Bicentenary salutes spirit of a founder

THE bicentenary of the Rev Nathaniel Woodard isn’t merely a matter of passing historical interest for Lancing College.

The point is that Woodard’s personality is still strongly imprinted on the school which he founded.

Of course, as college registrar Jeremy Tomlinson says, there are certain elements of Victorian thinking which would be wildly out of place in a school which is very firmly modern in its outlook.

But Woodard’s spirit certainly lives on.

“His personality is still strongly felt at this school and at the other schools that he founded because of his absolutely passionate commitment to developing education for a wider range of society.

“He saw education as a means of social improvement and salvation. He was an Anglo Catholic, a high churchman of the Oxford movement and very much a believer in the power of the Eucharist,

“He started out in the east end of London as a curate at Bethnal Green. He saw poverty and deprivation and the tremendous divisions in society in terms of wealth and opportunities.

“Woodard was himself from an Essex family which was not particularly well to do. He was home educated and then rather later went to Oxford because partly by then he had decided that he wanted to be ordained.

“He was very influenced by the Oxford movement and then became a curate in the east end and then went to Shoreham.

“What he found in Shoreham which he wrote about a lot was a combination of the mariners and the harbour people, which was fairly thriving, but their circumstances were fairly poor because they depended on agricultural conditions.

“His belief was that if you held all the trades people and merchants to a better education, then they would have more opportunities in life and it would also trickle down to raise the opportunities and aspirations of the whole of society.

“His original vision in terms of founding Lancing and other schools was to provide education of quality with greater public access than already existed, but less expensive and therefore less socially exclusive.”

And it was in the founding of Lancing that his charismatic personality was most apparent, Jeremy says: “He had made some influential friends in London who were anxious to develop social reform.

He wrote incredibly forceful begging letters to all sorts of bankers and important people.

He appealed to their social conscience and their sense of guilt - ‘you have got the means, you can do something!

“He worked out a system of grammar school education within a Christian context at an affordable rate. Gladstone commented that he had the mastery of philanthropic agitation!”