In the immediate aftermath of the ruinous fire, King William’s College was in dire need of some help; some support. And mainly, some money. After turning a blind eye to offering up any of their gleaming jewels nor glittering gold up till now, the Royals finally coughed up some of their vast offerings. Queen Adelaide and Bishop Short chipped in and the college continued apace.
Living standards were, however, on the questionable side of atrocious. James Wilson, the son of the first Principal, was damning in his assessment of conditions around this time:
“I doubt whether any school could have been worse…it was a lawless, dirty, degraded life”.
Sure, James but tell us what you really think. Reports do seem to back up his disdain. Cold, damp rooms and dreadful, inedible food led to an uprising in vice-principal Dixon’s Boarding house. A group of older boy’s rushed to Dixon’s aid, finding him corned by a gang brandishing knives and threatening to murder him unless they provided better food. The somewhat demonic and macabre graffiti of BREAD OR BLOOD adorned the walls. Thankfully, we can’t be sure of the substance used for such a depiction. And that, believe it not, was the first record of the Peaky Blinders.
Thankfully, in 1855, Manx poet and all-round good egg, T.E. Brown returned as vice-principal to ‘discharge a duty I owe to the Island of my birth and to the place of my education’. Brown was an inspirational teacher who broke down barriers between student and pupil, promoted sports and the great outdoors, and re-energised the ailing college when it needed it most. His larger than life ebullience and infectious thirst for knowledge helped forge a new liberal community. Basically, he turned KWC into Dead Poet’s Society but, ya know, more of a laugh. He really went against the sullen, morose poet stereotype. Fair play Browny, lad.
By late 1850s the school had changed entirely. There was unlimited bread and butter (!), and a rasher of bacon or herring with hot meat for dinner. It really was the Premier Inn of its day.
The so-called ‘Golden Age’ was ushered in under the leadership of Joshua Jones aka Joshua Hughes-Games (He later changed his name. It makes no sense. Let’s not dwell on it). Jones saw the college flourish like a great big flourishing thing. Lieutenant Governor Henry Loch announced sweeping reforms of Manx education – establishing the link between Grammar Schools to College through textbooks, annual exams and scholarships. The first truly brilliant minds now associated with frequenting the school came to pass around this time. Most notably, William Bragg , who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915. More than three-quarters of the university places won by students in the 1890’s were for Maths, Science, Engineering and Medicine. The artist formerly known as Jones witnessed a doubling of enrollment in his first four years, such was the overwhelming popularity of KWC.
Which is why the classrooms became improbably crowded and all boarding accommodation was as full as a student’s stomach after a morning at the all you can eat Lenny Henry breakfast.
Expansion was required and delivered upon promptly. An East-Wing boarding extension, steam laundry and swimming pool were all built along with a new Chapel – at the second attempt. Upon observing the collapse of Chapel Version #1, the principal’s son, Harold exclaimed to his Father “Daddy, come quickly, the chapel is blown away!”. In a quite magnificent distillation of the times, his Dad responded coldly – “Be quiet, my boy, and get on with your work”. The Chapel came along on 28 January 1879 along with a new library, museum and two classrooms, laboratory and 3 additional dorms. It was reported on one occasion that Lady visitors were greeted by the arrival of a pet snake, slithering its way through the cold and miserly dorms. This is likely to have instigated the need for a refurb and is pretty on brand for Hogwart’s.
In 1914, the Great War saw to it that many of the students and staff enlisted and signalled the Golden Age’s abrupt end. As Prisoners of War arrived, cadets were summoned for guard duty, lending the college a militaristic air. As college publication The Barrovian reported at the time:
“(there are) fearsome-looking guards with rifles and glittering bayonets, while night is made hideous for the unwary wanderer by unexpected challenges and demands for unheard of passwords”
546 members of the college community served in World War I with a total of 135 boys, 2 masters and 1 of the estate staff losing their lives. KWC’s dogged durability endured throughout. The Isle of Man was seen as a safe haven post-WWI, even for off-Island boys due to its status as a POW location. Within two years, there were 278 boys attending the college. Fees had increased to £25 for day boys and £99 for boarders. The buoyant finances meant greater investment in new scholarship programmes, focused primarily on helping young Manx boys. Another of the most famous staff members, William Hoggart, a lecturer on landscape painting at the school, had his work selected for the Royal Academy and eventually elected to the Royal Institute. For people of science and education, such an accolade is to be cherished. For those who prefer a bit of X Factor, this is getting to sing at Sinitta’s Spanish Villa levels of acclaim. Minus the squawking Katy Perry butchery.
As with all booms, there must come a bust. And the tumultuous KWC history continued to intertwine with the highs and lows of the epoch. The recession of 1930 meant that, for the first time, government assistance was required. In 1933, KWC became a direct grant school with Tynwald pledging aid to what they deemed ‘an integral part of the education system of the Island’. Not long after, came World War II.
696 members of the college community served in WWII with 67 receiving honours. At the war’s denouement, the college welcomed royal dignitaries for the first time (Despite bestowing the college with his name, the former King William never graced it with his presence). King George VI (aka Colin Firth) and Queen Elizabeth were glowing in their praise. It is alleged the King commented on it’s ‘great dignity and charm’.
In the years following WWII, the college’s drama-filled history plateaued. Its reputation for world-class education and innovation has been earned. That is not to say, landmark achievements have not been forthcoming. Principal Wilson’s first XV became the first school team to travel by air; theirs was one of the first independent schools to join the now ubiquitous Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and, perhaps most revealing is the story from Geoffrey Rees-Jones, their principal between 1958-1979. The former Welshy Rugby Internationalist and Brigade Army Major was a staunch believer in community. Where the school had excelled in matters of discipline and education, he sought improvements in inclusivity. As he watched four boys of different race playing cricket on the school fields, he remarked, “that’s what it’s all about. They’ll be friends for life and won’t kill each other”.
Now, King William’s College has a lasting legacy, reflected by there being alumni on every continent and a cosmopolitan intake of students from across the globe. The pivotal recent development in this ever-evolving school’s history is in 1982 when girls were admitted to sixth form. By 1987, it was a fully co-educational school. And since the start of the 1990’s, the merging with The Buchan has, belatedly, created an inclusive environment for all genders.
The school motto is Assiduitate Non Desidia which, as you all know, translates to ‘by industry not sloth’. With no fanciful magic nor spells at their behest, this real-life Hogwart’s has withstood ignorance, adversity, indifference, recession and war (twice), all with the resilience of that wizardous carapace himself, Harry P.