Magdalen College School, Wainfleet

Words by:
Alan Middleton
Featured in:
January 2022

Wainfleet is a town with an interesting history. In the middle ages it was a thriving port, but since then has suffered the fate of many such ports on the east coast. The sea has receded and it now sits on the River Steeping, about two miles away from the sea. Although better known today as the home of Batemans brewery, Wainfleet still preserves what is perhaps its greatest treasure: the splendid red-brick building known as Magdalen College School, started in 1484.

William Patten was one of two sons born of Richard and Margery Patten of Wainfleet. William received a basic education in Wainfleet but was then sent on to Winchester School and after that to New College, Oxford. He was ordained at Spalding by the Bishop of Lincoln in 1420.

A few months later he became a Sub-Deacon and it was then that he changed his name to Waynflete (in the old spelling). It was quite common at that time for a cleric to take the name of his place of birth; and he would have been known as William of Waynflete.

Ten years on and William was appointed Headmaster of Winchester School on a stipend of £38. 11s. 2d. and later went on to become Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England. He used his influence to save Eton College from Edward IV and later founded Magdalen College, Oxford and two schools to feed boys into the college, one at Oxford and one in Wainfleet.

One of a powerful circle of men during the Wars of the Roses, Waynflete survived largely because of his wealth and political skills. He was executor to the estate of Ralph, Lord Cromwell, who died in 1456 and oversaw the completion of Cromwell’s new brick castle and college at Tattershall. He went on to use the services of John Gygur, the Warden of Tattershall College as his agent in the building of Wainfleet School.

Cromwell was a great advocate of the use of brick and clearly influenced its use in the building of the new school. Brick was occasionally used as a building material in the 13th and 14th centuries but it was the 15th century that saw the fastest growth in brick building.

It was sometimes claimed that brick was cheap and required less skill than stonework, but the complex detail often achieved in brickwork required a new range of skills and was only accomplished by true craftsmen. The men responsible for the new brick buildings were among the richest in the country. In addition to Waynflete there was, Henry VI at Eton College, Sir John Fastolf at Caister Castle and Lord Hastings at Kirby Muxloe Castle. These buildings were designed to demonstrate the wealth and prestige of the builders and the cheapness of the materials was not a consideration.

Magdalen College School operated in that role until 1933 when the school was transferred to Skegness Grammar School and the building stood empty for many years, save for military use in the Second World War. It was reopened as a secondary modern school in 1951 but finally closed in 1966. The building, in St John’s Street, is now home to the Magdalen Museum, a tea room and library.

The museum is open from Easter to the end of September, on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, from 1.30pm to 4.30pm and some bank holidays.

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