High Wycombe Grammar School

By William Morris

A correspondent having written to our Committee informing us that the Charity Commissioners had agreed to a plan for pulling down and reconstructing the buildings of High Wycombe Grammar School, we deputed one of our members to visit and report on them: the information we have received from him seems so important that I venture to address you on the subject.

The building that originally stood on the site was a leper hospital, founded in or before the twelfth century; at the Dissolution alterations were made in it to fit it for a grammar school. What building was then done was modernized in the present century, but there still remains a late Norman hall, of about 64 ft. by 32 ft., of five bays, with piers and arches quite complete, the capitals well carved and in good condition; this has been turned into the head master's house, and has had afloor built at the level of the springing of the arches and been otherwise cut up into living rooms. There is a chapel built at right angles to this hall, which was shortened at the time of the Dissolution and otherwise modernized, but still retains some good Decorated windows.

Thus we have left us a Norman hall in good condition, except for its external walls, of little less importance as a work of art than the celebrated hall of Oakham Castle, and most valuable to archaeology, as showing the arrangement of an early medieval hospital, but which is apparently almost unknown to our architects and antiquaries, owing probably to its entanglement with a dwelling house.

Now this beautiful and interesting work of art, which in France would certainly have been scheduled as a national monument, and surely in England is nothing less than that, is to be pulled down simply for the value of the ground it stands on. This seems to me such a causeless loss of valuable property that I think the Charity Commissioners might be appealed to to reconsider the scheme they have sanctioned. Would not the help of a little thought and a good architect enable the school to make the ancient hall a part of their buildings? Or if this be impossible, could not the town and the neighbouring landowners, aided, if necessary, by a general subscription, buy the building and its site from the school, clear away the modern lumber from the hall, and use it as a library or museum or other public building for the town?

Surely if it were known that High Wycombe possessed one of the best of the very few domestic buildings of the Norman period yet left in England, many people would visit that town who are not at present likely to come near it.

Letter to Athenaeum, 10 December 1881.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology