steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Tom Butler's Schooldays - Part 20: Leave Days

One a month at Christ's Hospital there was a Leave Day, that is, a day on which the scholars might go outside the walls of the Foundation for the whole day to see their relations and friends, or do what they liked. There was a time in the evening fixed for their return. A quarter of an hour's grace was allowed, but if a boy came back five minutes after this grace, he was entered by the Beadles at the Gate as twenty minutes late, and much time was deducted from his next Leaveday.

The Reader may ask, Did the Ancient, Worshipful and Royal Foundation provide any treat for its scholars. Yes, on one of the days after Easter we were all marched to the Mansion House with a paper pinned on our coat with the words "He is risen" and received from the Lord Mayor the gift of a new shilling, two buns and a glass of either port or sherry wine.

There was a provision for a bath once or twice in the summer outside Christ's Hospital at the Peerless Pool.* The water there was very cold, and we dreaded it when we passed through the entrance called "Funk Alley".

Christ's Hospital boys liked to pay diligent attention to their appearance. They kept the coat well brushed, the bands clean and firm as the starch had made them, pressed them between the leaves of a book, cleaned and polished the girdle, and rubbed the silver buckle with whiting. In London a broad girdle, indented with stars, and clasped by a silver buckle was seen not only on the Grecians and monitors but on most of the elder scholars. Before play they buttoned the coat over the bands and wore an old thin girdle (putting the respectable girdle away) and tucked into the old thin girdle the coat-skirt. This, in Bible language, would be girding up one's loins. After play, the white bands and bright red girdle and silver buckle reappeared. Then with well-brushed boots, coloured kid gloves and a beautiful white handkerchief showing from the pocket they looked on a holiday little swells. In the old-fashioned Victorian days, it was very important that a gentleman should not go out of a house into the gaze of the public without kid gloves, and as it was wrong to shake hands with a gloved hand, and one might meet a friend, it was well to carry the right-hand glove in the left hand so as not to keep him waiting for a handshake. The neat appearance of the Blue-Coat boy, and the glow of his face did not show, as some outsiders imagine, that he had plenty of food, was not hungry, and enjoyed good health. The boys soon spent the few pence they received from home, and if anyone gave them a tip, they never felt it to be infra dig to receive it. On the contrary, they were grateful to the donor, generally an Old Blue, and loved him for his kindness. When I was on my way to my home in South Kensington, I asked a gentleman the time of day. He gave me a shilling, and told me that he had been a Bluecoat boy. On another Leave Day at the Zoological Gardens with two other Blues, one of them an elder brother, an Old Blue gave us sixpence each. We were, however, unfortunate. We, all three, bought the same kind of meat pie which was unpalatable. We got rid of our pies by feeding a wild pig, saying to it, "Eat your poor brother."

On another Leave Day my brother and I went to the Crystal Palace. The Nurse of our Ward XV happened to go there too. We heard her say to a Bluecoat boy of the Ward. "Why! Is it you, M.? How you've grown! I hardly knew you. You have grown!" This puzzled us. It seemed strange that a boy should grow very much in so short a time, for the nurse had seen all of us that same day in the morning. We talked the matter over and came to the conclusion that she must have suddenly thought just for the moment that it was the holidays not a Leave Day.

Another place of amusement was the Tower. The boys C.H. could enter gratis. The charge to the public for entrance was a shilling. We took little interest in it, and I put off my visit to the last day possible for me to enjoy my privilege. I thought it a "mouldy" place.

I often spent part of my Leave Day in the Lambeth Baths. The water was pleasantly tepid, and in the midst of the swimming bath there was a fountain of delicious warm water. There we could take a rest when tired and prepare for another swim. Sanders, after a dive, could move like a fish close to the bottom a considerable part of the length of the Bath.

This place so delighted me that nine nights running I dreamt I was swimming.

* The Peerless Pool was London's first outdoor swimming pool. Originally it was called the "Perilous Pond", on account of so many people drowning there... According to this site it closed in 1850 and was built over, but that can't be quite right, since TRB only began to attend the London school in 1853. Also dubious, given the reference to Funk Alley, are the observations of William Hone in 1826: "Every fine Thursday and Saturday afternoon in the summer columns of Bluecoat boys, more than a score in each, headed by their respective beadles, arrive and some half strip themselves 'ere they reach their destination. The rapid plunges they make into the Pool and their hilarity in the bath testify their enjoyment of the tepid fluid."
Tags: family history, tom butler's schooldays
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