Shelf Lives: Patience Rewarded

Some thirty nine years after his first candidacy, Sir William Wynne (1729-1815), was finally elected unanimously as Master of Trinity Hall in 1803. At the age of thirty-five Wynne had contested the election of 1764 with Sir James Marriott, also a fellow of the College and civil lawyer. Crawley tells us that the outcome was close and Marriott was elected by a slim margin (5 votes versus 3), with both men voting for themselves!

Trinity Hall’s “Back Court” showing the Master’s Lodge on the right and the Old Library on the left.

After a patient wait, Sir William Wynne, now aged seventy-three, finally succeeded Marriott in 1803. The Mastership of Trinity Hall was a prize worth waiting for and once he was installed as Master the floodgates of his generosity opened. He spent £1,500 on improvements to the Master’s Lodge and also turned his attention to improving the College Library.

Wynne’s catalogue housed in the Archives

His donations are recorded in the “Catalogue of books presented to the Library by the Right Hon: Sir Wm. Wynne, Master” (THAR/7/1/2/1). The new Master gave us an amazing 252 volumes in the space of just nine years, starting in 1804 (with the gift of 101 volumes) and ending in 1813, just two years before his death. Surprisingly there are very few dusty volumes on the law! Instead Wynne broadened the Library’s scope from that of an academic library specialising in the law to a gentleman’s ‘country house’ library.


There are books on English literature (Chaucer, Dryden and Milton), history, travel (Barrow’s Travels in Africa, Coxe’s Travels in Russia), the classics (Virgil, Thucydides), European literature (Racine in French and Boccaccio in Italian), oriental languages (Carlyle’s Specimens of Arabian poetry and Parkhurst’s Hebrew Lexicon), and above all the sciences: a magnificent 18 volume set of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London was donated to the Library over several years.


So what of the man who gave so generously to the Library? William Wynne came from a well-to-do Welsh family. His father, John Wynne (1677-1743) was a clergyman and Principal of Jesus College Oxford from 1812 until his marriage in 1820. In 1715 he was appointed Bishop of St. Asaph where he spent money freely on repairs to the cathedral and palace. As we have seen above, William was to follow his father’s example in becoming a Head of House (Cambridge instead of Oxford) and in spending on improvements (but this time to his College).

Bishop John Wynne was subsequently translated to Bath and Wells in 1727 and William was born a couple of years later. William did not go into the church, instead he followed his elder brother John (1724-1801) into the law and the Middle Temple. He came up to Trinity Hall in 1746, graduated in law in 1751 (LL.D. 1757) and was a Fellow of the College from 1755 onwards.

Poem in translation from ‘Specimens of Arabian Poetry’ given to the Library by Wynne

He practiced in the field of ecclesiastical law as a pleader in the Court of Arches (1757-1788) dealing chiefly with cases relating to marriage and probate. His career prospered steadily until it took off dramatically in 1788! In that year he was knighted, he became Dean of the Court of Arches (1788-1809) and a judge in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Prerogative Court (1788-1809).  He continued to move upwards becoming a member of the Privy Council in 1789 and one of the Lords of the Treasury in 1790.

Captain Cook’s last voyage: the map of Hawaii from Cook’s posthumous “A voyage to the Pacific Ocean” (London, 1784)

As Dean of the Court of Arches his name turns up constantly in the wills of the time. Perhaps the most interesting is that of a former member of Captain Cook’s crew, Alexander Mouat, which was proved before Sir William Wynne in London in 1794. Mouat was on Cooks’ last voyage, entering the crew of the Discovery as a midshipman at the age of 15. However, his will (in which he left everything to his wife Jane) was not written until 1790, by which time he had reached the rank of Lieutenant. The occasion of his will was probably his imminent departure on HMS Marlborough. Unfortunately, Mouat died just three years later on 11 October 1793.

Trinity Hall (in 1799) as it would have looked in 1803 when Wynne became Master.

Wynne was a gentleman, a wealthy lawyer and a pillar of society. His successful public career indicates a man with excellent social skills who was not afraid of hard work. An interesting glimpse is offered by the silhouette of Wynne in the National Portrait Gallery which depicts a portly gentleman of rather modest and solid demeanour. The inscription below the silhouette reveals: “There is no Portrait taken of him, he always resisting all application to sit to an Artist. Mr. Bockton the Proctor took this resemblance of him as he sat giving Judgement.” This is a man who lacked vanity, preferring instead to devote his precious time to his work!

Snapshot of Trinity Hall in 1812 during Wynne’s time as Master. College was not populous!

Sir William Wynne became Master of Trinity Hall in the autumn of his life. He passed away in 1815 at the age of eighty-six and is buried at Northop (Flints.) where his father, Bishop John, had purchased the Soughton estate (now a luxury hotel!) in 1732. Wynne’s was a life in which his devotion to his College remained constant. As Master, his generosity enriched the holdings of College Library with a lasting legacy of fine publications from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

It could be argued that Wynne had the patience and Trinity Hall reaped the rewards!


Trinity Hall : the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1975 / by Charles Crawley.

Captain Cook Society

National Portrait Gallery

Welsh Biography Online

Shelf lives: Does size matter?

Does a donation have to be large and impressive to be important? The answer is most emphatically “No”! One of our star items is a single sheet of paper measuring no more than 18 x 22.7 cm. It is a modest piece of nineteenth-century writing paper with no “bling” about it – but it still has the wow factor because it is a letter from Charles Dickens!

This small piece of pale blue Victorian writing paper, covered with Dickens’s distinctive handwriting in dark blue ink, was given to us by the author’s great-great-grandson and Trinity Hall alumnus Christopher Charles Dickens. In it the famous author gives advice to his son, Henry Fielding Dickens, “My Dear Harry”, at the start of his time as an undergraduate at Trinity Hall in October 1868. This parental advice has a timeless quality that still rings true today and the letter always catches the imagination of our visitors!

“Farewell Tour”

The letter is written on Dickens’s headed paper with the address of Gad’s Hill Place embossed at the top. Dickens bought this beloved home in February 1857 and it was the only house that he ever owned (all the others had been rented). But at the time of writing on Thursday 15th October 1868, Dickens was away from home, staying at the Adelphi Hotel, the best hotel in Liverpool.

Dickens was one of the first “celebrities” in the sense that we use the word today. He was a public figure in much demand – a real “superstar”! In May 1868 Dickens had returned exhausted from his long and demanding tour of America. However, by October 1868 he had started a new tour, a series of performances in London and the provinces, which he called his “Farewell tour”. He stayed at the Adelphi Hotel for a week from 10 October, giving readings at Manchester Free Trade Hall and in Liverpool. Of his reading in Liverpool on 12 October, Dickens writes to Georgina Hogarth “We had a fine house here last night, and a large turnaway. Marigold and Trial went immensely. I doubt if Marigold were ever more enthusiastically received.”

These public readings of dramatised extracts from his novels lasted at least two hours. They placed a heavy strain on Dickens’s voice and were so emotionally draining that he suffered from extreme exhaustion when they were over. But these performances were important to Dickens, not just for pleasing his public but also for the money they brought in. In fact the expense and financial practicalities of Harry’s life as an undergraduate take up a large part of the letter of advice he received from his father.

“Your past expensive education”

So what of Harry himself? Henry Fielding Dickens (1849-1933) was the author’s eighth child and the only one to go to university. The eldest son, Charles, was actually sent to the most expensive school, Eton,  in January 1851, but his school fees were sponsored by Angela Burdett-Coutts, one of the richest women in England at that time and a great friend of the author’s.

Harry as a boy (image from “Katey” by Lucinda Hawksley)

The schooling of the other Dickens boys was by no means cheap! All of the sons were sent to private school, whereas the daughters were educated at home. When Harry was nine years old (in 1858) he was sent to a boarding school for English boys in Boulogne. The intention was that he should learn French, but it was not a happy experience. According to Harry in his “Recollections“, “I was very young then and although two of my brothers were at the school I felt very sad and forlorn.” It must have been a relief when in 1861 he was sent to Wimbledon School, “which was kept by Messrs. Brackenbury and Wynne; a very well known private school then at the height of its reputation.” Harry did well there and was fortunate to have an excellent maths master who prepared him for entrance to Trinity Hall.

It was common in those days for sons to follow their fathers in their choice of college at Cambridge. The entry for Harry in the Trinity Hall register shows that, as the first of the Dickens family to attend the College, he came on the recommendation of J. Brackenbury, Master of Wimbledon School.

From the Trinity Hall Archives

“Handsome for all your wants”

A few weeks previously, aware of his own lack of university experience, Dickens had written to his friend Sir Joseph Chitty asking for advice.  He doubtless turned to Chitty because of the latter’s brilliant career at Balliol College, Oxford.  “My dear Chitty, One of my sons, just 20, is going up to Trinity Hall, next October. He has been highly educated – is possessed of considerable mathematical qualifications – and goes to College to work, and to achieve distinction. He perfectly understands that if he fail to set to in earnest, I shall take him away… Will you tell me what the allowance of such a youth should be, at Cambridge – to be enough, and not by any means too much – and whether there is any express precaution I can take or enjoin upon him?”

Chitty obliged Dickens by sending him a letter of advice which the author enclosed (“I therefore send you Joe Chitty’s letter bodily”) along with his own letter to Harry. Thanks to Chitty, Dickens was able to state confidently “It seems to me that an allowance of £250 a year will be handsome for all your wants, if I send you your wine.” Undergraduates were expected to entertain their contemporaries, providing wine and brandy for drop-in guests and to accompany the occasional dinner party held in their own rooms!

In those days, undergraduates generally came from well-off families who could afford to pay for their son’s living costs and tuition fees. Thus Dickens also encloses a cheque for £5 and ten shillings for tuition fees made out to the Reverend Frank Lawrence Hopkins, who was a Fellow at Trinity Hall and Harry’s Tutor.

Whatever you do, above all other things keep out of debt

Charles Dickens had suffered a childhood of extreme poverty and his own education had been cut short because his father’s indebtedness. This trauma cast a shadow over Dickens’s life and he was constantly preoccupied by money matters. In the letter he emphasises to his son “We must have no shadow of debt” and seeks to guide him as to how to manage his money – especially what not to spend it on, “I strongly recommend you to buy nothing in Cambridge”!

Perhaps it was the fear of falling back into poverty that drove Dickens to work so hard, starting his tour of the provinces before he had fully recovered from the tour of America. He says to Harry “You know how hard I work for what I get, and I think you know that I never had money help from any human creature after I was a child.”

Dickens finishes the letter by reminding Harry about the value of the Christian life and the importance of prayer. “These things have stood by me all through my life, and you remember I tried to render the New Testament intelligible to you and lovable by you when you were a mere baby.” Dickens had written “The life of our Lord” especially for his children in 1846.


While Harry was at Trinity Hall, Dickens continued his performances for another seventeen months. However, his health was so badly affected that he finally followed his doctor’s orders and gave his last performance on 16 March 1870.

At this time Dickens also started writing his last and unfinished novel, The mystery of Edwin Drood. As research for his books, the author often took lengthy walks at night to the seedier parts of London accompanied by a policeman for safety. In his “Recollections” Harry tells us, “I just once missed a great opportunity. It had been arranged that I was to accompany him on one of these excursions, but unfortunately I was detained at Cambridge on the appointed day and I was unable to go. That night he visited the opium den which is described in the first chapter of Edwin Drood.” That would have been an exciting prospect for a young undergraduate and Harry was obviously disappointed to miss it!

“In the court” – illustration of the opium den by Luke Fildes from “The mystery of Edwin Drood”

Dickens lived long enough to complete only six numbers of the novel, passing away in the early hours of 9 June 1870 at the age of fifty-eight. Harry took his father’s advice to heart and studied hard at Trinity Hall. He gained his B.A. in mathematics in 1872, with the respectable distinction of being the 29th Wrangler. It is sad that his father was not there to celebrate his son’s success.

Subsequent career

Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, K.C.

Harry was called to the Bar in 1873 and subsequently had a distinguished career as a barrister and judge. He became a K.C. in 1892 and was knighted in 1922. Sir Henry Fielding Dickens is described by Venn as “A capable and conscientious advocate, who had a large practice in the Common Law Courts, and proved an admirable Judge. For many years he delighted thousands with readings from his father’s works. During the War he raised large sums by this means for the wounded, and later for the Charles Dickens Home for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors.” Harry was very much his father’s son – both the love of performing and a social conscience were in his genes!

The Dickens connection

Harry was the first of the Dickens family to attend Trinity Hall but he was by no means the last! Crawley tells us that three of Harry’s sons went to Trinity Hall: Henry (1892), Philip (1906) and Cedric (who was killed on the Somme in 1916). Philip’s son, also called Cedric, matriculated at the College in 1935.

The entry for Christopher Charles Dickens (Trinity Hall Archive)

The donor of the letter, Christopher Charles Dickens (1937-1999) was Harry’s great-grandson and the grandson of Henry (1892). Christopher Charles Dickens came up to Trinity Hall in 1957, where he read English for part I and then changed to Archaeology and Anthropology. In 1965 he married the Hungarian countess Jeanne-Marie Wenckheim Teleki who is described by the Charles Dickens Heritage Foundation as being “a hurricane of a countess. Handsome, forceful and humorous.” They settled at Spofforth in north Yorkshire and raised a family of two daughters. Jeanne-Marie became involved in charitable works, and in 1991 with the help of her husband she set up the Charles Dickens Heritage Foundation in order to help the disadvantaged.


The name of Christopher Charles Dickens was posthumously in the news in 2008 on the occasion of the sale of Charles Dickens’s writing desk and chair at Christie’s. The desk and chair had passed down through the family to Christopher Charles Dickens and were donated for sale by his widow Jeanne-Marie in order to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  They sold for £433,250! At the time Jeanne-Marie commented, “Charles Dickens was a champion of the poor and needy and an enthusiastic patron of Great Ormond Street Hospital in its early days.  My husband Charles shared his ancestor’s desire to help the disadvantaged and when I became aware of the fundraising needs of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, I knew that I had to give the desk and chair to them.  I felt that it was Charles’ wish, and it is an honour for me to fulfil this wish, it is fitting that their sale will provide care and support for the patients of Great Ormond Street hospital 150 years after Dickens himself spoke at their first fundraising dinner.”


The recollections of Sir Henry Dickens, K.C. (London: Heinemann, 1934)

The letters of Charles Dickens, volune 12: 1868-1870 / edited by Graham Storey ( Oxford: Claredndon Press, 2002)

Alumni Cantabrigienses. Part II, from 1752 to 1900 / compiled by J. A. Venn (Cambridge: University Press, 1944)

Trinity Hall: the history of a Cambridge college, 1350-1992 / by Charles Crawley; 2nd ed. enlarged by Graham Storey (Cambridge: Trinity Hall, 1992)

Katey: the life and loves of Dickens’s artist daughter / by Lucinda Hawksley (London: Doubleday, 2006)

The mystery of Edwin Drood / by Charles Dickens (London: Chapman and Hall, 1870)