Monday 21 November 2022


In 1695 Dr. Godolphin became Provost and Rector. He was noted for his liberality. The College owes to him the statue of the Founder which stands in the Schoolyard, and the parish is indebted to him, as the Table of Benefactors in the Church porch informs us, for having " built alms-houses at his sole expense, on ground held by lease under the Dean and Canons of Windsor, for the reception of ten poor women, to be appointed by the Provost of Eton." This has proved of great value to many a hard-working woman and secures a comfortable home and freedom from care in old age.

Part also of the property held by the Eton Poor Estate, viz, the close at Eton Wick called Wheat Butts, was purchased by the help of his gift of £50, added to a legacy left by Dr. Heaver, and other money.

It appears also that he subscribed £I,000 towards a fund for altering and re-arranging the Church, " so that the children of the Schole (the Eton boys we now call them) may appear under one view, and likewise that all the people of the parish may be so conveniently seated as to hear with ease all the public offices of the Church, which at present by reason of their number, and the ill disposition of the place, they cannot possibly do." The said alterations seem to have been affected with miserably bad taste, and most signs of them have long disappeared, but at any rate the intentions were good.

A few more particulars about the Eton Poor Estate may be of interest. This Trust seems to have been originated early in the seventeenth century with certain legacies, left for the benefit of the poor, by Fellows of the College. John Chambers left £40, Adam Robyns £20, Matthew Page £40, with which sums two houses were bought in Thames Street, Windsor, and are still the property of the Trust. In 1685 land was purchased at Langley Marish with £20 bequeathed by Robert Allestree, £20 by John Rosewell, and £50 by Mr. Searles.

Further additions were made to the Trust under the will of Dr. Heaver, who left £50 specially for the purpose of apprenticing boys, and Provost Godolphin added to this another £50. Out of this Trust, besides apprenticeships to boys, and clothes for girls entering service, a substantial sum is now contributed annually towards the maintenance of the District Nurse, and towards a few old-age pensions.

The generosity of the above benefactors encouraged others to follow in their steps, and these, although belonging to a somewhat later date, may be conveniently chronicled in this chapter. In 1729 a certain John Bateman left £100, to be spent in the purchase of lands or tenements for the benefit of the poor of Eton. This was carried out in 1733, and the rent is annually received by the overseers, and expended in March. By the will of Joseph Benwell, who died in 1773, £150 was left to the poor, to be disposed of at the discretion of the Baldwin Bridge Trustees. A little later, 1787, an old parishioner, Joseph Pote, who had taken great interest in the Trust and its records, left to the same trustees £50 to be put out to interest, and the proceeds distributed by equal portions in bread twice a year, on the first Sundays after the 29th of March and the 7th of November, " to each poor parishioner who shall attend divine service, if not disabled therefrom by distress, age or other incident." The will further directs " that on each of those days the tooth Psalm with the Gloria Patri be then sung by the congregation and poor attending this, as a thankful acknowledgment of peculiar instances of divine protection at those periods and other parts of my life."

For a long time the terms of the will were literally complied with, and the bread was brought to the Chapel for distribution. Since 1855 the Bridge Master has had the distribution carried out at the houses of the poor. 

At a later date still, in 1810, Provost Davies left £700 in 3 per cent reduced, for apprenticing two boys annually at £10 guineas each, and he also bequeathed £1000, the interest to be divided into four portions of £7 10s. and to be given yearly as pensions to two men and two women of sixty years of age. He further left £500, of which the interest was to be devoted to the almswomen.

All these gifts however were eclipsed by a bequest of greater importance still.

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 £8,250. 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.

The latter custom still survives, but in a later page some serious changes forced on the Trustees by altered circumstances will have to be recorded. 

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 to 12 and 2 to 5, in winter 9 to 12 and 1.30 to 4. On Sundays 8.30 a.m. and in the afternoon 2 to 5, or 6 in summer. 

OLD DAYS OF ETON PARISH by The Rev. John Shephard, M.A. was published in 1908 by Spottiswoode and Co Ltd. The text is has been copied from the original book that is now out of copyright.

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