Long Hessen Elli Bedders

When the school began in 1788, girls had to be six before they could apply and no older than 10 when accepted. So the earliest pupils were primary school age – at least when they started.

The newspaper notices giving details of the first pupils in 1788.

They were at school until they were 15 which, at the time, was not the ‘norm’. If girls received any education at all – and many did not – it was generally until they were about 12. School log books are peppered with comments relating to girls leaving school: ‘Wanted at home’ was a common phrase. By the age of 11 or 12, girls were deemed perfectly capable of helping run the household, especially if Mother was still producing babies. By insisting that girls should be educated to the age of fifteen, the School was bucking the trend.

With just fifteen pupils to begin with, all pupils were taught together with the older ones helping the younger ones when required. As the school population grew, it became necessary to separate classes although the system of pupil teachers, used widely throughout the country, continued until well into the 20th century. Gradually, this segregation evolved into a system given the jazzy titles of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th classes. Unlike today when, by and large, pupils move from one year group to the next by chronology, in the 19th century pupils graduated when their educational standard was deemed right. It was possible, if rare, for a pupil to remain in the lowest class throughout her time at the School and for her contemporaries to be much younger than she. For example, a pupil (who perhaps ought to remain anonymous!) was “in consideration of her age & height placed in the 3rd class” although the headmistress rather damningly said she “has scarcely met with such deficiency of mental power”. Hmm … (from RMIG Governess’ Report GBR 1991 RMIG 1/2/2/4/2 A11944)

Almost as bad was the girl who was

particularly wanting in ability, she is only in the 4th class and that more out of consideration for her age. She was only 11 when she entered the school, knowing nothing. (ibid)

En masse, the younger girls were described as ‘The Junior School’ or the juniors. Quite which pupils were classed as Juniors and which not is impossible to establish from a century away. The people of the time knew who they meant so did not explain and, by the time anyone had realised that there might be confusion, it was too late!

 

Above, a group photo, undated but probably at Clapham. Little girls with nice bows in their hair but there’s always one that looks as if butter wouldn’t melt …

By the time the School had reached its site in Clapham, the school roll had risen substantially and adjustments to accommodation were made. The houses next door had been purchased to give more room but this was only a temporary respite given the ever-increasing roll.

By 1918, bursting point had been reached and there was need for something more drastic. That something was the purchase of another site for the younger pupils and so, in 1918, we have the beginning of the Weybridge Years.

From 1918 to 1973, the younger pupils lived and were schooled in deepest, darkest Surrey and, inevitably, became known as the Weybridge girls. During WWII, when they were ‘evacuated’ back to the main school – by then in Hertfordshire – they were still known as Weybridge girls. New pupils who joined the school during these six or so years were often confused by this as they had never known the school anywhere else but in Ricky. For them, when the juniors returned to Weybridge post-war, this was a new place whereas for the old hands it was a coming home.

Above left: Miss Harrop who took the junior school to Weybridge, and kept its spirit alive during the war and (above right) Miss Vaughan, who took over post-war.

 

Abiding memories of girls were things like the panelled dining hall with its bowls of blue delphiniums [sadly no colour pictures exist]

And the gingko tree in the grounds, planted by Dr Roper-Spyers when he had founded the boys’ school originally there. Although the school buildings have long gone, giving way to a housing estate, the tree is still to be found.

A flavour of Weybridge life is shown in the cartoons below, drawn by a former pupil.

The first captures the yawning middle-of-the-night fire drill, and the struggle into dressing gowns and coats and shoes, and resisting the temptation to snuggle back under the eiderdown.

The second relates to the cry that went up in the evenings “Long Hessen Elli Bedders”. Not as you might imagine some kind of esoteric schoolgirl language, the Weybridge version of pig Latin. In fact, it was a straightforward request for those with long hair (who needed to have it washed and dried before bedtime – long hairs) and those younger pupils whose bedtime was earlier than the others (early bedders) to come and be accounted for. Hence, long hessen elli bedders. Simple really.

The junior school was at Weybridge until 1973 when, with great reluctance but in the face of falling numbers, the decision was taken to close the site and transfer all pupils to Rickmansworth, permanently. To begin with, they were dispersed amongst the various boarding houses and attached to ‘house mothers’ who were, in reality, prefects. They had their lessons separately and, for many, any sense of continuity was focused on the figures of the Miss Gambles, known affectionately as Big Miss Gamble and Little Miss Gamble – although neither was of particular great stature.

The two ladies could be seen accompanying younger pupils after school too as they ventured around the grounds but of a ‘junior school’ there was little sign. Then, in 1980 David Curtis arrived as Headmaster and he reconvened the corporate body of the junior school by shuffling the boarding houses to provide a space for them. Not literally of course but certainly by name and purpose. Thus what was Ruspini house became Alexandra and Cumberland shuffled clockwise a couple of places; Atholl and Sussex became combined, reflecting the union between Ancient and Modern Freemasonry, led by the gentlemen of those names. What had been Cumberland became the Junior School and Ruspini, having shot across the Garth, became their boarding house. If you are confused by all of this, you are not alone. It took a good while to get used to the new positions of existing names. The Bursar’s department, working on the basis that more changes might well happen in the future (they did, but not for a good while) referred to the houses as K1-K8 on the basis that the order would remain even if the names changed. No-one knows why they chose K.

The Js (as they were nicknamed) settled in their new homes and the Seniors eventually stopped grumbling about the changes. By the time of the Bicentenary (1988), few, if any, of the pupils could remember it being any different. Of course, former pupils remembered well their houses and even now, when Old Girls visit and ask to be shown their house, they are startled to be taken by a current pupil in a completely different direction than they had expected!

At the back of the House/Junior School, an adventure playground was installed in the 90s, a recognition that younger pupils needed something to get rid of excess energy during breaktimes! The Junior School remained in the Garth for the rest of the century although an expanding school roll again put pressure on the space. This was further exacerbated in 1994 when the starting age for pupils became rising five. The Junior School was renamed the Prep Department so that the very youngest pupils could be classed as the Pre-Prep. In 2009, another new venture introduced even younger pupils as a Pre-School opened with pupils aged 2+ (and some of them of a different gender). In order to avoid confusion with nomenclature (!!), Ruspini House became the home of the teeny-tinies which left the Junior Boarding House without a name. The obvious choice was Weybridge.

In the meantime, other changes had been made (no, don’t go there) which left a large building within the grounds unoccupied. It was refurbed, had an assembly hall added and in 2011 the Prep and Pre-Prep Departments moved lock, stock and barrel and became Cadogan House.

 

The creation of a combined Prep and Pre-Prep meant eliminating the final traces of the old operating theatre which had been a part of the building when it was the Sanatorium.

 

It also meant leaving behind the adventure playground but, fear not! Another one was built.

 

This historical overview of the younger pupils one hundred years after the founding of the school at Weybridge is brief. Much more can be seen on the School website rmsforgirls.org.uk but, as punctuation perhaps, here’s a fashion parade of little misses over the years.

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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?

 

 

Tradition!

Georgina Burnet (1906-1980) arrived at the School, as too many of the pupils did, following a family tragedy. Her father, Robert Burnet, was the County Medical Officer in Cornwall in 1911 having served his home county of Lancashire in the same way previously. He had qualified as a doctor at the end of the nineteenth century and when WWI broke out, he signed up to the RAMC and held the rank of Lt-Col when he died in 1915. But not, as you might imagine, as a direct consequence of war.

newspaper report
Newcastle Journal 30 January 1915

He left a widow (who described herself as ‘your broken-hearted Alec’ on the funeral wreath) and three children. He was buried with full military honours, the service being at Exeter Cathedral but with the interment following in Chorley.

funeral report
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 03 February 1915

Burnet had been a member of two Cornish Masonic lodges and this made his daughter eligible as a pupil and she is listed on school roll by 1918, referred to as Nina. On leaving school in 1922, she first went for commercial training in Cheltenham, subsequently taking a secretarial post at a school in the town. However, in 1926 she followed her father into the medical world by training as a hospital nurse. In 1929 she combined two of things that she had experienced in her 23 years and became a nurse at a school in Oxford. It is not recorded when she first became a Matron but in 1939 we find her at Kilvinton Hall School in Enfield. The school had been founded in 1925 by Baron Mowll of the Cinque Ports. It later moved to Haywards Heath and was renamed Great Walstead. One of the school houses retains the name of the founder, Mowll.

GWschool
Image from the school website http://www.greatwalstead.co.uk/

In researching this former pupil of RMSG, and discovering her subsequent career in other schools, this rather delightful school tradition was uncovered. Kilvinton Hall School – now Great Walstead School – has something called “Q Day”. One pupil would have been told a secret code and when this code was spoken in a public place (the dining hall, chapel, sports field, etc.), he would shout “Q Day”, at which point the entire school (now the senior pupils) decamped to the woods in the extensive school grounds, to camps that each team had worked on all summer.

camp in woods
Image from the school website http://www.greatwalstead.co.uk/

‘For ‘Q Day’ the Seniors have the added excitement of spending the night in their camps and taking part in a Night Operation as well as a series of daytime challenges which might include orienteering, a treasure hunt, archery, swimming competitions and teamwork challenges.’ (School website)

Q Day may be unique to Great Walstead School but there are many schools that have their own weird and wonderful traditions, some more eccentric than others. For example, Abbots Hill School (not far away from RMSG in fact) has a uniform drawn from tartan and a clan system rather than a house system to reflect the founders who were Scottish. Christ’s Hospital, Sussex, still retains its original Tudor costume and pupils have the right to free access to the Tower of London – as long as they are wearing their uniform.

tudor uniform
Christ’s Hospital uniform http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29047752

The Head Boy or Girl at the school is known as the Senior Grecian and has the right to address the monarch en route to or from the coronation. This, of course, has not been exercised for a considerable time given the longevity of our present monarch’s reign.

Other Head Boys’ or Girls’ traditions include keeping a pig in school (Blundell’s); riding a horse under the arch at Repton; allowing a goat to eat the grass at Strathallen. The Head Boy at Uppingham has the right to grow a moustache or get married but it is believed that, so far at least, none has exercised the latter of these.

https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/boarding-school-rituals-traditions.html gives a list of ten eccentricities attached to boys’ schools, such as the Eton Wall game. At Winchester, as the autumn term closes, there is something known as ‘Illumina’. At the end of afternoon school, pupils finish lessons to find there are candles illuminating the wall around the school playing fields. Westminster School has the very odd tradition of The Greaze which began in 1753. It is celebrated

… on Shrove Tuesday each year. It involves the cook tossing a pancake (which has been reinforced with horse hair) over a high bar, and the pupils then fight over the pancake for one minute. This activity is presided over by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Head Master and the rest of the school – sometimes even by distinguished Royal guests. The pupil who manages to get the biggest bit of the pancake is awarded the prize of a gold sovereign, and the Dean requests a half-day holiday for the whole school. Thankfully, one aspect of this tradition has now died out: in the old days, if the poor cook failed to toss the pancake over the bar, the pupils would throw their Latin books at him. Modern employees of Westminster School are no doubt glad that this practice is now no longer a feature of Shrove Tuesday! www.oxford-royale.co.uk

No doubt this was witnessed by two young Westminster pupils in the eighteenth century who happened to be the sons of Bartholomew Ruspini the instigator of RMSG in 1788.

Which brings us nicely onto some of the traditions of the Girls’ school. Of course, there is Drill (http://www.royalmasonic.herts.sch.uk/userfiles/rmsmvc/documents/AboutUs/History%20Trails/Drill%20history.pdf) and, until fairly recently there were Duos and Trios (eight pianos with either two or three pupils at each one, playing in synchronicity). There was also the curious belief, given the even more curious name ‘Dig Dipper’ (or sometimes Deeper), that the statue of Ruspini on the east exterior wall of the Chapel leaned on one leg in one year and on the other in the following, the changeover happening (natch!) at midnight on All Hallow’s Eve. [Sorting through photos of the statue and knowing this to be the stuff of childish imagination, for one blood-curdling moment, I noticed that in some of the images the forward leg had changed from right to left. Then I realised I was holding some of the slides back to front … ]

Statue doubled
Ruspini statue

One other ‘tradition’ that developed started life with every pupil’s wish for the end of term to arrive more quickly. The little rhyme they sang was ‘This time next week, where will I be/ Not in this RMIG’ and each girl mentally crossed off the pictures in the dining hall one by one (there are 14) until the last day arrived.

dining hall painting
Sacrificial lamb?

This morphed into the girls at breakfast pointing at each picture and silently marking a cross in the air. Somehow over the years, the ‘silently’ bit got dropped and the pictures were ‘shot’ with an imaginary finger gun. Inevitably perhaps this began to be accompanied by cries of ‘Bang!’ and on the final day, all 14 pictures were shot in turn on the same breakfast. Wise and experienced members of staff wore ear plugs.

So, shooting pictures, hurling pancakes, grazing goats and decamping to woods are all part of the rich tapestry of English boarding school life, some of which Georgina Burnet would have experienced.