“OUR SCHOOL”

[For the Kentish Observer]

I know not, gentle reader, if you are acquainted with ‘our school’; if you have sat upon its benches, trembled at the voice of its masters, crept unwillingly along the cloisters that led to it, or made the old walls of the play-ground echo your joyous laughter. If not, much of what follows will appear as a twice-told tale, tedious and unprofitable; you will neither sympathise with its tone, nor recognise its allusions. Every man has, however, at one time, been a lad; and every lad, in some sort or other, a schoolboy: and all of us know the strong home-felt associations that connect themselves with this period of life, which give to the meanest building and most unpromising locality, an importance and artificial lustre which is little affected by time, and to which absence rather adds than diminishes.

Not only is the school itself magnified in our eyes above all others, but the masters themselves appear, even in the intimacy of private life, a peculiar race, and few men feel much at their ease in the society of their quondam preceptors. But to return to OUR  SCHOOL. It is not one of those common place every day erections – those prolific hotbeds of radicalism, which profess to inculcate everything but the one thing needful; neither is it wanting in its histories of great men and good, who have studied within its walls, and reflected back the virtues and glories of their after-lives on the goal from whence they started. Placed within the precincts of our valuable church, surrounded by the monuments of a former age, the glories of a past condition, it forms a pleasing contrast to the objects that environ it. Here we have the remnants of one generation connecting themselves with the beginnings of another; the ruins of the past enshrining the hopes of the future. Like the pale flower which springs up and gives freshness and vitality to the grave-yard, so do the merry voices, and wild activity of these striplings connect themselves, not inharmoniously, with the crumbling walls and ruined pillars of the place.

“In point of antiquity”, says an old King’s Scholar, “Canterbury need not give place to any nursery of learning in the whole kingdom.” In 669 this school, or rather, in its then state, university, was founded under the patronage of Pope Vitalianus, older, by 200 years, than the University of Oxford. The city soon afterwards became a resort for the rank and learning of this and other countries; fit it was that here, where Christianity was first embraced and Saxon kings became the nursing fathers of the Church – fit it was that knowledge should hold forth its its enticements, and wisdom adorn its ceremonies. The first preachers of the new religion came prepared to rebut the sophistries of the native priests, and to awaken the sleeping intelligence of the people by attracting their children to seminaries like these. Thus founded, and connected thus stringently with the Church, under whose wing it has, for centuries, nestled, year after year has it sent forth its young disciples into the world, waging war with ignorance – dethroning doubt and annihilating superstition. Avoiding faction and the withering influence of party, it has pursued the even tenor of its way, amidst all the vicissitudes of government, and even of religion itself; and remains a monument, not of what  wealth can achieve, or the might of armies accomplish, but of the beneficence, the Christian charity, and the brotherly love of those who founded, .cherished, and upheld it.

The entrance to our play-ground was the ancient Porta Prioratus, through which many a grand procession of religious pomp has returned to its quarters,

“Paired in long order, vergers first they past

Monks, canons, next the dean, the prelates last,”

with·many a symbol of their holy faith – tall tapers, costly shrines, and jewelled crucifix; hither too have flocked the toiling pilgrim, from a distant land; the knight from Judah’s shrine, the aspiring squire, and faithful serf, have all beneath this grey old archway bent their course. The very room with its high windows, iron-bound benches, and the three pillars in the    centre space have all arisen where the vespers, midnight chants, and early matin songs, were oft-time heard – for this, gentle reader, was the chapel of the Almonry. The Mint yard was formerly the place where the daily dole was given; the fragments from the refectory, and the adjoining strangers’ hall, were here distributed, with that profusion of liberality which made the old faith acceptable to the poor.

There are many of us who well recollect the high days of our school – the solemn appearance at the examination of the Dean and Chapter, accompanied by poor S–, who, on that occasion, decked himself in a·M,A.’s gown, and was not the least striking figure of the group, as they stood around the rude grate, with the books of the foundation before them. Next, in importance, came the speech-day, the anniversary of which is fixed for this twenty-second of September. A great day was this for the old school, and how anxiously we hoped for the eclat with which, in general, the sermon went off, preached by a former scholar! Now, I hear, instead of the speeches being delivered from the first master’s desk, they are recited in the Chapter-house – a high honor, doubtless, but, somehow, it has taken a leaf from the wreath of the old chapel of the Almonry. The third great epoch of the year, was that when we were dismissed for our holidays; and loud, and ear splitting, was the zeal with which we shouted out our –

Omni bene

Sine poena

Tempus est ludendi;

Venit hora,

Sine mora,

Libros deponendi.

The Green Court was the scene of many a trial of strength and skill, whether the game of cricket, or the more joyous one of football, then prevailed. Who does not recollect the busy hum of expectation when the first stumps were pitched, and the cricket time began; or with what zeal we chalked afresh the huge U.G. and L.G. [Upper Goal and Lower Goal] on the old walls, where they had been for centuries? Poor H., the architect [Dent Hepper, architect and surveyor to the Dean and Chapter] fancied we were taking great liberties, forsooth, on the Dean’s wall – but he was paid richly for his interference. And the good Dean A., [Gerrard Andrewes, Dean 1809-25] how regularly, on the first day he stalked along the Green, purely for the sake of being asked to ‘have a kick’, in order that he might thereby have the opportunity of contributing to the funds for the support of the game; which, indeed, were requisite to meet the heavy glazier’s bill that always followed it. There were many good, kind, and benevolent residents then in the Oaks and Green Court; poor old Dr. C– [Thomas Coombe, Canon 1800-22], who lived on the right side of the Larder steps, that led (eighteen in number) to our entrance to the Cathedral, and good Dr. H– [Holcombe, Canon 1822-36], who resided on the opposite side of the same entrance. Then there was Dr. R– [Houston Radcliffe, Archdeacon 1803-22], the archdeacon, with his well powdered wig; and lastly, Dr. W– [William Welfitt, Canon 1786-1833], who lived upwards of forty years in the Oaks, a good old man, beloved by all! These, and many more in memory’s page, still seem to haunt the places where they dwelt; an, whilst we think on them,

The piece ends with a discussion of several notable old boys: Thomas Linacre, William Harvey, Abraham Colfe, William Gostling, Lord Thurlow, Herbert Marsh, Charles Abbot, Baron Tenterden, James Six, Sir Egerton Brydges.

Extracts from these reminiscences were edited by C.E. Woodruff and published in The Cantuarian, March 1930, p. 187-89.