Curator’s Choice – Two wooden canisters

Posted: 27th November 2020

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Two wooden canisters

The Hands on History Museum was not always a museum, it was once Hull’s Old Grammar School. The room which is now the Victorian Gallery previously served as the school room where the boys would be educated, being taught subjects such as Latin, Greek, geography, and mathematics. In the 1600s the school room was refurbished by the headmaster, John Catlyn.

John Catlyn is a key character in the school’s history. He came from humble beginnings and was the son of a bricklayer. His father was established in this trade and even gained the contract to build a new guildhall for Hull corporation in 1633–5.

John Catlyn served in the civil wars on the side of the royalists but returned to Hull in 1654. In January 1661 he successfully petitioned Hull corporation for the vacant position of Usher at the grammar school and was soon promoted to Master on the 28th January 1664.

Catlyn was an unusual choice for this role as his beliefs as a faithful royalist differed greatly from the corporation, who were puritans – this was to cause great conflict between the two. However, shortly after he began as headmaster, Catlyn complained that his annual wage was too little, and he was ultimately given a 70% increase.
Between 1665 and 1667 John Catlyn renovated the school room. He renewed the floor and furniture, provided 38 hat pegs, and built a platform at one end of the school room for the school pupils to stand on and deliver speeches. He also contributed to the library, giving numerous books himself and canvassing local clergy and former scholars for donations.

Catlyn also added his own personal touches to the school room, which are now on display at the Hands on History Museum, including these two wooden canisters.

These canisters are in the form of short decorative columns and would have been displayed above the headmaster’s desk and chair. Gold writing on the canisters can clearly be seen, with each canister reading a different motto in Latin.

One canister is inscribed ‘DOCTRINA EST DIVITIAE’, which means ‘Learning is Wealth’ and the other reads ‘SCIENTIA EST POTENTIA’, which means ‘Knowledge is Power’. The purpose of this was to remind the boys attending the grammar school of what they could achieve if they worked hard.

Over the 12 years that John Catlyn was the headmaster at the grammar school he argued with the corporation often. He was once described as ‘a vain [man], quick to take offence’, but it is clear from the improvements that he made to the school, and the objects that still remain on display at the museum over 300 years later, that he was considerate of his pupils needs to gain a high quality education.

Written by Community Curator: Social History Lauren Field.

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