Mischief and Mystery at St Bees School
How many times of late have we heard that St Bees School will never be the same again? This is a fact I think we can all accept. Therefore, as the school begins a new phase in its history, what lies ahead will be in stark contrast to what has gone before.
When I was a pupil in the middle of the last century there was a mind-set in the school that encouraged more than just a few lads of a rebellious nature to plan misdeeds. For whatever reason their actions appeared to manifest themselves in striking back at targets chosen indiscriminately. Staff, prefects, fellow pupils and even the fabric of the school were all chosen at some time or other. All transgressions were followed by ‘Questions in the House’ but usually to no avail. Shrouds of secrecy remained and these ‘whodunnit’ mysteries were left unsolved.
The Case of Something Fishy in Big School
Situated in Foundation adjacent to the quadrangle entrance corridor, Big School (later known as the Salad Room) was used as a classroom where iron framed Victorian desks were arranged on tiers above the master’s own teaching desk. During much of my time an English teacher called Farrant taught here. Known as ‘The Blade’, or as an alternative ‘Gillette’, he was always well groomed to the point of being razor sharp.
One day we noticed an uncharacteristic foul odour in Big School. So foul that ‘The Blade’ left the window open next to his desk. Day after day this rotten smell not only remained but got progressively worse. An investigation led to the discovery of a recalcitrant boy’s actions – a putrid, ripe kipper carefully nailed to the underside of ‘The Blade’s’ desk.
No-one ever discovered the culprit – a ‘whodunnit’ par excellence!
Who Itched the Big Dorm Bed?
A member of Foundation’s domestic staff arrived one morning with a packet of itching powder purchased from a newly opened joke shop in Whitehaven. She entrusted the packet to a boy, inviting him to ‘do his worst’!
Judging by the events that followed we can assume the conspirator chose an opportune time to sneak into Big Dorm to empty the powder into his target’s bed and pyjamas. Why this particular victim was chosen no-one ever knew (his identity is remembered but perhaps better left unnamed here). It can be said that the victim was recalled as a keen and talented golfer, an excellent guitar player and was generally a good sort. So why this fellow was chosen as the target is even now a mystery.
However, the scene was set. It was the winter term, the nights were dark, and it was not long until lights out after which all were settled in their beds. But not for long! Suddenly, one poor fellow leapt out of bed and danced around like a red indian doing a war dance. As the itching powder had also been shaken into his pyjamas, he rapidly divested himself of these. Before long Matron, Sheila Appleyard, was on the scene and deemed the situation so serious that, late though it was, Doctor ‘Snake’ Chalmers needed to be summoned from Whitehaven.
During the small hours, after having a cold bath and once cooling creams were applied all over the poor fellow’s body, eventually this brought relief. As soon as his bedsheets were changed, he was finally able to settle down. A special assembly was called for next morning after breakfast. During this assembly Housemaster ‘Shuff’ Hall appealed to the better nature of his charges, asking the culprit to step forward, but no-one moved and the question of who did it remains another unsolved mystery.
The Chapel Organ Confetti
It was a regular morning service in the chapel. Music Master, Donald Leggatt, attired in his gown, strode in to take his position on the organ stool. He flicked on the switch to fill the organ pipes with air. But what happened next was truly majestic. At the same time as the organ motor rumbled into action, and to the amazement of all present, clouds of tiny pieces of paper were flung from the top of the pipes to float down in the air above all those present. Hilarity from the boys – consternation from Donald Leggatt and his colleagues! It seems that someone (or some group) had for some weeks been emptying paper punches and secretly storing the contents to use as the organ pipe ammunition in their devilish scheme.
Rather than proceed with the planned service, the Headmaster made comments appropriate to the occasion and appealed for anyone responsible to come forward. However, and already you will have guessed it, this ended as another unsolved ‘whodunnit’.
If anyone can remember more memorable stories I would be fascinated to hear them so that a future article can be written.
Don H Williams (F 61-64).