1816: RGS Master Sacked - and Reinstated

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John Saunders
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1816: RGS Master Sacked - and Reinstated

Postby John Saunders » Sun May 07, 2017 4:58 pm

Just over 200 years ago, William Sproston, RGS headmaster, was dismissed by the borough corporation and then subsequently reinstated after taking them to the high court. Further down the page are the full details of the legal case as recorded in the Windsor and Eton Express, 30 June 1816. This matter was mentioned in passing in Ashford and Haworth's history of the school, thus: 'By 1816 [Sproston] was so far at odds with the rest of the Common Council, which a few years before had been so warm in his praise, that he was now dismissed from his post “for his gross misbehaviour”. The records do not specify the nature of his offence, whether personal, scholastic or political. It was not so grave as to prevent the Court of King’s Bench from issuing a mandamus compelling his re-instatement.' It is curious that Ashford and Haworth were aware of the mandamus issued by the high court but apparently not of the juicy details of the offence of which Sproston had been accused.

The newspaper makes clear what the ostensible reason was for Sproston's dismissal by the borough, even though we might be tempted to read between the lines and suspect the sort of political sub-current that Ashford and Haworth were hinting at.

Windsor and Eton Express, 30 June 1816 wrote:COURT OF KINGS BENCH, June 29 [1816].


On a former day the Attorney-General had moved for a rule to shew cause why a Mandamus should not be directed to the Mayor, Aldermen, &c. of Chipping-Wycomb, commanding them to reinstate a person or the name of Sproston in his office of Master of the Free Grammar School of that Borough. The affidavits in favour of the motion stated generally, that Mr. Sproston had been regularly appointed, and that his conduct, until within a short time before his removal, had been so highly approved, that the Corporation had agreed to make an addition to his salary; that in order to make the school still more desirable, and to enlarge the establishment, he had taken into his house his niece, whom he had believed to be a young woman of chaste morals and conduct; that, unfortunately, she formed a criminal connection soon afterwards with a person named Frederick Clarke, by whom she had an illegitimate child; and that in consequence of this event, and without any blame imputed or imputable to Mr. Sproston, the Mayor and Corporation had proceeded summarily, and without notice, to remove him from his office, and to deprive him of his salary.

Mr. Topping was this day instructed to shew cause against the rule, and produced several affidavits from the Rev. Mr. Price, and several members of the Corporation, in which it was stated, that although Mr. Sproston had been made acquainted with the situation of his niece in the month of October, he had not removed her from his house until the March following, she having been delivered of her illegitimate child in January; that much suspicion was entertained in the town that Mr. Sproston was himself the seducer of his niece, and when called upon before the Mayor and Corporation to explain the facts, he had not given any answer that was satisfactory; that a fortnight had been allowed him to answer the charge, but that he had not produced any evidence to exculpate himself, and the person whom the niece stated to be the father of the child could not any where be traced. Under these suspicions circumstances the Corporation had proceeded to remove Mr. Sproston from the mastership of the school, and to appoint a successor. This office was at the pleasure of the Corporation.

Lord Ellenborough [Lord Chief Justice].— It is quamdiu se bene gesserit ['as long as he shall behave himself well'], and, before he is removed, some sufficient cause must be shewn: it is an office for life during good behaviour.

Mr. Topping submitted, that Mr. Sproston had so misconducted himself as to warrant the removal. He had been charged with a most gross offence, and had not offered in any way to disprove it.

Mr. Denman argued, that before a party could lay a just ground for the Issue of this prerogative writ, he must swear that he was innocent of the imputation: although Mr. Sproston denied that he was the father of the child, he had not denied all criminal connexion with his niece.

Lord Ellenborough.— It would be to establish a cruel rule, if we were to carry it to that extent: it would enable all persons who have a power of removal to put that power in force against the most innocent individual, and compel him to clear himself by evidence from such accusation that was never attempted to be proved; here we find no form of proceeding against this person, and no charge but on bare suspicion. It would be extremely hard if we did not grant him relief.—Rule absolute.

EDIT: Corrected '300' to '200' years. Arithmetic never was my strongest subject!
John Saunders
RGS 1963-70 (personal website http://www.saund.co.uk)