Borden Grammar School - the early years part 2

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This article continues Bryan Short's history of the School.


Grave Irregularities

Mr. Bond proceeded with his work at the School.  Staff were recruited.  Advertisements placed in newspapers throughout the County brought in pupils, and the School roll rose.  Clause 51 of the Scheme required the Head Master to provide the Governors with a written report on the School's progress.  Mr Bond produced his first report, covering the year October 1878 to October 1879. 

He set out the attendance as follows:

Day Boys Boarders   Total  
4th Quarter 1878 28 0 28
1st Quarter 1879 33 7 40
2nd Quarter 1879 35 9 44
3rd Quarter 1879 28 13 41

Seven boys had left to enter business and three had become pupil teachers.

The average age on admission was 11½, and “their knowledge is slight and the majority of them are entirely ignorant of the customs of a Public School.”  But they were making good progress.    He had regrets and anxieties.  Some boys were misbehaving out of school, and bringing discredit upon the whole School.   Some parents were keeping their boys at home without explanation.  And the Builders had left a lot of dirt behind.  (Some aspects of school life remain constant).  Five boys were recommended for prizes. 

Whilst the life of the School unfolded, the life of the Governing Body exploded.  In the Spring of 1879, the Charity Commissioners accused the Governors of “grave irregularities”, arising from expenditure on School buildings, furniture and fittings.  On 20th March the Governors met in the Town Hall, Sittingbourne. 

Although he had helped call the Special Meeting, Mr. Pemberton was not able to attend.  He had, however, drafted a reply to the Commissioners, which was read by those present.  Mr. Hilton had also drafted a proposed reply.  The Meeting (unanimously) opted for the Hilton draft, which was sent.   The two letters are not available, but whereas Mr. Hilton's was conciliatory, aiming at an amicable settlement, Mr. Pemberton's was pugnacious: he had no intention of giving way to threats. 

Another Special Meeting (again without Mr. Pemberton) considered a letter to his fellows from the Chairman.  It was a long letter (they always were) and his message was that the Governors, as gentlemen, had to defend their self-respect and have the charge of “grave irregularities” withdrawn.  Mr Pemberton resigned from the Board.

In the hope of an amicable settlement, the remaining Governors sent details of their expenditure to the Charity Commissioners.   They also asked for the release of funds held by them for the School Trust.  No money came, but Mr. Skirrow, Inspector of Charities, visited the School.  The encounter seemed friendly enough.  He even suggested the purchase of drawers for the Boarders' cubicles.  He made a report to the Commissioners which seems to have been friendly.

Creditors were pressing for payment of their bills, and the Governors were asking for their money held by the Commissioners.  In July 1879 the Commissioners refused to receive a delegation of Governors, having received a report from their Inspector of Charities.  The Governors maintained contact with the Commission by post, revealing that their total debt was £2,886; if the money was not released, they must resign.

At the very end of July, the Commissioners after all received two Governors.  In August the Commissioners returned to the theme of unauthorised expenditure and announced that the matter was to be referred to the Attorney General, so a court would settle the issue - “a suggestion which it was understood was made by the deputation at the interview.” (This of course they both denied).  The Governors reacted promptly.  They borrowed money from the Sittingbourne Bank, Messrs Vallance and Payne, and paid the outstanding debts.  R. Avard, the Maidstone builder, received £1,300.

In October 1879 Mr. Leigh Pemberton attended a Governors' Meeting.  He was elected Chairman for the ensuing year without any known reference to his earlier resignation.  There had previously been discussion about the Clerk: Mr. Bathurst was Clerk both to the Barrow Trust and to the School Trust.  He had seemed weak in the keeping of the School Trust accounts, and the Governors felt that a Clerk should be appointed who was independent of the Barrow Trust.  On 22nd October, Mr. Bathurst resigned, to be succeeded by Mr. W.J. Harris of Sittingbourne.

The pace of activity quickened.  In November Mr. Bond asked what arrangements they proposed after the Christmas holiday – in other words, would the School re-open?  Mr. Harris had drawn up a detailed set of accounts, but no-one yet knew whether the Charity Commissioners would release money to allow the School to continue.  Mr. Bond had to await a decision. 

On behalf of the Governors, Mr. Pemberton wrote to the Commissioners, acknowledging that money had been spent without the written consent of the Commissioners, but only on essentials without which the School could not function – furniture, fittings and approach roads.   Moreover officials visiting the School had seen what was happening without raising a query, and had even made suggestions for improvement.  The Chairman proposed sending yet another statement of account, prepared by the new Clerk, Mr W. J. Harris, to the Commissioners.  Mr. Hilton revealed that he had sent his own version to the Commissioners which differed from Mr. Harris's statement.  When the Governors insisted on Mr. Harris's version, Mr. Hilton resigned from the Board. 

Then came worse news.  The Commissioners suggested that the annual grant to the School from the Barrow Trust was intended to be invested, not treated as income to be spent, and the investment thus created was to supply interest for the School Trust to use on the maintenance of the School.  This reading of the Scheme threatened the financial viability of the School.  Mr. Pemberton engaged a Solicitor, Mr. Lake of Lincoln's Inn, to handle the case.  It was now December; were the boys to return after Christmas?  Hefty letters passed to and fro – fortunately, post arrived the next day.  Mr. J. Clabon, Solicitor to the Charity Commissioners, now became involved, writing to hope that Mr. Pemberton would not close the School.  In the absence even of temporary financial help, the Governors on 12th December agreed to give the Head Master six months' notice – but hoped to be able to withdraw it.

The Barrow Trust for 1879 had £350 surplus, as well as the £550 normally granted to the School, and in a letter dated 15th December 1879 indicated that they were willing for the Governors to use this money to avoid closing the School.  A copy of this letter was supplied to Mr. Bond, with an assurance that the Governors expected to carry on the School until well into 1880: the boys should return to School after Christmas. 

The immediate crisis was over: now for a long-term settlement.  Mr. Lake, the Governors' Solicitor, assured them that their case was strong: the large sum held by the Commissioners for the School Trust could be used to pay off the loans raised by the Governing Body, and he would make direct contact with the Solicitor to the Commissioners, Mr. Clabon.  (Mr. Clabon risked confusing the situation further by advancing a third view of the financial clause of the Borden School Trust.  The Trust was to receive £550 a year from the Barrow Trust for School running costs, and also any remaining surplus of the Barrow Trust to form an investment trust to produce income for the School.  But this was not pursued.)

There was no court action against the Governors.  In May 1880 the Commissioners paid some £2,500 to the Governors with which they repaid the loan raised from the Bank.  In June the Governors rounded off matters by resigning.  They met in the Town Hall, Sittingbourne, on 30th June 1880 and directed the Clerk to sign the following letter on their behalf and to publish it in the local press: 

Sittingbourne, 30th June 1880


 Borden School Trust

The Governors of Borden School direct me to inform you that they beg resign their offices.  To yourself and such of the Commissioners as have any acquaintance with the facts of the case, the reasons which induce them to take this step must be obvious.  But it is due to themselves that the public should know upon what grounds they resign a trust which they voluntarily undertook, so they propose to state in as short a form as possible what these reasons are, and to publish this letter in local newspapers.

They omit, as minor points, all mention of the great delays which have attended their applications to and correspondence with your office, and which have already been the subject of discussion.  Their complaint is that gentlemen who had undertaken a duty involving much responsibility and great sacrifices of time and trouble, without of course receiving the slightest benefit or advantage to themselves, have been treated by the Commissioners as defaulting trustees and accused of committing grave irregularities ; that the Commissioners in their dealings with the Governors have repudiated their own acts, and those of their officials ; that they have done all in their power to throw a very heavy responsibility upon the Governors personally and that in such attempt they have succeeded only in throwing a perfectly unnecessary charge upon the funds of the charity.

The scheme under which Borden School was established is dated the fifth of May 1875 and accommodation for 50 Boarders and 150 Day Scholars and a master's home were thereby directed to be provided.  The Governors in the month of February 1876 obtained the sanction of the Commissioners to a site for the School “subject to the provision of proper approaches.”  A plan of the proposed site was submitted to them and it was then pointed out that it would be desirable, if not necessary, that two small pieces of land should be purchased in order to straighten the road, and it was with reference to this that the approval of their board was given “subject to the formation of proper approaches” and a form of application for leave to purchase such pieces of land was supplied from the Commissioners' office to the Governors' Clerk.

The cost of these pieces of land was about £170 exclusive of the cost of conveyance.  The amount to be expended by the School was fixed by the Commissioners at £7,400.  The Contractor's estimate for building was £7,365 and was submitted to and approved by the Commissioners who before the Contract was sent to them had themselves pointed out that in addition to the cost of the building “the cost of forming and fencing the site, architects' commission, Clerk of the Works salary, furniture and other incidental expenses would have to be provided for.  The architects' commission of £5 per cent on the outlay was also specially sanctioned by the Commissioners.  In addition to these items of expenditure the Governors with the sanction of the Commissioners undertook the making of Bricks on the spot to be supplied to the Contractor; and although it was supposed at the time that this would be a benefit to the charity, it ultimately turned out that on this account a loss of £145 was incurred.  The Governors also incurred certain expenses in advertising the School, for Architects' plans, Contractor's estimates and for a head master.  All of these items were absolutely necessary, and some of them were expressly directed by the scheme.   Other expenses were also incurred for gas and water communication which were not specially sanctioned by the Commissioners or directed by the Scheme but which were equally necessary.  In order to save time and expense the Governors ordered partly from the Contractor and partly from other persons furniture, baths and other articles which were more conveniently provided and fitted during the erection of the building than they could be after its completion.  From time to time the Commissioners paid to the Governors out of the funds set apart for that purpose some money on account of the school and such sums were applied by the Governors as they were received in discharge partly of the Contractor's and Architects' charges and partly of those for the furniture and fittings.  In the month of January 1879 the sums so received amounted to £7,200.

On the 3rd February 1879 after an interview between some of the Governors and one of the Commissioners which had taken place on the 30th January and at which the position of the Charity was fully discussed a further sum of £1,675 was after some discussion on the part of the Commissioners paid by them to the Governors making altogether £8,875.  In the course of that interview and subsequently the accounts so far as they had been received by the Governors were submitted to the Commissioners and no objection was made to any head of expenditure or any item under any head except with reference to the proposed erection of a cottage and stable which was consequently abandoned by the Governors.  All the Governors who were present at the interview left it under the impression that Lord Clinton, the Commissioner who attended it, was quite satisfied with what they had done, and were quite unprepared for the attitude which the Commissioners assumed immediately afterwards.  On the 3rd February the Commissioners wrote a letter informing the Governors in effect that they had been guilty of grave irregularity in expending anything beyond the sum of £7,400 without the previous sanction of the Commissioners and that though under the circumstances they had sent the £1,675 the Governors would be personally liable for any unauthorised expenditure which they might incur, and that in regard to any future expenditure the Commissioners would be prepared to consider applications on the subject when a detailed statement of what was required should be sent to them.   The Governors upon this tendered their resignations.    They felt that to be accused of committing grave irregularity and to be threatened with personal liability in simply doing that which was absolutely necessary in order to carry out the directions of the Commissioners was to be placed in a position to which no gentleman could submit.

They pointed out that every head of expenditure had virtually been recognised and sanctioned by the Commissioners and that although each item had not been previously submitted to the Commissioners yet they had not imagined it necessary to ask the Commissioners' sanction to the purchase of every piece of furniture or other article to complete the School, that each head of expenditure and the items under each head so far as they had been received by the Governors had been placed before Lord Clinton who had led the Governors to believe that no objection was made to any of them.  In consequence of a letter from the Commissioners dated 12th March explaining their view of the circumstances under which the charge of grave irregularity had been made the Governors withdrew their resignations.  At this time there was still due in respect of the Contractor's account, furnishing and other heads of expenditure which had been previously submitted to the Commissioners the sum of £2,200, and there was a balance of funds in the hands of the Commissioners out of which  the previous payments had been made amply sufficient to discharge that sum.  No additional head of expenditure beyond those previously submitted to the Commissioners and virtually sanctioned by them had been incurred. 

In the month of March and for many months subsequently repeated applications were made to the Commissioners for payment of this sum; detailed accounts were sent, and the Commissioners were over and over again asked to specify what item if any in the accounts they objected to, or what kind of expenditure had not been virtually sanctioned by them.  The Governors admitted that in strictness they ought to have consulted the Commissioners before ordering the furniture and other articles but stated that everything ordered was necessary and that at all events they were entitled to have pointed out to them what was objected to.  The Commissioners refused to advance any money whatsoever or to point out anything they objected to.

In the month of May 1879 Mr Skirrow, the Inspector of Charities, paid a visit to the School and had an interview with the Governors.  The complaint had been made by him and the Governor s all supposed that he was perfectly satisfied with all that had been done.  In the meantime the Contractor and others who had supplied furniture and other articles for the School were clamorous for their money.  Several actions were threatened and one actually commenced against the Governors, and they, rather than bring discredit on the School, which had been opened in the month of July 1879, borrowed the money (about £2,000) necessary to discharge the claims from their private bankers, and gave their own personal guarantees for its repayment with interest.  The Commissioners were informed of the threatened proceedings before such payment was made.  On 15th July 1879 the Governors, instead of receiving any money, were informed that the Commissioners were considering whether legal proceedings should not be taken against them.  The Governors, having already advanced £2,000, were naturally much surprised at this information and repeatedly asked upon what point such proceedings were threatened and what complaint was made against them, but could never succeed in obtaining any reply.  They asked that if Mr. Skirrow's Report had anything to do with such threats they might be informed of such report.  This was refused; and up to the present time the Governors are entirely ignorant of the contents.  On 24th November 1879 the Governors were informed that the case of the Trust had been certified to Her Majesty's Attorney General and that any further question of expenditure must be postponed until it was ascertained what was the result of any proceedings which might be instituted by him.  The Governors again attempted to find out what part of their conduct was objected to, and on what ground proceedings were to be taken; they proposed an interview between some of their body and the Commissioners and reminded them that in an ordinary case of one individual having a case against another it was usual that the person complained of should be informed of the nature of the complaint.  The Commissioners, however, declined the proposed interview or to give any information on the subject. 

On 23rd December 1879 the Solicitor to the Attorney General informed the Governors that the Commissioners refused to consent to a larger expenditure out of the capitalised fund for providing school buildings including approaches, fittings and furniture than £8,875 and asked if the Governors were prepared themselves to pay the expenditure which had been incurred beyond that sum, or if not out of what funds they proposed to discharge them.  The Governors replied that they had no intention of paying such expenditure out their own pockets, although they had temporarily advanced £2,000 for that purpose, and pointed out that there was a balance of the funds which had been already been partially applied for the purpose of the School sufficient to discharge the liabilities.  From that time until 1st April 1880 the Governors received no communication from the Commissioners or the Attorney General as the progress of the proceedings.  It was generally known in the neighbourhood that the School was in difficulties, that it was doubtful if would be carried on, and consequently parents abstained from sending boys to it. 

On 1st April the Governors were informed by the Attorney General's Solicitor and by the Commissioners that the whole of the balance of the funds out of which the previous payments had been made (after certain deductions not necessary to be mentioned for the present purpose) would be handed over the them in full discharge of all claims connected with the erection and furnishing of the School, if the Governors would consent to the payment thereout of the costs of the Attorney General, or that if the Governors did not accept that offer, they were at liberty to go to the Court (no court was specified) and that the Commissioners would agree to the payment of whatever the Court thought them entitled to, but that the Governors would have to pay the costs of such proceedings.  The Governors had no difficulty in accepting the first of these alternatives and on 8th May 1880 the whole of the funds in question, after donating £87 for the costs of the Attorney General, were handed over to them by the Commissioners, but without any expression of regret for the inconvenience and annoyance that the Governors had been put to or any explanation of any sort. 

The Governors omitted, as a distinct matter, the fact that owing to the complicated nature of the Scheme the Governors had from the first great difficulty in construing it, and that in one view of it (which the Governors entertained) the capital of the charity would have been much larger than it was under the other view.  To their great surprise the Commissioners asserted that a communication made to the Inspector of Charities in reference to a matter he was specially directed to make a report upon, was not a communication to them, and that they repudiated any notice given to him on the subject.  The letter of the 12th of September 1879 addressed to the Secretary was not repudiated but remained unanswered until 26th November 1879 when for the first time the Governors were informed that their view of the Scheme was not in accordance with the view of the Commissioners.

From the above statements it will be seen that after inducing the Governors to believe that the Commissioners had sanctioned all necessary expenditure for purchasing the pieces of land for the formation of a site, proper approaches to such site, furniture for a master's house, and for a school capable of accommodating 50 Boarders and 150 Day Scholars, the architects' percentage, the salary of the Clerk of the Works, the risk of a brickmaking operation and other incidental expenses, the Commissioners in the first instance expected the Governors to pay all these charges out of a sum of £35, namely the difference between £7,400, which in their letter of 12th March 1879 the Commissioners say is all that is properly applicable for the School accommodation, and the £7,365 authorised by them to be paid to the Contractor for the building alone.  That with much reluctance the Commissioners afterwards paid £1,675 on account of these expenses making with previous payments a total of £8,875.  That although the Commissioners were well aware that a further sum of £2,000 had been actually expended on the School by the Governors out of their own pockets, they not only for months refused to make any repayment to them but actually endeavoured to obtain the sanction of the Attorney General to the commencement of legal proceedings, at the same time refusing to specify any ground of complaint against the Governors, or to mention any item of expense incurred by them to which the Commissioners objected.  That after a delay of more than a year, acting under the advice of the Attorney General, the Commissioners paid what the Governors had originally asked for, but not until they had saddled the Trust Fund with the legal expenses of the Attorney General and of themselves, and with the interest on the money which they had been obliged to borrow, and had by this delay seriously affected the working of the School.

It is clear that the Commissioners were either wrong in withholding the payment of this sum when it was asked for, or were wrong in paying it when they did.  No reason has been given for either course.  It is not for the Governors to lecture the Commissioners on their method of doing business, but the Governors had supposed that it was the duty of Commissioners to treat Trustees as gentlemen, to inform them openly if they had grounds of complaint, to judge for themselves on all matters connected with the management of each trust, and if it should be necessary for them to act on the report of others, to inform the persons interested of the nature of such report and ask for explanations.

The Governors had supposed that it was the Commissioners' duty to advise Trustees on matters connected with their Trust, and to inform them at once if their views were wrong, and not to allow them to act for months under false impressions.  They had also supposed that the Commissioners would have performed these duties, but they had not supposed it possible that an important public department would attempt to repudiate the acts of its own officials or would attempt to make trustees personally and pecuniarily liable for acts which the Commissioners, if not solely, were at all events equally responsible with the Governors.  The Governors find themselves wrong in all their suppositions, and they therefore decline any longer to act in a position which renders them liable to such risks and imputations as they have been subjected to in the course of their dealings with your Board.

Signed by order of the Governor of the Borden School Trust

W.J. Harris, Clerk.


The Governors were local worthies, public spirited, working for the general good.  They were unpaid and regarded themselves as gentlemen.  The officials of the Charity Commissioners were paid employees, who should show due deference to the gentlemen founding a school for the benefit of their locality.  In fact relations seem to have been good until Lord Clinton and Mr. Skirrow became involved.  Hard-hitting and lengthy letters were then exchanged. 

Mr. E. Leigh Pemberton was particularly conscious of his gentlemanly status.  The conflict with Lord Clinton prompts surprise that the Commissioners dealt so roughly with the Governors, and especially with their Chairman, Mr. Pemberton.  The resignation letter was sent to the Commissioners by the Clerk, but it bears the stamp of having been composed by Mr. Leigh Pemberton.

Benjamin Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield) headed a Conservative Government.  Mr. Pemberton was not only a landowner and barrister but also a back-bench Conservative Member of Parliament.  Lord Clinton was willing to threaten legal action, but none happened.  The Attorney General, a political appointment, perhaps made sure of that.  

Bryan Short

Part 3 of "The Early Years" to follow.