steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 15: The Morality of the Christ's Hospital Boys

The morality of the Christ's Hospital boys compared favourably with that of another school to which two of my brothers went and with that of a school to which I went when I quitted Christ's Hospital. There was, I confess, a great deal of bad language used at Christ's Hospital, and I underwent a little persecution for being religious, but not very long. I was quite willing to bear it for Christ's sake. On one occasion I took note from the clock of the length of time I was bullied by a crowd of lads in their efforts to make me swear. They would have been satisfied, they said, if I would repeat only one bad word. I found that the period was three quarters of an hour. They punched me, and finally gave me a mock crucifixion in the playground, strapping me up above the ground to some railings. As these efforts were in vain, my Ward, No. XV, got to respect me, and I gained an influence. Even wicked lads would appeal to me for my opinion as to the depravity of those with whom they quarrelled, and I had to be very careful what I said. One of the swearing lads suddenly announced that he was going to lead a new life, and he gave tracts to the boys of the Ward, a thing I had never felt it my duty to do. After a few days of ridicule from his swearing friends, he returned to his old life, and was heard swearing with them again.

Stealing was held in abomination and indeed was very uncommon. If a thief were discovered, their unwritten law against talebearing was broken and they reported him to the Steward, put him in Coventry, or called to him "You are a prig." A prig meant a thief. The word was used only in that sense in Christ's Hospital, it never had the meaning given to it in novels. Snob also meant cad or low-bred person, and nothing else. Even bullies did not steal. There was a lad in one of the Wards who was suspected by certain lads of prigging. They treacherously united in a plot to tempt him to prig cake from a settle, in the night when the fellows were the asleep. One of the plotters was employed to beguile and instruct him. Their trap was successful. The poor prig was caught in the act. Next morning the plotters went in a troop to the Steward, and informed against him. Mr Brooks, after enquiry, told them that they were as bad as the thief, and declined to punish him.

It was a perfectly honourable thing with the boys to shark (ask). There was nothing in common between the voracious animal, the shark, and the sharker. The sharker was, like a missionary collector, contented with what could be spared, however small, and admitted the right to refuse to give anything. The refused sharker merely said, "You are a scaf." (One who does not give to the asker.) "When I have a parcel," said the refused one, "you will shark of me, and I shall give you nothing." This answer seemed reasonable. As if he said, " You have a perfect right to be a scaf to me, but when my turn comes I have the same right to be a scaf to you." Thus the ownership of property was fully recognized. If the reader wants any more light on the subject, the following proverb of the boys of Christ's Hospital may help to give it. "He that asks shan't have, but he that doesn't ask doesn't want." It was not prudent to be a scaf, but on the other hand, there were too many hungry lads sharking for small pieces. A lad with a cake once proclaimed in the Ward, "I am going to see whether you will allow me to have anything myself. I shall give to everyone who asks." At last he said, "I have now only this one mouthful left." A lad replied, "Give us a piece." (Why us instead of me, I do not know.) The poor cakegiver now said, "You have left me nothing at all!" Occasionally, therefore, it was wise to "tuck on the sly" - to wait till everyone in bed was asleep, and then take it from under one's bolio (bolster) and eat it in bed. There might be some lad after all not asleep. It would be prudent to give to him, and to do so with a good grace. Another plan was to go to "Sly Corner", a little beyond "Giff's Cloister", previously hiring one or two lads to watch at convenient distances and signal an approach. When a signal was heard, he who tucked on the sly pocketed his grub, and walked out slowly and unconcernedly before the visitor arrived. When the latter had gone, a return could be made to Sly Corner to finish eating the grub.

Friendship was frequently made by daily contact, and especially by sleeping next to another. Leggate I knew at Hertford. At London he was also with me in Ward No. XV. My bed for a time was by the side of his. As we lay in bed, we read the book of Job by the help of a light at our end of the Ward - each of us a chapter aloud alternately, but in a subdued voice. When a monitor or matron was near, we were silent.

When I went to another bed I slept next to Green. We saved up our pence, and called to the nurse's servant-girl as she passed our beds on an errand to buy her mistress's beer, and the rest, "Please buy us a Coburg loaf and half a pound of cheese." She was very obliging, and when the loaf came Green threw it up two or three times to the ceiling and we had a delightful meal on towny food. A new loaf from outside the School we liked much better than any cake or other sweet food, but usually were not able to purchase it except in the above way.

It was not possible to say one's private evening prayers except in bed, for the same monitor whose function it was to give the word of command, "Kneel", when all instantly fell on their knees, thrashed the unfortunate boy who was last in bed. If one was in danger of being last, it was prudent to get into bed as one was, and finish undressing under the bed clothes. Sometimes it was dubious as to who was last, and then there was no thrashing. Once I heard a monitor say to a big last lad, who was useful to him, "I can't spare you, I must treat you as I do all the rest."

There was no water in the Ward fit to drink. What there was, stagnant rain-water, I was sometimes obliged to drink to ease my suffering. The poor food put my digestive organs out of order, producing what we called water-brash. In the day-time I was better off, for my kind friend the Pump supplied me with a wholesome tonic. After every meal I vomited a white pulp, and then drank plenty of water. Finally I had gastric fever and was doctored at home for a long time. After the holidays, for the first week, I abstained from housey food. I ate every day three halfpenny Abernethy biscuits, one for a meal accompanied by plenty of pump water, and as we all had, after coming from home, something to eat, which was in our school-boxes, we were able to help one another.
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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