The Waltons

Hands up if you remember The Waltons, TV series of the 70s and 80s. Set on the fictional Walton’s Mountain, it was loosely based on the life of Earl Hamner Jnr of Schuyler, Nelson County, Virginia.

 

Image of Walton family from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/03/25/good-night-john-boy-good-night-earl-hamner-jr/?utm_term=.179fa5844ab6

Image from TV series https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25660694

A family saga with the backdrop of the Great Depression, John-Boy Walton was the narrator, introducing the story of his parents, grandparents and six siblings. With such a large family, there was always scope for plotlines.

Another large Walton family – this time a real one – is the Walton sextuplets born to Janet & Graham Walton in 1983. At the time, they were the world’s first female sextuplets that all survived and they are still going strong today with the next generation of baby Waltons starting to appear.

But the Walton family this blog is concerned with is that belonging to Sarah Jane Thornton Walton, admitted as a pupil 21st April 1836. Whilst researching her, a very interesting family history began to emerge although, strictly, this is less The Waltons, a family saga from mid nineteenth century Hull, as much as it is The Standidges, Hullites since Stuart times. Allow me to explain …

Sarah was the daughter of Samuel Standidge Walton (1794-1868) and Sarah Walton nee Shilling (1794-1866). Both of them actually survived their daughter to whom we will return shortly. Samuel Walton was a shipbuilder and in 1829, Pigot’s Directory places him as 1 High St, Sculcoates. This appears to be a business address related to the shipbuilding that was the family’s occupation. Later, Samuel is found in Marine Row, Kingston upon Hull; Worship St, Hull; Reed St, Sculcoates in 1841, 1851 and 1861 respectively. As well as being a shipbuilder (and a landed proprietor), Samuel was a Captain in the East Yorks Militia. He had held that Commission for 45 years and the Queen granted him special permission to retain his rank and wear the uniform even after he resigned the Commission.

The East Yorks Militia had the nickname of the Beverley Buffs to distinguish them from other Yorkshire Militia regiments.

Image of uniforms from http://www.eylhs.org.uk/dl/129/militia-yeomanry-and-volunteer-forces

‘a comparable officer’s suit of the East Yorkshire Militia for this period [i.e. 1790] – coat, waistcoat, breeches – lies uncelebrated in the vaults of York Castle Museum.’

‘The scarlet coat is lined and faced buff, with ten buttons and silver laces on each lapel, four on each pocket and cuff, and one each side of the collar. The silver buttons are blank, with a striped pattern. Waistcoat and breeches are both buff. The waistcoat has twelve silver buttons and laces at the front and three on each pocket; the breeches have a tie and four buttons at each knee’ writes richardawarren in https://thisreilluminatedschoolofmars.wordpress.com/tag/east-yorkshire-militia/

Which of these uniforms Captain Samuel may have been given permission to wear is not clear although a portrait identified as him shows something similar to the image above labelled 1798 although, as an officer, his attire was presumably a little fancier.

Whatever his appearance, we do know that in 1867, Samuel gifted to the Corporation of Hull a portrait of his great grandfather, Sir Samuel Standidge.

Hull Packet 30 August 1867

unknown artist; Sir Samuel Standidge (1725-1801); Hull Guildhall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-samuel-standidge-17251801-80010

Sir Samuel Standidge, Knight (1725–1801),

Mayor of Hull (1795), Five Times Warden of the Trinity House, Hull Maritime Museum.

Captain Samuel is descended from Sir Samuel through the female line and his mother’s surname, Thornton, is preserved in two of Captain Samuel’s daughters: Mary Thornton Walton (1824-1914) and our pupil Sarah Janet Thornton Walton, the latter being baptised on 30 Jul 1827 in Christchurch, Sculcoates. The address in the baptismal record is Worship St, where Captain & Mrs Walton were residing in 1851 as well. This perhaps implies that several properties were in the possession of this branch of the Standidges/Waltons and were all used at various times. No 1 High Street, where Capt. Samuel was in 1829 is the property built or acquired by his great-grandfather. An article in the Hull Daily Mail 20 June 1927 identifies this property with the Standidge name in 1765 and refers to it as a shipyard.

But let us stop jumping about like a sand flea between seven different generations of Standidges and try and tell the story in some kind of cohesive order.

We ought to begin with the earliest known Standidge except we don’t have a name! In the article of 1927, Sir Samuel is described as the great-grandson of the Chamberlain of Hull of 1677 but, unfortunately, the writer did not give a name for this person. Suffice to say that Mr X clearly had a child or children and said offspring also had children and one of them had children, one of whom was Robert Standidge. Yes I know, it’s hard to get your head round the greats and grands but we are on safer ground now we have reached Sir Samuel.

Born in 1725 in Bridlington, by 1744 he was Mate on board a ship bringing ‘fume’ i.e. tobacco from Virginia. [Oh look – Virginia: coincidences abound – see The Waltons.] Whilst engaged with that, Standidge was captured by a band of pirates (or privateers). They held him prisoner for six weeks before finally releasing him on Rhode Island. Ever the entrepreneur/quick thinker/striker of hot iron, Standidge used his time on Rhode Island to study the tides and this was later to save his life. After his release, he became Master (Captain) aboard the American and, caught in a storm off Rhode Island, was able to put his former studies into use to stop the ship being wrecked.

Sixteen years later, Standidge moved into shipbuilding in Hull where he ‘is recognised as the father of the Hull whaling industry in the Georgian period’ (http://www.thorngumbald.karoo.net/standidge.html citing G S Skeggs Thorngumbald that village yon side of Hedon) and it was at this time that he began operating from No.1 High Street, a property that ran down to the river and was ‘given as 186 yards long by 65 yards wide.’ (ibid)

‘In 1767 at his own expense he equipped a ship and sent it out to the whaling grounds off Greenland. It was said at the time by other merchants that this was an act “bordering on insanity” ’ (ibid).

Madness or otherwise, in fact he commissioned more than one ship and one of them, the British Queen, he captained himself. One of his ships came back from the hazardous Greenland seas with one whale and 400 seals. Prior to this, sealskins were thought worthless, earning 3d each (the equivalent of about 1p) and they were dumped but Captain Standidge had them tanned and sold them for 5 shillings each (about 25p), thus increasing the market value of sealskin for everyone else! (Information taken from A new and completed history of the county of York, Volume 3 by Thomas Allen accessed via Googlebooks). The sort of man who can turn his captivity into useful information and worthless booty practically into gold is always going to be a success in life!

Willoughby, Robert; The Whaling Fleet of Sir Samuel Standidge Depicting the Ships ‘Mary’, ‘Samuel’, ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Grenland’; Hull Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-whaling-fleet-of-sir-samuel-standidge-depicting-the-ships-mary-samuel-lady-jane-and-grenland-79085

The whaling industry being in full swing, the refining processes must have produced some noxious fumes and made living in the vicinity unpleasant. Perhaps because of this, in 1768, Standidge purchased 200 acres of land at Thorngumbald from John Hobman and built a mansion there. Although Thorngumbald Hall, now just Thorn Hall, still exists as a building, it is not the one Standidge built.

Image from http://www.thorngumbaldparishcouncil.co.uk/history.aspx

Several owners after Sir Samuel, Charles H Johnson, who had bought it in 1879, demolished it and had it rebuilt in the neo-Jacobean style that is seen today. It has subsequently had several more owners and is currently a home for the elderly.

Standidge became very wealthy from his efforts and owned substantial tracts of lands and properties.

‘New York Farm, Preston, is said to have been purchased with the proceeds of one successful voyage to that city’

and there were at least seven other farms as well as areas of land known in Yorkshire as Garths. Now there’s a word familiar to present day pupils of the School!

He was made Sherriff of Hull in 1775 and in that year too he commissioned a ship which was to sail to discover the North Pole. Standidge had intended to captain it himself but discovered that the restrictions of his Sherriffdom meant that he was not allowed to leave the country. Given his other successes in life, who knows whether Standidge might now be the man credited with the discovery of the North Pole instead of Robert E Peary in 1909.

In 1795, Standidge was appointed Mayor of Hull and the following year he was knighted by George III. He was also granted honorary Russian nobility status by Catherine the Great as he had aided her in her war against the Turks. Not bad for a lad from Bridlington!

He died in 1801, leaving £75,000 in his will – in today’s money several million pounds. He is buried in in the north aisle of St Mary, Lowgate and there is a tablet inscribed to his memory on the wall there.

Image from http://stmaryslowgate.weebly.com/

After all this fascinating stuff, Sarah Janet Thornton Walton (remember her??) is almost an afterword, not least because, unlike quite a few of the Standidge and Walton family members, she did not make old bones. She arrived as a pupil in 1836 and left in 1842. Her name is not only preserved in school records but also on a sampler that was created in 1838 listing all the pupils in the School at the time.

In addition, she completed her own sampler.

She possibly left slightly ahead of her 15th birthday as her father declared his willingness to continue her education with a view to providing her with a position as a governess. Sadly, this was not to be as she died in 1846 at just nineteen years of age. We are left with the marker of her short life in the form of needlework and the fascinating story of her forebears. It remains only to use the sign off style employed by The Waltons.

“With the night descending on Walton’s Mountain, the camera would show the lights going out room by room … the family would banter for a moment … and finally:

Good night, John-Boy

Good night, Elizabeth

Good night, Daddy” [Etc.]

‘If those words mean nothing to you, you’re probably under age 40, perhaps a millennial. If they do, you’re probably a boomer, to whom they are unforgettable’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/03/25/good-night-john-boy-good-night-earl-hamner-jr/?utm_term=.179fa5844ab6

Good night Sir Samuel

Good night Sarah.

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‘Twas the Night before Christmas

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”

A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore, 1823

 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legend-of-the-christmas-stocking-160854441/

The Christmas stocking, hanging from the mantelpiece, bed post, or anywhere else (like the washing line above), is a Western tradition. The aim is to leave an empty stocking which, by magic, will be filled by the next morning with small toys, or tangerines, or sweets or chocolate coins in bright foil or anything else that can pass muster as a stocking filler. Apart from a foot that is.

It is tied in with the folklore surrounding the character of Santa Claus or St Nicholas and, although the stories all vary slightly, the concept of St Nick as a gift-giver is common to all of them. Although originally the stockings were likely to be those normally worn, some were created especially for Christmas and it didn’t take long for the commercial arm to work out that the idea could boost Christmas sales no end. Today Christmas in the Western world is a Commerce Fest but the image below shows that this is not an entirely modern phenomena as it dates from a century ago.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legend-of-the-christmas-stocking-160854441/

Stocking fillers were intended to be cheap and cheerful gifts. There could be all sorts – but you rather hoped it wouldn’t be a piece of coal marking your naughtiness – and that’s what this School Christmassy stocking contains.

The fillers, not the coal.

This is a small collection, definitely not commercial, of unconnected stories related to the School’s history.

The bulging stocking hangs tantalisingly. Let’s see what’s there.

If you have been enjoying Blue Planet II with the inimitable Sir David Attenborough, you might be surprised to know that, but for a quirk of fate, it might have been the voice of Jack Lester. Jack – or more properly John Withers Lester – had been the curator of Reptiles & Insects at London Zoo. At that time, the usual way zoos acquired their animals was from expeditions and Lester had organised one such to Sierra Leone. David Attenborough had previously produced and presented a nature programme and during this he formed a friendship with Jack. He was then invited to go on the expedition, with a film crew, and, as Attenborough was very keen to film animals in the wild, he jumped at the chance. It was this expedition which formed the basis of the series Zoo Quest. The original idea was that Attenborough would produce the programme but that Lester would be the presenter. Unfortunately, Lester contracted a tropical disease from his trip to Africa and presented only one instalment before having to be taken to hospital. Sadly, after several recurrences, this was what caused his premature death at the age of 47 in 1956. Because the series was already scheduled, Attenborough had to take over the presentation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And the connection to RMSG? Well, Jack’s daughter subsequently became a pupil between 1957 and 1964.

On the subject of zoo expeditions, someone who wrote entertainingly about them is Gerald Durrell. One of his expeditions was to what was then British Guiana, mentioned in the last post Bring Me Sunshine. In 1950, Durrell discovered the name Adventure on a map of Guiana and thought it sounded perfect as a starting point.

“ ‘Three singles to Adventure please,’ I said, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

‘Yes, sir,’ said the clerk. ‘First or second class?’ “

(from his book Three Singles to Adventure written with the characteristically wonderful Durrell imagery and humour.)

Given the similarity to the Lester expedition, one is not surprised to find a certain person commenting that Durrell was –

‘A renegade who was right… He was truly a man before his time’ 

Sir David Attenborough

Halfway down the stocking leg now

Continuing the animal theme – and equally as contrived – we have Emilie Hilda Nichols who was a pupil at the School in the C19th.

This small item appeared in Horse and Hound: A Journal of Sport and Agriculture, on September 17, 1892. Applicants for the School had their names and details submitted by Petitioners and were then put forward to a ballot. This was circulated, voted upon and the totals added up. Those girls who received the most support were granted a place at the School (always over-subscribed) and those unsuccessful accrued their vote totals for the next ballot six months later. This could happen several times, unless the girl in question became too old to be accepted as a pupil (usually 10 years of age). It seems rather more unusual for something to appear separately, and additionally, in a publication concerning a particular child – a sort of belt and braces approach. It seems likely that ‘Retniop’ knew William Nichols; Retniop was writing for Horse & Hound and Nicholls was the editor of Stock Keeper and Fancier’s Chronicle, described as ‘A Journal for Breeders and Exhibitors of Dogs, Poultry, Pigeons, Cats, &c’ – their subject matters were similar.

Image of cover from http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery

By the late 19th century, there were apparently over 400 periodicals devoted to agriculture alone, of which the Stock Keeper and Fancier’s Chronicle was one.

Whether the newspaper appeal did the trick or not we cannot be certain, but Emilie did become a pupil. Born on 11 Oct 1884, she became a pupil after her father died in 1892. She left in 1900 but we know that she visited the School in 1912. She lived in Surrey all her life and died in 1952 unmarried, her probate being granted to her sisters Flora & Alice. As was customary at the time, neither of these two became pupils. It was usual for only one girl (and one boy) of each family to receive a Masonic education although others were assisted in other ways.

We’re turning the heel of the stocking now.

Perhaps as evidence that there may be nothing unusual about individual girls receiving separate support in newspapers to encourage voters, Ada Carter received a similar treatment.

This appeared in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle on April 07, 1877. Originally published by Robert Bell in 1822 as Life in London, it was a weekly four page broadsheet with an anti-establishment slant, priced 7d. It contained general news but, as its later title might suggest, it became more focused on sport, in particular prize-fighting:

“it was particularly known for its reports on horse-racing, publishing up to date information on schedules and results.” https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/bells-life-in-london-and-sporting-chronicle

Amongst its many contributors was Charles Dickens and so here we have another link with the School!

Ada Carter was born in Nottingham in 1867. In 1864, her father, James Tomlinson Carter, was described as a gentleman who had been promoted to Lieutenant in the Robin Hood Rifle Volunteer Corps. He had a partnership with his father as auctioneers and share brokers, although this was dissolved by mutual consent in 1874. Whether this was because of his health we will never know but he died of consumption just two years later.

As with Emilie, the newspaper support may have encouraged voters in the ballot or it may not. However, Ada also became a pupil and in 1883 she won a prize for General Usefulness. She left later that year “her brother having written for her.” By 1901 her occupation is given as sick nurse and she, like Emilie, visited the School on what was then called Ex-Pupils’ Day, in 1912. In 1915, she married David Alexander Robertson Jeffrey. In fact, the couple took advantage of a new law of consanguinity which had been passed in 1907 as David Jeffrey had previously been married to Ada’s sister Kate. David and Kate had had a son before Kate died and Ada became his surrogate mother until her own death in 1938.

And so we reach the toe of the stocking. Is it a tangerine or a piece of coal? You can decide for yourselves because the last little filler brings us into the 21st century. The Year 7 Reading Group one December were told that they were being taken to see Santa Claus. The aim was to intrigue but they all became very excited at the prospect. Off we set for the Chapel where we found not a jolly figure in red crying “Ho ho ho” but a carved image of Saint Nicholas to one side of the altar connected with the diocese of St Albans in which the School lies.

(Image taken from the architect’s original drawing)

St Nick being the originator of Santa Claus, to say that Santa was in the Chapel was not a lie but some of the girls looked so disappointed that one felt quite guilty. Some of them clearly thought they’d had the piece of coal. Fortunately, another Christmassy occasion made up for it. In Scandinavia on 6th December, children leave their shoes out in the hope that they will be filled with sweets. This same Reading Club had been asked to take their shoes off and leave them to one side. So they didn’t mark the furniture, they were told. Whilst they were otherwise engaged, an assistant surreptitiously filled their shoes with sweets. At the end of the session they were told to retrieve their footwear. There was a pause and then the air was filled with squeals of delight! One little girl came rushing back, eyes shining, to announce the magic that had happened. Well it must have been magic: they hadn’t seen anyone go near the shoes …

The lump of coal my parents teased

I’d find in my Christmas stocking

turned out each year to be an orange,

for I was their sunshine.

William Matthews

(https://www.poetrysoup.com)

Remembrance Day

Today, along with the rest of the country, the School will mark the sacrifice made by those who have given their lives in war. A poppy wreath will be laid after a service in the Chapel and The Last Post will be sounded.

(The School will then differ from most organisations as this will be followed by a performance of Drill, at the end of which every one of the 180 girls will leave a poppy in her place as she marches from the Hall. For more about Drill, see http://www.rmsforgirls.org.uk/userfiles/rmsmvc/documents/AboutUs/History%20Trails/Drill%20history.pdf)

The idea of Remembrance Sunday was born in 1921. The date of the 11th November for Armistice Day honours the official ending of the First World War on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The Royal British Legion was founded on 15 May 1921 but the Poppy Day idea started with Madame Anna Guérin.

Image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/359443613995900209/

“After taking her idea to Field Marshal Douglas Haig and the British Legion, Madame Guérin’s poppies (made by the widows and orphans of the devastated areas of France) were distributed on British streets on 11 November 1921 – on the country’s first Poppy Day.” https://poppyladymadameguerin.wordpress.com/remembrance-poppy-timeline-for-great-britain/

The Tamworth Herald in 1921 informed the public “They are made in two qualities – in silk and in mercerised cotton.”

The poppy was chosen as the emblem inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields written by Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, in 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend.

The poppies are made “at the Richmond poppy factory … [which] has employed disabled ex-servicemen to construct the huge number of poppies needed every year.” https://britishpathe.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/poppies-an-illustrated-history/. By 1968, the factory had 300 staff and manufactured 13 million poppies per annum and today approximately 36 million are produced, albeit with more automation and therefore fewer employees. “A team of about 50 people—most of them disabled former British military personnel—work all year round to make millions of poppies at the Poppy Factory in Richmond” (Wikipedia). So, like Santa’s elves, the work is endless for a single day event.

The poppies in UK (apart from Scotland, see below) “typically have two red paper petals mounted on a green plastic stem with a single green paper leaf and a prominent black plastic central boss” (Wikipedia). Until 1994, this boss had the words Haig’s Fund stamped on it whereas today it has the words ‘Poppy Appeal’. The introduction of the words had originally been because fraudulent poppy sellers – there’s always some who try to make a fast buck from a good cause – were selling poppies to the public but pocketing the money. The ‘Haig’s Fund’ stamp of authority, plus an official badge worn by the sellers, sought to eliminate the fraud.

These days “It has become common to see large poppies on buses, tube trains and aeroplanes as well as on lampposts, billboards, public buildings and landmarks” (Wikipedia) and internet sites and social media also display them.

 

The top image needs no explanation, the lower image is a composite made from Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast.co.uk, both family history sites.

In 2014, to mark the centenary of the Great War, the Tower of London installation comprised 88,246 ceramic poppies, one poppy for each British or Commonwealth soldier killed.

(Image from https://bwi.forums.rivals.com/threads/june-28th-1914-102-years-ago-today-the-great-war-aka-world-war-i-began.125052/)

The School did their own version of this for the Chapel for Remembrance Day in that year.

Debate arises every year about ‘poppy etiquette’ and some see it as a political symbol. The Football Association caused a furore in 2016 by fining the players wearing one, claiming it was a political symbol the wearing of which was forbidden by their rules. In 2017, they changed those rules. They weren’t going down that route again! There are arguments about when you start wearing your poppy, arguments about whether it should be on the left (near the heart and where medals are worn) or men on the left and ladies on the right, arguments about whether it is significant that the leaf points towards 11 o’clock or not. This last isn’t a problem in Scotland where the poppies don’t have a leaf. This is because they are made by PoppyScotland rather than the Royal British Legion and they have four petals rather than the two favoured by the RBL. There’s also a white poppy “first introduced by the Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1933 and now sold by the Peace Pledge Union.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41942346/remembrance-poppy-controversies-and-how-to-wear-it. It symbolises an opposition to war and a commitment to lasting peace.

However, controversies aside, for poppies to be worn or not, there have to be those that organise the Poppy Appeals, to say nothing of the countless thousands of volunteers who stand out in the cold or in draughty shop doorways enabling the rest of us to buy our poppies. And it is here that we turn to another connection between the School and Remembrance Sunday. William Henry Keppy 1895-1941 is recorded in the 1939 register as Managing Secretary Poppy Day Appeal Fund.

As the Birmingham Daily Post of 6 January 1941 (above) indicates, he was also involved in a number of other charities as secretary or organiser. Given that Poppy Day started in 1921, for Mr Keppy to have been involved in its organisation from 1924, and that he founded the Warriors’ Club (now, sadly, vanished without trace), the notion of remembrance was clearly important to him. His father had been a soldier (Company Sergeant-Major South Wales Borderers and awarded the DCM) and assisted his son with the Warriors’ Club. William himself served throughout WWI, first joining the Warwickshire Yeomanry in 1913. He was discharged in 1919 but re-enlisted in 1921. Although he appears to have escaped unscathed, no doubt his war experience acted as a strong motivation for his efforts in the support of servicemen and women.

The various newspaper reports about William Keppy, arising mostly from his sudden and unexpected death aged just 45, suggest someone who was not only motivated but a ‘doer’. The article in the Daily Post goes on to say:

The Evening Despatch of 4 January 1941, also announcing his death, describes him as ‘the driving force’ in these organisations. As an example of his indefatigable efforts, the Birmingham Daily Gazette of 4 November 1930 carries the information

Interesting that, at a time when cars were owned by fewer people, motor mascots were available. Today, car poppies can be bought on line for £5.49. Using a Bank of England conversion rate gives the equivalent cost of about £3 in today’s money for the 1930 car mascot but of course there would be fewer sales of them than there might be today now that we are knee deep in vehicles.

As if all his sterling work for charities were not enough, Mr Keppy was also “prominent in the dance band world” (Birmingham Daily Gazette 06 January 1941). At one point he organised about five bands, including one called the Esmerelda Band. He was both drummer and conductor and the bands made a point of not playing from musical scores. It is possibly one of his dance bands – although not named as such – that entertained at a function of the Warriors’ Club reported by the Tamworth Herald in 1932.

Apart from his being involved in a number of charities and being very proactive in this work, the main reason for all the newspaper reports about Mr Keppy is his untimely death. As the report of his funeral (Birmingham Daily Gazette 8 January 1941) indicated, he left a widow and two daughters, one of whom became a pupil at the School. The second daughter would have been 17 at the time of her father’s death and therefore too old for school.

Birmingham Daily Gazette 06 January 1941

Although the majority of his life was spent in the Midlands – apart from a visit to Australia where he first had the idea of a dance band that didn’t play from printed music – William Keppy was actually born in Breconshire in 1895. By 1901, however, he, with his family, was in Smethwick. When he joined the army in 1913, his trade was given as machinist for Phillips. This was J. A. Phillips and Co, manufacturer of bicycles and bicycle components, originally based in Birmingham but which had moved to the Credenda Works in Smethwick in 1908. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk

Mr Keppy was a Freemason and his premature death made his daughter eligible for support from the Freemasons’ Charity. Throughout the School’s history, the death of fathers was often the prime reason for daughters to become pupils, so much so that, during most of the twentieth century, it was quite unusual for a pupil to have a father who was still alive. A pupil who left in the late 1950s wrote to her friend, somewhat tongue in cheek, about her ‘discovery’ of life in the outside world beyond the protective walls of the School: “Mary – a revelation. Some girls have fathers!” The tone may have been facetious but it pointed to the reason why the pupils were known by the locals as ‘the orphans on the hill’.

As his daughter would have been 10 when her father died ‘after a brief illness’ in Selly Oak hospital, she may well have been aware of her father’s involvement in the Poppy Day appeal (although children are generally unaware of what their parents do until they become adults themselves!) and, if so, the Remembrance Day services may well have had a specific poignancy for her both at School and beyond it. Personal connections with anything always heighten one’s awareness of it. Ask the girls who participate in Drill on Remembrance Sunday, who lay their poppies on the floor; ask the trumpeter who plays the Last Post; ask the girls who, as part of the Combined Cadet Force, play an active role in the service; ask the members of Chapel choir who sing for the service; ask … but you get the picture.

The service at School doesn’t just include the girls and their parents, and the members of the Old Masonic Girls’ Association (OMGA) but is shared with the Old Masonians’ Association (OMA) whose school closed in 1977. It is their memorial which forms the centrepiece of the wreath laying, so even greater poignancy in the act of remembrance.

During the two minutes’ silence as part of the service, each person will be remembering differently.

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/laurence-binyon-for-the-fallen.htm

Set in Stone

Researching the past pupils of the School endlessly uncovers interesting stories – only to be expected given the large numbers we are considering from 1788 onwards. Recently, I discovered that the father of Celia Bentham (1927-1963, at school 1937-1944) was Percy George Bentham, a sculptor of renown who studied at the Royal Academy.

“In 1907 Bentham was awarded a first prize of £20 and a silver medal, for a set of four models of a figure from the life” http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php

And perhaps on the strength of this success, he married Celia’s mother in 1909 at St Matthew, Willesden. In 1911, the couple are recorded at 13 and 15 Crownhill Road Harlesden, with Ellen Bentham’s brother as Head of Household. Perhaps at this stage, Bentham’s income as an artist was not yet sufficient to run a separate household. Later, however, he worked from a studio at 8A Gunter Grove, off the Fulham Road. (information from ‘Percy George Bentham, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011’)

Amongst other works by Bentham are a stone relief on the Leadenhall building in London on premises once occupied by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company, usually shortened to P & O. This piece shows a godlike figure carrying a ship and the ‘Public Monuments & Sculpture Association website suggests that the sculptor was Percy George Bentham (1883-1936)’

http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog

Another of his pieces is entitled the Bubble Blower, a wonderful evocation of an innocent childhood pastime. (Image courtesy of https://www.the-saleroom.com)

As well as her father being a sculptor, Celia’s brother, Philip, also became a sculptor. Born in 1913, Philip studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and also at Kennington School of Woodworking but he began his work training with his father.

One of his pieces is entitled the ‘Coventry Boy’. The description of the sculpture on the Coventry Society website tells us that ‘this boy has no name but represents all boys of all time’. Situated near the Cathedral, the statue

“is a model of a young man standing holding up a roll of paper in a heroic pose like a king or knight holding aloft a sword. But this is no ordinary piece of paper; this is his ‘Apprenticeship Certificate’. He has passed the City and Guilds Exam and now can become a member of the Coventry Freeman’s Guild; this is his ticket to a new and better way of life.

You will see on the statue he has only one shoe; this shows he came from a poor background but by … learning an engineering trade he can hold his head high. You can tell he is an engineer because in his other hand he has a spanner which is embedded in the factory. You can see on his other foot he has a shoe, again to show he has bettered himself. He has a tie because he has reached the pinnacle of respectability and if he is a ‘Tool Maker’ he is the engineer everyone looks up to because he has learned how to make the tools that make the tools that industrial engineering is based on.” http://www.coventrysociety.org.uk/public-art-in-coventry/coventry-boy-statue.html

In one of those odd twists, when Alfred Harris of the Coventry Boy Foundation, who commissioned the work, visited Philip Bentham ’s studio, he saw there the plaster sculpture entitled ‘Fisherman and Nymph’ which Percy George Bentham had exhibited in 1922 at the Royal Academy. In a sort of Gillette move [‘I liked it so much I bought the company’] Harris got the Foundry to cast it in bronze and then presented it to the City Council to be put on a small island in the lake at Coombe Abbey Country Park in 1968. Pictured below is the statue in its place in the park and (inset) a closer view.

 

So Coventry is a two Bentham city.

Another sculptor indirectly linked to the School is Charles John Collings who married a former pupil, later teacher, of the School. Glorying in the appellation Melora Fogwill Goodridge, this former pupil became Mrs Collings in 1881. Her new husband was described as a stone merchant in 1891 but as a sculptor in 1901. In 1910, when the Collingses left UK for Canada, the travel documents describe him as an artist.

It is in this category he is more widely known, producing the most exquisite watercolour paintings.

Images from http://www.artnet.com/artists/charles-john-collings/past-auction-results & http://www.maltwood.uvic.ca/k_maltwood/history/cjcollings.html

The family settled in Shuswap, British Columbia where they built their own house which still stands today. (Top is the house now; bottom, the house partly finished in the winter of 1910; Image in 1910 courtesy of the Kamloops Museum and Archives. http://shuswappassion.ca/history/shuswaps-most-famous-artist-deserves-more-recognition/%5D

 

But whereas Bentham pere et fils and Charles John Collings are sculptor/artists connected to the School by courtesy of former pupils, it is time now to turn to former pupils who themselves practised the art of sculpture. Christine Cooper nee Duncan, pupil c1912-1918, later founded the school magazine, Machio, in 1924. It is fitting, therefore, that in Machio 1958, we learn that she had exhibited a sculpture in the summer exhibition of the Society of Women Artists, Royal Institution Galleries, Piccadilly. Not a sculptor by profession but an English teacher, her artistic endeavours are perhaps the more creditable for that.

Juanita Homan, nee Page, who is a professional artist, left the school in 1948 and went to Kingston School of Art. From there, she left to study sculpture in Paris with Ossip Zadkine a Russian who lived in France from 1910. Perhaps Zadkine’s style, influenced by cubism (left), is reflected in the piece of Juanita’s work we see here (right).

On her return to UK, Juanita studied at the Camberwell School of Art, the Sir John Cass School of Art and, when her children were older, she attended Goldsmiths to read for an honours degree in Art & Design.

Sculpture as an art form is not readily practised as a school subject for obvious reasons. Manhandling a great lump of stone into the School art department for students to hack about – sorry, craft into an art form – is unlikely to be high on a priority list. However, many long-established schools have statuary of various kinds that might be studied by art students. A recent post looked at the work of Joseph Cribb that can be found at the School but the one we turn to now connects not only with the school’s history but with the time of year: Hallowe’en.

The statue of the Institutor, Ruspini, was crafted by an unknown hand. At least, it is unknown now although presumably not unknown at the time. Unfortunately, nobody at the School thought to make a note of the sculptor’s name (but see footnote).

It was originally placed on the gable of the Centenary Hall at Clapham and it became a thing of derring-do for the older girls to scramble about in the rafters and reach out and pat him on the head before they finally left the School. Naturally the School forbade such dangerous activities although if they had used a kind of reverse psychology, it might have been better to make it compulsory under supervision. That would have killed it off completely. Once something is legit., it loses all desirability as an act of (minor) rebellion.

The stone plinth under the statue’s feet today records that the figure had originally been at Clapham Junction.

Only the lodges at the two gates of the school at Clapham remain as the rest was demolished by the Peabody Trust who had bought the site after the School had moved on. However, the statue and the foundation stones of (probably) the Alexandra Wing built in 1888 were preserved and moved to Rickmansworth to be integrated into the new school. As the school had to be made ready for the girls long before the Clapham site was demolished, the items could not be fully integrated and, instead, were placed at the eastern exterior wall of the Chapel. There is little chance of the girls wanting to scramble up and pat him on the head as there is nothing to scramble up on. They would have to bring ladders and either commit the act in daylight or use torches. This kind of spoils the illicit quality especially given that originally the Headmistress and the Matron both had their living quarters with a clear view of the Chapel! Long before foot could be set upon rung, there would have been the authoritative tone of enquiry (“And just what do you think you are doing?”) that sets all schoolchildren’s hearts quailing. So Ruspini’s coiffure has remained untouched by hand since 1933.

But his face has not fared so well. Exposure to wind and rain resulted in damage to the lower part of his face requiring some genioplastic surgery. Not, in this case, by a plastic surgeon: more courtesy of a bucket of mortar. His chin had to be remodelled with some judicious concrete resulting in a somewhat larger lower jaw than he had originally – in stone as well as in life.

This composite image of the face before and after the remodelling may give an idea of the change.

In his niche, Ruspini leans on one leg with the other projecting forward. He holds a scroll perhaps representing the first rules drawn up or perhaps because the unknown sculptor liked doing them. His eighteenth century costume gives him a resplendent bearing and he looks as if he is about to step down to speak to us. (Probably to say what he thinks of the face remodelling!)

Perhaps this is what gave rise to a little story, told in darkened dorms by some little girls to frighten other little girls into squealing with horror. It was said that, if you watched the statue at midnight on Hallowe’en, he changed legs. Instead of resting on his left leg with his right leg forward, it was his left leg that projected. A daft little story, easily dismissed as every photograph of the statue shows, quite clearly, the same leading leg.

Until one image was found with the other leg leading …

Cue squeals.

Needless to say, the cause of this was the fact that the slide image of the statue being viewed was simply being viewed from the wrong side! Although it does make you wonder about the expression ‘no stone unturned’.

Footnote

Subsequent to this being written, the information was supplied that the sculptor of the Chevalier statue was Edwin Roscoe Mullins who had studied at both the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal Academy. Born in 1848, for the last decade of his life he was in poor health and died in 1907. As http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/sculpture/mullins/index.html informs us, he made his professional debut in Vienna & Munich before coming to London in 1874.

“Mullins possessed considerable powers of portraiture.”  https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Mullins,_Edwin_Roscoe_(DNB12)

“The most curious of all the artist’s work is the Circus Horse which constitutes the memorial in the Brighton Cemetery to Mr. Ginnett, a notorious circus owner …” http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/sculpture/mullins/index.html

This Ginnett is the father of Louis Ginnett whose art works also adorn the School What goes around comes around?

 

 

Watch the birdie!

This familiar phrase originated when early photographers, in an attempt to engage the attention of a child subject and enable a clear photograph to be taken, would have a prop held above the camera to focus attention. “Often, these props were toy birds that would flap their wings or warble. In a time when children’s toys were simple rag dolls or marbles, such a toy would be a marvel.” http://grammarist.com/phrase/watch-the-birdie/ Given today’s advancement in technology, the “phrase watch the birdie is now usually used for comic effect” (ibid).

 

https://www.etsy.com/market/watch_the_birdie

It is not known whether this phrase, or something similar, was used in 1909 by Ethel Cossham Park to capture the attention of her friends at school but she did succeed in capturing their images which she placed in a home-made album.

 

In later years, she passed this onto another pupil, Janet Gaylor (1941-2013) and, after Janet died, it was donated to the School by her estate. Ethel (1892-1979) and Janet were technically two generations apart and their only connection was that they had both been pupils of the School. It is a wonderfully visual way of demonstrating the history of the School through its pupils.

Ethel was not the only pupil who recorded her contemporaries and whose efforts are today held in the Archives. Alice Lilian Kent (1893-1985) was a contemporary of Ethel and she too preserved her photographs in an exercise book. Unfortunately, most of these photographs have faded badly and none are identified but they do capture scenes of the school at Clapham and some girls of the period.

 

Ethel – bless her! – had the foresight to identify all her subjects so that we now have images of girls from this period, some of whom went onto greater things within the School’s history. For example, these two girls:

 

Mildred Harrop became the first headmistress of the Junior School when it became a separate establishment in 1918. In 1910 she became a student at University College, London to study for a degree in Modern Languages on a scholarship awarded by the Drapers’ Co. In 1915 she rejoined the School as assistant mistress and just three years later became Junior School headmistress, a post she remained in until 1946. The Junior School, situated in Weybridge, Surrey, was ‘evacuated’ back to the main school at the outbreak of war in 1939 and it was Mildred who kept the spirit of the Junior School alive throughout that period. A 1941 curriculum indicates that she taught Scripture, some History, Verse speaking and Reading. The Juniors having returned to Weybridge post-war, Mildred handed over the reins to Isobel Vaughan and took retirement.

Mabel Potter (although Ethel spells it Mable) was the Gold medallist of 1906. She left in 1907 but became a pupil teacher at the School until 1909. At this point she became a salaried teacher at the School and she remained with RMSG her whole career. In 1918 she is recorded as a Form Mistress of VB and in 1929 as Form Mistress of VA. (VB and VA are not explained as whoever wrote this knew exactly what was meant. It is probably one of the more senior forms with girls of about 15-16 years of age.) By 1939 she was recorded as a resident teacher of French and Latin and she had been Second Mistress (equivalent of Deputy Headteacher) to Bertha Dean from 1932. After Bertha Dean’s retirement, and Miss Calway came and went in a short space of time, swept off her feet by the School Chaplain whom she married in 1940, Mabel – ‘Little Miss Potter’ – became the Acting Headmistress until the appointment of Miss Fryer in 1941. She finally retired in 1945, just a year before her friend Mildred, and went to live in East Sussex where she continued to live until her death in 1978.

Ethel, our intrepid photographer, not only identified most of her subjects at the time but some she must have identified much later in life as the handwriting is distinctly different. It is an example of the far-reaching memory many of our Old Girls demonstrate, being able (for example) to recall all their school numbers for many decades after they had left and such numbers ceased to have meaning.

 

As the days of the selfie were far off, Ethel must have allowed one of her friends to use the camera because we have a photo she has labelled of herself. Although it is not known exactly where in school this image was taken, we can see the cream banding on the brickwork which was a part of the design of the School at Clapham. And it rather looks as if she is modelling the same fetching hat that Iona is also wearing!

 

We have no idea what kind of camera Ethel or Alice used but it seems very likely that it was the ubiquitous Box Brownie. “The Brownie camera, introduced in February 1900, invented low-cost photography by introducing the concept of the snapshot to the masses.” (Wikipedia) This was a camera developed by Eastman Kodak, invented by Frank A. Brownell, and given its name partly for its inventor and partly for the brownies in popular Palmer Cox cartoons of the time. Palmer Cox was a Canadian illustrator and author and his Brownies were “mischievous but kindhearted [sic] fairy-like sprites” (Wikipedia) which appeared in a series of humorous verse books and comic strips.

 

Images above from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_(camera) and https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/

Marketed for the mass market at $1 each in USA, in Britain “it cost just 5 shillings (25p), bringing it within the reach of practically everyone. Indeed, it was so cheap that adverts had to reinforce the fact that it wasn’t a toy.”

 

from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/

The handbook of instructions, incidentally, ran to 44 pages – somewhat akin to modern instruction tomes that practically require a PhD in Quantum Physics to grasp exactly what it is you have to do …

Box Brownies, as a marker in the development of photography, are regarded as so important that they make it into the BBC/British Museum’s History of the World in a 100 objects. They were particularly marketed for children possibly in the same way as Hygena QA furniture (for those of us who remember it!), the first self-assembly kitchen units deemed to be so easy to construct that a child of six could do it. “The Company’s TV advertising used a little girl to demonstrate simplicity of assembly” (Wikipedia). And there were many of us who, having started some self-assembly units, longed for a handy child armed with a screwdriver to come to our rescue! But back to the Box Brownie and its ease of operating.

 

This image, dated to 1905, showing a young girl using a Box Brownie, is from https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/a-z-photography-collection-b-is-for-brownie/ and is probably taken, somewhat ironically, by a professional photographer with a far superior camera to a Box Brownie.

The product was marketed with “the slogan, “You press the button—we do the rest.” https://www.fi.edu/history-resources/kodak-brownie-camera. However, this is not what happened in the case of Ethel Park. Astonishingly, she developed her photographs herself. In the letter she wrote to Janet Gaylor when sending her the little album, Ethel said this:

 

“I feel sure you will enjoy seeing, or trying to see the school exercise book, year 1909, most of the photos were taken & developed by me – and without a proper dark room in which to develope [sic] them; my friends & I managed the films with me in a disused flour bin with the others sitting on the lid to prevent light penetrating through the cracks & gaps caused by old age & rats!”

Perhaps Alice Kent used the same flour bin. Indeed, she may even have been one of the friends sitting on its lid whilst Ethel got to work on her photographs. If so, it is remarkable that we have two sets of photographs not only taken by young photographers but the images developed by them too. And all this before WWI. It took nearly ninety years more for photography, in its modern format, to become established as part of the School syllabus as a Sixth Form subject.

 

Alice’s photographs in her album may be fading badly, Ethel’s slightly better preserved, but both are now secured in digital format and both are a tribute to the pioneering spirit of earlier pupils.

 

(And this used to be the word ‘prunes’ – honestly! Look it up!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Say_cheese

 

First Day at School

Parents up and down the country are this week experiencing for the first time that rite of passage known as ‘First Day at School’. Their little darlings, clad collectively in their brand new school uniforms, clutching – some apprehensively, some in fevered excitement – their school bags, are being deposited at school gates. It might be small steps for little legs but, paraphrasing Neil Armstrong, it is one small step for a child, one giant leap for parenthood. Parents watch in astonishment as their tinies take their first steps away from them and many of the tears shed are actually those of the parents who can’t quite believe that those helpless little babies who needed them for everything are the same people now skipping gaily across the playground.

From a different perspective, there are probably a number of schools taking in pupils for the very first time this week, either because they are brand new schools or because they are taking younger children for the first time. For those establishments, it is also a time of trepidation. Will all the planning come to fruition? Will everything work as it should? Will the logistics all come together?

Wind the clock back 228 years and the very first pupils were embarking at a school in a house in Somers Place East with, in the minds of the steering Committee, many of those same worries. After a year’s intensive planning, a new school came into existence that still operates today. The Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School officially began in 1788 but the first pupils entered the school on 5th January 1789. The Morning Herald of Thursday, January 8, 1789, stated:

It must have made an interesting spectacle for a (probably) grey January day. There must have been a goodly number of carriages. There were fifteen pupils, presumably the Matron (although she could have been waiting at the school to receive them – the records do not indicate), the gentlemen of the Committee and possibly some of the ladies and subscribers who appear to have witnessed the event.

The actual route is unknown but it is likely to have passed the area where the National Gallery was later to stand (built 1824), along past the British Museum (built 1753 so it may have been a witness) and up to what is now Euston Road but what was then known as the New Road. The gentlemen of the committee retired to dine at St Alban’s Tavern but the new pupils stayed at the school. And unlike today’s mummies and daddies waiting at the school gates at home time to hear all about the experiences, these little girls remained in the school house until they were old enough to leave school aged 15.

The School went on to have more First Days as it moved house three times. In 1795, it moved from its home in Somers Town to Southwark. It moved without any ceremony. In fact, the only reason any date is known is because the Minute Books of the Committee record that the meeting was held in ’the new School House’.

By 1852, the School had long outgrown its allocated space and so it moved again – to Clapham.

This was accompanied by a little more pomp and ceremony. £400 was put aside “so that everything might be done with grace and splendour” (G Blizard Abbot, Royal Masonic Institute for Girls from 1788 to 1900) – the equivalent today of £16,500. On August 2nd, visitor numbers were estimated to be between 3000 – 4000. Amongst other ceremonial events, one of the pupils, Caroline Rhoda Davies, recited a poem especially composed for the occasion. Nine hundred dined and, as this was presided over by the Grand Master, it can be assumed that they were all Freemasons. There was also dancing in the grounds to a quadrille band and other military bands and the last visitors left shortly before midnight. And the pupils in all this celebration? Well, sadly, they were still at Southwark because they didn’t actually move until December 9th!

For the next 80 or so years, the School remained on its third site with a variety of adjustments and expansions to accommodate the growing numbers. One of these adjustments was the Junior School disappearing into Surrey. In August 1918, the younger pupils had their next First Day when they moved to Weybridge. There were 45 pupils which included 20 pupils for whom this was same school, new site and fifteen for whom it was entirely a new school. But the Clapham site continued to be crowded and eventually it was realised that, not only was a bigger site required but that it was highly unlikely to be in London. In 1926, Rickmansworth Park was found. The new buildings were ready by 1934 and on March 24th 1934 the doors of Clapham were locked for the last time (the honour went to Eileen Hones, then the youngest member of staff) and staff and pupils went off for their Easter break. When they returned almost a month later, it was the First Day of all First Days and almost 400 pupils and all the teaching staff, domestic staff, ancillary staff and maintenance staff found themselves in grounds and buildings that were as yet unfamiliar. A pupil who was there at the time commented later on the way many staff and pupils kept getting lost. But then, as well as being a new set of buildings, it was also huge. The old school, including the playgrounds, would have fitted inside the Garth of the new one – and the Garth is approximately 1.5% of the total acreage! It is a tribute to the leadership of Bertha Dean (Headmistress) and Florence Mason (Matron) that it all went so smoothly. As a member of staff at the time commented: “We had moved house that was all: the meals were on time and the bath water was hot …” In June 1934, the site was officially opened by Queen Mary.

 

 

The weather, as it so often is in British summer time, threatened to be inclement (and it did rain earlier in the day) so the route to be taken by the Queen was considered. As the parquet floors were thought to have a risk of being slippery if wet, it was decided to lay a temporary rubber matting down over the very slight slope in the corridor between the Great Hall and the Dining Hall. Naturally, it was red in colour. And this temporary matting was still there fifty years later!

The School has now been on this site for the greatest length of time it has been anywhere – 83 years and counting. In that time, not only has it seen 83 First Days – one for each year – but it has also seen younger and younger pupils having their own First Days. Each September, there are new pupils joining the School community and when you are a Newbie and it seems as if EVERYONE else knows exactly where they are going, it can be a little daunting. In recent years, a new style First Day has been trialled. Known as Focus Days, the entire school participates in activities on a theme. As, then, it is a new experience for everyone, it has the effect of putting even the most bored teenager (hey ho, another year) on her mettle as she does not know quite what to expect. In the last decade or so there have been, to name but three, Chevalier Day (2013), Environmental Day (2012) and 1934 day (2009) as the School celebrated its being on the site for 75 years. Below are the staff on two of the Focus Days.

These are First Days to remember. But then, whatever their format, your First Day at School is always important.

When the bongs fell silent

(Image from https://regmedia.co.uk/2017/03/02/big_ben.jpg?x=1200&y=794)

The announcement that ‘Big Ben’ would fall silent on August 21st and remain that way for four years was greeted with a variety of responses, many unfavourable. The bongs with which the Great Bell strikes the hour and the chimes that mark the quarters have become somehow such a part of life that the needed maintenance that is required, and which will silence it, has become something of much greater metaphorical significance. Newspapers declared that it had never been silenced in 160 years – later adjusting that to almost never been silenced. In fact, it last fell silent in 2007 and before that, for major refurbishments between 1983 and 1985. As well as this, shortly after it had been put in place, the bell cracked so it rang out on 11 July 1859 but then was silent for the next four years while the problem was sorted out. It was also silenced during World War I

“due to fears of attack from low-flying Zeppelins: a silence which was only lifted to indicate the start of the armistice at 11am on 11 November 1918.” (https://www.theguardian.com)

Quite why silencing the bell would prevent it from being subject to attack by Zeppelin beats me but there we are. So the idea of Big Ben never have been silenced before and wasn’t it just shocking that they were going to silence it now is one of those fallacies that assume mythological status. Incredibly Big Ben has its own Twitter account

“that inexplicably has nearly half a million followers. All it does it tweet “BONG” on the hour.”

(https://www.theregister.co.uk)

The history of Big Ben – even why it got its nickname – is fascinating and can be read about on http://www.parliament.uk/bigben which means that as well as its own Twitter account it also has its own website! Perhaps because it is (a) in London and (b) part of the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament, it has an iconic status. There are plenty of clock towers in other towns and cities in UK. The three below are examples – images from http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/02/77/18/2771839_363e3b84.jpg https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/89/cf/de/89cfde3140870ba57b44f6be456915d7.jpg https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/11/Herne_Bay_Clock_Tower_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1276184.jpg

And RMSG also has its own Clock Tower which, like Big Ben, is now so much a part of the School visually and aurally that we almost don’t notice it any more.

It chimes the hours from 7am to 10pm and can be heard, not only throughout the whole grounds but by a considerable portion of the neighbourhood surrounding the School, for whom it is a very effective timekeeper. In parts of the Garth, the sound has a curious echo which gives it a double chime so that twelve noon seems to have 24 ‘bongs’.

Like all the clock towers featured here, it is not just a stacked pile of bricks with a clock on the top but a carefully designed and decorated piece of architecture. It seems fitting then that, at some point the silk embroidery below was created – a piece of art reflecting a piece of art.

The RMSG clock tower is an integral part of the original design for the School created by the architect John Denman. He called upon other craftsman-artists to aid his design and Joseph Cribb was commissioned to sculpt the decoration that appears on the tower. Of particular note are the four anemoi high up on the tower:

These images were taken by Cribb himself and sent to the School by his grandson.

Anemoi (a Greek term; Roman equivalent is Venti) are the Greek gods of the winds, the four main ones being Boreas, Notus, Eurus, and Zephyrus. Boreas was the north wind and bringer of cold winter air and was depicted with shaggy hair and beard, with a billowing cloak and a conch shell in his hands. Notus was the south wind and bringer of the storms of late summer and autumn, depicted as pouring water from a vase. Zephyrus was the west wind and brought light spring and early summer breezes, usually shown as a beardless youth scattering flowers from his mantle. Eurus is the only one not specifically associated with a season and in fact there is not even agreement about whether he is the east wind or the south-east wind. He is sculpted as a bearded man holding a heavy cloak.

All of Cribb’s sculptures are identified with the name of the wind they represent although, interestingly, three of them have Greek names and one has a Roman name: Notus is given its Roman name of Auster. No one knows why.

After nearly eighty years at the top of a tower, exposed to all the elements, the sculptures are a bit more weathered but they are standing up to the onslaught very well.

Also at the top of the tower are the clock faces allowing the time to be seen from any direction. Very art deco in style, this must have seemed ultra-modern at the time (1934).

 

More prosaically, the top of the tower also has hidden water tanks to increase the water pressure on the site. And pigeons. As any tall structure seems to accumulate.

More of Joseph Cribb’s artistic endeavours can be seen over the doorway at the foot of the tower.

This frieze has yet more mythological references with Hesper and Phospher, the evening and morning stars (both actually Venus anyway) and the central symbol which appears to be a mixture between the Rod of Aesculapius (with medical associations) and the Caduceus carried by Hermes the Greek god of transitions and boundaries, which seems a bit more in keeping with a frieze above a doorway. There are also the letters Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet often taken to represent the beginning and ending of anything, but also showing the cyclical nature of things. In modern colloquial language ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘if you stand still long enough, it will all come back to where you started.’

But to get back to the bongs. The School Clock Tower chimes the hours loud enough to be heard from some distance. It is even louder inside the building. Which is why it seems a very strange place to have put the library! Perhaps those studying for various exams throughout the years learned to attune their revision around the bongs that punctuated it. Fortunately, today’s pupils do not have that problem as the library is now housed in a separate building.

Like Big Ben’s bongs, the absence of them may well be more noticed than their presence. During the 1990s, the School’s clock mechanism faltered and the bongs were suspended while the problem was sorted. Eventually, it was decided that the GALMI principle should be brought into play: Get A Little Man In. A specialist was duly sought and he turned up in his van. Some of the Sixth Form, having as it were a ringside view as their accommodation was then opposite the tower, watched him arrive, assess the situation and then go to the back of his van. They waited with bated breath in the hope that what he would extract would be a very large key to wind up the clock.

Sadly, they were disappointed.

However, he did fix the problem and the clock resumed its regular bongs and has done ever since. Perhaps the BBC should use RMSG’s bongs to replace those of Big Ben?

Hmm – not anticipating BBC sound recordists turning up at School any day soon.