Throughout 1850-1851 Singleton’s relationships with Sewell and with the Fellows rapidly deteriorated, as did the financial situation of the School, which now had debts amounting to over £20,000. By the end of June 1851 it was understood that Singleton, although he had not formally resigned, would return no more as Warden of Radley. In July he sent a circular to the Fellows announcing his intention to resign at the end of the vacation, by which time Sewell hoped to have found a successor. Later he came to the conclusion that, as no proper notice had been sent to the parents, he would continue in post whilst Sewell attempted to sort out the financial crisis and would decide whether to leave at Michaelmas or Christmas. Meanwhile, Sewell, in association with Charles Marriott, the Prior Fellow, was already negotiating with an unknown person about the succession to the Wardenship.
At the end of August, 1851, a College Meeting attended by Warden Singleton and all the Fellows with the exception of Monk and Haskoll, passed the following resolution:
‘That the Rev. William Sewell having taken it upon himself to enter into negotiations with different persons with a view to filling an expected vacancy in the Wardenship, the Warden and Fellows at resent resident unanimously request that he will henceforth avoid any interference in matters the management of which the Statutes confine to other parties.’
The resolution was duly forwarded to Sewell, and Charles Marriott, as Prior Fellow, delivered a rebuke. The unknown candidate was dropped. James Baker, a Fellow, now took it upon himself to invite Rev. William Bedon Heathcote of New College to stand for the Wardenship. Heathcote declined, but not long afterwards he was approached by Marriott with the same offer.
At the end of August, the financial crisis erupted. Captain Strong, the Treasurer, reported to Singleton that unless steps were taken in the next fortnight to restore the confidence of the Bank (Coutts Bank) he would have to inform the creditors and tradesmen that the College was insolvent. The majority of the Fellows, led by James Baker decided that Singleton’s immediate withdrawal was necessary to save the College. The boys then became aware of the pressure put upon him and rallied to his support. On 10th September, led by Melhuish, the Senior Prefect, seventy-two of the seventy-seven boys in the school signed a memorial which was presented to Singleton.
‘False reports having been circulated of disaffection and divisions among the students of the College, the undersigned desire to testify their sincere and unqualified submission and attachment to the Warden.’
Matters reached a head at the College Meeting of Michaelmas 1851. The main business of the meeting was finance, but violent quarrels about the Statutes had been taking place for weeks, and these dominated the agenda. The co-foundership dispute reached its unedifying climax, and Marriott, on behalf of Sewell, repudiated Singleton’s claim to be considered a Founder of Radley College. Singleton also discovered at that meeting that his advance of £4,000 (£3,000 to Sewell personally and £1,000 for the organ) which he had been led to believe was secured on the College property, in reality had no security at all, because a legal lien on the property had been given to J.H. Markland, a Prior Fellow. When it came to the main business, the finance committee reported that Sewell had received in fees, donations and loans £23,642, and had expended £24,209.
Singleton had delayed his resignation in the hope of sorting out his loan. Failing in this, he, with his brother Samuel, resigned on October 7th, 1851. He left the College as quietly as possible to avoid upsetting the boys, granting many of them unexpected leave to attend the Great Exhibition with their parents. On the night of Singleton’s departure, at 9.15pm William Haskoll summoned the Fellows into Chapel and announced that the Warden had resigned. At 9.30pm a College Meeting was held, and the election of his successor was fixed for 8.00am the next morning. The Rev William Bedon Heathcote, Fellow of New College, was then elected Warden of Radley.
Although only forty-one at this time, Singleton went into perpetual retirement. He lived with his mother at Kingstown for a few years, during which he published a blank verse translation of Virgil. After her death he purchased Minster Court at York, where he got Telford to build him another organ. He kept up a firm friendship with Edwin Monk, and stayed with him in Abingdon in 1857, although he did not visit Radley. When Monk was appointed organist at York Minster, the two collaborated on The Anglican Hymnbook, for which Singleton wrote over thirty hymns. He died on 7th February, 1881, and was buried in the family vault at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin; the service was taken by the Warden of St Columba’s, supported by the school choir. Many of the governors and staff of St Columba’s attended the funeral, but Radley was represented by just one junior master, Rev. John Kirkby.
The journal was delivered to Radley College in 1881-82. It was certainly read within a short time of its arrival at the school, and The Radleian magazine published extracts from it starting in March 1890. In 1896, Samuel Harvey Reynolds read and commented upon the diary, preparatory to the fiftieth-anniversary of the school in 1897.
Radley College had no official memorial to Singleton until after the Centenary celebrations of 1947, when one of the rooms in Radley Hall was named in his honour, the Singleton Library. He is now acknowledged by the School as Co-Founder and First Warden.
I cannot allow this my private journal to leave my hands without guarding against one or two misapprehensions, which may very possibly arise from it.
In the first place, I continually speak of Mr Sewell, as if he were the sole Founder of the College. Now, this never was so, nor was there the smallest intention of its ever being so. In fact, at the very commencement of the undertaking, he said to myself, that unless I joined him in the Foundership, he would abandon all thoughts of the design. This I was only too willing to do, as from my experience of him while in Ireland, I distrusted him in all matters connected with expenditure.
Further, after the whole College had been up in arms against him, among other offences, from his effort to set aside my Co-Foundership, he said to me privately in the greatest displeasure: ‘Do you, then, be sole Founder yourself.’ But this I utterly declined. .
When, then, I call him Founder, it is simply because I was to be the Warden, and it was highly desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that some one should, acting as Founder, institute me to my office. Besides, there was no other position than this for him to occupy in the College, whereas mine was the visible and obvious one of Warden. It was therefore the most natural thing in the world among friends, living in the closest intimacy, that my foundership should be sunk, - so far as mere language could sink it, in the office of Warden. But it became a totally different matter, when the relation which I bore to the College, was suddenly made to assume a new shape, by which my foundership was abolished altogether. The Fellows never considered for a moment that I had abdicated my functions as a founder by calling him founder: in fact, it was an idea that they would not listen to. For when Mr Sewell tried to impose a new body of Statutes on the College, arrogating sole foundatorial powers to himself, they assailed him for the selfishness, and rejected the Code. This took place at a meeting held in my room one evening when the whole College was present (Monk was absent from Radley owing to ill health. 12/3/74) and there was a discussion about giving a right to the Founder to appoint a Decimal. On that occasion Savory said to him: ‘But what about the other Founder, Mr Sewell? His rights are guarded equally with yours in the present statutes, to which we have all promised obedience.’ This made him very angry, and he took up these very Statutes, which were lying on the table before him, and then threw them down contemptuously, exclaiming: ‘What of these? They were never intended to be anything but waste paper.’ This speech utterly shocked the College; the meeting broke up; and he never appeared, - during my time at least, - at College meeting again, and but rarely in the College at all. The breach never was healed, and some time afterwards he was driven to hand over to the Manager of the London and County Bank, Captain Strong, and myself the entire control of the funds, when all his power was at an end. Now, during the whole of this period he never thought of pleading that my calling him Founder expunged my own right to the title, any more than he would afterwards have said that Dr Lightfoot had ceased to be Rector of Exeter, because he was addressed as Vice-Chancellor; or would have said now that Sir F. Ouseley was no founder of St Michael’s, because he is never called so. .
When Mr Sewell, in his speech at Willis’ Rooms, talks of his organisation of St Peter’s College, Radley, he speaks of an event, with which he had little to do, inasmuch as I imported the whole system from beginning to end, ‘mutatis mutandis’, from St Columba’s College, in Ireland, which so far as it was not my own, was settled not only by him, but by several others, including the late Dr Todd, who knew quite as much about College founding, and school making as he. Indeed, for a considerable time after I left Radley, I was told that he loudly disclaimed what he now arrogates, saying that he himself not only did not do it, but never could have done it. .
It may seem strange that, being a Founder of the College, I should ever have thought of laying any claim to any charge upon its property. But this was settled between Sewell and myself, before Radley was ever fixed upon for the proposed College; — and for this reason: — we did not trust the Bishops, and could not tell whether some evil fortune, like that which overtook us in Ireland, might not bring us to grief in England, and wreck the whole undertaking. At that time I had not lent any money, but it was foreseen that I might have to advance it. When I was leaving Radley I pressed the re-payment of this loan, because I knew that if Sewell continued to insist upon the old constitution, the place would ere long go entirely to pieces. But this has long ago been altered, and I have been victimized to my own foresight. In fact, my successor, Mr Heathcote, insisted upon that part of my scheme, which concerned the Head Master and his stipend, etc — being carried out, or he would not accept the Wardenship. This was done for him, which Sewell told me would be the destruction of the collegiate idea. When this came to the ears of Lord John Thynne, I was informed that he taxed Mr Sewell pretty roundly with acquiescing in an important part of my plan immediately after my secession, which he had peremptorily refused before it. To this he replied that he had been talking over the matter with his friends, and he thought it better to consent to it.
There is another feature in the Journal, which might easily mislead the reader without a word of explanation: — my studious suppression of every act and fact that I thought was plainly unfavourable to Mr Sewell. Thus I may appear to have sanctioned his purchase of a thousand articles, such as pictures, carvings, old furniture, half-worn-out carpets, etc. — vast quantities of which had to be stowed away under the roof of the house. As to the pictures, I always agreed with him in the desirableness of surrounding the boys with mementoes of the good and great in days gone by; but I considered the purchase of them in our then state of poverty to be simple madness, if not worse. I perfectly remember his telling me in the spring of 1847 that he had seen these pictures and other things at Falcke’s in Oxford Street, and that he thought it desirable to purchase them, but that he would not do so without my approval on inspection. Accordingly I went up to London to see them, and as I would not determine the case on my own responsibility the Sub Warden came with me. We there saw the various articles that he had named, and had no difficulty whatever in deciding that they should not be bought. This we communicated to Sewell on our return, and he acquiesced. Shortly afterwards I went over to Ireland to see my mother according to promise, and when I returned in about a month, all that had been deliberately rejected were absolutely in the College.
Different communications from very different quarters had been made to me, with the view of inducing me to keep my money in my own power, whatever else I might do. On one occasion, my cousin Allan Cliffe, who was then Curate of Hampton Lacy, and has been already mentioned in the Journal, having come to Oxford to see his friend F. fellow of Jesus, was pressed by F. to go out to Radley to see me, and to urge upon me the necessity of keeping my capital in my own hands. F. lent him his own bay horse for the purpose. I told Allan Cliffe that he need be under no apprehension in the matter, for that, I knew Mr Sewell’s tendencies, as I had obtained from him a solemn promise that he would not spend a farthing of our funds without my full and free consent. I cannot bring myself to say how this engagement was observed; but I perfectly recollect that before the summer was gone, I was reduced to a state of miserable dejection, and that Sewell saw it. He asked me what was the matter, and I said: ‘I am afraid that we shall be bankrupt before we have a boy.’ On this he solemnly renewed his promise to spend nothing without my sanction, and I exclaimed in delight; ‘Now, then, I don’t care: we shall do well.’ .
But it was of no use.
Also, in the Journal I have carefully avoided all allusion to the disputes which arose between Mr Sewell and the College. These were very serious and mostly originated from his refusing to hand over their funds to the body, in direct breach of his repeated engagements. The Warden and Fellows always looked upon this as a dishonourable evasion. A high dispute arose between him and Baker in connection with this very matter, which was brought by Mr Sewell under the notice of the Bishop (Wilberforce). The Bishop wrote to me upon the subject, saying that after Mr Sewell’s language to Baker, (quoted in my ‘Statement’) he entirely understood Baker’s resentment: — and thus, what was really an attempt to get Baker removed from the Fellowship, or formally rebuked, came to nothing.
Before I conclude I think it is as well to say, that after my resignation many of my friends said to me: ‘Why did you not continue at the College, and as you were a Founder as well as Mr Sewell, make all the changes which it was plain that he was not wise enough to see were necessary, and then defy him?’ To such expostulations my answer always was: ‘Because I solemnly promised obedience to the Statutes.’ ‘But,’ it would be rejoined; ‘Necessitas non habet leges.’ My reply was: ‘It had a law for me, and that was submission.’
Thus was I severed from a position, for which it seems to me that I was better fitted than any I have ever occupied either before or since.
Robert Corbet Singleton, MA. York, March 9th, 1874.>
Last modified 30 January 2013