The Victorian School
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon


Robert Laffan, headmaster 1885-1895,
by Leslie Watkins

Robert Laffan with staff and pupils, c1890

Robert Laffan, sitting second from left, with staff and pupils, c1890


It was in January, 1885, that the Rev Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan began his work at King Edward VI School at this most critical time. He had come down from Merton College, Oxford, in 1878 with a double first in Classics, had been ordained in 1882, and he came here from Derby School where he had been senior classical master since 1880. He found a school of under forty boys, of whom two were boarders, and a staff of two assistant masters; in seven years' time there were a hundred boys, twenty of them boarders, and seven resident masters. All of the stages of the growth of the school were most carefully co-ordinated. More boys meant more classrooms: some of these were provided and equipped at his own expense, others by Charles Flower. Larger numbers made further innovations possible: new subjects came into the curriculum and greater interest was taken in games and all other forms of school activity. Better assistant masters started producing better examination results. Physical training was introduced. There was a small demand for boys to come into the school earlier than the statutory age, and the only way of accomplishing this was to form a preparatory school: it was formed. Dramatic work, ambulance classes, German in the time-table - all of this came within two years. Then followed carpentry, shorthand and a commercial department. During Perry's time [the previous headmaster] the choirboys had left to go to the Choir School: back they came again to School House. Money became available from the Warwickshire County Council if the school had a science course: a temporary laboratory was opened and the subject was started. This sounds like a feverish rush of events that might have been in danger of engendering excitable or noisy behaviour on the part of the boys, but nothing could have been further from the truth. In 1892 a most experienced examiner, E O Pope, from the Civil Service Commission, reported: "The tone of the boys is beyond praise. No better manners, no more gentlemanly behaviour, no more genuine courtesy can be met with in any of our public schools."

Related article

Mrs Laffan interviewed


Apart from all this was his vision, not only in educational and academic matters, but in spiritual and aesthetic ones as well. There is no doubt that he was largely instrumental in influencing Charles Flower to undertake the restoration of the school buildings. At that time the Old Vicarage was rented from the vicar for school purposes, but at any time a new vicar might have required it. In advancing reasons in favour of its outright purchase Laffan said: "Its acquisition would render possible the opening up of the school quadrangle, which would then become one of the chief architectural beauties of Warwickshire." It was forty years later that the truth of this was tested and proved.

Laffan was elected Principal of Cheltenham College in 1895. But the qualities necessary to build up from almost nothing a happy and contented staff and a thriving and flourishing day school are not the same as those required to take over from a brilliant predecessor a boarding school already well established. He must often have regretted the day that he left Stratford. In four years' time he had given up schoolmastering forever and accepted the living of St Stephen, Walbrook, and in 1904 he was appointed Assistant Chaplain of the Chapel Royal, Savoy. He had always been interested in athletics; in 1899 he was a member of the International Olympic Committee and in 1908 honorary secretary to the British Olympic Association. He frequently returned to Stratford and the school and as late as 1919 he attended for Speech Day and presented the prizes. He died in 1927.


From The Story of Shakespeare's School 1853-1953, by Leslie Watkins
(Stratford-upon-Avon: Herald Press and Edward Fox & Sons, 1953)

Robert Laffan Robert Laffan


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