IN the latter part of the eighteenth century there came to reside in Windsor one Samuel Evans. He had been living in Flintshire till that time, and was a man of good antecedents. His father, John Evans, had married into the Morton family of Sheffield, his grandfather had been in business in London, and his great-grandfather had taken for wife Mary Sidney, a direct descendant of Sir Philip Sidney of immortal memory. As a means of livelihood, Samuel Evans followed the profession of an artist and drawing master, and among his pupils at Windsor were the daughters of George III. To testify to this, there still stand in the studio of his descendant, Sidney Evans, the present Drawing Master at Eton, models of a bull and a cow, with this inscription by William Evans beneath them: "Given to my father, Samuel Evans, in 1795, by HRH Princess Elizabeth, daughter of George III, as a mark of esteem."
From being a drawing master at Windsor, Samuel Evans, though at what date is uncertain, migrated to Eton and took up his abode in the old house on the North side of Keate’s Lane, still used as the residence of the Drawing Master of the School, and exactly opposite to the one that was destined in after-years to be so intimately associated with his family.
There is little need here to refer to the children of Samuel Evans and Ann his wife, a daughter of a Mr. Knight of Soberton, Hampshire. Of their two sons, one died at the age of sixteen as an Eton boy, and the other, William, the eldest, lived to become the founder of the Eton House that took his name, and thereby to confer no small benefit on the School.
William Evans was born on December 4, 1798. At eleven years of age he joined the School as an Oppidan, remaining till 1815, when his father decided to make him a doctor, though he already showed a leaning towards Art. His medical studies were not, however, destined to last long, for in 1818 his father’s health began to fail, and it became evident that if he was to continue to hold the position of Drawing Master he must call in some one to help him. It is related that one day, at this period, Dr. Keate paid a visit to the house arrayed in all the glory of silk cassock, pudding-sleeved gown, and three-cornered hat. Mrs. Evans is said to have been delighted that so distinguished a man should deign to inquire after her husband’s health; but she soon found her mistake when Keate broke in with, ‘Where’s your son?’ Mrs. Evans replied that he was in London studying medicine. ‘Send for him at once,’ said Keate; he must come and take his father’s place.’
Evans’ actual appointment dates from 1823, when he definitely succeeded his father. He was Drawing Master till 1853, when he was succeeded by his son, Samuel TG Evans.
Such an order from such a man could claim only instant obedience. William Evans was started on a new course of studies, chiefly under the famous De Wint, and after a while returned to Eton as his father’s Assistant. For several years the father and son worked together; but in 1823 Samuel Evans’ health broke down altogether, and he retired to Droxford in Hampshire, where he died in 1837, in the seventy-fifth year of his age, his wife following him in the year 1852.
There can be no doubt that Keate’s choice was fully justified. Evans was possessed of just those qualities that were necessary for the post. He had been an Eton boy; he was at all points essentially a man. He was of fine appearance, standing more than six foot; he was a conscientious worker, and he became devoted to his art. Nor was he less likely to gain the affections of Eton boys by reason of other dominant traits of character. Endowed with immense strength, he gloried in all manly exercises; he was a keen sportsman, and it was said of him in at least one Scottish home that he could catch a salmon when nobody else could. With the rifle and shot-gun he could equally hold his own; he was a wonderful swimmer, and on the river he was a fine oar."
And from the point of view of Art, Evans was no mere Drawing Master, possessed of the power of imparting pretty tricks; he was something very different. He might possibly have become a successful doctor; he became something more than a successful artist. He had inherited to the full his father’s talent; the feeling for Art ran strong in him. He had an eye for line; he had the sense of colour, and composition came easily to him. These of themselves formed a fair equipment; years of persevering study did the rest. The writer chances to have been familiar with William Evans’ water-colour drawings all his life, and to possess several of them, and just as in all Arts the character of the Artist never fails to declare itself, so do these drawings show something of the character of the man behind the brush. There is strength and breadth of touch, an absence of all ‘finicking,’ often great brilliancy and freshness, and though, perhaps, even in his very best examples, the hand of the real genius is not present, his work is nevertheless capable of giving us at all times exceeding pleasure. […]
Meanwhile William Evans had taken to himself a wife. In 1822 he married Jane Mary, daughter of George Vernon Jackson, of Droxford, Hants. No less than six of Mrs. Evans’ brothers served in the Royal Navy. Three of these lost their lives in the Service; a fourth, George Vernon, completed a fine record ere he died as a Rear Admiral; and another became a soldier. Her descendants could well claim, therefore, that they were of good fighting stock.
On his father’s retirement, Evans established himself in the Old House, as it was then called by the family, in Keate’s Lane, and here were born to him a numerous progeny.
William Vernon (1823-1843, New Zealand)
Ann Maria (1824-1871, Eton)
Jane Mary known as Jennie (1826-1906, Eton)
Samuel Thomas George, (1829-1904) m. Susan, d. of T Bross of Springfield, Clapton
Mary Radcliffe (1830-1905) m. Rev. W. Wanklyn, Vicar of Deopham, Norfolk
Fanny Elizabeth (1833)
George Richard (1832-1853) Indian Navy
Fanny Elizabeth (1834-1860, Madras) m. Major A Drury, Indian Army
Grace, (1836-?) m. Rev. W.M Fenn, Rector of Tankersley, Yorkshire
Edward Augustus & John Sidney (1837-1838). […]
Little has been preserved in connexion with these earlier years; but one invaluable record remains in some’ Recollections’ dictated by Jane Evans many years later and taken down by her sister, Mrs. Fenn. They are, however, very brief, being contained in a few pages of one small notebook. Here is the earliest of them:
‘Montem of 1835. A great day. We children were dressed in new frocks, of course. Montem had to be abolished on account of the trains bringing so many undesirable outsiders into the place. It was a day given up to hospitality and gathering money for the first Colleger who did not get the King’s Scholarship. In those days the Houses had all to take care of Collegers, there being no accom modation for sickness in College. Drake was one of those belonging to our House. He was a very good-looking boy, and I well remember the pleasure with which we heard he had received a sum sufficient to help him substantially at Cambridge. There wa. no idea that the money collected was In any way a charity, but that it was a gladly given gift to one who must have worked well to have become entitled to it. ‘The Queen often came, and sat at the window over the archway in the Clock Tower to watch the procession of boys passing below and waving the Montem flags. It was the custom for the boys to wear fancy dress, and many of them, being the sons of rich parents, spent large sums on their get-up. The rest of the School wore red coats and white trousers, with cocked hat and white plumes. After the last Montem, an order was issued for the boys to wear their red coats, and for many weeks they gladly took advantage of this. ‘Some of my earliest recollections have to do with the time when we were still living in the Old House, and with scraps of conversation between my father and mother. At that time my father was getting on well in his profession, and often went to London to attend committees of the Old Water-Colour Society. Many of his brother artists would come and stay with hIm at Eton, and among these was Sir Edwin Landseer, who was very fond of teasing my eldest sister. For some reason my mother and she both disliked the Idea of the life of a Dame, and perhaps the reason may have been that so many of those they came in contact with were there .simply for the sake of providing for their families, without taking much interest in the work. At that time there were some twelve or thirteen Dames’ Houses, presided over by women of various social degrees. In some cases the property was their own by inheritance-viz., Miss Langford, for instance, who lived in Keate’s Lane and afterwards married Colonel Bulkeley. Miss Angelo was another. She had been a noted beauty, and to the end of her days used patch and powder and wore ringlets, and when no longer able to walk she was carried to church, with some state, in a sedan chair. Another was a Miss Bearblock. She was my sister’s Godmother, and was very kind to her; but she was a Dame, which grieved my sister, as she was fond of her. Sir Edwin could not resist making fun of my sister over this by asking her continually who her Godmother was.
‘Cattermole,* too, was a great friend, and when a bachelor spent many weeks at a time at Eton. He was full of practical jokes, and sometimes we children were the sufferers. At that time we had a governess who admired him very much. He did not appreciate her attentions, and occasionally revenged himself. She had a habit of watching him at work, and, one day, his room being on the first floor and a ladder having been left against his window by some one who was cleaning it, he heard a stealthy step cautiously ascending it. When he guessed the person’s head would be above the window-sill, he carelessly threw his painting sponge at it, saying: “That serves you right, Master Sam.” Sam was my brother, then aged about six, and his turn came next, poor little boy, for after bribing him with sixpence, Mr. Cattermole persuaded him to be put into a big hamper which was to be taken to Miss H., the governess. She, thinking it was something from home, opened it with great delight, when out popped Sam’s chubby face, to be received with many smart slaps, for which the sixpence was poor comfort.
* George Cattermole, 1800-1868, was an artist of considerable repute.
He worked in oils as well as water-colours, and received many distinctions from
foreign Academies. His illustrations to the Waverley Novels are well known.
‘In November, 1837, there came a terrible sorrow into my father’s life. My mother died very shortly after giving birth to twin sons. (William Evans seems to have marked this day throughout his life, and in an entry in his diary on November 19, 1872, there is this: 'Twins born this day, 1837; died in infancy. To show their regard for me, the following became their sponsors—Dr. and Mrs. Keate, E. Willis, of Goodrest, Col. Augustus Liddell, Mrs. Carter, and Thomas Gambier Parry of Highnam.')
‘At the time my father was seriously ill with quinsey, and in those days, when good nurses were not easy to find, my poor mother was not looked after as she ought to have been. One morning when alone, and very weak, she slipped out of bed, and went to the other end of the house to see how my father was. This brought on a chill, and in a very short time fever and death. Mr. G. Selwyn was constantly by her side during the last few hours of her life, and he and Mr. Edward Coleridge acted as true friends to her and to my father, whose agony of mind can be understood. The sympathy of the whole place was stirred, and every one did what they could for him, though it was impossible for anyone to do more really than stand by his side and wait for time to soften the blow.’
Evans was thus left a widower. His twin sons survived their mother only a few months, when they were laid by her side at the east end of the College Chapel burial-ground, beneath the flat grey stone that still marks their resting-place. Eight others, the eldest of whom was but fifteen years and the youngest eighteen months, remained with their father in the Old House. He himself was in his fortieth year; he had worked hard, and it is pathetic to find his daughter writing: ‘Up to this time he had led a happy life, and he afterwards told us that that year he and our mother had for the first time been able to save and put by in the Bank the sum of £60.’ For the time Evans was a broken man, but he had the strength to realize that in sorrow work is the best remedy, and applied himself with greater vigour to his pupils and his pictures. He had the sympathy of those about him, he had won the affections of his brother artists; above all, he had the love of his children, and at his elbow there stood those two stanch friends, George Augustus Selwyn and Edward Coleridge. *
* Selwyn was then a private tutor at Eton.
Coleridge an Assistant Master, holding the house now known as Keate’s house.
We are justified in believing that had it not been for the influence of these last, Eton would certainly at this time have lost Evans, who had made up his mind to quit the scene of his sorrows, to go to London, and to establish himself there as an artist. He was most fortunately dissuaded from carrying this de cision into effect.
The condition of many of the Dames’ houses has been already described, and Evans had long wished to see them improved. No less than twenty-one ladies’ names appear in the Eton Register as having held houses at this period; but the hand of the reformer was already making itself felt, and many of these houses were destined very shortly to be swept away. Here was Evans’ opportunity, and his friends were not behindhand in pointing out that now was his chance of taking up fresh work, of doing something for the School, and of carrying into effect his ideas of what a Dame’s house should be.
Evans had always maintained that the secret of a good and successfully managed House would be found in this-the degree to which the boys were trusted to govern themselves. He considered that this government should be oligarchical in character; that there should be a Captain who possessed, first of all, the absolute confidence of the holder of the House, and who should be trusted under him to carry out the necessary orders and to maintain discipline; that the Captain should have for his support a certain number of the senior boys immediately below him; and that by this means the honour of the boys as a whole would be appealed to as well as their better instincts and that they would so come to learn that the credit of their House and the position it occupied in the School rested ultimately in their hands. The absolute authority would still remain, of course, in the hands of the holder of the House, but, save in cases of a serious nature, the executive would be largely vested in the Captain and his coadjutors.
To attempt to carry on a House on these principles in the Eton of that day was no ordinary enterprise. It amounted to a revolution; it was against all precedent; it threw a responsibility on boys for which many considered them quite unfitted; not a few persons scouted the idea as chimerical; and those who saw in Evans’ scheme an attack upon their vested interests, endeavoured to hold it up to ridicule and contempt.
But Evans had decided to follow the advice of his friends and, having done so, put his hand to the work at once. Underlying his scheme there was a great principle, though one which at that date had made little way in our leading schools. His may have been a high ideal, but it set a high ideal also before the boys of his House. They were to be trusted; they were to be believed, and not doubted; honour, truth, manfulness, were to be held up as things for which they must themselves strive, and without coercion, without the shadow of the master at their elbow or , the sudden advent of some one from outside to call Absence at unexpected moments.
It happened that on the opposite side of Keate’s Lane, and immediately facing the house in which Evans was living, there stood a somewhat dilapidated structure, housing some fourteen boys, and kept by a Mrs. Vallancey. It appears to have been a typical Dame s House, and as the holder was willing to negotiate, Evans and his friends decided that this should be the field of his future enterprise. […]
If Evans was a man of many aspirations, he was certainly one who experienced many trials. For long years he threw himself into the task he had undertaken, sparing neither his time nor his capital, allowing his art to occupy a second place and his boys and his House to have his first thoughts. But then by degrees there came a change, and the House saw gradually less and less of him. How was this? He had suffered many bereavements. His wife and three of his children had been taken from him earlier; his eldest son had died in New Zealand, as we have seen; and once again, in 1851, death came and claimed his sailor son in Rangoon. But a further misfortune now befell him [in 1844].
Suffice it to say that when sketching – it matters very little where – he stepped back to look at his work, and was precipitated down a steep and rocky bank. The injuries he received were of a terrible nature, and there is no need to dwell upon them here. He was then a man in his prime, and though he lived to be nearly eighty, his strength now slowly declined, and his days were more often than not days of acute suffering. The glory of health and strength gradually ebbed away, and Evans came to take less and less share in the active management of the House. For a time he was, in the words of one of his Captains, ‘quite capable of exercising authority if it was wanted’; but his state of health necessitated periods of absence of gradually increasing length, until at last he was away for many months at a time. So it was that most of us saw little of him, and came to look in other directions for help and guidance in the House that still continued to bear his name.
William Evans was thus very largely the victim of circumstances, and if the state of affairs was not calculated to benefit the House, it speaks well for the system he had inaugurated that discipline and order continued to be maintained. At one time the strong opinion was held that Evans should resign, and then great pressure was brought to bear upon him to admit a young Master as resident in his House. But he would not entertain the idea of resigning, while he scouted the notion of a Master being imported to keep order. The boys would do that; he could trust them.
But there were things that the boys could not do, and that could not be left in the hands of a Matron, however capable. Parents had to be thought of, and, if on this side there were difficulties, the further fact had to be faced that there had been a heavy capital outlay, nearly the whole of which would almost certainly be sacrificed if the door was closed. (In his evidence before the Public Schools Commission Evans stated that’ he had paid, besides his renewal fines, £7,300 and upwards for goodwill and improvements’ [the equivalent of around £730k in 2007 money.])
It was now that Annie Evans came to her father’s assistance, and gradually took up the definite and entire management. That she was not inexperienced is shown in the following note by her sister Jane: ‘My eldest sister, Annie, came home when she was about nineteen, and in 1844 began to take part in the management of the House; but it was many years before she was allowed to have anything to do with the boys. My father considered that some one more experienced was necessary in their case, and always endeavoured to appoint ladies as matrons who were fully competent to undertake such a position. When, however, in 1855, my sister, who was very quick to see and understand what was wanted in such a large house from a woman’s point of view, asked my father to let her take the management of the House with him, he gladly agreed, only stipulating that she should have a thoroughly efficient matron to work with her. After trying one or two, she finally chose Mrs. Barns, whose quiet tact and practical ways with the boys were of infinite help to her.’
Annie Evans at this time had passed her thirtieth year, her sister, Jane, being two years younger. Sensitive and highly nervously organized, she brought to her task the energy and enthusiasm which is often the hallmark of such a temperament. There was no limit to her kindness, and all who write of her at this time speak of this with gratitude. Many of us can recall the quick way in which she would form an opinion, and when anything was wrong how quickly, too, the wwords would come from lips that trembled because of her hatred of evil and her keen anxiety for the character and welfare of the House that was in her charge. We little realized what it cost her. To take up such a work required no ordinary courage; it was beset with difficulties, and everything depended on her success or failure. She was herself far from strong. Her father’s health grew worse; there were brothers and sisters to be thought of; and there was the House, with its fifty or more boys and a whole array of servants. She may not have stood absolutely alone, for behind her was her sister Jane, and to a certain degree her father; but she would always say that it was impossible for two to manage such an undertaking, and though Jane Evans certainly came to take her full share, it was Annie who, during a period of sixteen years, was the real head of the House, and threw into the work her whole heart, her strength, it may be truly said, her very life.
I think Annie Evans,’ writes Howard Sturgis, was a very remarkable character. She was by nature emotional, nervous, almost hysterical at times, the last type of woman whom anyone would have suspected of any aptitude for the work she was called upon to do. Yet she undertook it with dauntless courage, and did it successfuIly’, with what amounted to a touch of genius.