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steepholm

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 16: The Playgrounds

There were several Playgrounds, one of which was called "the Ditch" and another "the Garden", but the Ditch was not a ditch, and the Garden was not a garden. In "the Garden" the nearest approach to a plant was our good friend in need, The Pump. It never allowed us to be thirsty, but we were often hungry and then it gave us water in plenty to make up for our want of food. One day, as hungry as a pack of wolves roaming over tracts of snow, the lads playing in the Garden saw trays of good things carried from the School Kitchen through the playgrounds to the Committee Room, where the Governors and Masters were about to dine. Mr Mackey, coming into the Garden some time before the hour for the dinner to commence, made some solemn remarks to the boys. Stopping the bearers of the trays to see what was under the lids, standing on tip toes, and raising every cover in turn, this master of the Writing School said, "Excuse me, boys, for not continuing what I was saying - Ah! cherry-pie! Very good! Ah! roast fowl! good! good! and that's roast beef! and that's baked potatoes!"

The bearers stood still while he did this. "Now boys," said Mr Mackey, "to return to what I was saying. I am now, as you see, wearing my hat, but before I mention the name of my Maker, I shall take it off. I am very particular to take off my hat before I am going to say the Divine Name. I do not want to take it in vain. I shall now take off my hat. Why do I do so? (A boy tells him.) What commandment am I now keeping? (No one cared to answer.) I am keeping the 3rd commandment. I refer to God who made you and me and all mankind. Now I may put my hat on again." Proceeding in his address, he again announced that he was going to take off his hat, and after that without any announcement he called attention to the action by a theatrical wave to the length of his outstretched arm. The boys could not imitate him now but they would be able to do so as soon as they left Christ's Hospital in towny clothes.

Out of school hours Mr Mackey superintended the library which was at one side of the Garden. It was a warm, comfortable room, made in my time. A deputy Grecian once spadged in, and having his ear boxed by Mr Mackey for omitting a salutation began to spadge out, but was detained in disgrace, and made to stand at a post.

In this playground there was a shop of which Mr Fletcher was the salesman. Packets of cocoa were bought here, also High pies and Low pies, and brandy snaps called jumbles. The cocoa was mixed with an equal amount of sugar and eaten in the solid state. High pies had a stiff crust, and contained cranberries, and, in their normal condition, plenty of juice. In appearance they looked like pork pies, and they had a hole in the top in the crust. Low pies were half an apple covered by a thin coating of sweet baked paste in a little saucer of well-sugared crust. The High and the Low were equally good, and each cost a penny, but I preferred to buy the Low for a very good reason. There were rascally-minded boys who would send a little lad for six High pies, suck out the juice from the holes at the top, and then return the High pies to be exchanged for low with the message to Mr Fletcher that the little lad or he had made a mistake. They had sent, they said, for Low pies. This happened so often that it could not be told whether or not the High pies were shams. Mr Fletcher was a well-meaning man but he had no means of knowing whether or not complainers were imposters, and therefore he suffered them to bear injustice. ...

Another lad, Sanders, whom I knew at Hertford and throughout my Christ's Hospital life, was an atheist. I tried to convert him, but was unsuccessful. The fellows were afraid to bully him, because he spent much of his spare time in fishing out knowledge of their secret faults. When they were about to molest him, he threatened to publish what he knew about them. He received an occasional blow, but did not return it, and he was fond of boasting to me about his morality, comparing it with the badness of others in the Ward. He watched between the arches of the cloisters to see where lads had their "fobs". "Fobs" were treasures hidden in the ground. He did not disturb these fobs but was contented with the satisfaction of knowing where they were.

In the playgrounds we saw Antony, the Beadle, marching by, or guarding some port or entrance. The boys remarked that he was fond of using spicy words. Probably he was only quoting Shakespeare or some other author. They used to tease him by reciting a rhyme about his nose. It was this:-

Antony's nose is long,
Antony's nose is strong,
'Twould be no disgrace
To Antony's face
If half his nose were gone.

He got angry or pretended to be.

Every now and then Mr Keymer came from Hertford to London on matters of business. Then his old scholars, meeting him in some playground, asked him questions. One lad, who had no brother at Hertford, said to him, "How is my brother at Hertford?" Mr Keymer replied, "Your brother as verry wal. Hay's a varry good boy: hay's first an the class; hay'll come toe London next time; I'm sure hay wal."
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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