Imagine a little boy having pepper rubbed into his eyes. As bullying goes, it’s probably on a par with the famous fictional roasting inflicted on Tom Brown by Flashman – but it wasn’t fictional. The incident is briefly touched on by the sixty-year-old adult who was that little boy – my grandfather, author of the unsurprisingly titled essay ‘School Days’ written in 1931.
CCF prefaces the essay with some verse extracted from a longer poem:
and says he has “more vivid recollections of the masters who taught me than of the boys who were my companions at my various schools”. Interestingly, he names the masters, but the only boy’s name he mentions is his twin brother George. The older boy who bullied him and his two study mates is tantalisingly not named, even though he apparently “became a celebrated runner“!
Grandfather describes his first two schools with lovely whimsical anecdotes. The first was a small village school in Sinnington near his home, where he and his twin were sent when they were 11. They were taught by Reverend John Swalwell, MA, Vicar of Sinnington, who mixed the classics with farming and named his pigs Penelope and Agamemnon. CCF recalls he was “as happy in those eighteen months as I have been in all my life”, and he returned to fish in the River Seven at Sinnington regularly as an adult. (We visited Sinnington village last September before I’d read any of these accounts, and I believe I may have stood in the spot on the bridge where he would have cast for trout.)
Charles and his twin were then sent to boarding school at Bilton Grange in Harrogate, under the lacklustre headship of Mr Joseph Brown Griffiths BA. CCF’s main studies there seemed to be in bee-keeping which he describes in warm, fond recollections, but his “hum drum career” at the school was dramatically curtailed by an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Grandfather was untouched by the disease even though he had:
“…spent most of two nights before we were all sent home in giving water to the fellows in our room who were ill. My twin brother George was the only boy who died, though two other boys in our room nearly did so; yet I, who slept with him at home until he became really bad, escaped the disease!”
At the age of fourteen he was sent to boarding school on west coast – Rossall, where the headmaster was Henry Anselm James DD – and declares that the two years he spent there “completely altered my whole life”. He also seemed delighted to have become “a public schoolboy”!
It was a really tough environment, both inside and outside the school, and, as well as bullying, the boys endured harsh conditions generally. Grandfather’s time there was ended when the school doctor made him play football and hockey in winter conditions even though he was clearly ill. He contracted pneumonia which then became “slight tuberculosis”. In spite of all this, and being somewhat lonely, he greatly regretted having to leave:
TMP gives rich characterisations of the ‘famous men of little showing’ at Oliver’s Mount School, where he was also very happy:
Rossall and Bilton Grange still flourish as boarding schools and Oliver’s Mount School apparently became a girls’ school and was renamed.
These far-reaching reminiscences seem to me to show grandfather’s humanity and spirit. He remembers with gratitude all of the people who contributed so greatly to his education, and alongside, he recalls with savage clarity the “dreadful and most wretched memory” of being bullied “devilishly and mercilessly” (while grieving his twin). He states: “if I had not been a very strong boy indeed my sufferings would have broken me.” – and later regrets having to leave the very place where he suffered so greatly. Extrordinary.