Drill – the extra bits

Each performance of Drill is timed perfectly and lasts 20 minutes. But with such a long standing tradition, writing about it takes two blog posts!

Whilst Drill was not unique to the School when it started out, it seems likely that no other schools have anything like it today. The closest might be Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore which has some movements that are similar. However, their Gym Drill is described on their own website as

The Middle and Upper School perform an all-school dance and school exercises which have been performed since 1904

https://www.brynmawrschool.org

There are elements that are more like cheerleading movements than the marching exercises performed at RMSG but as trainees under Madame Bergman-Osterburg came from, and disseminated to, all corners of the world, it is quite possible that the origins were once closely aligned.

Martina Bergman-Osterburg

This image, dated 1880, is the earliest photograph of Drill apparently being performed. One has to say ‘apparently’, as this may be a posed image, possibly including every girl in the School at the time, and there are no records anywhere of it being performed outdoors. Clearly, if this were a performance, someone would have had to have wheeled out two grand pianos for the accompanying music!

This brings us nicely onto the music. In the C19th and perhaps the earlier part of the C20th, the music was played by senior girls. By the later part of the C20th, that task fell to music teachers. The pianists required skill not just to read and play the music but, if necessary, to speed up or slow down tempo if the Drillers were a little too enthusiastic or tardy in performance. On one occasion, some Senior girls decided, out of mischief, to repeat some of the exercises more times than normal. Valerie Curtis, music teacher from 1958, later commented that she had thought the Drill was taking a little longer than usual but she just fitted the music to the movement being performed!

In 1980, it was decided to try recorded music. With some trepidation Miss Curtis was asked if she would mind being made redundant. The nervousness was uncalled for as Val was delighted to be freed from the task of turning up to every rehearsal on time and thumping out music on a keyboard!

This sample of Drill music is from 1933 although the book is dated 1916.

In 1982, Hooked on Classics – classical music given an up tempo treatment by Louis Clark – was storming the charts. The Drill was re-worked to this music which now includes the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, March of the Toreadors from Bizet’s Carmen, the Blue Danube Waltz, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Sousa’s The Liberty Bell, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 and The Dam Busters. About 30 years later, the opportunity arose to tell Mr Clark how his musical treatment had been utilised.

“He was genuinely intrigued and delighted to know that his musical arrangements had helped to popularise Drill, giving pleasure to so many over such a long period of time.”

Drill is a special part of life at RMSG but that does not mean that it is a fixed entity which no-one dare change. It is said that former pupils watch the performances with eagle eyes, later declaring that it wasn’t as good as in their day but they would say that, wouldn’t they?

However it can, and does, change according to need.

This movement is no longer included although, as this image from the Great Hall shows, still was in the 1930s. In 1937, as a special, the staff performed a version of drill for the girls. The School magazine records the apparent astonishment of the watching pupils as, in slow motion, the staff touched their toes!

This is the wheel performed in the very earliest days at Rickmansworth (no portraits on the wall gives that away). It was not performed for Prize Day 1934 (then in May) as there had not been enough rehearsal time since the School had only arrived on site in April. However, it was performed when Queen Mary opened the School – on a wet, miserable, rainy summer day. Some of the spectators here appear to be dressed appropriately for British summer: raincoats and warm clothing!

With performances stretching back as far as at least 1876, there have been many notable spectators. In 1888, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) watched it. In 1946, his grandson, George VI watched it.

The King was in what has become known as the King’s Chair – one of the Caledonian chairs presented to the School in 1795. On the back of this chair is recorded a list of the illustrious royal bottoms that have sat upon it to watch Drill: Queen Mary in 1912 and again in 1934; the Princess Royal in 1927; George VI in 1946; Princess Marina in 1948.

 

With any well-established tradition, there have been those not normally part of a hard-working team who want to participate. In 1934, in celebration of the School being about to move to Rickmansworth, Drill was performed backwards with Drillers wearing masks on the backs of their heads. The teaching staff, as we have seen, have performed it for pupils. In the 1990s, the staff were again challenged, their numbers added to by parents, to a charity performance. Given the all too few rehearsals and fewer than 180 drillers to make the formations, their performance was given grudging praise in the comment “Hey, they’re not bad.”

Year Two pupils, in learning about the School’s history, had a go at some of the movements …

… and learned first-hand that it takes practice to be synchronised!

Drill has even been on the radio. Fighting Fit, broadcast on Radio 4 on 28th May 2005, heard presenter Fi Glover discovering that

“getting the rights and lefts going in sequence, the tippy toes turning, the arm movements in the right order and making sure it is all done in time with the music and in line with everyone else is jolly difficult.”

Rehearsal is vital to make sure each Driller knows where she should be at any given moment so let us give special praise to those Reserves who attend all the rehearsals, turn up immaculately attired for the performances and may not actually be in one. Their dedication is crucial as they might have to slot into any one of the 180 places making the performance seamless. As one of them said:

“… nothing prepares you for the moment when [you are told] ‘You’re East 71.’ You think, where the heck’s that? Am I an up or a down line in the arm things and am I a 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1?”

And sometimes things can go wrong. One former pupil recalled with horror the time her shoe fell off when the Princess Royal was watching. The lady in question winked in sympathy but the girl herself felt devastated. But full marks for quick thinking for the Driller who had forgotten her short white socks so painted her ankles with plimsoll whitener!

Drill performances are three in number: Prize Day and Remembrance Sunday are two. The other arose from what had been a full rehearsal on the Wednesday before Prize Day but, as it proved equally as popular with spectators as the other two performances, it became one in its own right.

On Remembrance Sunday, the set square and compass position is held whilst a speech is given (the speaker being implored to keep it brief to prevent girls from keeling over in a faint), Point is rewarded with a little gift and the girls prepare to end the performance. After removing the poppies they are wearing and laying them at their feet, marching on the spot begins and, at the sound of a whistle, the Drillers leave the Hall. Their poppies remain, a poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by many in war.

[Additional information to create these posts was supplied by three former Heads of PE at the school to whom grateful thanks are extended.]

Drill

(or Who needs Fitbits?)

Picture the scene. An audience in the Gallery, in banked seating at the end of a hall, in seating on the stage, in a line of chairs down the side of the hall and a crowd of people peering over the heads and between the shoulders of other people crammed into doorways. All in eager anticipation as girls in old fashioned school uniform mill in the corridors on either side of the Great Hall, assembled in exactly measured march formation, waiting. The first stirring notes of martial music played through the speakers and we’re off! There is only one thing it could be.

School Drill.

To anyone not familiar with this spectacle, it might sound horrifying. Indeed, the first boarding inspection team to visit the School, whose visit coincided with Drill rehearsals, gazed in utter bewilderment before one dared to whisper “But do you make them do this?” The simple answer given was “Ask them.” Far from compulsion, there is fierce competition to gain a place in the Drill team. At 180-strong, plus about 30 reserves, it is the biggest team event in the School and girls maintain their places with pride. They even measure their own progress through life, as in ‘I used to come in from the first door. Now I’ve progressed to the middle door!’ (For those of you now completely mystified, the smaller girls use one door, the taller ones another and the tallest the 3rd door.)

Drill is a tradition in the School and, like many traditional things, no-one is entirely sure when and why it started. It is a mixture of calisthenics, military drill and Swedish Gymnastics with Masonic references. Possibly its origin lies in the desire for girls to take exercise but at a time when it was not lady-like to exert oneself and work up a sweat. As the saying has it: horses sweat, men perspire but ladies gently glow. The understanding that recreation time was important was always known although the recreation seemed limited to perambulation in a decorous manner than running about.

This image from 1875 shows the girls ‘at play’.

However, the notion of calisthenics as exercise seems to have been introduced quite early on the nineteenth century. The earliest reference to Drill is from a pupil who left the School in 1838 (i.e. born in 1823) who commented:

“Drill was taught by a corporal, Teddy Redcap as they called him, who visited the school once a week for that purpose.”

In this comment we have both the exercise regime and the martial aspect.

Charles Dickens, who visited the School on more than one occasion, wrote about a hall in 1866 where the girls drill and dance and already by this stage, the regular practice of Drill was probably already in place. But it is also probably still more like movement to music than the Drill we know today. This type of exercise was done in many girls’ schools at the time. North London Collegiate pupils in 1883, for example,

“… have musical drill for a quarter of an hour … [with, twice a week] special calisthenic exercise, lasting half-an-hour”

Swedish Gymnastics, introduced to this country by Per Henrik Ling, was designed to improve health and well-being. It used no gym apparatus and so could be interpreted more freely. Madame Bergman-Osterburg promoted it widely as a regime of exercise and introduced, or utilised, the idea of exercise as display. That it was widely known can be shown by the reference below. Taken from The Girls’ Annual of 1951, it clearly expected its readers to understand what drill was.

The comment ‘as early as 1888’ implies that RMIG was in the vanguard of presenting their drill as a display.

https://afterthoughtsblog.net/2016/04/swedish-drill-history.html

These exercises, taken from a book entitled ‘Swedish Drill a history’, show the sort of exercise regime used by Swedish gymnastics. Calisthenics today has been commandeered by body-builders but both of these things go to underline the fact that Drill today provides a full body workout. It improves fitness, muscle tone, rhythm, posture and deportment. It teaches self-discipline as each girl must concentrate not only on her own routine but on those of everyone around her. It teaches her that individuals are important but that individuals also create strong units when working in harmony with others.

Which brings us to the vexed question of when did it move from being an exercise to improve health to being a spectacle for an audience. And the short answer is – no-one knows. Nor does anyone know at what point the Masonic symbolism was introduced into the regime. Whoever devised it must have had a mathematical brain as well as knowledge of symbols pertinent to freemasonry.

That Drill had become established, not only at RMIG but beyond its gates, can be seen in the Head Governess’ request in March 1894 for a pupil teacher to be allowed to do a course in drill and physical culture as she was deemed excellent in her teaching of this to the younger girls:

‘the lessons are held in the Portman rooms on a Thursday afternoon and cost 3gns for 12 lessons’.

The fact that there was a course and that it was deemed beneficial for teaching staff to be sent on it indicates the value the School perceived in Drill, something that was, presumably, echoed elsewhere.

It is possible, if unconfirmed, that Drill as a performance and Drill with Masonic references came together with the School’s centenary in 1888. For this, a performance of Drill was given in the Royal Albert Hall before thousands of assembled Freemasons who would have appreciated all the symbolism. The entire School roll took part in this performance and the girls filed off the dais

“the youngest, according to masonic principles, occupying the post of vantage”

The Times, June 5th 1888

 

This rather grainy image is taken from the Graphic, June 16th 1888 where it is described as calisthenic and marching exercise.

There appears to have been a performance of something at the Anniversary Festival in 1876 and from this may have emerged the idea of a special performance for the Centenary 12 years later. If so, they had little idea that what emerged would still be going strong 130 years later!

Not all of the masonic symbolism was present however as the set square and compasses design was not introduced until 1922. It is shown here in 1931 in one of the last performances at Clapham.

 

Adjustments were constantly being made – not always received well! – but it is what helps to keep it fresh.

 

Time, then, to look at some of the movements in Drill – this mixture of calisthenics, military drill and Swedish Gymnastics with Masonic references.

The military aspect lies not only in some of the music but also the marching and movements to link the different symbols. As a side note here, when Drill rehearsals in 1980 seemed endless to get the new routines fixed, to revive flagging spirits, it was decided to invite the Senior Drill Sergeant from the Metropolitan Police Cadet School in Hendon to put the girls through their paces.

“He moved up and down their lines, the shiny black peak of his hat flat to his nose, a wide red sash over his impeccable uniform, carrying a pace stick and barking at them ‘left, left, left right left, heads up, shoulders back girls, swing those arms’.

He used his pace stick to demonstrate the length of girls’ strides, explained what dressing was to keep the lines straight, and the importance of standing still without fidgeting.”

Point, the smallest girl, who marches alone to the front of the hall and has to remain still whilst patterns are formed round her, was lifted onto the stage by the Drill Sergeant, who placed his hat on her head so she could take the salute as the girls filed out of the hall. I wonder if she remembered that later when she married a policeman?

Drill formations

  • The 180 drillers represent the number of degrees in 2 right angles or in a semi-circle. Geometry is one of the seven liberal arts. Operative masons (i.e. workers in stone) relied on a knowledge of it and it also informs speculative [free]masonry.
  • The rhythm of the hand clapping on the floor has overtones of the Tyler’s duties during a Masonic meeting. He remains outside the door of the Lodge and information is relayed by a series of knocks.

  • The drillers form two pillars. These are of Masonic significance and appear on the School badge.

 

  • In the formation of the two wheels, which make a clockwise revolution of 360°, the 3 girls on the outside of each spoke peel off to form an outer circle turning counter-clockwise. The clockwise movement represents the bounds of respectability and the anti-clockwise movement marks the line over which no respectable person should cross. A circle also forms part of the School badge.

  • The formation of two blocks can be interpreted as the Rough and Smooth Ashlars, of significance to Freemasonry and also to the School. The Rough Ashlar represents a person without learning, to be gradually shaped into the Smooth Ashlar which can then be gainfully employed. The concept is that girls arrive at the School as Rough Ashlars and by their own efforts and those of their teachers and housemistresses they become Smooth Ashlars before they leave. Since 1961 the Ashlar (in the form of a silver badge) has been a badge of merit to individual girls in the Senior School who have proved themselves to be deserving members of the School community.

  • The 5 lines into which the girls move to form both Ashlar blocks represent the five orders of Architecture: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite.

http://freemasoninformation.com/

  • Point, the smallest girl, marches alone to a halt in front of the Stage. In this, she represents the point around which anything of significance can be built. The Point is later escorted by the two tallest drillers, the smallest escorted by the tallest.

 

French plaits, tunics no more than four inches above the knee (and no leaning backwards to make them seem longer than they are), white ankle socks and freshly-whitened plimsolls, turn up on time for twice weekly rehearsals, three performances including one on Remembrance Sunday – it’s a full commitment for modern girls and they love it!

So too does the audience which has stretched right down the corridor before the performance in order to get a seat. You can’t get better approbation than that.

By the left ….

The Hospital in the Park

2018 sees the 70th anniversary of the NHS which started life at Park Hospital on 5 July 1948.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2008/07/03/nhs60_trafford_general_hospital_feature.shtml

Originally built by Barton upon Irwell Union in a corner of Davyhulme Park, Park Hospital is now Trafford General.

In 1926, at the same moment as negotiations for the sale of Rickmansworth Park were underway, the Union started building their hospital. It was opened by the Princess Royal (HRH Princess Mary) on 1 June 1929, the same person who presented the prizes at the School in 1927 when it was still at Clapham.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Park Hospital was taken over by the War Department for use by the Armed Forces. The well-equipped School San came under close scrutiny by Rickmansworth Council at much the same time. They had it in mind to create a casualty clearing station but the School authorities resisted. You could say they repelled all boarders – except those who were female, of school age and were registered as pupils at RMIG!

Park Hospital was de-requisitioned in September 1945 by which time plans for the NHS were well underway. The world’s first universal health care system provided by government was steered to fruition by Aneurin (Nye) Bevan. He died in 1960 just ‘up the road’ from the School in Ashridge House, near Berkhamsted.

So the School Sanatorium, the ‘hospital’ in the park, has some interesting parallels with Park Hospital and the birth of the NHS.

At the time the plans for RMIG were drawn up, the NHS was unheard of and provision was therefore made for the healthcare of all the pupils. This had always been considered as part of the overall package from the moment pupils were accepted by the charity. Medical practitioners offered their services gratis for pupils and there was an awareness from the outset that a group of people living in close proximity were subject to the possibility of contagion. From 1795, all prospective pupils were required to have a certificate, signed by a medical practitioner, to say that they were safe from smallpox and had no defect in sight or limbs. If having a certificate of health pre-admission seems strange, it should be noted that by 1818 some 272 girls had been educated at the School and, of these, only five had died whilst at School. Given the rate of childhood mortality beyond the School, this is quite a remarkable success story.

The first school site being an already existing building adapted for the purpose, it is unlikely to have had a designated area for sick children. When the School moved to Southwark, the floor plans do not specify any area dedicated to treatment and care of sick pupils but there clearly was some. The matron’s duties extended to healthcare although primarily she was responsible for ensuring that the girls remained healthy rather than actually nursing them. It was her job to ensure that any contagion was dealt with swiftly so, for example, in 1821, two girls who contracted scarlet fever were removed to the Fever Hospital in Gray’s Inn Rd.

“The London Fever Hospital (LFH) was founded in 1802 at 2 Constitution Row, Gray’s Inn Lane, just north of Guilford Street … it had 15 beds, and was staffed by three nurses, a medical officer, an apothecary and a porter.” https://aim25.com

An article in The Spectator declared:

The ward fees are seven shillings a day for adults and five shillings for children.

http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/12th-january-1924/14/the-london-fever-hospital

This indication of charges, albeit later than when used by the School, underlines that healthcare could be costly but throughout the School’s pre-NHS history, there was never any question of pupils not receiving the appropriate healthcare on grounds of cost. For example, a pupil in 1921 was treated at the Yarrow Convalescent Home in Broadstairs at a cost of 25/- per week from July for a month, followed by 3 months convalescence. The costs would have been met entirely by the School.

By the time RMIG reached Clapham, there was dedicated provision with resident staff. Often referred to as ‘The San’, it was officially the Infirmary and was referred to formally as such by the Head Governess. However, the two names were clearly interchangeable. For example, a former pupil, Gertrude Craik, in 1920 ‘became the assistant to the nurse in the Sanatorium’ before moving on in 1922 to Great Ormond St Hospital. In another example, Betty Starling ‘Contracted scarlet fever in 1924 and was retained in sanatorium over school holidays, later transferring to the Joyce Green Hospital, Dartford so that the San. could be disinfected.’

The infirmary at Clapham was updated from time to time, as need arose and the school roll increased. It had its own dispensary as the picture from about 1912 below shows.

By the time the School had left the metropolis and moved to the fresh fields of Herts, it was also ready for a larger medical section. At Clapham, it had been recognised that a separate entrance to the infirmary would be a good idea as a method of keeping contagion controlled. At Ricky, it went one step further – well several steps actually – by having the Sanatorium in a separate building. Furthermore, although all the other buildings of the time were connected by underground service tunnels, the San was not (and still isn’t).

Making up the fourth side of a quadrangle, the San had a south façade with larger windows and balconies and a north façade with smaller windows.

The solaria were placed to take advantage of stronger sunlight to aid recovery. The two balconies were designed to enable patients to sit outside (whether they wanted to or not!) on the basis that ‘fresh air is Good For You’.

The architect’s plans show the several entrances, the main one of which was (and still is) flanked by a design probably based on the medical symbol the Rod of Asclepius and crafted by Joseph Cribb.

But probably the thing that most astonishes the modern pupil, for whom the NHS has always existed, is that the Sanatorium had its own operating theatre.

As a former pupil who experienced the facilities both as a patient and, later, as a probationer, said:

There was an operating theatre, consultant room, dental clinic, pharmacy, solarium, wards and single rooms, and, in 1955, even x-ray facilities.

… we were lucky to have such an efficient, highly commendable health care system, especially as [this] was before the birth of the National Health System in 1948.

There were resident nursing sisters who were assisted by school leavers known as probationers. These were girls who wanted to go into nursing but were not old enough to start their formal nursing training. Probationers, under the supervision of the Sisters, were responsible for the care of the girls and day to day cleaning.

“We learnt basic nursing skills which stood us in good stead for our later careers.”

The picture below shows two of these probationers engaged in cleaning the operating theatre.

A doctor visited daily but was not resident and there was also a dentist who treated the girls requiring fillings etc in the dental clinic in the San. (“Having teeth filled in those days was no picnic with no pain killers available,” recalled another pupil, presumably from experience) but anyone requiring orthodontic work was sent to Harley St or the Royal Masonic Hospital.

The two sisters held surgeries morning and evening for basic treatment. Those requiring treatment in the sanatorium were given a bed whilst those needing a little less intensive care were in the sanatorium as day cases. Some eligible for day care were those who needed TLC, especially new girls, which shows an understanding that for some girls being a long way from their families was an ordeal in itself.

All girls were subjected to regular eye, dental and medical examinations.

“For the less fortunate adolescent teenagers with acne, every Wednesday and Saturday, they received ultra violet treatment in the solarium, all sitting in a circle wearing darkened goggles.”

Pupils were regularly weighed and measured at the beginning of each term.

“The skinny ones were fortified by cod liver oil tablets and malt. Those deemed to be overweight were scrutinised at meal times by the House Matron.”

Judging by the numerous recollections of feeling permanently hungry (Children’s Hollow Legs Syndrome), obesity was far less of a problem than it is today.

The San was the equivalent of a 50 bed cottage hospital, quite possibly better equipped than many. For the most part, there would be 6-10 girls staying in overnight or longer but, just occasionally, if an epidemic broke out, extra space would be allocated. For example, in September 1954 a flu epidemic hit the school. The sanatorium was soon full to capacity with the nursing staff run off their feet. Girls at the recuperative stage were transported by ambulance (St John’s) to Ruspini House which served as a convalescent house whilst new cases took their beds in the sanatorium.

“This lasted nearly a month,” recalled a former pupil, “but, true to fashion, it all ran like clockwork under the eye of Sister Taylor.”

The beds in the ward were typical hospital beds.

Each girl admitted had a day basket in which to put personal clothing and in-patients wore pyjamas and pretty smocked embroidered pink and blue bed jackets. As all the uniform, including nightwear, was provided, no doubt these too were standard issue.

One who was a probationer recalled that they were paid £2.00 a month, just as the pupil teachers also received an allowance. They had one day off a week. Their uniform – of course – was provided and, in addition, when they were ready to move onto nurse training beyond the School, they were equipped with any compulsory requirements listed by the teaching hospital, such as black shoes and a watch with a second hand. Like all school leavers, they also received leaving outfits and were taken to Arding & Hobbs in Clapham where additional clothing was bought.

The healthcare the pupils received, both before and after the NHS was born, was exemplary.

“… when we left the Masonic School, we were as medically fit as possible”

Not sure if the following counts as an item to ensure medical fitness but the Head Governess in the 1890s wrote in her report:

“Miss Davis will feel obliged if the Committee will again allow one dozen pint bottles of claret for the children during that week, as she has found that the best thing for their refreshment in the midst of their work.”

Yes, I’ll have that prescribed please!