Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.

On 26 June 1860, the cornerstone of School House was laid by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.

The ceremonial silver trowel used on this occasion by the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was later used by the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury at the laying of the cornerstone of the Carrington Buildings and Westcott Art School on 8 December 1909, having in the intervening years been stolen and recovered from a London pawn shop and presented back to the School in 1895 by Headmaster Rev. Canon F.B. Westcott.

School House was designed by the architect William Slater (1819-1872) and built by John Guppy of Sherborne for an initial cost of about £5,000, and was the first purpose-built boarding accommodation at Sherborne School.  The original design included a covered walk-way linking School House with the studies (now the Headmaster’s building), but this was never realised.  William Slater’s impact as an architect on Sherborne School and town has been significant.  Not only was he responsible for the restoration of the Abbey choir but he also designed the east wing extension to the Almshouse, the Digby Mausoleum in Sherborne Cemetery, the Yeatman Hospital, and the Digby Hotel.  At Sherborne School he designed not only the School House, but also the western extension to the chapel and the English block.

Original design for School House, including a covered walk way joining School House with the studies, that was never built.

The original design for School House, including the covered walk way linking School House with the studies that was never realised.

H.D. Harper, Headmaster of Sherborne School 1850-1877

H.D. Harper, Headmaster of Sherborne School 1850-1877

From 1560 to 1860, the School’s Headmasters had lived in the east end of Sherborne Abbey in the converted former Lady Chapel.  In 1850, Hugo Daniel Harper was appointed Headmaster and almost as soon as he arrived he expressed his dissatisfaction with the accommodation provided for himself and the boys.  In 1857, Harper wrote to one of the School Governors, George Digby Wingfield Digby of Sherborne Castle, “Upon my first acquaintance with the school, it was, I think, in every way behind the age.”  Mr Digby’s solution was in 1860 to purchase from the School the Headmaster’s house for £3,000 and restore it to the Abbey.

The purchase money from the sale of the former Lady Chapel was put towards the cost of building a new private house for the Headmaster, with day rooms and dormitories.  The new dormitory buildings were to be upwards of 150 feet in length, and three storeys high.  With a library, day room, linen and bath rooms on the ground floor and dormitories on the other two storeys.  The Headmaster’s private house would have a dining room, drawing room with bay window, a study, entrance hall, porch and offices on the ground floor, with bed rooms on the first and second floors.  The building was to be built using Sherborne stone, with the windows, doors, and quoins being of Ham Hill stone.  The windows were to be of a simple perpendicular character, with two to four lights.  It was agreed that ‘The completion of these buildings will render the King’s School both for convenience and beauty, one of the finest scholastic structures of the country, and the group of edifices formed by it is conjunction with the magnificent Abbey, will present a noble and picturesque appearance, rarely equalled.’

An account of the ceremony appeared in The Sherborne Mercury, 3 July 1860:

‘The interesting ceremony of laying the corner stone of the new buildings, for which the Governors of the School are indebted to the munificence of George D. Wingfield Digby, Esq., took place on Tuesday morning last [26 June 1860].  The large-hearted and liberal-minded owner of Sherborne Castle and its beautiful domain, seems desirous to leave nothing undone that can in any way conduce to the benefit of Sherborne, or contribute to the comfort of its inhabitants.  He is willing to save his heirs and executors the trouble of carrying out his benevolent plans.  With Mr Digby the help runs parallel with the need.  Does the beautiful Abbey bear only in part evidence of the munificence of his late uncle? – the nephew, upon succeeding to his large possessions, completes the restoration by princely contribution; and on Tuesday last the inhabitants of Sherborne were once more called to witness an act of liberality, which will carry his name and memory down to posterity as a patron and friend to their noble Grammar School, founded by King Edward the 6th.  The weather, which for its tendency to wet had become almost a proverb, was on this memorable occasion, with the exception of rather a troublesome wind, and one brief but sharp shower, all that the authorities of the school could wish.  The announcement that the ceremony would be honoured by the presence of the noble Earl of Shaftesbury, her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of the County, of the Visitor, the Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, and the Diocesan, the Lord Bishop of Salisbury, drew together a large number of the most influential gentry of the neighbourhood, as well as many of the clergy.  And if the occasion was honoured by the attendance of three members of the House of Lords, we can truly say that it was also graced by the presence of many fair ladies, whose dresses of varied colours and bright and cheerful faces added very much to the animated character of the ceremony.  Flags were displayed from the Abbey Church tower and other buildings, and the bells sent forth their richest melody.  The scene in the quadrangle during the time while the foundation stone was being laid, as seen from the steps leading to the school-room was beautiful and picturesque in the extreme.  We most heartily congratulate the Governors of the School, and its most excellent Head Master, whose praises are sounded from everybody’s mouth, on the sure prospect of the school being made more efficient by affording more space for the comfort and convenience of the teachers and the taught.  This school, under Mr Harper’s rule, aided by well-selected gentlemen as his assistants, has risen very high in public estimation, and has a name at our seats at Oxford and Cambridge, of which all concerned in his government may well be proud.  This feeling seems to have had a large share in the minds of all who took an active part in the ceremonies of the day and added much to the deeply important and interesting proceedings which we now proceed to detail.

Among those whom we noticed present were the Right Hon. The Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Lieutenant of the county; G.D. Wingfield Digby, Esq., (High Sheriff), the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol (Visitor of the School), the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Salisbury, Sir W.C. Medlycott, Bart., R. Wingfield Baker, Es., Dr W. Highmore (Warden of the School), Ven. Archdeacon Gunning, Col. Harness, C.B., M.S. Yeatman, Esq., Col. Rickards, Col. Mathias, Capt. Falwasser, Capt. Smith, W. Medlycott, Esq., Fitzroy Somerset, Esq., H. King, Esq., N. Highmore, Esq., W. Ffooks, Esq., T. Ffooks, Esq., J.G. Berman, Esq., R. Willmott, Esq., H.J. Rawlinson, Esq., E. Fussell, Esq., J.Y. Melmouth, Es.q, R. Longman, Esq., W. Parsons, Esq., J. Hoddinott, Esq., T.O. Stevens, Esq., H. Tuson, Esq., Dr Williams, John Sparks, Esq., T.G. Goldsmith, Esq., Rev. E. Harston, (Vicar), Rev. H.D. Harper, (Head Master), Rev. W.J. Goodden, Rev. Montague Hawtrey, Rev. J. Riddell and R. Burn, Esq., Examiners, Rev. W. Lyon, Rev. R. Lyon, Rev. R. Grant, Rev. G. Thompson, Rev. E.B. Grant, Rev. W.H. Turner, Hon. And Rev. A. Byron, Rev. G. Southwell, Rev. G.B. Southwall, Rev. E.N. Henning, Rev. Prebendary Coles, Rev. W.H. Helyar, Rev. E. West, Rev. T. James, Rev. J. Phabayne, Rev. G. Horton, Rev. G. Phillips, Rev. M. Terry, Rev. G. Sumner, Rev. W. Alford, Rev. R. Lagden, Rev. W.J.S. Addison, Rev. J. Heale, Rev. G. Blathwayt, Rev. J. Bridges, Rev. F.A. Baker, Rev. J. Bowen, Rev. H. Rawlinson, Rev. S.T. Pearse, Rev. A.C. Clapin, &c.

Among the ladies were Mrs Wingfield Digby, Mrs Yeatman, Miss Gunning, Miss Harness, Mrs Rickards, Mrs Mathias, Mrs Harston, Mrs Harper, Mrs W. Lyon, Mrs T. Ffooks, Mrs Willmott, Mrs Grant, Mrs Stevens, Mrs Melmoth, Mrs Williams, Mrs Thompson, Mrs King, Mrs James, Mrs Goldsmith, Mrs Phabayne, Mrs Phillips, Mrs Sumner, Mrs Turner, Mrs Fussell, Mrs Ball.


Every arrangement had been made for the accommodation of visitors, as well as to secure good order.  A large platform was erected, on which a great number of spectators (admitted to that privilege by special ticket) were seated, whilst others anxious to be nearer witnesses of the proceedings stood in the open space in front, where also the pupils of the school were arranged.  The Earl of Shaftesbury took his place near the stone, facing the platform, accompanied by G.D. Wingfield Digby, Esq. (High Sherrif) and the Warden and Governors of the school; the Right Rev. Prelates who assisted in the service, the Rev. the Head Master, the Vicar, and other gentlemen, standing near.

The Warden (Dr Highmore) then presented to the noble Earl the following address: “To the Right Honourable the Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Lieutenant of the county of Dorset.  – May it please your Lordship – We, the Warden and Governors of the King’s School, Sherborne, approach your lordship with profound respect.  We recognise in your lordship, not only her Majesty’s representative in this county, but also a nobleman who has devoted his best energies and endeavours for the good of man, while he has striven to promote the cause of religion and the glory of God.  We therefore felt it to be a happy circumstance that in our desire to commemorate an event of the greatest importance to the school of which we are the trustees, and to make a public acknowledgement of our sense of Mr Digby’s munificence it was our duty to invite your lordship to preside over us, and to lay the corner stone of the buildings which we owe mainly to his liberality – We now return your lordship our earnest thanks for thus acceding to our request, and while we believe that your presence here is the best tribute that can be offered to the zeal for the public good which as influenced Mr Digby, we trust that the associations of the day, combined as they will be with your lordship’s name, will live as an influence for good in the traditions of the school in which you have now shown so lively an interest.  Given under the seal of the Warden and Governors at a special meeting of the same convened the 25th of June 1860.”

The Earl of Shaftesbury said – Gentlemen – You have conferred upon me today a very great honour and a very great pleasure.  As Lord Lieutenant of this county I could not have discharged a more high or a more agreeable duty, and as a private gentleman, I could not have received greater gratification them from the address that has been presented to me by the warden and the governors of this school.  I cannot but derive great satisfaction when I consider the object for which this school was founded, and that the address has been preached to me by persons distinguished not only for their learning but also for their piety.  And now, gentlemen, what I may have been able to achieve by God’s good blessing upon my efforts it is for you to estimate.  I can only say, from the bottom of my heart, that I have endeavoured by his blessing, to do that which I believe in my conscience to be for His glory and for the good of the human race. (Loud cheers).

A form of service suited to the occasion was read by the Bishop of Salisbury, commencing with appropriate sentences and a collect, followed by the 127th Psalm.

A silver trowel was handed to the Lord Lieutenant, bearing the following inscription:- “Presented to the Right Hon. The Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Lieutenant of the County of Dorset, by the Warden and Governors of the King’s School, Sherborne, on the occasion of his laying the corner stone of the new buildings, June 26, 1860.”

Trowel used by the Earl of Shaftesbury at the laying of the corner stone of School House on 26 June 1860.

Trowel used by the Earl of Shaftesbury at the laying of the corner stone of School House on 26 June 1860.

His lordship handled the trowel with a zest and energy indicative of his interest in the work.  The stone was then lowered, and its level having been tried by the appropriate instrument, the Architect handed to his Lordship a mallet with which to give the finishing strokes to the performance; the noble Earl pronouncing the words:

“In the faith of Jesus Christ, and in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, we lay this stone.”

A brass plate was placed upon the stone, with an inscription as follows, which was subsequently read by the Head Master:

“Glory be to God.  This corner stone of our new buildings, to be erected principally by the munificence of George Digby Wingfield, Esq. of Sherborne Castle, was laid on the 26th June, 1860, by Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, Lord Lieutenant of the county of Dorset – Charles, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, visitor.  Walter Kerr, Bishop of Salisbury Diocesan.  William Highmore, M.D., Warden.  Hugh D. Harper, M.A., Head Master.  William Slater, architect.”

The 100th Psalm (old version) was sung; and prayers were offered for the success of the work, for the visitor, Warden, Governors and “him who had given of his substance for the building,” for the Lord Lieutenant, the Masters and pupils of the school, &c.  The National Anthem was then sung.  Three cheers were vigorously given for Mr Digby, who bowed a grateful acknowledgment.  Three cheers were then given for the Lord Lieutenant who in return called for three cheers for the boys of the school, which is Lordship led off.  Cheers were also given for the Head Master and for Mrs Digby.  The rifle corps gave three cheers for the Lord Lieutenant, after which they quitted the quadrangle.


In the evening between 30 and 40 gentlemen assembled at the King’s Arms Hotel, and sat down to a dinner of a very superior character (accompanied by choice wines) provided by the proprietor of that hostelry, Mr Mees.  The Chair was occupied by W. Highmore, Esq., (Warden) and T. Ffooks, Esq., filled the Vice Chair.

The usual loyal and complimentary toasts were given.  Captain Falwasser returned thanks on behalf of the Lord Lieutenant and Magistrates of the county, and also of the Army and Navy.  In regard to the rifle movement he said that he had listened with the greatest pleasure to the very high eulogium that had this morning been passed upon the service generally by Lord Shaftesbury, and he hoped the noble Lord’s sentiments on that occasion would go forth to the world, and that they would have good effect in the country.  The Sherborne Corps were progressing slowly but, he trusted, surely; and although the martial spirit had not been awakened to such an extent in Sherborne as perhaps might have been expected, he hoped that the number of Volunteers would, after a time, be considerably augmented. (Applause)

The toast of the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese called forth a suitable acknowledgment from the Rev. H. Harston.

The Chairman proposed the health of the Head Master, with thanks for his services.

The Rev. H.D. Harper in responding said he thanked them sincerely for the kind way in which his health had been drunk and he was sure he ought to be healthy.  (Laughter)  All that he had had to do with the great event of the day was that he had ventured to solicit the help in order that they might effect enlargement of the school.  He had applied to the late Lord Digby for assistance in carrying on alterations and improvements, and this had been cheerfully conceded, and his successor had now nobly helped them to finish what his predecessor had commenced.  Perhaps in future, if further alterations were needed there might be raised up another to add to his good name by assisting to carry out such a work.  With regard to himself he was happy to think that whilst he had the rare good fortune of being elected unanimously to the Head Mastership, and had worked many years with the Governors unanimously, so now it was their unanimous wish that he should not yet be relieved of the office he had the honour to fill.  (Cheers)

Mr W. Ffooks then proposed the health of the assistant masters, coupling with the toast the name of the Rev. T. James.  He also passed a high tribute of respect to the Rev. Mr Pearse, who had been very assiduous in this duties and had materially assisted in maintaining the high character of the school.

The Rev. T. James responded. He said he had witnessed with very great pleasure the proceedings of the today, because he had spent so many years in the service of the school, and he naturally felt a strong affection for it, having watched its progress under many different aspects, raised as it was now from a very low ebb.  He sincerely wished the head master of this school health and long life to enjoy the mastership of it.  (Hear, hear)  Under any circumstances he (Mr James) must soon cease from the labours of it – the time must soon come for him to retire from it, but he trusted he should long be spared to see its increasing prosperity.  (Applause)

The Chairman next proposed the health of the examiners (the Rev. J. Riddell, Fellow and Tutor of Balliol College, Oxford, and Mr R. Burn, Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge) who had taken great pains to draw up their report, testifying to the efficiency of the school.

The Rev. Mr Riddell in responding said it was a great pleasure to be able to look upon the warden and governors of this school as friends as well as persons to whom they, as examiners, were responsible.  He was happy to testify that the work of the school was carried on with the highest efficiency and on the best principles and that a thorough feeling of interest in it was manifested – the best exertions of the mind being given to make the school as good as it can be.  It was a dictum of Canon Moseley, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of School, that a school could not get on without the influence of some person who had been immediately connected with it.  That dictum had been applied to schools of poorer pretensions than such a school as this, but he thought it equally applied to their school, for the warden and governors took an interest in it, not only in an official capacity, but because they had been brought up in it, and he believed it was with them a labour of love.  He would also remark upon the thorough moral and religious impressions which were implanted upon the minds of the boys of this school.  When they were sent to the University he felt that the best endeavours of the College tutors and College authorities would be called into exercise to maintain those high principles which had been inculcated at this school; otherwise the boys would receive a shock in their moral principles and religious feelings – He did not distrust either the power or the will of the University to carry on the good work towards them whom they received, but this school, and others like it, led boys to a high standard of morality and religion, to perpetuate which was the duty of those who might become their future teachers. (Applause)

Captain Falwasser then proposed the healths of Messrs. Pearse and Edmondes, who had successfully competed for the two exhibitions; and passed a well-merited eulogium on their good conduct and successful career whilst at the school.

The Rev. H.D. Harper proposed the health of the Chairman, as Warden, observing that he had laboured incessantly for the good of the school, and sometimes at a great sacrifice of time; and he had materially assisted in giving eclat to the proceedings of today. (Cheers)

The Chairman thanked them for the compliment.  He had endeavoured simply to do his duty, but his labours in the arrangement of the day’s proceedings, and also Mr Harper’s, had been much lightened by the great assistance they had received from Mr Butler, the clerk of the works; and he begged to propose that gentleman’s health.

Mr Butler having briefly responded, the company separated.

The Governors also entertained the workmen, under the presidency of Mr Guppy, the builder, numbering between 50 and 60 at the Swan Inn, where we understand a very substantial dinner was served up and received ample justice.’

Rachel Hassall
School Archivist

Visit Sherborne School Archive News for more stories from the archives.

Posted 14 July 2017 by Sherborne School Archives.

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