Ward's Book of Days.
Pages of interesting anniversaries.
What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1891, died Hensleigh Wedgewood.
Wedgewood was the grandson of the famous potter Josiah Wedgewood. He was a barrister and also an etymologist, writing the classic text A Dictionary of English Etymology. But he was most famous for being the first person to collect the wooden wedge.
Wedgewood read Classics at Cambridge and, in 1824, took the first ever tripos in that subject. The tripos is a written examination for a bachelorís degree at Cambridge, a structure which started in the Nineteenth Century, replacing a procedure whereby students were granted degrees by oral examination. Wedgewood passed the examination but only just. In fact, he came bottom of the list.
It was customary for examiners in the Mathematics Tripos to award prizes to successful candidates, silver cups for those on the top rank, silver spoons for those lower down the list, and for the very last, a wooden spoon. The Classics examiners decided to award prizes to all their candidates, and as Wedgewood was last, they gave him a wooden wedge, a pun on his own name. Since that date, until 1909, the last listed candidate in the Classics Tripos received a wooden wedge.
In 1911, the tripos system was changed, candidates being grouped into classes, so it was impossible to tell who was the lowest place and so the practice ceased. The last person to receive the wooden spoon in mathematics was Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse, who was a rowing enthusiast. He received a wooden spoon carved from an oar, which was 15 feet long.
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