Christopher Worsfold wrote a series of recollections of his schooldays in 1978-79. This is a selection.
The Rev H.B. Tower
He was Second Master and Headmaster of the Parrots from 1916-19. He had been Chaplain to the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and had married his daughter, Stella Hodgson. [Her brother was William Noel Hodgson, the poet, killed on 1 July 1916.] ‘Towser’, as we called him, seemed to be pretty much under her thumb. Her motto seemed to be “Don’t you dare forget that I am a Bishop’s daughter.” She was extremely arrogant and treated the boys like dirt, and was equally rude and discourteous to parents. She was not surprisingly cordially loathed by the boys for her rudeness and general unpleasantness. She also behaved badly to the Masters as I was told nearly fifty years afterwards by Jaggers (G.C. Lloyd Jones) when I was comparing notes with him when I was calling on him at Criccieth. His manners were impeccable (as one might have expected from an Archdeacon’s son) and he deeply resented her rudeness to him. I gather from a friend of mine, a former Headmaster of the Junior School at Hurstpierpoint, that she had a similar unenviable reputation there during Tower’s headmastership. Tower himself could be pleasant if he chose, although he was not generally liked very much, I don’t think.
During those First War Years times were very hard indeed, and food terribly poor and scarce. I well remember a typical midday meal, the principal one of the day. It consisted of half a meat pie and an exiguous green salad and, I think, a piece of bread. This was followed by plain steamed rice and a dollop of molasses or perhaps black treacle. This was, I remember, known to us as ‘Bugs and varnish’. Potatoes were very scarce, and we hardly ever saw them. Sometimes our spirits rose, only to find the mashed potato, as it looked at first glance, was in fact parsnips or turnips. Another abomination was liver, which was horribly tough and tasteless and looked just like the sole of an old shoe. This period was of course at the height of the German U-Boat Campaign, and starvation seemed imminent.
I particularly remember the appallingly cold winter of 1916/7 comparable to that of 1962/3 in more recent times. Organised games were out because of the deep snow and frost. One half holiday after a miserable midday meal, we were ordered to change into football kit and sweaters and proceed to Harbledown Hill for tobogganing. There were, I think, four toboggans amongst about sixty of us, so runs were few and far between, and we became colder and colder in our miserably inadequate clothing. Tower was stumping around trying to keep things moving and waving his walking stick about. He himself was warmly attired in a thick tweed suit that he frequently wore over which he was wearing a fine heavy top coat with an astrakhan collar. I suppose that he regarded this as part of his toughening up process for us. Anyhow, this miserably cold and unenjoyable afternoon was brought to an abrupt end when there was an accident involving Douglas Jervis, who had had his head cut open at the end of a run. We then trooped back with nothing more in prospect than tea at 6p.m. What a fine introduction to winter sports!
I myself had been thrown into a thicket of brambles on one of our very few runs down this exceedingly steep hill, and as a result was badly scratched and blood-stained. I went to see the matron to get patched up, and well remember how she generously gave me a slice of her own bread and butter with some jam, as she was having her tea, so I must have looked pretty hungry, I imagine!
I recollect our hearing the exciting news of Alcock and Brown’s successful flight across the Atlantic in 1919, and the suspense about the fate of Hawker who made his attempt at about almost the same time, and had been rescued by a ship without radio, as we subsequently heard.
Tower’s successor, Sharpley, was not a success. He was reputed to drink heavily and certainly had a very florid complexion, as I recall. He came as Headmaster of the Parrots the term after I had gone up to the Senior School.
The Rev. A.S. Mayne
‘Tich’ was a funny looking little man, his face reminding one rather of Mr Punch. He was very short, no more than about 5 feet tall, and his head seemed rather too big for his body. He had tiny feet and a rather mincing gait. In summer he always seemed to wear a black straw boater I suppose in keeping with his clerical collar, which he always wore. He was not an inspiring teacher. A favourite trick was for us to persuade him to work out an algebraic problem on the blackboard and then watch closely to see when he started to ‘cook’ by changing the ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ signs. It always seemed that the period came to an end before his ‘cookery’ was complete, no doubt to his relief. Personally I learnt little or nothing from him. If anybody produced an intelligent answer to a question of his in the course of a lesson, he would say “Take ten marks!” This seemed an empty ritual as these never seemed to be collected by him for his records.
He ran Langley House in the Old Dover Road and seemed nearly always late in arriving for his classes, especially for an early afternoon period. I was in his Maths Division then held in the ‘Rabbit Hutch’ above the entrance to the Green Court. A look-out was always posted, and one hot summer’s afternoon, with only fifteen minutes of the period left, we spotted Tich saunter into the Mint Yard through the main gate with Algy striding across from his study on a collision course and not seeing Tich until they nearly collided just by the Harvey Lab. I imagine that Algy was not best pleased from what we could see from our vantage point. It was a memorable sight with Algy’s towering over 6 feet tall presence completely overshadowing the wretched little Tich caught out in his unpunctuality.
Tich was distinctly accident prone. I remember his considerable discomfiture when himself conducting some simple chemistry experiment on the dais before the whole class when typically he managed to overheat the flask and then descended spattering his his head and shoulders. We had difficulty in restraining our laughter. But what particularly pleased us was to see Goodburn, the other (and senior) science master enjoying this débacle with a cynical grin on his face from the adjoining lab. watching Tich’s discomfiture through the glass partition. I don’t think that the two got on at all well together.
Incidentally, Goodburn had taught in South America for some years before coming to King’s very soon after the end of the First War. His favourite anecdote, frequently recounted, with his right arm stretched over his head and scratching his left temple, was to recount how somebody in England had been foolish enough to ask him “Do they have taps in Brazil?” under the erroneous impression that Brazil was still completely uncivilised. Goodburn had learnt Spanish and Portuguese and did some coaching in those languages. He was a friend of Joseph Conrad, the writer, then living at Littlebourne [in fact Bishopsbourne], and could sometimes be persuaded to talk a little about him and his writings.
I always remember ‘Nat’s’ habit of rattling his keys and thus heralding his approach to his classroom (Vb) next to the Masters’ Common Room along the passage in the Grange. I thought I would do the same one morning, only to find Nat already arrived. Here merely looked hard at me over his spectacles, fortunately! He was an inveterate pipe-smoker, which had not done his teeth or his breath any good, and it was a penance when sitting at one’s desk he breathed heavily over one’s shoulder, as he was prone to do, accompanied by some of his slight nervous snorts.
I recall an occasion when we had been given as prep a rather difficult Ode of Horace. One of the class, an enterprising fellow, had discovered on a dusty shelf in the Parry Library and admirable and scholarly translation of the Odes. He quickly memorised the one which had been set. When asked to construe, he glibly trotted out his cribbed translation which Nat seized on at once, probably knowing the author. He demanded to know how the boy had hit on such an elegant translation. He received the rather embarrassed reply that it was his own. Nat snorted, with a piercing look. “Of course, I accept unreservedly all you say.” I have never before or since heard anyone so pointedly branded a liar without the word being actually used.
I remember Nat having to take over as acting Headmaster one summer term, as Algy was ill, and how very well he managed as a stand-in for the Headmaster on Speech Day, making a good and indeed witty speech rather to our surprise. He was a good if perhaps rather strait-laced man, but with a strong sense of duty. He was thorough in anything he undertook, and took pains with those whom he taught, especially the less able. He was a rather shy man, but kindly and even-tempered.
‘To see me in the Break’
In my time at King’s. just after the First War, there were lists of names under this heading frequently pinned to the noticeboards under what is now the Library [now again the Schoolroom]. These were almost certain preludes to monitorial beatings for some, probably minor, breach of rules or discipline.
The Bloater Box
In the post First War years, private cars were still a comparative rarity. Algy had a wonderful old ‘Swift’ of the early 1900s, absolutely glittering with brass lamps and fittings and a large horn. He used it sometimes to go up to St. Lawrence cricket ground especially if he had a V.I.P. guest. It was always known to us for some inscrutable reason as his Bloater Box.
Unless one was changed for games, it was always formal clothes including the regulation speckled straw boater if anywhere outside the confines of the School and the Green Court. The standard clothes were a black jacket, with or without a black waistcoat, and striped trousers, a white shirt with a winged collar and black tie and, of course, black shoes or boots. There was a fashion for some wile of wearing fancy socks, often quite highly coloured, as a gesture of individuality, no doubt. For the ordinary rank and file, the black hatband was silk with two horizontal white stripes and one narrow blue stripe in the middle. Sixth formers sported a plain darkish blue hatband and, in common with monitors (whether sixth formers or not) always carried a walking stick if going outside the School. Rugger or Cricket First Colours had a distinctive blue and white striped hatband.
Jacket buttons had all to be kept fastened until one became a monitor or a ‘blood’ with first colours when one was privileged to keep the bottom button undone, and to keep one’s hands in one’s pockets with the jacket fronts tucked behind the wrists. Woe betide anyone doing this if not properly entitled! First colours always wore blue and white striped ties, and on the way to Blore’s Piece for rugger or St Lawrence (usually known as Beverley or Bev) for cricket, special caps. The rugger cap was an impressive looking blue ### with white silk edgings and a large 4 in. long white tassel for First Colours with a matching peak, but for Second Colours, no peak. The cricket cap was, I think, an ordinary blue cloth, peaked cap, with the letters K.S.C., but was definitely less impressive than the rugger cap.
Modes of Address
We always used surnames, never Christian names, which were kept a dark secret in general, only to be fully revealed in the list of candidates for confirmation, often to the discomfiture subsequently of the boys concerned! Brothers or namesakes were Primus, Secundus, Tertius and so on and they addressed one another as such. I can remember assorted Reads or Reeds, and I think Sir Carol Reed as he became (the film producer) was Septimus of the bunch.
The Masters were invariably addressed as ‘Sir’ but, by and large we held in much less awe than the monitors who behaved in general very arrogantly and held the ordinary rank and file in undisguised contempt, treating them like dirt or as serfs if there was any menial task to be done, like pulling the heavy roller over the Green Court grass. Discipline was very strict and any beach caused a beating. The usual preliminary was an ominous list of names pinned on the notice board and headed ‘To see me in the Break’.
These were always carried around in a double pile with a cardboard writing pad underneath and carried under an arm. Textbooks came from Ginder’s Bookshop in St George’s Street, kept by Mrs Ginder, a formidable widow. It was the practice for textbooks to be stamped with one’s surname in gold letters at the top of the outside front cover. Often they were passed on, but not then restamped with the new owner’s name. (I still have such a book, a French grammar which previously belonged to E.O. Harris (now a Harley Street surgeon) which I prize for giving the English equivalent of ‘Quelle heure est-il?’ as ‘What o’clock is it?’ as Smollett might have asked!)
The School Servants
Austen was the School Caretaker and general factotum and was I think addressed by his surname. He rang the School bell for Prayers and Assembly and the roll call before the procession formed for Evensong on Saturday afternoons in the Cathedral. He also stoked the coal fires in the classrooms. Kent coal being the cheapest to buy was used and was always more slack than lumps. Austen’s invariable habit was to ram it down with his boot into a smouldering smoky mass in the grate rather than to poke the fire from the bottom and thus to give it some air to make it draw up properly. This was probably done with economy in mind. Anyhow, there were no fires in the Autumn term until the 1st November which usually seemed to be a muggy day, after a very chilly, if not down right cold, October. I can’t remember whether there was a similar arbitrary date for stopping fires towards the end of the Lent term, although there may well have been. Unless one happened to sit anywhere near these open fires, classrooms were extremely cold, likewise the Parry Library (as it was) which was somewhere to sit, read and relax during the scanty leisure time. I also have a recollection of seeing Austen with a pony pulling a mowing machine cutting the grass on the two tennis courts in front of the Grange in front of the then masters’ Common Room. Austen invariably wore a cloth cap and was usually in his shirt-sleeves. He was of sturdy build and medium height and sported the then very common luxuriant walrus moustache.
Curtis was Algy Latter’s manservant, but had not at this stage, I think, reached the status of butler. I think that he was usually addressed just by his surname but I can’t be sure. Talking of moustaches, Algy’s was a real ‘walrus’ if not a ‘tea-strainer’. When he had the misfortune to fall and hurt his leg on one occasion, it was said that he had done it through tripping over his moustache! Of course, it might have been his enormously long heavy winter coat, known to us as his ‘dressing gown’, at a time when such a garment came down practically to the ankles instead of above the knees as today.
My recollection is that these were left near the gates into the Mint Yard near the New Hall and put out for emptying by the dustmen on the proper days of the week, just near the Porter’s Lodge.
This was in fact just the left hand classroom under the Parry Hall, with a primitive cloakroom with a bench against one wall with some pegs above for hanging coats and hats. There was no lavatory – just some ancient wash-basins with cold water taps only. Washing after games or a run was perfunctory, understandably – although boys of lowly status were often ordered to cross the Mint Yard with a pail to fetch some hot water from the Langley House and Holme House changing rooms (now I believe the CCF Armoury) under the Old Library for the benefit of one or two Colours and the bigger boys. It was all fairly sordid and uncomfortable.
There were some restrictions on permitted times to go out into the City for boarders to visit any shops (other than for Sixth Formers or Monitors). Any shopping, for food and such like, wanted in a hurry was done by coming to the entrance to the doorway into the Hall asking for someone “to go out” for them. Someone of lowly status was then offered as a shopper. He was given cash with a commission to buy sweets, groceries or whatever, at one of the Borough shops, his reward on returning a biscuit or sweet offered to him if lucky.
Horses and carriages in the Precincts
I don’t remember seeing any. I don’t think that by my time the Dean, Canons or indeed any of the other residents in the precincts still kept them.
Most people seemed to have one, although they were mostly pretty decrepit machines. They were kept in rather tumbledown sheds which backed on to the Palace Street shops between Gibbs’s Printing Works and the Armoury. In front of the New Hall and practically up to the iron palings separating the Parrots’ playground (to which there was an iron gate giving access) there was an asphalted area, which, judging by the traces of painted markings, had at one time been a hard tennis court. This was used by trick-cycling enthusiasts who ceaselessly practised stunt riding, like sitting facing the rear wheel and steering from that position! Bicycles were used a lot to get to Blore’s Piece, for instance, for games. This asphalted area was also used as a barrack square for training the recruit squads for the O.T.C. contingent by Sgt Major Cheale , or later Sgt Marshall.
Roses on Speech Day
These were worn as buttonholes until after the Prizegiving and Speeches in the Chapter House had finished and the Summer Term had at last ended. It became the custom to put them on the steps of the War Memorial Cross as a tribute to the Fallen. The roses were supplied by Mounts the growers, who had a big flower shop in the High Street in those days.
The standard request in order to leave a classroom to go to the lavatory was “Please, Sir, may I go down?” – a phrase which always puzzled a new master, apparently. I believe it originated from the times when the latrines such as they were were away in the Green Court in the Forrens. The lavatories in my time were opposite the entrance to the New Hall, urinals and about half a dozen loos, all with the doors removed, evidently deliberately.
Christopher Worsfold (1905-92) was at King’s from 1916 to 1922. He became a solicitor and retained a lifelong interest in the School and its activities.