MP to endow a new school

Ebberston Hall, home to William Thompson the son and heir of Francis, who handed over to bailiffs the original trust money plus seven years' unpaid interest
Ebberston Hall, home to William Thompson the son and heir of Francis, who handed over to bailiffs the original trust money plus seven years' unpaid interest

Written by Dr Jack Binns

During the 1690s it seemed possible that Scarborough might at last have a proper house for its grammar schoolboys and their master, John Phillips. On April 1, 1692, the assembled Commons heard that one of the borough’s two MPs, Francis Thompson Esq., had paid six pounds to the chamberlains and guaranteed a bond of £100 to the town “for the use of a schoole or schoole-master”. Six pounds was the interest on the bond and would be handed over every year, “at the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary [March 25]” for the use of a schoolmaster.

As long as Francis and his heirs or executors kept the agreement they would have the right to approve the appointment of the schoolmaster.

Francis Thompson (1653-93) certainly had the means to endow a grammar school. He was the eldest son and principal heir of William Thompson (1629-92) of Scarborough, the town’s wealthiest and most influential resident. The Thompson family had a mansion house in Sepulchregate.

Thanks to the ruthless enterprise of his father and grandfather, Stephen, Francis had been married to an heiress at the age of 15 when he was still a boy at Brentwood Grammar School in Essex. Arabella was the only orphaned child of Sir Edmund Alleyn and worth £1,200 a year. She was abducted from her home by the Thompsons, carried off to France and the wedding took place before her family had knowledge of it. Arabella’s legal guardian had Stephen Thompson imprisoned in the Tower of London as an accomplice, but William escaped punishment.

When Francis was admitted to St John’s College, Cambridge in 1671 he was married but not yet 18-years-old. Eight years later, he was elected, along with his father William, to represent Scarborough in the House of Commons.

The Thompsons were Whigs and as such had been strongly and openly hostile to the succession of the Catholic James II in 1685. Suspected of treason, both Francis and William had been placed under house arrest at the time of Monmouth’s rebellion against James. Francis was actually arrested by Scarborough’s Tory mayor when he tried to intervene in the borough’s parliamentary election of 1685.

However, the defeat and expulsion of James and the succession of Dutch Protestant William III in 1688 restored Francis to his Commons seat. No doubt his insistence on choosing the town’s headmaster was both a political and a religious precaution.

But the death of Francis in 1693, only a year after that of his father William, was both sudden and surprising: he was only 40-years-old. Perhaps his premature death explains why the school he might have intended to endow was never built.

More puzzling, is an entry in the Common Hall minutes, dated April 2, 1694, which ordered that “Mr Sedman and Mr Batty” should “lye out towards building of the schoole-house, the summe of £12 11s. 1d.” It appears that Thomas Sedman and Paul Batty had been coroners in 1692-3 and had received this money “by order of John Hungerford”, with instructions to look for a suitable site for a school.

John Hungerford was another of the many unlikely Members of the Commons to sit for Scarborough. The records show that he was a Tory lawyer, born in Wiltshire about 1658, trained at Lincoln’s Inn and married to a vintner’s daughter. From April 1692 he was one of the borough’s representatives when he took William Thompson’s place until March 1695, when he was unseated by the powerful duo of Lord Irwin and Sir Charles Hotham.

However, on the succession of Queen Anne, in 1702, he won back his Scarborough seat to share representation of the borough with William Thompson, son of the late Francis, and the last of the Thompson line.

Unlike some of Scarborough’s MPs, such as the Osbaldestons of Hunmanby who never opened their mouths in the Commons chamber, Hungerford was notorious there for his loud voice. As one commentator said of him, “he never spared his lungs”.

Hypocrisy was another of his characteristics: having frequently denounced the vice of political corruption, he was expelled from the House for taking a bribe of 20 guineas from the East India Company. Nevertheless, when his replacement, Robert Squire of Cloughton, died in 1707, Hungerford bounced back into his old seat which he held on to through six consecutive elections until his death in 1729.

Though lampooned by Daniel Defoe as “mad” and other unprintable adjectives, Hungerford left his mark on the statute book with a bill to protect game and one to curb excessive gambling. There is no evidence that he did anything for Scarborough or even tried to found a new school there.

On February 2, 1697, Candlemas, Scarborough’s “free Grammar schoole” was taken over by a new master, Henry Docker, to replace John Phillips. He was chosen by the Common Hall, but unlike his predecessors he was an Anglican clergyman. According to the Council minutes of May 19, 1696, Docker was appointed for 
only one year and allowed “to keep an usher at his own charge”, but the usher also 
had to be approved by the bailiffs and Noel Boteler, the vicar.

Boteler died shortly after Docker’s selection and his successor in July 1696 as the parish vicar was John North. Yet Docker proved himself to be such a competent and respected schoolmaster that when John North died in 1708 the vicar’s post was awarded to Docker. So, for the first time since Henry Langdale, more than a century earlier, the same clergyman acted as both master of the school and vicar of the parish.

But what had happened to the £100 put in trust by Francis Thompson? For 50 years nothing is recorded of it until in 1743 William Thompson, rector of St Mary’s, MP for the borough and the son and heir of Francis, handed over to the two bailiffs, then James Hebden and Francis Goland, £143 in cash! This sum was the original trust money plus seven years’ unpaid interest on it which William had failed to pass on.

Perhaps William was finally making his peace with a bad conscience: the owner of Ebberston Hall was only a year short of his own death.