I adore History, but most of all, I adore the bright, vivid, and O so human figures who populate those dusty days of yesteryear. One such was Mr Sparey, who, with his friend Mr Hewson, burned like blazing comic meteors across the drab High School skies of the middle years of the nineteenth century. This, of course, was when the old Free School was in Stoney Street in the Broadmarsh area of the city, ten or fifteen years before it moved to its present location.
Mr Sparey taught just one class, which was in one of the two downstairs classrooms. He was a “splendid writer, and a fair arithmetician and grammarian, but a rather rough man with a love for the cane.” He was ably assisted by Mr Hewson, “…a teacher of a more patient temper”. Mr Hewson taught not just English but also French, teaching grammar, setting exercises and marking them.
In late 1854, the pair of them caused great scandal in the town when they decided one Saturday evening to seek prolonged and alcoholic refreshment together in a local tavern on Long Row. It may have been near here…
Or it may have been further down…
Over the course of a spectacular evening, Messrs Sparey and Hewson grew progressively more and more drunk, and eventually managed thoroughly, and publicly, to disgrace themselves.
This was an escapade, though, which they might well have got away with, had it not been for the fact that their appalling behaviour coincided more or less exactly with the arrival of a Government Inspector, who had recently come to the town. He soon found out about this debauched episode, and, as might be imagined, a great deal of embarrassment was caused for the school.
Mr Sparey was told that if the offence was ever repeated, he would be instantly dismissed. Mr Hewson fared even worse. A witness in the subsequent inquiry actually said of him that “…I do not send my boys to this School. I should not like to so long as a character like Hewson’s taught there.” Hewson was then forced to resign.
In 1858, after almost five years of, hopefully, temperance and model behaviour, Mr Sparey, the remaining member of the Long Row Two, himself resigned. No reason was ever given for his departure.
It was not, however, as if Mr Sparey was unused to criticism. Two years earlier, the Headmaster had written to the Governors about “Mr Sparey’s bad English”, and when, later that same year, it was suggested that no member of staff should ever be allowed to keep a public house, for some unrecorded reason, it was Mr Sparey’s name that happened to crop up. The Writing Master countered this foul accusation by saying that that the inn was in actual fact not his, but was held in the name of his wife’s sister.
History is such, of course, that the fate of the Long Row Two remains unknown. But just for a moment they must have lit up a dreary, provincial town in a wonderfully spectacular way.