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John Lingen Seager (1847-1899)

Founder of Bigshotte Preparatory School, Crowthorne


John Lingen Seager, who may be regarded as the founder of Bigshotte School, was born on 8th February 1847 at Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, now [1970] an expanding 'new town', but then a small market town on the road to the north. His family was an established Stevenage family and his father the Reverend John Osborne Seager, was at that time Headmaster of the sixteenth century Alleyne’s Grammar School.

The younger Seager was educated at Rugby School, under Dr. Frederick Temple later a famous Victorian Archbishop of Canterbury. He went to Rugby in April 1861, aged 14 and left in March 1866. When he left he was in the second highest form, known as 'The Twenty' (the same form as Tom Brown finished up in in the famous novel). Academically he seems to have been above average, but he was not in the school cricket or rugby teams. Possibly this was because throughout his life he was handicapped by ill-health. Nevertheless he was a keen sportsman and was particularly fond of riding.

From Rugby he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. He became a Bachelor of Arts in 1870 and then became an assistant master at the Grange at Stevenage. The Grange was a preparatory school founded by the elder John Seager. In the same year as his son’s birth, 1847, he had given up the headmastership of Alleyne’s Grammar School and bought the Grange, a historic building, formerly called The Swan Inn which had been a famous coaching house and had associations with Dick Whittington and with Samuel Pepys. John Lingen Seager was to remain at the Grange until 1895. For twenty-five years, nearly half his life he taught there, for the last six years as its headmaster, after his father had retired in 1899. But during this period at the Grange he was also active as a priest of the Church of England. He was ordained in 1875 and in the following years was curate of several churches in the Stevenage area. In 1891 he became Vicar of the minute parish of St. Mary the Virgin, Little Wymondley, near Stevenage. The only thing that we know of his time at Little Wymondley is what was written by his curate there. After Seager's death, he described him as ‘that best of men - the noble character of my Vicar and friend will never be effaced from my memory.'

But in 1895 because Stevenage was bad for his asthma, Seager relinquished his posts as Headmaster of the Grange and Vicar of Little Wymondley and moved to Bigshotte Rayles. The Grange was carried on as a preparatory school until the time of the Second World War. Its fine buildings, now used as offices, can still be seen in the High Street at Stevenage. Bigshotte School, as Seager knew it, was of course far smaller a building than it is today [1970]. Indeed there cannot have been more than a dozen or so boys at Bigshotte in his time. If any of them are still alive, we have not been able to trace them. All that the school still retains that belonged to Seager is a map of the area with his signature on the cover. This map, which is of historical interest, is on loan to the County Archivist at Reading.

Seager had fourteen children, one of whom, Miss Joan Seager, who would have been a girl of about fifteen when the Seagers were at Bigshotte is still alive [i.e. in 1970. She was born 27 Jul 1882 and died 2Q1979 aged 96, outliving the school by 2 years].

It was hoped that the air at Bigshotte would be good for John Seager's health, for he suffered very badly from asthma. But, unfortunately, his health continued to deteriorate and in 1897 he left Bigshotte. He became Rector of the historic church of St. Dubricius at Whitchurch in Herefordshire. He died there two years later on 18th February 1899, aged 52. He was taken back to Stevenage and the founder of Bigshotte School was buried at Stevenage on 23rd February 1899.

[Written in 1970 for the 75th anniversary of Bigshotte Preparatory School. The school closed in 1977.
Document kindly provided by Nicholas Jenkins, pupil at Bigshotte 1957-1962]

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