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Rendall, Montague Johnlocked

  • J. D'E. Firth
  • , revised by R. D. H. Custance

Montague John Rendall (1862–1950)

by Glyn Philpot, 1925

© Estate of Glyn Philpot

Rendall, Montague John (1862–1950), headmaster, the fourth son of the Revd Henry Rendall (1817–1897), and his wife, Ellen Harriette (1830–1905), daughter of Peter Davey and sister of Horace Davey, Baron Davey, was born on 6 May 1862 at the rectory in Great Rollright, Oxfordshire, where his father was rector. There were in all nine sons of the marriage, united in devotion to their parents and exceptionally influenced by the Christian faith and moral values of their early upbringing. From his preparatory school, Elstree, he won the first entrance scholarship to Harrow in 1876. During his last year at Harrow he was head of the school and first in classics and mathematics. Proceeding to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1881, he was a Bell scholar (1882) and foundation scholar (1883) and was placed in the first division of the first class in part one of the classical tripos in 1884 and in the first class of part two in 1885. During his last two years at Cambridge he represented the university at association football as goalkeeper. In 1887 he made the first of many journeys abroad to study the masterpieces of continental art, and laid the foundations of his lifelong enthusiasm for medieval and Renaissance Italian painting. In the same year he was appointed to the staff of Winchester College.

Rendall's immediate and striking success as a teacher, especially of classical composition, to ‘senior div.’, and his enthusiastic and inspiring participation in the life of the school, especially of college, strongly suggested him for appointment as second master in 1899. For the next twelve years his regime in college was both original and highly successful. To his innovative lectures on Italian art he now added holiday trips to central Italy with many of his pupils. 'Scholarship and art … he made a kind of glorious adventure', as one Winchester scholar later recalled (The Wykehamist, 18 Dec 1950, 210). In college Rendall upheld high moral standards but softened any severity by his natural sympathy for boys. He was the obvious choice to succeed H. M. Burge as headmaster of Winchester in 1911.

Rendall was not primarily an administrator; indeed, he could be engagingly disorganized in his official habits. Nor was he a reforming headmaster, unlike his predecessor or his successor (A. T. P. Williams). He made no formal changes at Winchester to reflect his own love of art and literature; for any boy particularly interested in such subjects the school remained a somewhat alien environment. He yet impressed all those who served under him as a great headmaster. His educational ideal was a nebulous mixture of traditional Christian values (uncomplicated by any theology) and neo-medieval chivalry. This ideal he attempted to express in a triptych, still preserved at Winchester, which he commissioned in 1926 from E. Fortescue-Brickdale, showing a knight in armour with his page, their faces those of two of Rendall's last pupils. Whatever the idiosyncrasies of the painting, his vivid and dominating personality enabled him to communicate to the school his intense vision of the noblest aims in life. He also inspired considerable affection, not least on account of his distinctive mannerisms, especially of speech.

The First World War, through which Rendall carried the school with buoyant courage, made the profoundest impression upon him. To his conception and determination the war memorial cloister at Winchester is primarily due; its details also owe much to his sensitive taste. Furthermore, he became convinced that the public schools had a duty and a mission to make their best gifts available to a wider public in the post-war world. These views were reinforced by his visit in 1919 to some leading independent schools in the United States. He gladly accepted, therefore, after his resignation of the headmastership in 1924, an invitation from the Rhodes trustees to visit many of the principal schools in the self-governing dominions; and for the same reason he played a prominent part in the Overseas League, the League of the Empire, and the Royal Empire Society, and became chairman of the public schools empire tours committee. He received the honorary degree of LLD from the University of Toronto in 1921 and was appointed CMG in 1931.

In 1926 Rendall began what was a new life rather than a retirement. He acquired the freehold of Butley Priory, near Woodbridge, a medieval religious foundation of which only the gatehouse remained standing; this he restored with imagination and scholarly care—but with characteristic indifference to its icy draughts. During his twenty-four years of residence in this Suffolk home he was an active and influential figure in the public life of the county.

From 1927 until the end of 1932 Rendall was a governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation. As such he devised in 1927 the BBC's motto 'Nation shall speak peace unto nation' (a felicitous adaptation of Micah 4: 3), which was set aside in the 1930s but rightfully restored after 1946. In 1931 he also composed the Latin inscription for the entrance hall of Broadcasting House. This time he used a direct biblical quotation, 'Whatsoever things are beautiful …' (Philippians, 4: 8), but around it he wove words which are a small reminder of his mastery of the classical languages.

Almost resolutely unmarried himself, Rendall delighted in the marriages and the children of his old pupils, and was a frequent and welcome visitor to their homes, as also to his friends in Winchester. It was only during his last year of life that his splendid vitality was first seen to be failing; he died suddenly in his sleep on 5 October 1950 at Oxenwood, California Lane, Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, and was buried in the churchyard of Great Rollright, where were the graves also of his parents.


  • J. D'E. Firth, Rendall of Winchester: the life and witness of a teacher (1954)
  • private information (1959)
  • personal knowledge (1959)
  • The Wykehamist (7 Nov 1950)
  • The Wykehamist (18 Dec 1950)
  • Headmaster's reports, Winchester College, 1911–24, Winchester College archives
  • BBC WAC [1988]
  • K. Clark, Another part of the wood (1974)


  • BL, letters to E. H. Blakeney, Add. MS 63088
  • Winchester College archives


Wealth at Death

£5391 10s. 11d.: probate, 9 Dec 1950, CGPLA Eng. & Wales