Hoots from the Archive - The Early High Masters #1 - Thomas Cogan and his "Haven of Health"

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 26 Jan 2023

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 26 Jan 2023

The Haven of Health

Documentation of the early years of Manchester Grammar School is rather patchy. We have a number of legal documents that give us an insight into the general running of the School, but we don't have much information on the make up of the pupil population or of some of the early High Masters. In lieu of primary sources, we do have a useful booklet written in 1886 by John Eglington Bailey - "Former Masters of the Manchester Grammar School". It gives us valuable information on the early High Masters, and in turn, an insight into the running of the School during its early years. Bailey writes:

"Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Addison, advanced an incentive to preserve the memory of able schoolmasters when he said that not to name the school, or the masters, of men illustrious for literature, was a kind of historic fraud by which honest fame was injuriously diminished. The influence of this sentiment has led to the publication of the Registers of the Manchester Grammar School, beginning in the eighteenth century; but it is to be regretted that the earlier history has not been given with the same detail, Whatton's History being very defective. Under the circumstances it will be interesting to pass under reviews the masters for about a century, from Cogan to Wickyns."

Bailey's first subject is Thomas Cogan, High Master between 1583 and 1597. He became well known for his medical writings, including "The Haven of Health" which is referenced by Bailey below:

"Thomas Cogan, the schoolmaster in Queen Elizabeth's days, was a man who combined in himself two or three of the learned professions. He was of Oriel College, Oxford, and after studying arts and physic, being both Masters of Arts and Bachelor of Medicine, he was promoted to Manchester School about 1575, resigning at that date his fellowship in Oriel College. He was, as his writings show, a pedagogue of excellent temper, and interested himself in the welfare of the boys, instructing them with few lashes. None of his scholars preserved any record of his mastership. He is best known as the author of an excellent medical manual, called "The Haven of Health", first published in 1584, and four times since. The numerous references in the book to this neighbourhood led Richard Hollinworth to say that it was calculated for the meridian of Lancashire. It was chiefly compiled for "the comfort of students," whose health, he said, he tendered most of all. From it may be ascertained much about the dietary customs of the time, and also how students fared at their meals, when breakfast and tea were not recognised.

During his rule, Dr. Dee, the famous wizard, was warden of Manchester College and the official visitor of the School, it being one of his duties to select boys for exhibitions to Oxford. Dee had once entertained at the college the celebrated Camden, who, in his "Britannia", called him "nobilis mathematicus"; for it was Dee who was the first to give Euclid to his country-men in an English dress. Cogan, who was a man of good sense, had little sympathy with the occupations of that great scholar, in which alchemy and spirit-rapping prevailed; for in the warden's diary relating to his life in Manchester, Cogan is never once named, although Dee's son Rowland, born in 1583, was one of Cogan's scholars.

For the use of the schoolboys he [Cogan]compiled an excellent selection from the letters of Cicero, having as high an opinion of those epistles as had Erasmus, who exhorted young men to spend their hours in reading them and getting them by heart. The book was dated from Manchester on the kalends of September, 1602, and the dedication contains the phrase "Gymnastio Mancuniensi publico derelicto". This admirable little volume, edited by an able Latinist, was we may be sure, a more popular book in the school than Dee's Euclid. Cogan's time would seem to have been given up to the medical art, for a Wood records that he practised in Manchester with good success; and Hollinworth, who had conversed with many that knew him, calls him a professor of Physic. Moreover, he had married into a wealthy Manchester family, and lived, at the time of his decease, not in the headmaster's house, but in a larger mansion in the Milngate. The school had in these days been no doubt committed to deputies, and their inefficiency, it may be, aroused the grief of Dee, who had a very deep sympathy with learning. Cogan died in June, 1607, and he was buried in the church. By his will he left gifts of books to the warden, the fellows, and other members of the college, as well as to the apothecaries of the town; and he also bequeathed 4d. each to every scholar of the Free School of Manchester. He left the character in the town of a good neighbour and an honest man."

It is interesting that even as early as the sixteenth century, a High Master was concerned for the physical health of his pupils, alongside attention to their academic development. As Bailey points out, the subtitle to "The Haven of Health" was "Chiefly gathered for the comfort of students, and consequently of all those that have a care of their health; amplified upon five words of Hypocrates." In "The Haven of Health", Cogan gave over nearly three quarters of his book to nutrition, recommending brown rather than white bread, and arguing that bread baked in Yorkshire was superior. He gave information about a variety of common foods - herbs, spices, vegetables, fruit and meat. He also had an opinion on the best times to take meals: "When foure houres bee past breakfast, man may safely take his dinner, and the most convenient time for dinner, is about eleven of the clocke before noone."The final edition of the book included an added section on "A Preservative from the Pestilence, with a short censure of the late sickness at Oxford". This refers to the Black Assize where three hundred people died of in Oxford in 1577. Protecting pupils from infectious diseases was something that would have preoccupied the thoughts of a High Master during this period, with the School statutes of 1525 prohibiting entry to pupils with "horrible or contagious infirmity infective, as pox, leprosy, pestilence". The only comparable work by a High Master with a focus on physical health is the Handbook for Parents, produced in 1922 during J.L. Paton's tenure, that gives advice on food, sleep and recreation. By this point, the School had appointed a Medical Officer to tend to the physical health of the boys, and it is likely that he would have had input into those sections of the handbook. A much later example of managing infectious diseases can be found here and this topic of course brings us right up to date, with items added to the archive relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cogan must be the only High Master to have also been a qualified doctor. After resigning from his position as High Master in 1597, he continued to practise medicine in Manchester until his death in 1607.

"The Haven of Health" has been digitised by the internet archive and its fourth edition can be viewed here


There aren't any comments for this article - be the first!

Post your own comment

Subscribe for updates

Subscribe to receive update emails whenever new Hoots from the Archive articles are posted.