Academic excellence – the Richards Gold Medal

The Gold Medal was founded in memory of Edward Saxon Richards by his father in 1858. Edward Richards was highly regarded as a scholar by his school contemporaries and his teachers. He came to Radley aged 11 in the Summer Term, 1848, the 22nd boy to enter the school. He became one of the earliest Prefects, and one of the earliest boys to receive a citation in the Liber Argenteus (the Silver Book). The Silver Book entries eventually evolved into the present day ‘Distinctions’. Edward’s ‘distinction’ reads ‘in evolvendis historiae monumentis ceterisque doctrinae studiis diligentissimus.’ As an extremely diligent student, he won an Exhibition to Trinity College, Oxford, in 1855, and then a Demyship at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1856. He died at his home in 1857, whilst still at Oxford.

Edward Saxon Richards - Hand Coloured Photograph on Glass

Edward Saxon Richards – Hand Coloured Photograph on Glass

The death of one so young and talented had a profound effect upon those who had taught him. William Wood, Sub-Warden of Radley from 1853-63, knew him well, and described the unfolding events of his illness, death and funeral in characteristically Victorian sentiments in his personal diary:

1857. January 20th Tuesday
A talk in my room before going to bed. Heard from Mr R Sewell that Richards was very unwell.

January 21st Wednesday
I was just sitting down to write to Gordon when the Warden came in with very bad news. Poor Richards is dead! Died yesterday morning at 6 o’clock, disease of the brain, brought on, I fear, by excessive reading. I feel the loss as of an intimate friend. His father writes almost distracted. … Poor dear old fellow! I hardly knew till now how I loved him. It was but the other day that he sat here in this room on my sofa with me and we were talking of the vacation and his approaching examination at Easter, and now he has been called away to another examination!

January 22nd Thursday
At morning Chapel the Warden announced Richards’ death to the boys. As we came in, he called me in to his room to speak of another matter, but my heart was so full that I could not control my feelings and was obliged to seek refuge in my own room in prayer.

January 25th Sunday.
Very wet and gloomy. The Warden preached on Richards’ death, using his character rather as an example to others in small things. The Sermon not very affecting for its matter, but the occasion was too much for me and I could with difficulty get through 2 or 3 of the Offertory Sentences. Not many dry eyes in Chapel. The Warden himself left the rest of the service to me. I could hardly get through the first prayers.
A letter today from Mr Richards wishing me to go to the funeral, so I must set off tomorrow. It will be a sad and trying scene. He wishes me to go because Edward “loved me so much”.

January 26th Monday
Snow falling heavily. Left Radley at 12½ for Oxford. Got to Farlington by 7
A fly took me to the Rectory at Farlington, where I was shown into the drawing room … Mr Richards soon began to talk to me apart on the subject uppermost in our minds, and told me most of the particulars of his illness. It was indeed affecting, and not least so the account of poor Edward’s delirium. Later in the evening Mr Richards asked if I should like to see Edward. I said Yes. Mr Nugee took me upstairs and into the bedroom where in the centre, covered with a white cloth, lay the coffin. I knelt down first by the bedside to pray. Mr Nugee also. We then rose and he drew the sheet aside. Richards lay as if in a deep sleep, the features not altered, and a most beautiful saintlike expression on them. He was clothed in his surplice, his hands crossed on his breast and holding white camellias and other white flowers, a chaplet of which lay on the coffin. We looked at him for some time and then Mr Nugee, pointing to the bed said “he died there.” “His end was so quiet and peaceful (he said) that we were scarcely conscious when he was gone. He seemed to have known of its approach for his hands were found to be crossed upon his breast as you see them now.” My heart was too full to speak.

March 26th Thursday
I have received from Mrs Richards a gold cross containing some of poor Edward’s hair, which I intend to wear round my neck. May it often remind me of him, and when I most need it.’ [Excerpts from William Wood’s diary]

No 12 Richards Gold Medal 6 NO 12 Richards Gold medal 1

It would seem to be a simple thing: a bereaved father endows an academic prize in memory of his son. However, as with so many things which involved the Founder of Radley, William Sewell, its earliest history became a tempest in Radley’s teacup. The first suggestion was for a Latin Prize, but Sewell spent far above the expected budget on the design and making of the medal. So its purpose was changed to accord with the splendour of the medal itself and when it was instituted in 1858, it was to be awarded to the boy who came top in a threefold school exam in Classics, mathematics and history. But it seldom happened that the same candidate was equally strong in all three subjects and so in practice it was awarded to the boy who came top in two out of the three. After 1872 it was not awarded each year, and the winner was permitted to choose books to the value of £5 instead of being given the medal. Nearly all the winners went on to gain open Scholarships to Oxford University. In 2013, the recipient receives a cheque, and a commissioned medal.

The medal was designed by Edward Howard, one of the first three schoolmasters of Radley. Howard, as the son of a member of Royal Academy, was considered the artist on the staff, and commissioned to design the school seal, which was executed by Strong-i-th’-arm in London, and represented a ‘dove standing on a scroll, held in her bill.’ The reverse of the Richards Gold Medal similarly represents a dove with a scroll, but added the serpent as well, and is the earliest reference to the school motto ‘sicut serpents, sicut columbae.’ [Be as wise as serpents, as gentle as doves]. The design on the obverse which represents the Good Shepherd (occasionally described as St Peter) was also used in the earliest Radley bookplates and on the Radleian magazine from 1864 until the 1960s. Edward Howard also designed Clock Tower.

The actual Gold Medal is made of silver gilt. It was originally to be awarded annually, with each recipient receiving a replica medal (also silver gilt) valued in 1897 at c£6. Occasionally these are returned to the school, and the Archives now contains four of the first Gold Medals to be awarded. But, these are not the only copies in existence, thanks to the peculiarities of William Sewell’s approach to his staff and pupils. Neither was this a simple matter of awarding the medal to the most academically able boy in the school: Henry Bazeley, who heads the list on the Honours Board in Covered Passage, was not the first recipient. William Wood tells a different story:

Sewell and Fellows 1858

Sewell and Fellows 1858

Dr. William Sewell 1858

Dr. William Sewell 1858

1858. 18th September Saturday

‘On coming down for morning Chapel found something being passed from hand to hand among the Fellows which Austin then put in his pocket. Found afterwards to my intense astonishment that it was the Richards Gold Medal, just given to him by the Warden!!!! Everybody most indignant. Our last entrenchment, our very Palladium seems to be invaded. A medal is given to the College. It is first advertised to be given for Latin Verses, then, owing to the Warden having spent so much on the die etc. we agreed with him in College meeting last term that it is too good for this. He proposes to give it to Henry Sewell as an excellent Senior Prefect. Everyone opposed to the current Senior Prefect having it, and the question deferred, only it is seen that the Warden may offer us the additional slight of giving it in express violation of our wish!

… In the evening West had a talk with Austin and explained how, matters lay. Poor Austin much hurt. “He had been promised a medal a long time ago by the Warden and had received it as a matter of course.”

William Austin - pictured third from right 1857

William Austin – pictured third from right 1857

William Austin entered Radley in 1849. He was the second boy to become Senior Prefect of Radley College, in 1853. After graduating from Oxford, he returned to Radley in 1858 as the first Old Boy to become a schoolmaster there. Sewell has been prevented from giving the Richards Gold Medal to the current Senior Prefect, so had awarded it to a previous holder of the honour, because he had promised all the prefects medals. William Wood, as Sub-Warden, had remonstrated with Sewell the previous term about excluding the teaching staff (then called ‘Fellows’) from the decision-making process whereby the Warden favoured or rewarded individual boys, particularly the prefects. He continues:

19th September Sunday
After Chapel, in accordance with the Warden’s expressed request last term, I sought an interview with him, and told him how surprised we had been. “The Medal had been spoken of by him as in our gift, its very form and stamp implied this. It was no more competent for him to give it than for any other member of the body, just as no one of us could give books stamped with the College Device. He seemed to be acting in direct contravention of what he had agreed on last term. If we had no say in this, we did indeed seem to have no rights at all.”

He acknowledged all I said about as to what we agreed last term, and said he never interfered with what had once been determined by us. Henceforth the medal was to be given by us collectively in the way in which we thought fit. But he had certainly the power and right, before handing it over to the College, to have any number he liked struck off at his own expense to be presented as honoraria. So he had given one to the Bishop, so to Mr Richards. Six months ago he had promised the Senior Prefects at a dinner (he thought) in Oxford, to give each of them a copy of a medal. He had hoped we should have agreed with his suggestion last term, to be given from time to time for any excellence, but when we did not, what was he to do? Retract his promise to the boys? No! he was not only head but Founder, was he not?” I replied that he stood in many different relations, but that I thought when anything was given for the good of the College, he was not so absolutely unfettered in its disposal as he seemed to imply. … Now, the chief difficulty left was, that there would be some doubt thrown over the cause why such and such persons held the medal. Was our printed list of “Richards Prize Medallists” to begin with Austin?” “No more than with the Bishop! With these four he would end, unless (which he would rather hope) we thought fit that succeeding ones should be given in the same manner.
I explained this to the Fellows. …The difficulty is tided over, it seems for the present… The Warden decided on a course, commits himself, comes into collision, gets out of the difficulty by an ex post facto explanation.’

In the light of Sewell’s attempt to use the medal as the reward for a Senior Prefect, the choice of Henry Bazeley as the first winner of the Richards Gold Medal must have caused some discussion, but Wood is silent upon the matter. HCB Bazeley came to Radley in Michaelmas 1855. By 1858 he was acknowledged as the most academically able boy in the school, but:

‘never was there a nature so little suited for the Radley training. To him the mystical in religion and the sensuous in art were equally abhorrent; and Sewell’s tendency to idealise must have seemed like make-believe. The result was a recoil of his religious nature from the system of the Anglian Church, which he never recovered.’ (EL Hicks: Henry Bazeley, the Oxford Evangelist: a memoir. 1886, p14)

Not only did Henry Bazeley find the churchmanship and the ubiquitous art unsuited to his tastes, but he also delighted in challenging the intellectual stance of the Warden and Fellows: ‘it is one indication of this revolt that in the school debating-club he invariably moved an amendment, and voted in the minority.’ (Hicks, p14)

1856 Henry Bazeley - seated second left 1856

Henry Bazeley – seated second left 1856

Sewell observed this, and considered Henry’s influence within the school too great to be rewarded:

‘When Henry reached the head of the Sixth, and would naturally have become the Senior Prefect, the Warden in offering him the honour, advised him to decline it…’ (Hicks p14)

Sewell explained his reasoning in a letter to Henry’s father:

‘I am heartily and truly proud of him. When he and I talked together over the question of the senior prefectship, I had before me his peculiarities of temperament, his intellectual power, and his independence of character, and these are great excellences. But his mind as never one to run in grooves … so he has the honour … of being the first Radley princeps.’

Such was Henry Bazeley, independent thinker, the only Radleian to be awarded the title ‘princeps’ (Head Boy) rather than ‘dux’ (Senior Prefect), and the first of a long line of the holders of the Richards Gold Medal.

 Posted on the honours board in covered passage

Posted on the honours board in covered passage

[William Wood’s unpublished diary whilst Sub-Warden of Radley is in Radley College Archives. It is currently being prepared for publication by the Oxfordshire Record Society, edited by Mark Spurrell]

[Period photograph’s have been taken from William Wood’s photograph album]

Clare Sargent July 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s