No. 196

OSB Logo The Old St Beghian
  January 2020


Chris Lord (G 53-57) follows up Peter Thomas' article on Grindal in the last Bulletin:

"Peter Thomas's notes about life in the 1940s hold good for the 1950s, even down to the sheet-changing procedure. Here follows some elaboration.

Most new boys would lodge at either Eaglesfield or Meadow House but attend their main house - Grindal, Hostel/Foundation or School House for lunch, morning break and the house run, if not playing rugby/cricket. My first taste of the tough hierarchical discipline of that era came when going into Grindal for lunch after the first morning's lessons. We entered at the bottom rear and climbed steps to the dayroom and dining room floor. At the top of the steps was senior dayroom; standing at the open doorway was an older boy with upper sixth stripes on his lapels whose role was to shout at full volume at any new boy who indulged his curiosity and dared to look inside: 'DON'T LOOK IN HERE BOY!'

We made our way to baby dayroom where we would dump our rucksacks before going in for lunch. This was our first sight of the cubicles, a very practical way to provide individual spaces in a room for common use. You sat at a desk facing sideways; bookshelves were to your side and partitions front and behind separated you from your neighbours.

Grindal's layout at that time was, from the front door, junior and baby day rooms to the left and right respectively, front stairs on the right with a corridor alongside leading to the kitchen and dining room, from the outside of which stairs led up to the dormitories and down to the changing rooms. Senior dayroom was behind junior, at the back corner. Lunch was eaten at one of half a dozen long tables: juniors at the far end, seniors near the door; benches for the former, chairs for the latter. Should I return to that dining room now, sixty plus years later, I would surely hear the ghost of Sam Parkinson reciting, 'Benedictus, benedicat per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum', so smoothly and rapidly that separating the words was impossible for any but Latin scholars.

The dormitories occupied two floors above the dayroom/dining room level.

The only change to the building in my time was the construction in 1956 of the block which housed the prefects' and seniors' studies. The three dayrooms remained, so everyone had more space.

The toilets were by the back door on the changing room floor. The stalls had no doors. There was conjecture as to the reason for this feature, which was a cause of consternation to some new boys; more toughening up? The showers were all cold. Hot baths were taken one night per week with a limit on depth of six inches.

Following five terms at Meadow House, I moved down to Grindal in the summer of 1955. All members of baby dayroom were fags, meaning you were at the beck and call of the prefects, whose study was at the top of the main staircase. One would open the door and shout, 'FAG', whereupon at least two of us would dash up the back stairs to receive instructions.

I was bell fag, meaning I rang the wake up and get up bells mentioned by Peter Thomas. Additionally I ran round the dorms at 7:30 shouting, 'Ten minutes to go'. This was to rouse those senior boys whose getting up at second bell was not mandatory.

Prefects had personal fags, whose duties were much like those of a batman in HM Forces. These were envied positions as they did not have to respond to the general 'FAG' summons and you could expect a generous tip at the end of term. Making toast for the prefects was a common chore. This was done at the open door of the boiler and each piece had to be neither burnt nor too light; and you'd be in trouble if you wasted more than one or two slices of bread.

Junior boys, especially those on their first term at Grindal, were summoned to senior dayroom for 'Testing'. Following a strict ritual for entering and standing to attention, eyes focused on a specified spot above the window and being bellowed at, you were quizzed about key players in the school teams, what privileges were awarded to various levels of seniority, and so on. I suffered a temporary inability to learn things by heart and I failed, not once but four times. After punishment runs of increasing length, I was beaten.

Beatings were carried out with a ritual appropriate to an execution: at the end of evening prayers the instruction 'Early bedders straight to their dorm; late bedders to their dayroom' would be issued. The whole house then knew what was afoot and could speculate as to the victim, who would be escorted down to the changing rooms, where the housemaster and prefects would be assembled to witness punishment. I had to lean over the end of a bath whilst a prefect administered four strokes of the cane. Back in my dorm afterwards my mates examined the wounds and expressed their opinions on the grouping; the closer the grouping, the greater the discomfort whenever you sat down for the next few days! Shortly after this, as the junior fag, I was told to accompany a shooting party marching up the hill to the .303 range.

Having sustained punishment runs and a beating, this must have seemed to be the logical conclusion, but all I had to do in fact was sit at the entrance to the quarry and warn passers by that rifle practice was in progress!

Life, of course, got more comfortable after moving on from baby dayroom. National Service was still in force and I think the junior years at St Bees were probably the equivalent of initial training in the forces."



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