QE The Lady Chapel: 1660-1860


For the next two hundred years, Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School worked well in the Lady Chapel. The records show that there were 20 Headmasters from 1569-1879, with Nathaniel Viner (1652-74) and John Bond (1758-1800) being the most notable. The Headmaster's salary was raised to £30, and he was given a house and additional fees from boarders. The Governors also decided to appoint an Usher (under master), who would have done most of the teaching in the school. About fifty boys attended the school, in 1823, there were 20-25 day scholars and a similar number of boarders. They would have been taught Latin and Greek grammar along with some aspects of ancient Literature and Mathematics.

Most of the day boys were from the more wealthy Crediton families, although they paid no fees - except for the boarders who were expected to contribute to the Headmasters' and Ushers' stipend (salary). The Governors continued to pay for the four poor scholars, and also provided money for three exhibitions at Oxford or Cambridge University - although not all were awarded. In 1812, the Vicar of Crediton and the Headmaster, Nicolas Lightfoot, both took action in the Chancery Court against the Governors to have their salaries increased; it seems that although they won their case, only the Vicar's salary was increased. The Governor's accounts for 1822 state that "400 was paid as stipend to the Vicar of Crediton, with "£30 to the Master of Crediton Grammar School". By the 1850's, the Governors were paying £200 to the headmaster, John Manley, who introduced many changes to the school and seems to have been very well respected by parents, pupils and Governors. His Usher was William Inchbald, educated at Cambridge University who was appointed in 1853. School started at 7:30am in the summer and lasted until 5pm; there is a copy of a petition signed by 15 parents asking for a later start- however it is not dated.

The Great Crediton Candle Scandal

The illustration for this chapter tells one of the most famous stories handed down by scholars at Queen Elizabeths. It is retold by Colonel T. Venn in his history of Crediton, and I am extremely grateful to Robert Logan, Librarian and Artist, who produced this brilliant cartoon in true eighteenth century style.

During the winter months, school in the Lady Chapel started very early in the morning. In order to allow lessons to continue, the Headmaster asked the boys to bring in their own candles and place them on the desk. The Vicar’s son was very proud to show off his large candle – used to llluminate the altar – and this naturally sparked a competition amongst the other boys.

One of the younger boys, John Leach, was fortunate because his father was the local chandler who made candles for his shop in Crediton's High Street. Therefore John spent all night working in his father's workshop saying he was completing a project for school. The next morning he set off for school carrying an enormous candle – reputedly 13 inches (330mm) in diameter. He placed the candle on the desk before school started with a wide grin on his face. The grin grew even wider as he lit the candle because he had filled the centre with used straw, manure and chicken droppings. By the time the Headmaster arrived, the schoolroom was filled with the most awful stench. The Headmaster was forced to evacuate the room, and all the boys ran off into Crediton to enjoy a rare day off. Doubtless young John was punished for his prank, but it does not seem to have put him off school because he continued at QE, making his way to University and becoming County Coroner for Dorset.

"The past is like a foreign country – they do things differently there" – or do they? Why not send in your memories of life at QE, or CHS or Shelley to the blog pages on this website. We'd appreciate any contributions.