A PATCHWORK OF RECOLLECTIONS.
It is a matter for concern, even for alarm, to discover that the thrilling days of the ‘nineties are as far away from now as the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny were from us then. The ‘fifties to us were hopeless days of whiskers that survived only under the Imperial Crown of Austria in our time and of crinolines that had been laid to rest for ever. And what will the affairs of our day seem to those now at school? It is a chastening and discouraging question.
But the outside of things is only the husk, and the ‘seventies, ‘eighties, and ‘nineties of the last century made possible the work that we are proud of in this. The people who looked forward as well as backward had good reason for their conviction that the best could only be made of the world if every one in it had the best possible chance. And that meant that girls as well as boys must be taught to know. The women’s colleges at Cambridge had begun early in the ‘seventies, those at Oxford soon followed, and when the Godolphin School opened a new chapter in its life in 1890, the mistresses looked to London, to Oxford, or to Cambridge for much of their inspiration. Those were impatient days, none of the old books would do, and if the new ones weren’t written to our minds we were happy to supply what was wanted ourselves. Miss Jones taught her History with Stubbs and Creighton in her mind, and Mathematics with the latest Cambridge methods; and the writer (though with a thumping heart and knocking knees) thought it well to begin the geography of Europe with a sweeping survey of prehistoric conditions there. And where were those zealous classes held? In what is now Fawcett House. The little room on the way to the garden had a double part to play. It was the classroom for the top form, and the sitting-room for the boarders. Of the seven boarders six were Foundation Scholars. The girls’ sitting room now was then the dining-room, with two long tables. Staff and girls all had breakfast and dinner together. Miss Douglas, young but serene, with smooth hair and tightly buttoned blue frock, at the head of one table; and Miss Lucy, a little taller and still younger, at the other. The other big room was empty except for a piano and a little desk, where Miss Douglas stood to read prayers. Twenty two children, all told, to begin with. But everything organised, everything thought of, everything to time as if it were a school of six hundred. Nobody had any doubt about that. Time-tables for classes and home-work, practising lists, “on duty” lists, and games’ arrangements. It was all planned and cared for, in the little front room which always seemed happy and welcoming, though except for a few days in June the sun never shone in it. But it had books and pictures and pleasantness; it was Miss Douglas’s room. And upstairs there was Miss Lucy’s room with the same sort of atmosphere, albeit with a little less awe ! But the house and those who lived in it by no means made up the whole of the school. There were the fifteen day girls, and two more who came for certain classes only, and one mother who came once a week to learn Greek. An iron building that enclosed the garden steps and stretched out at the back was the cloak-room, a room that might have been Elysium itself, so hard did the day children find it to tear themselves away from it. The mistresses lived next door but one, and in a front room there Miss Milles ran the Kindergarten.
Games and drill were all in the willing hands of Miss Jones, and it was “musical drill” in those days, to songs such as “Sailing, Sailing” or “The British Grenadiers.” At games’ time the somewhat lethargic boarders would stir themselves to say encouragingly to a mistress: “You suggest five games, and we’ll choose one!” There was Fraulein Bechler, with a beautiful singing voice. I never want to hear anyone else sing “Alle seele ruh’n in Frieden,” or “Herz, mein Herz, warum so traurig?” and many another lovely thing more. I used to wish I had been taught at school all the continental history she knew, and that my French was as good as hers. Folding doors separated her room from Mademoiselle le Camus, a little lady whose broken English was quite adequate to any views she had to express. “These children, they ‘af no respect an’ no symp’thy. They are lil’ deveels.” Vigorous as her language was, Mademoiselle le Camus quailed at the terrors of a rather empty house, and Fraulcin Bechler had to come to the rescue. “Fraulein! Fraulein! here ees an araignee! Com’ an’ keel it!” For three things in England Mademoiselle le Camus declared her love: our fires, our hymn tunes, and our puddings. “When I am marreed,” she declared, “I shall say `I hawp you don’ maind, bot we weel haf’ trikkle poudain everee day’!” They were great fun, and the mistresses were all the best of friends, in some cases for life.
The next year the school had outgrown its house, and Miss Douglas developed the blissful plan she had introduced at Worcester, of a mistresses’ house. The mistresses migrated to 8 Millbrook, where Miss Jones took the smallest room as a reward for doing all the accounts and all the housekeeping. And the cabbage field at the top of Milford Hill with one chestnut tree was soon in the hands of builders, and the new red school rose up. Probably to this day the old original chestnut tree is still there by the gate, lost in the forest of oaks, sycamores, chestnuts, and laurels that were planted in 1892.
The new school was designed by Mr. Harding for eighty girls, and it was designed with a simplicity that, like the chestnut tree, is now all but completely lost. There was the large hall (without a gallery), and on both sides were two classrooms, each to take twenty girls.
And now more and more girls came to the school, and proud the school was to have them. To mention only a few of them. There was Dorothy Wordsworth, with a wonderful voice and a passion for acting that she endeavoured to satisfy in a study of Shakespeare. Violet Wyld, who was a leader in the school then, and now, as Lady Everett, is a Governor, and President of O.G.A. Ruth Wordsworth and May Wyld, two other leaders; Lucy Bury, who showed an originality and sense of style given to few; Olive PyeSmith, especially clever at drawing; Dorothea and Christabel Middlemore; Theophila Yeatman, Founder’s kin, prefect of St. Margaret’s, to be followed by Phyllis Clarence; Susie Wordsworth, who, resolute as any Iron Duke, became prefect of School House.
With thoughts of the girls my mind has run on, and I must double back to say that when the school came into possession of its bright new building, the old house was bought by Mrs. Headlam and called “Godolphin House.” It was the first of the outside houses. The Headlams, with their many interests and friends, and the clever brains which justified their daring motto: “Intcllectu et innocentia,” brought such a link with the north, the dales and the moors, that I never hear of County Durham that my mind does not fly back to them. It was a great thing for a school in a southern county.
And then there came the exciting news that Miss Douglas; had bought (we thought it as easy to buy a house as a bat) that soaring flight of architectual fancy next door to the Fussells, known as “Fowler’s Folly.” But it was no folly of Miss Douglas’s, as all St. Margaret’s people know. Meanwhile Miss Lucy had flown to Africa for a year to help a brother in his work there until he married, and on her return she succeeded Miss Heathcote as Head of St. Margaret’s. During her four years in School House she had shown us many things, and especially that she had always a steady look at life and saw all the fun of it as well as the sorrows and the dreams. Now, in her own domain at. St. Margaret’s, besides being the “Mother” to all who came to that House, and full of eager interest in everything that concerned the whole school, she showed her talent as a gardener and as a dramatic producer and performer.
When Miss Douglas and the new staff were appointed to the school in 1890, the most elderly was twenty-nine, the youngest twenty; they had the open-mindedness of their years, and any “good idea” could always be experimented with. They did not like the name of “Godolphin Ladies’ School ” that they found printed on the note-paper (quarto size, and most remarkable in those days) and the “Godolphin High School” took its place. But, after all, the school was not one of the Public Day School Company’s High Schools, and before long the name took the form which it still keeps.
And then the marks! At first there were marks for term’s work, and marks for examinations, and then, at the end of the term the grand total, which ran into thousands. It was all very well for the mathematical staff, but it was a labour lasting past midnight for the others. Great was the satisfaction when they were swept away at a stroke, and “classes” for term and examination work were given instead. Every girl might attain to the first class, but there was no fictitious glory about being “top” if you only had a 50 per cent. third-class after all. And what was cleared away in marks was more than given back in information. Not the mere subject was given, but the actual ground covered, the books used, the music studied was written into every report. Every mistress wrote her comment, and the head mistress her own at the end. It was a good system, and such criticism as there was, set out to give suggestion and encouragement, not merely the denunciation which is inclined to run a little freely from a pedagogue’s pen.
Then there was the museum, all in boxes at first, but with its own shelves-Miss Jones’s darling joy, and little less dear to the writer ; the Sketch Club, Art Class, all voluntary forms of edification, as well as ” Contemporary” (the public news of the week), and Work Party (for the Mission) in the Houses. Other plans were expeditions to go over the Cathedral, and to see the old churches and houses in the town, and to link them up with History; to see in the Cathedral who fought at Crecy, Agincourt, and Bosworth, and the stained glass telling its story even behind the arches and obelisks of Sir Thomas Gorges’s tomb in the north aisle; to think where Richard III’s Duke of Buckingham had his head off in Blue Boar (“call it Bluber”) Row, and the frescoes in St. Thomas’s with the dead emerging from their bath-like tombs, a preparation for “Last Judgments” to be seen afterwards in Pisa and Orvieto.
Sometimes the “walk” went to Clarendon, where the “Constitutions” were signed, but where, even ruins having passed away, the great hope was to find enchanting red iris berries ; or to Old Sarum, where you might or might not attempt to wriggle through the Wishing Hole ; no wonderful excavations had been made in those days to bring the old ” hill-town ” back to life ; and then, on rare occasions there was a whole day’s jaunt in various versions of a glorified roofless chariot known as a “wagonette,” or, larger still, a “brake,” where your vis-a-vis figured more largely than any view. These expeditions conveyed us all to Groveley on Ascension Day, a glory of spring, or to the New Forest-to come back and read William Watson’s Father of the Forest with a new understanding-or to the mysterious Stonehenge, as lonely then as it had been for centuries, nothing about but a shepherd and his sheep and the song of larks raining down from the sky; no restorations, no fence, no Bulford Camp, no bummelling airplanes, not even a road that need be used, you drove bumpily over the green velvet of the downs. And there were days at Winchester and Sherborne, or even, breathless joy, at Oxford.
You will say: “But this is not about the school!” Dear Sir or Madam, may I disagree? To my mind it is the school. Godolphin in Miss Douglas’s hands would always have been a delightful school-“perfectly delightful” was her own special word-wherever it might have pleased the gods to set it; but without the Cathedral, without the services there, without little St. Martin’s, stately St. Edmund’s and St. Thomas’s, without the narrow red streets, without the Close, without the climb up St. Ann Street, or Milford Hill, to burst into the open glory of sky and downs at the top, and every bit of those downs known and loved, it would not have been the Godolphin School that all who knew it carry in their hearts till they die.
And woven into the life of the school are the men and women outside it who have given their best to it. The Governors, who individually took so genuine an interest in the school, and without whom collectively there could have been no fresh development. And more especially Lord Nelson, with his jolly, big voice, his lively dark eyes, his enthusiasm, his generosity of mind. It was he who took the Ecclesiastical Commissioners by storm when the fate of the land adjoining the school was at stake, and what is now the playing fields stood a chance of being rows of red villas. But of that Miss Douglas can tell better than I. And there were others who were not regular visitors like the Governors, but who flashed upon us from time to time. I think of people like Bishop Walsham How, with a head for a sculptor, and thick grey hair, cut short, and not long and flowing like that of some ecclesiastics in those days. Saint as he was, he saw the funny side of things on earth. No wonder the old Queen loved him. One day when staying at the school, he gave us a talk about the stars, and began with a moving quotation from Marie Corelli, telling how the heroine leaned out of her window in the night to gaze at the myriads of stars, “many of them invisible to the naked eye!” He wondered how she did it. When the Jubilee of Queen Victoria came in 1897, the fine hymn with Sullivan’s tune that wrote itself to the words, meant all the more to the school because Bishop Walsham How, Miss Douglas’s uncle, had written it: “O King of Kings, whose reign of old hath been from everlasting.”
Another was Lady Frederick Cavendish, of brave and tragic history; she was grey-haired, with the glorious deep-speaking voice of the Lytteltons. She spoke in the Church House about the need to know Church history and after that Church history was a school subject for some time. But at the school she spoke of facing life, and quoted Fanny Kemble’s great sonnet. She wrote it out for the school afterwards. “Faint not for sorrow, falter not for sin. . . .” I wonder if it still hangs by the seats in the gallery. [Yes-ED.]
And another was Miss Wordsworth,1 the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, who often stayed with her brother at the palace. Wise and witty, with the learning of a scholar and the face of a Renaissance thinker, she talked to the school of little amusing things that came from her own experience or from her own originality. ” When you choose your frocks, think of the birds and the colours they wear in England ; not the bright reds and greens of the tropics, because those would not suit our climate and the colouring of our country.” And then she touched off the colour scheme of one bird after another: the blue, black, and grey of the swallow; the dusky brightness of the greenfinch; and then, for something very gay, the touch of pink in the bullfinch. But the designers of fashions haven’t quite caught up with Miss Wordsworth. And then: “When you are asked to lunch with the Duchess, don’t be too shy to speak, say something, if it’s only that you’ve seen two cocks fighting in the road. And another little thing: sit where your hostess asks you to sit. Don’t say: `Thank you, I’m very comfortable here’! You may be sitting on the Duke’s copy of the Times.”
And there were musicians like Miss Paget, who made Bach a living reality to us, from his first picture-music of the apprentice skipping off on his wanderings, on to all the might and majesty of his later work, with such examples as she and some singers could give of preludes and fugues, and wonderful arias like “My heart ever faithful.” And Gertrude Sichel was another, singing song after song the whole evening through.
And there was Bishop Hicks, who came and told us about the South Africa hc hadn’t seen then, but where lie died. We heard about North China from Mr. Frank Norris, now the bishop there, and I remember one small St. Margaret’s girl told Miss Lucy she always prayed for him ever afterwards; and Mr. Arthur Douglas told us about pioneer work in a tropical village by Lake Nyasa, where he afterwards laid down his life. And many another more, for Miss Douglas would let any missionary come and tell us of his work, only he must hope for no collection, because the school was pledged to support a little Negro girl on the Niger, from the time a native priest came and asked us to help. And always there was the United Girls’ School Mission from the year it began.
There were laymen, too, who spoke, men like Sir John Middlemore (the father of four daughters who came to school), who, in a busy parliamentary life, found time to come and tell the story of South African affairs which led up to the Boer War. IIc had a lean, eager face, and burning eyes, and an air that told us no single minute must be wastcd; he had to get at the truth and make it clear, and every word was hammered in with the skill of a parliamentarian.
And Sir Reginald Palgrave, who was Clerk to the House of Commons, and whose eldest daughter (afterwards Mrs. Crowder) ‘always seemed to be part of the school, told us all about the procedure in Parliament, with all the old French sentences still in use. And Professor T. McKenny Hughes from Cambridge, telling about how to find “geology” even in our own fields and gardens.
And, to my mind, all this is Godolphin too. Stones thrown into the pond and the pattern of them rippling on and on. The surface changes, but it is the same water underneath. And I suppose life is like that. The front of the school is the same, but the uses the rooms are put to may be different. People change, but the school goes on. The friendly, welcoming, encouraging spirit, the frankness and loyalty-what things in the world are more lovable than those? These things that we learnt from Miss Douglas, and the old Godolphin motto will still go on. And so, perhaps, after all, in spite of the widening gulf of years, there will always be more to link the generations together than to sever them, as each in turn takes up the torch.
Wynberg, 16th May 1927.
1 After June 4, 1928, to be known as Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth, D.B.E., M.A., D.C.L.