It is to Antoine Pyron du Martre, best known by his adopted name of Mark Anthony Porny, that the parish has most reason to be grateful. He was born at Caen in Normandy, and came from France in 1754 when a young man of twenty-three. After a severe struggle to maintain himself, he settled down as French Master in Eton in 1773, and occupied this position for thirty-three years.
It seems that about 1790, steps were taken by Provost Roberts to establish a Charity and Sunday School for the children of the parish. A committee of twenty-two was appointed and subscriptions were collected, which enabled the good work to be carried on in a small way from year to year. This was the first attempt, since the College was founded, to give the children of the poor a religious and elementary education, and Mark Anthony Porny was much interested in it; but few knew how great his interest was, or anticipated his noble intentions.
It is, however, pleasant to learn that his worth of character was otherwise recognized, and that, towards the end of his life, he was appointed by George III. one of the Poor Knights of Windsor, and on his death in 1802 was buried on the south side of St. George's Chapel, where his grave is still to be seen with its Latin inscription.
By the hard work of teaching and writing school books, he managed to put by about £4000, and on his death it was found that " in gratitude for the little property he had acquired in this free and generous kingdom he had bequeathed the bulk of it upon trust unto the Treasurer of the Charity and Sunday School established in Eton in the County of Bucks, to be applied by the Trustees or Committee or by whatsoever name they may be designated for the time being, towards carrying out the laudable and useful designs of its institution. Mr. Charles Knight, Printer and Bookseller of New Windsor, was appointed his executor. There was some delay in carrying out this bequest, in consequence of a lawsuit instituted by some distant French relatives, and meantime the money was out at interest and had become worth £8250. But at last the plaintiffs were defeated in their attempt to upset the will, and in 1813 steps were taken to build a Master and Mistress's house, now known as 129A and B High Street, with two schoolrooms behind which now serve as the Parish Room.¹
The ideas of suitable school accommodation were much more limited than in these times, but, in the local press of the day, they are described as " neat and convenient buildings, in conformity with plans submitted to the Court of Chancery." They were built by contract for £1723 by Mr. Tebbott of Windsor.
The school was opened on April 26, 1813, the management of it being vested in the Provost and Fellows and eight other inhabitants of the parish, who were called Porny Trustees.
After paying the cost of building, there still remained an endowment of £5200, the interest of which enabled the Porny Trustees to give a free education to ninety children. According to the old rules these scholars were elected from the Sunday schools, being the children of parishioners of Eton, born in wedlock, having been not less than one year in the Sunday school, and regular and punctual in their attendance.²
The Porny Trustees used to meet on the first Tuesday in each month except during the holidays. Every Porny scholar who reached the age of 14, and left school with a good character, received a Bible and Prayer Book.
1 A board bearing an inscription is still over the archway leading to the Parish Room.
2 The school hours in those days were in summer 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., in winter 9 a.m. to 12 noon and 1.30 p.m. to 4 a.m. On Sunday's 8.30 a.m. and in the afternoon 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., or 6 p.m. in summer.
This is an extract from Old Days of Eton Parish by The Rev. John Shephard originally published by Spottiswoode and Co., Ltd. in 1908.
Read Arthur Mylam's memories of Eton Porny School here.