Croydon vicar who saw service with Carshalton’s army cadets

Muscular Christianity: the Carshalton Ordnance School in 1851, in grounds with a lake used by the boys for boating and swimming

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The area’s history is rich in connections with military academies, and as DAVID MORGAN discovered, clergy with second jobs

There have been many examples down through the years of vicars and curates from Croydon Minster having a second occupation, in addition to their church roles. Often, these “second jobs” have been in education.

One of the current clergy team, Rev Alan Bayes, combines his priestly duties at the church with a teaching and chaplaincy role at Whitgift School.

In 1855, a curate arrived in Croydon and immediately took on a dual role.

Rev Henry Campbell Watson, a graduate of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, was appointed by the vicar, Rev John Hodgson. He became a curate in the church as well as a mathematics and Classics master at the Carshalton Ordnance School.

Roll call: Rev HC Watson was one of several vicars on the staff list

Opened on October 3 1848, the Ordnance School was set up by the government’s War Department as a feeder school for the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich.

The school was based in the grand house and gardens of Carshalton House, what was originally built in the 18th Century as a private residence, and what is now a Grade II-listed building which houses St Philomena’s girls’ school.

In the mid-19th century, the government’s military boarding school was originally supposed to take 100 boys, but by the time Watson arrived, there were only about 80 in residence.

Watson was one of 10 staff under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Maclean. Boys aged 11 to 13 joined the school and could stay a maximum of three years, provided they passed their examinations.

Entrance exams varied depending on the age of the cadet. Boys under 11 years and six months had to be “familiar with the four rules of Arithmetic”.

Between 11½ and 12½, their test would include “the first four rules of Vulgar Fractions”, too. At 12½ they had to “be familiar with the first four rules of Decimal Fractions” (so 12.5 really), as well as “Latin Accidence” grammatical endings: amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant, chanted the Latin class in unison.

Pupils of all ages were also expected to be able to write dictated sentences in a “good and legible hand”.

Noble Baring: the Earl of Cromer had been a pupil at Carshalton

The school curriculum consisted of maths, arithmetic, drawing, penmanship, Classics, French and German. Boys who were not keeping up with their studies and who did very badly in their end-of-term tests were liable to be expelled.

Rev Watson’s arrival came as the military authorities were looking to sharpen up the training of recruits following the debacles of the Crimean War, when mismanagement, poor leadership and unnecessary loss of life had created a very negative opinion about the military in the eyes of the general public. Lt-Col Maclean had been put in charge to oversee the planned improvements.

Uniform was the first target for the Colonel. When the school was first opened, the compulsory clothing list was: a greatcoat, three jackets, three pairs of dark coloured trousers, 10 pairs of white shorts, nine pocket handkerchiefs, three pairs of boots or shoes and six towels.

Maclean insisted that in a military school, all boys should wear an army uniform.

Maclean then issued rules about the amount of money each boy could have. Pocket money was set at 1 shilling a week (5p in modern currency), except monitors who received 1 shilling and sixpence. No boy was allowed to have more than one gold sovereign in their possession.

What didn’t alter during Maclean’s improvements was the curriculum.

The memoirs of one of the pupils there provides a real insight into life at the Carshalton school.

Evelyn Baring, born in 1841, was the grandson of the founder of Baring’s Bank. He would go on to become a leading statesman and diplomat of the Victorian era – he was Consul General in Egypt for 24 years – and was made the 1st Earl of Cromer.

He had attended the Ordnance School as a boy, moving to Woolwich at age 14 and then being commissioned into the Royal Artillery.

While he was at Carshalton, Baring’s parents had to pay fees of £110 per year – a cost of nearly £4,000 per year today.

Registered: the Croydon Directory gives details of Rev Watson and his George Street neighbours

For Baring, the amount of fees was determined because he was the son of a nobleman who was not an officer in either the army or the Royal Navy.

Discipline at the school, even before Maclean’s time, consisted of a strict regime of physical punishment.

Baring described how he was a “rather lively boy” and therefore attracted the attention of the teachers. On one occasion, he was given 20 strokes of the cane by the headmaster. He said that he bore the marks for weeks.

All the boys were encouraged to play sport, especially cricket, rugby and hockey. Baring says that he never took to cricket but remembered that winter games of hockey on the frozen lake in the grounds were fun.

This was the lake where the boys enjoyed summer bathing. Baring much preferred this to the weekly winter indoor bath, where three boys had to share the same water.

Maclean’s reforms didn’t bring success to the school as had been hoped. The school closed in 1859, the matter even prompting questions be asked of government ministers in the House of Commons.

Church service: St James’, Croydon, in the mid-19th century

One reason for the closure was the tensions between the masters. Maybe the differences in approach between the military and civilian staff were irreconcilable. After its closure, any pupils and staff remaining were incorporated into the Junior Department of the College at Sandhurst.

Rev Watson didn’t stay long at the school either. After a couple of years, he gave up his teaching duties and returned to his curate’s role in Croydon Parish Church, where he stayed until 1865. Still living at 3 George Street, he became the vicar of St James’, Croydon Common, a post he was to hold for 13 years.

St James’ Church had been built in 1828 on the extensive common which was the last area of open land in the centre of Croydon. It is where Dingwall Road meets St James’ Road today. St James’ was the first Anglican church to be built since the founding of Croydon Parish Church.

In his new job, Watson was busy working hard for the poor of Croydon as he was nominated to be the secretary of the Croydon Soup Charity, who distributed soup and bread to the needy. Watson was also the Chaplain for the Whitgift Almshouses.

In January 1870, Watson married Emily, the daughter of the late Mr W Bates of Liverpool. Within a year, he was seeking tenders for a new vicarage to be built for St James as well as having plans drawn up for an improvement to the church building itself. In 1873 he was advertising for a choirmaster and organist with a salary of £40 per annum.

Life as a vicar wasn’t all plain sailing for Watson.

Gimme shelter: St James’ church’s landmark building

He was embroiled in a local controversy when he failed to endorse a curate at St Saviour’s Church to take over from the vicar there, who had died. Watson had the final say because he was the patron.

The curate, Rev Hoare, had been successfully running the church as the Rev Cameron had a long illness before his death. Despite a great petition sent in by the church wardens and congregation, Watson stuck to his decision to bring in someone new.

He was also criticised for his negative stance towards new churches and their mission. With Croydon growing rapidly in the second half of the 19th century, new churches were deemed vital for the spiritual well-being of the expanding population. Watson, it appears, was a “stick-in-the-mud”.

Correspondence in the Church Herald suggested he was afraid that if new churches were set up then the population would realise that he was rather dull and overly formal, in comparison to the vigorous and energetic approach that a new incumbent could bring.

Watson died from diphtheria on January 9 1879. He was 50. So rapidly did the disease take hold that only a few days before his death on the previous he was preaching the sermon.

He was remembered by his congregation, his friends and his family with a stained glass window at the east end of his church.

St James’ Church was made redundant in 1980. It was converted into sheltered housing in 1989. The old churchyard is today maintained as a public open space in the town centre.

Previously by David Morgan:

Become a Patron!

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
This entry was posted in Church and religions, Croydon Minster, David Morgan, History, Schools and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Croydon vicar who saw service with Carshalton’s army cadets

  1. Lewis White says:

    More fascinating history here. Thank you!

    Just an aside–what a pity that the bathing /boating lake mentioned has been deprived in the 20th C of its spring water by a lowering of the water table in the chalk. Just as are the nearby Carshalton Park grotto, Hog Pit and cascade canal. They look so beautiful when the waters miraculously reappear.

    Just once every decade or so, an exceptionally wet year results in the water table rising and the springs flowing again. Remarkable!

    I remember seeing the lake flooded around 20 year ago one Spring after a very wet winter, when the Georgian bath house (seen in the far right of the picture of the school and grounds), was opened to the public by the Friends group. Not sure now if the bath itself was filled , or I saw the water flowing in a culvert next to it, under West street and then in an open stream onwards past the huge London Plane tree to enter the nearby Ponds.

    If only South London and adjacent Surrey used less water, the water table would recover, and we would enjoy these Carshalton streams and ponds all year.

Leave a Reply