A phrase in an amusing article, which appeared in the last number of The Cantuarian, brought back memories of certain personalities and phenomena that haunted the King’s School forty years ago and more. At the risk of being considered a bore I have undertaken to revive some of these memories in print.
The phrase to which I have alluded, conjured up more particularly the figure of an aged and learned Canon, whose strong point was not elocution: those words, in fact, he gave even less intelligibly than they are quoted in The Cantuarian article. All the Canons of that period appeared to us as ranging from the age of .ninety upwards: probably sixty would have been nearer the mark – for how indeed do we Elderly King’s Scholars appear in the eyes of our successors under the tyranny of Time?
Now at the close of the Seventies, we were still in the grip of mediaevalism in respect of certain customs, which even before I had left school had disappeared. For instance, examinations for elementary scholarships were associated with a very pageant of colour and dignity. In place of an Oxford Examiner with black bag and umbrella was an array of eminent churchmen, in the full fig of their doctor’s robes, who swooped down upon us from the blue, and, ranged in awful solemnity, conducted in the headmaster’s study a ceremony, which can only be likened in its outward manifestation to the Spanish Inquisition. But how unlike in its inwardness! Do not suppose that we regarded these dear old people with awe. How infinitely less awful than our natural foes, the Masters! (Forgive me, O Masters past and present – I write from the standpoint of a small schoolboy of forty-five years ago!).
There was the Dean, whose leonine countenance beamed with good nature: the cheerful little lame Historian, known as “Tubby,” wreathed in smiles: the sardonic, but ever good humoured Archdeacon: and the imposing figure, whom then we knew as the Bishop of Dover) – you may see his life-like effigy in the Cathedral Nave to-day, and it has a pathetic interest for those who knew him in the flesh. Perhaps these distinguished scholars were a trifle rusty in the more elementary parts of their scholarships: at any rate they seemed to avoid the usual pitfalls, and made the viva voce so elementary that, if we could have always understood the questions, every boy would, I think, have come out equal first. But here not seldom the light failed. As thus:–
Canon X: “P o’o’llbo.”
Canon X (to next boy): “P o’o’llbo.”
The same repented, till he comes to a bold adventurer, who has the indiscretion to say “I didn’t quite hear what you asked, Sir.”
Canon X (very loudly): P o’o’o’o’llbo.”
Tile Boy: I beg your pardon, Sir?”
The Canon gives it up, and, after a pause, solemnly, almost tearfully, ejaculates (I am sure ‘ejaculates’ is the right word)
“I’t po’ble th’ fo’ fo’m o’ ki’s koo ca’ po’ o’llbo!”
Later – it may have been weeks afterwards – it was understood that the Canon had asked us to parse έλaβov which indeed one and all could have done in their heads had they known what was wanted. The puzzle at the end I leave to my Readers to interpret: some of them perhaps may recollect the incident, Canon X was the only member of the Chapter who was never known to smile. As a different type I will take Canon Y, sympathetic, benignant, who would have loved to dispense scholarships all round lest any should be disappointed. Let us say that the subject is Ancient History,
Canon Y: “Now, my lad, can you tell me who won this battle?”
Cheeky Youth (to gain time): “What battle, Sir?”
(A Master would have answered “Next boy, tell him what battle – yes – and now, Snooks, go down to the bottom of the form!”) But not so Canon Y, who would continue:–
“Why, the battle that we have been trying to describe surely! Take time, take time, there’s a good lad!”
Youth: “Oh-er – the Greeks, Sir.”
Canon: “Well, well! Now I am sure you know better than that. Think again, think again!”
Youth: “The Romans then, Sir.”
Canon: “Very good! But why didn’t you say so at first if you knew it! You see if you think you can remember. The Romans – quite right!”
Proceeds to mark up the score sheet amid sounds of murmuring on the part of other candidates. The proceedings in fact, awful and solemn in intention, were hardly less enjoyable than the Christmas Pantomime, and to have played a humble part in such scenes is still a joy of which time cannot deprive one.
The Very Reverend the Dean was popular. He had a habit of nodding his head frequently and violently to give due emphasis to his points. On rare occasions he performed magisterial functions, seemingly when summoned by the Headmaster. On one such occasion, it is said the Dean was called in to lecture a delinquent before the whole school. But, after the Headmaster had explained matters, all that the Dean could add was, (doubtless to the surprise und delight of the culprit), “You’re a bad bo-o-y-a very bad booy indeed!” upon which, apparently moved to tears, he beat a hasty retreat. Surely this benevolent Dean was forty years ahead of his time!
Let me briefly refer to the punishment of “slogging” or handslapping on the face, which I believe has (at least officially) vanished. There were no chivalrous rules as to the sweep of the arm, and the practice of Fives without gloves had hardened the hands as well as the hearts of certain Sloggers. One, I recollect – a fast bowler – who ran at his victim from a corner of his study, as though bowling, and smote him on the run. The crime by which this punishment was earned happened to be a mistake in the pair of boots to be delivered to this Taskmaster by his boot-fag. This, I ought to say in fairness, was an extreme case, and the Slogger was by no means a ‘Flashman’ – he had merely lost his temper.
An unpleasant form of roughness, the existence of which always puzzled me, was the nightly scramble for supper, (so called), of the Lower School that took place ill the Dining hall. A big basket of stale crusts and chunks of cheese arrived in the lift, and a maidservant was there to dole them out. Poor Mary was quite unequal to the job. There was a rush and a struggle, fierce as the fight for the Shrove Tuesday pancake at Westminster. As an example of the discipline prevailing at this meal I may relate a short story, with a moral. A Certain One had been grievously annoyed by three or four Microbes, who persisted in mocking words and tormenting tricks, such as hair pulling and slaps on the back, followed by scooting off out of distance. The Certain One, having gathered wisdom from experience, merely picked out the oldest and hardest crust of the collection, and, seeing the most offensive Microbe in a taunting attitude at the far end of the Hall under the big window, did then and there effect the most deadly accurate shot ever beheld. The sharp edge of the well-tempered crust hit the Microbe an inch or so below the eye, and the result was a gash and much blood-shed, howls of pain, and, on the part of the marksman, brutal exultation. It is related that there was no more tormenting of that nature thenceforward.
As we are on the food question I will recall the little window of the Porter’s Lodge, which was the cornucopia for sustenance, outside regulation rations. A queue would form up in front of this window in the “ten minutes,” and during that period Mrs. Hayward, (assisted by two small nymphs known as “Hamynilda”) was at her wit’s end. Those who produced their pound of biscuits, in anticipation of an hour or two’s imposition (the writing of which was, whenever possible, accompanied by the consumption of Osbornes), were pushed away by the rest of the scrum. I imagine the proceedings at the school tuck shop at the present day may be of a more gentlemanly nature.
This last expression suggests a few notes on the Rugby football of our day. There were certainly no more than fifteen players on a side in any regular match in those days, though there were scratch matches (very rarely) in which a number of the rest of the school might play the XV. But we still had the tight scrimmage: there was no “heeling out,” and the formation outside consisted of two full backs, two half-backs, and two quarter-backs. By 1883, however, we had adopted the improved titles, and, towards the close of that season, we actually ventured on playing a three-quarter far-out (i.e., a “wing”).
The ‘Rook’ match (i.e., v. S.A.C.) was usually more or less in the nature of a “hand to hand” fight: much feeling was shown and ‘relations were strained.’ I recollect a master of muscular build indignantly protesting that he had been collared by his side-whiskers, which were abundant. The poor ‘Rook’ had but taken advantage of the only possible way of ‘downing’ him – as in war! A little red-bearded professor (of the ‘Rook’ tribe), who had no official position in the game, would run to and fro singing out ‘Thrown forward!’ ‘Offside!’ and the like, and, his remarks being treated with contempt, would bellow at the top of his voice “Stop! The King’s School disregards the decision of the Umpires! Stop the game!” until he was (like Alice’s guinea-pig) suppressed! Mr. Hodgson may remember these things.
Athletic Sports – where in the world will you find so beautiful an athletic ground as was ours in the Green Court! Doubtless we were cramped; there were awkward corners to hamper long distance runners, while the sprinters had to hurl themselves against a human buffer at the ‘Fallings’ corner – for it was there and at no other place that the sprints finished in my time. The ‘times’ suffered in consequence, but times are merely relative.
In my time there was one competition v. C.O.S, and the C.O.S. were practically represented by two men only: W. N. Roe (of cricket fame) and P. A. Pugh. Naturally these two could not do everything, and in fact, the only open event which the C.O.S. won was the mile. I was a small boy and had great pride in cleaning up the running shoes of H. M. Morris after the occasion – for had he not won the Quarter in 54 seconds, at least so said the watch of that day. But the competition was for once held on the Beverley you must know.
Games, such as “High Cockalorum” and “Prisoner’s Base” still survived. You may see them in old picture books being played by youths wearing ‘concertina’ hats und nether garments hesitating between trousers and plus fours. Since they were played in the Mint Yard simultaneously with stump cricket or other forms of sport there was considerable life and spirit to be seen by the prowling stranger from overseas.
Despite the influence of Dr. Mitchinson (our pioneer of scientific education) we were, forty years ago, in the main a classical school of the old type. It was even believed that one small head could not carry both history and chemistry-consequently one or the other of these was thrown to the dogs, and it was usually history. The Alford Lab. with its explosions and stenches was too attractive to give the ordinary boy any option. And chemistry was the only branch of Natural Science that had a formal recognition. But, with all faults, we were then, as now, the King’s School, which in one form or another has flourished for a thousand years or so, and I trust that newspapers and postcard printers will cease to dub us King’s College, Canterbury. I have seen this insult more than once in print! Even a Cambridge Don, who ought to have known better, had the hardihood to ask your Correspondent if we were a branch of King’s College, London. The only possible reply was, “What is King’s College, London?”
But on reflection they have not reached the limits – they might have called us a Collegiate School!
Reginald Bosanquet 1881-83. He went to Christ Church, Oxford. He was then ordained and was Vicar of Brightwell, Suffolk (1894-96), Rector of St Alban’s, Nanaimo, British Columbia (1896-99), Vicar of Offton (1904-08), Chaplain of the Scilly Isles (1908-18) and Chaplain of Lyons (North and Central Europe, 1920- ). He died in 1944.