Winchester College has never had a headmaster famed for flogging. Distinction in that regard is contested by Westminster and Eton: the former boasting Dr Busby, who flogged 16 future bishops while they were under his care, and the latter Dr Keate, who, it is said, flogged 30 boys in one session before discovering that they were his confirmation class expecting to be catechised in matters of the faith.

Winchester has for the most part relied not on the severity of magisterial punishment for its discipline but on the solidity of its system of life – though, it has to be recognised, not always with great success. Dr Joseph Warton, for example, was a gentle scholar and poet who lost control of the school and was forced to resign. His successor 40 years later, Dr Moberly, invented the newfangled “headmaster’s birching”, a Victorian reform which in the end ensured the general odium of the school community.

But Dr Goddard, who could send a boy flying with a box on the ear, but forgave and was forgiven instantly, ruled moderately and effectively. Winchester’s system influenced his pupil Thomas Arnold, who, famous as he became as the first headmaster of Rugby, was Goddard’s inferior as a classical scholar and cribbed most of what he did at Rugby from Goddard’s Winchester.

Winchester was a spartan place when Goddard was a boy in the school. Even half a century later, Dr Moberly could describe his own boyhood as “rough”. He recalled that “delicate boys could not bear it, and I only managed to stand the life by being excused Morning Hills and compulsory cricket.”

You got a scholarship by family or personal connection, not by any potential for scholarly distinction. Increasingly fees had to be paid by parents to augment the limited emoluments of the headmaster and the second master, excluding the really poor boy of promise, whom patronage at its best encourages. It was the inability to pay these dues, and the consequent scorn of his peers, that broke Anthony Trollope’s heart at Winchester, and determined his poverty-stricken father to remove him.

Life was tough for the masters too. It is difficult to exaggerate the burdens of teaching at Winchester, understaffed and underfunded, when Goddard took up the headmastership in 1793. Attitudes were extraordinarily provincial. It is difficult, too, to comprehend the snobbery Goddard suffered as a non-New College man in those days: the poor man had only been at Merton. And Moberly was a despicable Balliol man. Heaven knows what they’d have made of me, a Lincoln man via Keble, a Catholic and an Australian – whatever next?

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