steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 3: The Writing School and Breakfast

I may as well carry on as I began, and give excerpts from each chapter...


... I have already said that the head master here was Mr Hannum. The expression of his face was that of one who suffered mental agonies on account of injuries committed on him by others; his look was austere and sour, and a smile did not become him, for it was mixed up with a frown. To the other masters he was scarcely civil, and they could not like him: one of them quarrelled with him and left. Daily he would show off his authority by suddenly bawling out, "Stop the School." The clamour of voices ceased and everyone listened, knowing what would follow. He then said, "Time is precious, go on again." But occasionally Mr Hannum forgot to do this, and all would miss it, and say, Why is this? Mr Hannum has not said "Stop the School, time is precious, go on again." ...

None of the masters in the Writing School used the cane but Mr Hannum; each of them sent those of his scholars who were to be punished to a certain post and about every twenty minutes the head master came to the post to see if there were any culprits there, and if there were, asked no questions and exercised his privilege, giving two cuts each with the cane, aiming at the tips of the fingers.

... The Greek alphabet is easier to learn than the English at Christ's Hospital, for the Blues have a rhyme to help them with it. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Knock a woman down and pelt her; Epsilon, Zeta, Heta, Theta, Pick her up again and beat her.

Mr Hill was a very tall man with an extremely small head. His happiness seemed to consist chiefly in endeavouring to make his scholars do justice to the commas, colons and semi-colons in their reading; so much so, that when one failed in his efforts, the fault was resented by the master as if the offender had done him some mean and cowardly injury. Every day he sent several to be caned on this account. But Mr Hill had amiable qualities. One one occasion I made a large blot in my copybook; this being overlooked, his attention was called to it by a little lad next to me; whereupon he excused me, and soundly boxed the lad's ears. He used sometimes to talk of taking us for an excursion. The treat was never realised, but it was kind of him to think of it.


... Mr Ludlow [the Steward] was short and stout, wore spectacles, had a red face, and his cheeks moved continually after the manner of a pair of bellows. He had a magisterial authority over the boys, and every complaint was referred to him. Just now he held a wooden hammer, with which he solemnly struck the table. This action was a signal for the singers who led the psalm in "duty" (prayers) to go to their places, and for the reader of the service to ascend the pulpit. ...

After duty, the "trades" who were the Bread-boys, Butter-boys, Milk-boys, Knife-boys, now brought up from the Kitchen large and small baskets and pails for the several Wards. These contained "breads" - pieces of bread each of the same size for every boy, pats of butter, milk and scalding water, knives, wooden spoons and bowls. These things were brought to each Ward by the trades of that Ward. If a bread had two "crugs" (crusts), one, top, the other, bottom, there was no special name for it, it was merely a "bread"; if it had three crugs, it was a "turf" and valued, and if it had four crugs, crust over four of the six sides, it was a "shoe" and very much valued. The lad to whom a shoe was laid felt grateful to the Bread-boy who favoured him with it. In the oven there were slight depressed lines formed by adjoining bricks. These produced the appearance of a cane on the bread baked upon them. A bread with a cane on it was thought unlucky, and I have seen a child shed tears, and implore the breadboy to give him another bread instead. The breadboy replied, "I'm sorry, I can't, I must lay it to some one." ...

As to the quality of the bread, unhappily its flavour was not like that of the "luxent" (enjoyable) bread sold in the shops outside. Some of the breads contained cockroaches, and the search for them was not always successful. When not so, one's two middle upper teeth felt something slippery resisting their pressure. This was the thin but strong coat of a cockroach, and the teeth were set on edge. Once, only once, in my experience, a boy found a mouse in his bread. He took it to Mr Ludlow, thinking this the proper thing to do. Mr Ludlow, however, was waxy, and expressing no sorrow on account of the shocking death of late Mr Mouse, nor any pity for the poor hungry child before him, said testily, "I didn't make the bread, what do you come to me for?"

The boys often converted their butter into curd. The process took away its rankness, but left in it very little taste. They beat together for some time, with a wooden spoon, a fair amount of wet crumbled crumb and their butter, until the substance became a sticky greasy stodge. They then diluted it with milk and water. The curd rose to the surface of the liquid in the bowl, and was taken off and eaten with the dry bread left.

During breakfast the children consulted their "fairies" as to their luck for the day. The fairies were glass bead rings of various colours which they wore on their fingers. The beads were counted according to some method, which I forget, to words, "Fairy, fairy, conjure me to have letters from home today", or "Fairy, fairy, conjure me not to be caned by Mr Keymer", or similarly to other requests. If the sign were not propitious, the child sometimes smacked his ring to punish the fairy. We did not all believe in these charms but liked to wear them as ornaments and consult them for amusement, and thus follow fashion. ...
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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