Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

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rockfreak
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Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by rockfreak » Thu May 31, 2018 7:48 pm

I'm just enjoying the biography of the Cambridge spy Donald Maclean (A Spy Named Orphan by Roland Philips) in which the author delves to some extent into the psychological make-up of the man. Maclean was educated at Greshams in East Anglia, a rather unusual boarding school much favoured by the families of clergymen and high-minded Liberal politicians. Greshams abolished beating well before other such schools but instead had an "honour system". Boys were pledged to: Always avoid impurity; Always to confess the truth to the Headmaster; Always to refrain from smoking. To aid their purity their trouser pockets were sewn up. Punishments involved writing essays, going on long runs, or being "off jam" (yes, your guess is as good as mine). If one did not readily confess to the Beak others would happily inform on you.
The author, having consulted WH Auden who was also there at the time, says that: "Bullying and homosexuality (and presumably swearing, smoking and smut) were rarer than in other public schools as a result of the system's strictures but the consequences of its imposition are psychologically troubling, not least in encouraging the betrayal of one's schoolmates. The gap between the rules and the way boys actually are meant that the official morality was unworkable. It led to a high rate of anxiety, and often breakdown among the pupils, to an obsession with secrecy, to the burying of true and open selves and to the repression of emotions." Perfect training for a double agent in other words.
I do wonder how much other strange stuff went on at the various public schools. We're talking about the 1930s here but the repressive, puritanical, religious atmosphere was certainly there at CH in the 50s. At Shrewsbury school where Richard Ingrams was educated the school would go on cross country runs pursued by men with whips. Perfect training for a future satirist.
As I haven't been down to my old alma mater since the year after I left I have no idea of what remains of the weird customs, regulations and terminology. But I hope no-one is off jam.

Chris T
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Re: Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by Chris T » Fri Jun 01, 2018 2:19 pm

When at Housey I was lucky enough never to be punished by being “off jam,” although I was beaten twice by my senior housemaster. Rockfreak's piece on Donald Maclean was fascinating (and the lowdown on the Gresham’s School even more so). However I doubt it if Maclean’s school was so direct a cause as Rockfreak suggests. Other spies, usually lumped together with Maclean, were ex-Cambridge (mostly at Trinity College) and in high school at

Westminster School
Hamilton Academy
Harrow School
Marlborough College
Eton College

Therefore isn’t it more likely certain general characteristics of public schools influenced their subsequent spying careers, rather than those interesting and very specific practices at Gresham’s School?

rockfreak
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Re: Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by rockfreak » Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:16 pm

Yes exactly. I was featuring Greshams because it seemed even more unusually bizarre for the time. But yes, I would agree that Philby, Burgess, Blunt and Cairncross were probably equally affected by their education. In essence I believe that any intelligent person subjected to this type of education is liable to revolt and hold a subsequent grudge against the establishment.

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Re: Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by Chris T » Sat Jun 02, 2018 6:51 am

Agreed

Katharine
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Re: Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by Katharine » Sat Jun 02, 2018 5:57 pm

I'm not sure I hold a grudge, I just wonder why I toed the line and didn't rebel at some of the pettiness - I would now!!!
Katharine Dobson (Hills) 6.14, 1959 - 1965
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Re: Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by seajayuu » Sat Jun 02, 2018 10:38 pm

If you remember, Katharine, I spent most of my school days in trouble because I constantly rebelled against the petty restrictions!

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J.R.
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Re: Loony nonsense at English boarding schools

Post by J.R. » Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:43 pm

seajayuu wrote:
Sat Jun 02, 2018 10:38 pm
If you remember, Katharine, I spent most of my school days in trouble because I constantly rebelled against the petty restrictions!
That seems rather similar to my past, hence another reasaon for me to determine an early exit after 'O' levels
John Rutley. Prep B & Coleridge B. 1958-1963.

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