At Christmas 1859, one of the 19th century's most celebrated headmasters suddenly, and for no obvious reason, resigned his job. The Rev. Charles Vaughan had taken charge at Harrow in 1845, when the school was close to collapse. There were just 69 boys on the roll (many of whom were seriously in debt to the local loan shark); even by Victorian standards the boys' lodgings were a health hazard, with not even a bathtub between them, still less a bathroom; the headmaster's house had burned down the year before, thanks to a fault in the new heating system ingeniously, but incompetently, improvised by the maths master. In less than fifteen years, Vaughan - who had been a favourite pupil of Thomas Arnold at Rugby - transformed the school, spiritually, sanitarily and commercially. He raised money for a fashionable chapel by George Gilbert Scott as well as new boarding houses, decently appointed and, from the mid-1850s, complete with water closets. He promoted an Arnoldian style of religious and moral education, centred on his own weekly sermon. And most important of all, for ultimately it was pupils' fees that underwrote the costs of the revolution, he attracted Harrow's old customers back: at one point during his reign there were 488 boys in the school. The success made Vaughan himself wealthy. A large proportion of what the boys paid went directly to the Head. By the late 1850s, his gross takings (before paying his assistant staff) were somewhere between £10,000 and £12,000 - making him, as Christopher Tyerman calculates, 'the equivalent of a modern millionaire'.
LRB 7 June 2001 | PDF Download