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Independent Witness One hundred and fifty years of Taunton School

by

John Brown


First Published June 1997 Published by Taunton School, Taunton, Somerset TA2 6AD. Š John Brown 1997 ISBN 0-9530925-0-X Printed in England by Graphic Examples, Sherborne, Dorset.

All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopy, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher

11


CONTENTS

Page V

PREFACE

1

Chapter 1

COMMANDING THE TONE

Chapter 2

THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM

44

Chapter 3

'THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOUSE'

63

Chapter 4

LEARNING FOR LIVING

83

Chapter 5

TRIVIAL ROUNDS AND COMMON TASKS

109

Chapter 6

IN CORPORE SANO

130

Chapter 7

BREAKING THE MOULD

169

Chapter 8

WITHIN THESE WALLS

189

Chapter 9

CRIME DISCOVERED AND UNDISCOVERED

215

Chapter 10

FOR KING AND COUNTRY

237

Chapter 11

THE POWERS THAT BE

262

Chapter 12 A WORLD BEYOND THE SCHOOL GATES

284

Chapter 13

THESE WE HAVE LOVED

303

Chapter 14

AN UNDYING TRADITION

322

BIBLIOGRAPHY

329

INDEX

330

iii


To RICHARD GILES to whom I am keeping a promise by writing this book

iv


PREFACE My own involvement with Taunton School goes back to 1974 when I joined the Modern Languages Department and became Assistant in Loveday House, transferring after three years to School House, where I remained until the House closed in 1994. My memories of those years have been invaluable when writing this history - and contemporaries will recognize some of the stories - though I am only too aware that for the great majority of Taunton's 150 years I have had to rely upon the School's extensive archive and the memories of others. I should like to express thanks to all those OTs, past and present members of staff and others who granted me interviews or who helped in other ways by supplying information, anecdotes or photographs; also to Dr Clyde Binfield of Sheffield University and Dr Ernest Neal, both of whom suggested a number of amendments; to the Headmaster, Barry Sutton, for his advice and guidance; and to Diana Atkinson for the long hours spent at her word processor. A 150th birthday is a landmark in the history of any community, and the story of Taunton School is a fascinating tale of change and progress. My aim in this book has been to describe the changes in their historical context and to glimpse the many strong and memorable characters who either shaped the School's destiny or contributed to its far-reaching achievements. I have made liberal use of anecdote and incidental material, and have tried to add that most useful of a teacher's resources, a touch of humour. There will inevitably be omissions in so broad a canvas; my hope, however, is that the picture may be clear enough for the reader to supply the missing brush-strokes from memory or imagination. From its modest Victorian beginnings to its present status as a leading school, Taunton School has always stood for independence in constitution, religion and in its philosophical outlook. I have found it a rewarding experience to delve into the School's past and to discover so much that has inspired the present and will, it is hoped, also inspire the future.

John Brown Taunton May 1997


vi


Chapter One

COMMANDING THE TONE

rro the average pupil the Headmaster of a school is not a very important figure. He 1 is a figurehead, seen in Chapel and at school assembles but otherwise he lurks in the background. Meeting him personally probably means that you have done something very good or very bad. Seen around school, the Headmaster, as likely as not, is heading for the office with a sheaf of documents in his hand. For Heads these days are called upon to be administrators and marketing managers as much as teachers. Business acumen is vital for the successful running of what is a multi-million pound enterprise. Headmasters at many schools (and Taunton has been no exception) still try to do some teaching to maintain contact with their pupils and to gain a better understanding of the concerns of their staff. But however remote a headmaster may find himself compelled to be, the truth remains that no single factor affects the school more than the character of the man at the helm. Where the Head leads, others will follow. The atmosphere and attitudes of a school and the direction it takes are determined, directly or indirectly, by the Headmaster. More important still, the public's view of what the school stands for and of the success it is achieving will depend upon how it perceives the Head and interprets his actions. The course of any school's history is thus greatly affected by the manner in which the Headmaster exercises his great responsibility for determining the atmosphere and reputation of his school. He really is the most important person after all. Taunton School has had twelve headmasters in the course of its 150 years. That is an average of something over 12 years per incumbent and while, obviously, there has been a wide range in the length of service of individual headmasters (from 3 to 23 years) the general suggestion is one of commitment to an office which was not to be taken lightly. The story of those twelve headmasters is a fascinating one, for each has imprinted his character on the School in a different way. External historical factors of course made an important contribution to the manner in which this came about; very different conditions have characterized the various periods of the School's development. The religious and denominational questions of the nineteenth century and the ever-present threat of disease, for example, have given way to modern concerns about marketing, staff redundancies and coping with a time of rapid and bewildering educational change. Along the way came the need to adapt to a public school ethos and the pressures of two world wars. The demands upon Taunton's headmasters have varied enormously through the years, as has their individual response to them. The overall picture is one of adherence to strong principles, resilience in difficult times and a determination to succeed. It is a story of which Taunton can be proud, for its twelve headmasters succeeded in communicating similar yardsticks to many of their pupils whose unsflinching loyalty has testified as much. 1


All history is chequered, but with that of Taunton School it is a success story which dominates. The first Headmaster (or Principal, as the office was then known) of Taunton School was the Reverend Dr James Bewglass. The School was not, however, founded by him in the way that was common in Victorian times for would-be headmasters to start their own schools. The initiative leading to the establishment of the West of England Dissenters' School in Taunton preceded both the appointment of a Headmaster and the obtaining of suitable premises in which to house the school. It arose from the concerns of a group of local nonconformists about education and their feeling that there was an urgent need for a school to serve their particular denomination. The school was to be a proprietary one, financed by the sale of 800 shares at £10 each, with a maximum holding of ten shares per proprietor and a maximum dividend of 5%. The purchase of 75 shares at the first meeting demonstrates the urgency with which the Independent Dissenters viewed their educational project. The reasons for this were connected with the low standing and limited educational opportunities of Nonconformists in the 1840s. In Taunton the situation was particularly bad. The old endowed Grammar School, founded by Bishop Fox of Winchester in 1522, was struggling with an outdated curriculum and enjoyed a poor reputation. The Somerset Gazette Directory of 1840 pointed out: 'The free grammar school is not free to anybody ... Nobody but the Master is benefited by the endowment, for education is not cheaper here than in other schools; and there are no scholars on the foundation.' Nonconformists attending the Grammar School were looked down on by Church of England boys, and this resulted in considerable tension. There were also in Taunton at this time a National School and a British School which were of better educational standing. Of these the former admitted only Anglicans, and the undenominational British School may have been poorly regarded by Independents anxious to promote their own cherished doctrines) A number of private academies also existed, but because these were small their teaching standards may have been Another factor contributing to strained relations between questionable. Nonconformists and the Established Church was the compulsory payment of Church Rates by dissenting schools to support an education system controlled by the Church of England. Early TS accounts show the reluctant payment of these rates', usually of the order of £2 or £3 per quarter. (Pew rents to the two Independent chapels patronised by the School were, however, considerably higher). Apart from the religious tension in the town, Taunton's citizens were looking for a more modern and more comprehensive education for their sons than what was already on offer. The opening of the Wesleyan college in 1843 may have provided further impetus for Independents to engage in a similar venture. But certainly there was a growing demand from the rising middle classes for a liberal education of a scope to match their growing aspirations to positions of responsibility and influence in society. Accordingly eleven gentlemen under the chairmanship of James Bunter, Esquire, met on 9 October 1846 to pass a unanimous resolution regarding the establishment of a new school for Independents. The two ministers of the Independent chapels in Taunton, the Reverends Henry Addiscott and Henry Quick, were to be the Secretaries of the institution, which was to be known as the West of England Dissenters' Proprietory School. This was something of a mouthful, and from early days its pupils were known as the 'WEPS'. By the spring of 1847 nearly half the shares (380) had been See Chapter 2 for a more detailed discussion of religious factors in nineteenth century education. In 1861 and 1865 resolutions were passed by the Committee that church rates should not be paid, but it seems that payment was made, under duress. I

2

2


taken up', and interest in the project was growing. Quite early on W D Wills of Bristol became involved, and it was he who chaired the first shareholders' meeting. The famous tobacco firm was to play a prominent part in the School's history. Plans were soon proceeding to put the original resolution into practice. A group of four houses and adjoining land at Stepswater in the Wellington Road - described in those days as 'just outside Taunton' - was rented from a Mr Woodford at ÂŁ180 pa. One of the houses was occupied by a Mr Reeves, but arrangements were made for him to vacate the property in time to allow the School to open in the summer of 1847. The other buildings were empty. When no satisfactory response was forthcoming from advertisements placed in various newspapers and religious periodicals, the post of Headmaster was offered to Dr Bewglass, who accepted on 16 June 1847, exactly six weeks before the projected opening date of the new school. On 16 July a Second Master, the Rev E S Hart, was appointed, and various domestic arrangements had to be hurriedly dealt with prior to the school's opening. The Committee, which by this time consisted of 19 members (including elected officials) together with all other ministers who were shareholders', conferred with Dr Bewglass about producing a prospectus and the arrangements for the opening day on 27 July. Suitable celebrations at the chapels associated with the School were organised to mark its foundation. Dr Bewglass was a cultured Irishman who had won many academic honours when a pupil at Belfast Academy. He was a Doctor of Law and also a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a society whose membership was known for a strong interest in the arts and sciences. Dr Bewglass loved books and literature; not surprisingly one of his first initiatives as Principal was to found a library for his pupils, and he put endless requests for new books to the Committee. He enjoyed the reputation of being a fine linguist with a knowledge of at least eight languages; he was a member of the German Oriental Society and also a good public speaker of commanding presence. A portly but distinguished looking figure in cravat and wig, he is remembered as a genial man and an able teacher by former pupils whose reminiscences are recorded. H J Wilson MP (1848-50) when presenting the prizes in 1886 attributed "some of the use I have been able to be in the world" to the inspiring teaching and conversation of Dr Bewglass and his staff. W J C Miller, writing to The Tauntonian in 1896 recalled that 'Dr Bewglass was a noteworthy headmaster and, as he taught in the days when there was in schools a sort of 'divine leisure', he was able to inculcate in his best pupils a love of the culture of literature, which one of them, at least, is not likely ever to forget ...' Mr Miller had himself found distinction in life, as mathematical editor of the Educational Rev James Bewglass Times and Executive Officer of the 3 The 4

92 shareholders are listed in Proud Century pp 34-5 There were 16 of these but few of them attended meetings.

3


General Medical Council. His paean of praise to his old headmaster reveals the latter's character and allows us perhaps to glimpse something of the truth behind his headship. Dr Bewglass's strength was as a communicator of learning and a sharer of wisdom with his best pupils; the less bright ones who favoured mischief he found tiresome, and though he had the reputation of being a man who could put his foot down, there came a stage when his disciplinary powers and methods were questioned, a crisis which led to his resignation in 1853. Things were made difficult from the start by the state of disarray in which the new school still found itself during the first year. A number of internal preparations and alterations were still going on after term had started: a staircase was being removed in one of the houses, for instance, and the well needed deepening. Gas was being installed and communicating doors knocked through adjoining walls and buildings. The fluctuating numbers of pupils added to the domestic disorganisation: 40 boarders had been envisaged, but by the end of the first term there were 74. Additional accommodation was needed, and it was even necessary to borrow some beds from Committee members! By October 1847 plans had been drawn up for the erection of a dining room and a schoolroom; until these were completed the School had to put up with makeshift arrangements. And of course the increased numbers meant that extra staff needed to be recruited. On the positive side the School had got off the ground very quickly and was attracting interest and a stream of new pupils. The disadvantage was that the chaos of settling in was not conducive to good discipline. An added problem which Dr Bewglass and the Committee had to deal with was a dispute with the Second Master in the first month. Mr Hart's duties had been defined at the time of his appointment; in essence if not in detail they are not unlike those still undertaken by the Deputy Head today. He was to be concerned with the day-to-day running of the School. More particularly he was given these specific duties: 'To ring the bell and to see that the boys attend School at the appointed hours. To conduct the boys into the Dining Hall; to preside with the Matron at all meals. To attend the boys when in the playground and to observe their dress and cleanliness. To see that all boys are in bed at the time appointed. To accompany the boys every Sabbath to and from the place of worship they attend and to sit with them during the Service.' Mr Hart clearly did not give satisfaction, for it was decided to alter his conditions of service, reducing his salary and making him share his sitting room. The ostensible reason given was that the appointment of extra staff now necessitated by the increase in pupils made it invidious to have 'gradations in the masterships' and the position of Second Master was duly abolished.5 Mr Hart sent in a letter of appeal, but 'its tone and substance were such as to determine the Committee to abide by its former resolution', as the minutes tactfully recorded. Mr Hart left the institution shortly afterwards. Even after things had settled down, there is the impression that Dr Bewglass had a number of problems to contend with. Some of these are discussed in later chapters concerned with daily life and discipline. In general it is likely that an over-austere regime encouraged by the puritanical inclinations of the Committee conflicted with the natural exuberance of youth. A boy expelled in the first term had been guilty of 'profane swearing, repeated acts of disobedience to teachers and general vicious conduct'. For this multitude of sins he was also hauled before the Committee, whose 'visitors' were prone to commenting on the minutest details of daily conduct observed 4

5 It

was not revived till 1857.


during their frequent visits to the School. In May 1848, for example, they were critical of the boys playing in the rain without caps. No doubt there were some cases of serious indiscipline, though in others the procedures for dealing with misconduct may have been flawed owing to lack of experience or an overreaction on the part of the Headmaster and his staff. It is interesting that little is known of Dr Bewglass either before or after his time at Taunton. He was an ordained minister and something of an aesthete, a natural teacher of the gifted, but he may have lacked practical experience of dealing with children. He went on to become Headmaster of Silcoates School, where he seems to have been successful. W J C Miller wrote: "I have often wondered what became of Dr Bewglass ultimately; years afterwards I saw him in Yorkshire, a dignified man among less dignified men, at some congress in Huddersfield." The disciplinary crisis which drove him from Taunton - a sub-committee was set up late in 1853 to inquire into the School's general discipline - remains shrouded in mystery. The subcommittee clearly found against Dr Bewglass, but its criticisms are couched in the vaguest possible terms. The conclusion was, however, in no doubt: the Principal had acted wisely in resigning, and a further sub-committee would now examine and define the duties of the Principal and his staff. Towards Dr Bewglass himself the Committee's attitude was not unlike that adopted towards a boy who has been expelled: They do not expect him again to return to the Institution.' And, as far as is recorded, he never did. Against this must be acknowledged the considerable achievements of his headship. In terms of numbers the School was flourishing: by 1849 there were 118 pupils of whom 110 were boarders. In 1850 an additional building was acquired for ÂŁ750 to be used as a Headmaster's House. Dr Bewglass presided over the many improvements to the fabric of the School carried out during the early years. Tribute was paid to his 'talent and assiduity' in an early examiner's report. His wisest move was undoubtedly the affiliation of the School to the University of London in 1848, which enabled Taunton pupils to take the university's examinations and, subsequently, degree courses. This allowed the School's reputation to grow, and it could now call itself a college. The day on which the charter of affiliation was received was hailed as a moment of triumph: 'In sonorous tones, the Doctor announced that we, one and all, from six-footer Hughes to little Payne-Hodge, were Collegians. We felt promoted, and imagined all the degrees the Senate could confer within our reach. What shouts rent the air; the flooring, although quite new, trembled beneath our feet, deskhinges were much loosened, and I fear that lesson books were not improved, as they vigorously circulated through the long schoolroom in search of blockheads. Those modest buildings, now degraded to 'villadom', must still retain both externally and internally traces of the school-boy vandalism of that remarkable day! The words 'Independent College', with the date of incorporation, were cut, wherever cutting was possible. On doors, window frames, and desks, some gifted gymnast was discovered immortalizing the event with his name on the ceiling beams. Even stone sills and brick walls did not escape. The large bell over the entrance, so often unwelcome to the dilatory and unpunctual, rang so long and loud that tradition says our neighbours feared fire. The day, of course, was a holiday. It had to be commemorated.' The licence resulting from the celebrations brings us back to the other theme of Dr 5


Bewglass's headmastership, but the balance of those years was positive: the School was relatively prosperous, and it had embarked upon a useful academic course. Early in 1854 the Committee unanimously appointed the Rev Thomas Clark of Rotherham to succeed Dr Bewglass. He stayed only three years, driven out by worsening conditions. He was unfortunate in that a period of high inflation pushed up costs and fees, while a smallpox epidemic caused a major scare and kept pupil numbers down. These had fallen to 94 in 1855 and to 78 in 1856, and it was difficult to make ends meet. There are few reminiscences of Mr Clark. W D Wills had written to parents prior to his appointment stating that the Committee were looking for a Principal who would best combine 'the gentleman, the scholar and the Christian'. Mr Clark himself re-iterated the importance of preparing boys for 'the active business of life' and took a practical approach to the curriculum. He said his aim was that pupils should, on leaving, be able to 'hold intercourse with the best educated members of society' and encouraged them to pursue a university education. T B Knight described Mr Clark in a speech in 1898 as 'a perfect martinet', and he certainly affirmed his intention of sorting out the disciplinary problems he had inherited. But it was material factors which defeated him. In 1856 there was, for the first time, no dividend to shareholders, as expenditure had exceeded income. Housekeeping costs had risen astronomically, and a special meeting was called to examine the School's expenditure. No doubt Mr Clark felt some personal responsibility for this, and in November 1856 he tendered his resignation. The atmosphere during Mr Clark's headship was therefore an anxious and unsettled one. There was no strong staff to support him in difficult times, but a constant stream of comings and goings. Masters stayed only a short time or had to be asked to leave because they were unsuitable. In 1855 there was a Mr Young who lasted only a few days. Another left without giving notice and had to be sued for breach of contract in the county court. Then there was a Mr Beckwith whose 'moral character' was called in question after a parental complaint. He was evasive when summoned by the Committee, saying he needed certain documents to support his case. These never

Original school with recreation area 6

6

Quoted in W D Wills' letter of 10 January 1854


materialized, and he had to be discharged with his salary to date. This was followed by complaints by masters about the food. All this unpleasantness, compounded by the concerns about health and solvency, created a period of instability in the School's history, and people looked to Mr Clark's successor to restore some calm to the troubled waters. The new Headmaster, the Rev W H Griffith (1857-80), although appointed at short notice like both his predecessors, had at least the advantage of knowing the School already. He was one of the original shareholders, and, as Congregational Minister of Chard, an automatic member of the Committee. He was an academic, having been Professor of Classics and Mathematics at the Western Theological College, Plymouth, and had actually examined the School's pupils on the Prize Day in 1851. The Committee, the shareholders and the boys' parents all had confidence in Mr Griffith who, of course, faced an uphill task. Many years later he revealed that certain friends had warned him against accepting the job because the School was a sinking ship. He had replied: "It is too good a ship to be allowed to sink, and if anything I can do can prevent it, it shall not sink."' A Headmaster with a fighting spirit, who would increase pupil numbers, raise the School's profile and restore public confidence was exactly what Taunton needed at this juncture. After the solemn deliberations of the Committee Mr Griffith's appointment was literally an answer to prayer. It was his vision and energy which put the School in a position where it could consider broadening its horizons. In presiding over the enormous expansion brought about by the move to the Fairwater site, Mr Griffith represents the great link between the School's origins and the period leading to modern times. Mr Griffith's most immediate task was to recruit more pupils. A new prospectus was issued, advertisements were placed and Committee members enjoined to do their utmost to persuade acquaintances to send their sons to Taunton. Within a year numbers had reached 100 and were still rising; by the summer of 1858 the company's balance sheet again showed a profit. At that year's Prize Day the Committee's secretary, the Rev Henry Addiscott was able to report: 'The School is now quite full, and at no former period has it been more prosperous.' Tribute was paid to its 'general management and high moral tone'. Tone, that popular Victorian concept, was something considered highly desirable for 19th century schools to acquire, and there are constant references to it in Taunton's history from about 1860. An indefinable mix of moral uprightness, studious atmosphere and appropriate social adjustment (snobbery?), its prevalence was of prominent concern to prospective parents. It was vital, therefore, that the right tone was set. By doing so successfully Mr Griffith was able to lead the Independent College - as it now came to be known informally - to a remarkably rapid recovery. Numbers picked up so well, in fact, that the Committee actually considered limiting the number of boarders to 120, as the Stepswater premises would hold no more. However, demand continued and it was decided to house some boys in temporary accommodation nearby. Later Mr Griffith, who had himself a large family, lived off the premises at Wilton House, leaving Mr Storrar the Second Master (1857-73) in charge. This was not an ideal arrangement, but it vacated more space for the expanding school. In 1859 Mr Woodford offered to sell the property for ÂŁ6,000, but the Committee were now looking for greater expansion and the chance to acquire a site where a new school accommodating at least 150 pupils could be built. The story of that long search is told 7

Report in the Somerset County Gazette, 18 June 1870

7


in Chapter 11. In November 1865 the decision to purchase the Fairwater estate 'a mile north of Taunton market place' for ÂŁ5,475 was finally made. Mr Griffith, the Committee and the School's shareholders had spent long hours in discussion and negotiation, but it had been worth it. The new site consisted of an 18th century building (Fairwater House) and 24 acres. The next four years were spent planning and building the new College. It was Mr Griffith himself who on 8 June 1867 turned the first sod at the base of a pole marking the future location of the School tower. The boys, who had marched from town with their fife and drum band, positioned themselves around the marked outline of the new building. The laying of the foundation stone was a separate ceremony four months later, by which time the building was under way. The stone was laid by the Rev David Thomas of Bristol in a solemn yet festive atmosphere. Flags adorned the scaffolding already in place, a grand lunch was held in Fairwater and the mood was one of confidence in the future. Just before the stone was declared' fairly and properly laid, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost', Mr Griffith handed Mr Thomas a bottle containing a scroll on which was written the School's history to date.' This was buried in a cavity beneath the foundation stone in the School's main entrance hall, near which is displayed the ivory-handled silver trowel used for the ceremony. The central point of Mr Thomas's address was a reaffirmation of the School's secular and religious aims: the provision of a high-class general education and the cultivation of Christian principles in the context of civil and religious liberty. They were aims which Mr Griffith himself thoroughly believed in. Because of a number of delays, the new school was not completed until 1870. The summer of 1868 had been beset by problems: the architect, Mr Joseph James of London, was experiencing financial difficulties and his attentions were elsewhere. Building progress was therefore slow. A few changes were made to the plans as the work continued, and the threat of subsidence at the western end of the building caused delays in the construction of the Dining Hall. The three pillars still in place there were installed to support the upper floors and create greater stability. There had been hopes of moving into the new premises in the Spring Term 1870, but in fact it was on the last day of that school year (14 June) that this ceremony took place. Once again the fife and drum band marched from Wellington Road, with the Principal, staff and pupils following in procession. Going via Taunton Station to pick up the Rev David Thomas, the procession continued to the new college, where a service of dedication was held in the schoolroom. The party was later joined by Taunton's two MPs, and a lavish luncheon was held. There was a sense The fife and drum band, as portrayed in the pageant of 1947 8

8

For the text of this, see Proud Century p 59


of the dawning of a new era in which the splendid new school had a leading part to play. Religious tests were being abolished in the universities and the new Education Bill of 1870 would provide fresh incentives and possibilities. The final ceremony of the day was the Prize Giving at which Mr W H Wills (son of the late President W D Wills, who had died in 1865) distributed the prizes and looked to the future. He himself represented the continuing interest and support of the Wills family, but in reality he was far more. Over the next 40 years William Henry Wills was to emerge as the School's greatest benefactor. The changeover period was inevitably a stressful one for the Headmaster. There were many readjustments to cope with, the working out of new routines, and greater numbers of pupils. This meant that a larger teaching staff and more servants were required, and it was important to ensure that the right appointments were made. Mr Griffith was also finding that an increased portion of the after-hours supervision of the School was falling to him. Mr T Powell was appointed to replace the late Mr Storrar as Second Master. He was an MA of Oxford, and better able to assist Mr Griffith in the teaching of more advanced work. The many changes in the Committee and its officials around this time - a number who had been with the School from its foundation either died or retired - created an unsettled period for the management. It was also a time of general educational expansion, with a reference in the 1872 Shareholders' Report to the 'competition that is springing up in various parts of the country.' Monkton Combe was founded in 1868, Dover College in 1871 and Kelly College in 1875. The Woodard foundation was rapidly establishing its chain of schools, including King's College, Taunton, in 1879. King's, of course, with its High Church traditions, did not represent direct opposition to the Independent College at this stage, but its establishment increased significantly the educational opportunities in the town. Mr Griffith was also busy expanding the curriculum and developing prizes and scholarships.' His tireless efforts to promote the School and the strain of some difficult years took their toll, and his health began to suffer. A serious accident in 1874 had weakened him, and further stress caused by the scarlatina outbreaks of 1876 and early 1880 in which two boys died. In 1877 a report detrimental to the college circulated by a 'gentleman of Collompton' caused unpleasantness, though the nature of its criticisms is unknown. Financial worries caused by greater overheads were also looming (there was no dividend to shareholders in 1879) and, not for the first time in the School's history, falling numbers had resulted from the threat of disease.'° In April 1880 Mr Griffith's resignation on health grounds was reluctantly accepted by the Committee. Mr Griffith had presided over an important period of change and had raised the status of the School considerably. Independent College was now attracting boys from a much wider area; it was offering scholarships and its academic record was good. A Junior School for boys aged 7 to 10 had been established in part of the Principal's residence (Fairwater) in 1876. True, there had been setbacks due to extraneous factors such as epidemics, but overall Mr Griffith's achievements had been immense. The esteem in which he was held may be judged by the presentation to him at his final Commemoration of a silver salver and a purse of gold containing £198, worth over £20,000 in today's money. Mr Griffith's own personality had much to do with the respect which he commanded. The London examiner conducting the School's annual examination in 1878 felt constrained to comment: 'I was particularly struck with the order maintained by that quiet power which is the essence of effective discipline, 9 See Chapter 4 1° In 1880 there were only 82 pupils in the Senior and 19 in the Junior School

9


especially in the person of the Principal'. One of his ex-pupils described the essence of his character as 'the encouraging word, the genial smile and the guiding hand'. Taunton had been lucky indeed to have had such a devoted servant. Mr Griffith's successor, who was speedily appointed, was well placed to appreciate these qualities and achievements, for he was an Old Boy of the School. The Committee's choice, by a 12-5 majority, fell upon the Rev F Wilkins Aveling, who had attended the old Wellington Road school from 1863 to 1866. He was the last ordained minister to lead the School and the last to retain the official title of Principal. Mr Aveling was young and enthusiastic. Many of the changes which he pioneered were related to modernising the curriculum, especially in the area of science, and to sport. These are dealt with in later chapters. In general Mr Aveling was concerned to develop the ethos of the School and to bring it more into line with the public school movement. It must be quickly added that this was not to be at the expense of the principles for which the College stood. Mr Aveling was a loyal Congregationalist who expressed strongly-held Nonconformist convictions in pamphlets which he wrote from time to time." But he also had a broader vision with regard to the School's future. He aimed to make it better known by breaking the bounds of petty provincialism, and to acquire 'national' rather than 'local' status. This meant embracing certain public school features, and even if he may not quite have achieved this, he paved the way for Dr Whittaker and later developments. Mr Aveling was unconventional and he was ambitious. Such a man was likely to conflict with the cautious and rather conservative members of the local Committee. Dr Old Gym early this century Rae encountered similar hesitation from the School Council when he tried to initiate an immediate development programme nearly 90 years later. Within a year Mr Aveling had built both a gymnasium (now the School Shop) and the School Hospital. The latter, with the possibilities for specialist care and the isolation of sick pupils, proved an important asset and inspired greater confidence in parents who were worried about epidemics. The Committee were, however, concerned about the cost of the new building and had to raise a hurried mortgage at 4% from some local solicitors. While approving what Mr Aveling was trying to do, the Committee stated its position quite clearly in its 1881 report to shareholders: 'Your Committee are determined to exercise the most rigid supervision over expenditure.' Clearly Mr Aveling was already being considered extravagant. The key was to raise pupil numbers, the aim being a roll of at least 120 boarders. Shareholders were urged in a letter from the President (G B Sully) to promote the School in their own social circles in order to win new pupils for it. 11

10

One such was Church Principles, published in 1884


Mr Aveling was, from the beginning, much concerned about 'tone'. His firm religious principles, coupled with a strong interest in games no doubt led him to sympathize with Arnold's ideal of 'muscular Christianity'. In his introductory letter to parents he spoke of the need for boys to be 'true and manly Christians', and recognised that their spiritual, mental and bodily development were all inter-connected. Games were gathering importance in all schools during this period, and sportsmanship came increasingly to reflect the healthy 'tone' desired by public schools and sought also at Taunton. This attitude is reflected in many aspects of the School's development from this time onwards and its implications are discussed more fully The School Badge (drawn by Barry Sutton) later. Speaking at a dinner in 1905, Mr Aveling acknowledged that the games cult had gone too far, adding revealingly, however: "I would rather make too much of sports than too little ... Better to be always playing football than to be always stewing over books. We were heroes in those days, you know..." The would-be heroism of the games player inspired the adoption by Mr Aveling of some of the paraphernalia already in existence elsewhere. From 1883 1st XI cricketers were to wear a cap and sash of school colours: anyone who had scored 15 runs or more was entitled to silver insignia on his cap also. Special blazers and colours awards followed soon after. A pavilion was built, and the area in front of the School was enhanced for spectators by laying turf where previously there had been gravel. Apart from all this, Mr Aveling devised a school badge which incorporated features such as the red cross of London University, to which, of course, the College was affiliated, together with the Tudor rose, 'representing Somerset', and the gryphon from his own coat of arms. The Latin motto Ora et Labora was adopted at the same time; according to Mr Aveling the 'Pray and Work' was similar to Cromwell's instruction to his soldiers: 'Trust in providence and keep your powder dry'. Mr Aveling even wanted to change the School's name. Independent College, he declared, was the only boys' school in Taunton with a denominational name, and it was the least narrowly denominational in character. His suggestion of Queen's College was adopted by a rival institution, and Fairwater College, Milton College and University College School were all rejected. The Committee were suspicious of this move, especially as Mr Aveling was also trying to create a more interdenominational governing body.'2 Their reaction was akin to that of all similarly disposed committees - to postpone discussion of the matter to the next meeting. In the end things were left as they were. As time went on, Mr Aveling's relations with Committee members worsened. This was reflected in a number of petty complaints. They criticised his system of awarding prizes. They complained that he kept his pony in the day boys' stable. They queried his discipline in the light of cut table cloths and other damage. They complained that 12

See Chapter 2

11


he was appropriating rooms from the Junior School for his own use, and taking private pupils. And they continued to restrain his extravagance, allowing him only £20 for science apparatus and only half the cost of a new mantelpiece in his study. When one Committee member discovered that a new ash pit had been built when a perfectly adequate place to deposit cinders already existed, he wrote in exasperation in the Visitors' Book: "Who gave orders for a new one to be bricked up, I do not know. I was astonished!" Perhaps not surprisingly Mr Aveling's own salary was not raised by the Committee. In order to finance his schemes, Mr Aveling was prepared to rely partly on charges and subscriptions, or even the goodwill of friends, who gave prizes and helped him to acquire the organ. Boys receiving lessons on it were charged a fee for using the instrument, and a charge of 7s (35p) per term was applied for the use of the new gym. From 1883 books, previously included, were charged for at cost price. In 1887 Mr Aveling tried to reduce the dividend paid to shareholders so that more might be spent on the school. When there was an anonymous complaint, he declared bombastically that Independent College had not been established for filthy lucre's sake, but to give a good education of a religious character. Those placing personal gain higher than that should be ashamed and were right to have recourse to anonymity. There was another occasion on which he wondered, when speaking at a dinner, whether Taunton had produced any millionaires, adding quickly "I hope it hasn't!" Mr Aveling, with his radical approach, may have surprised those who had known him at school. As a pupil he had had a reputation as 'a plodding boy who commanded respect'. There is no doubt that he was a successful Headmaster. Under him the College saw a steady increase in numbers and prosperity. The profits of the Company in 1889 were an unprecedented £1,155 and it was estimated that he had spent between £3,000 and £4,000 on development in his first eleven years. The material improvements had been many: a carpentry shop, laundry and museum were introduced, in addition to new heating and drainage and the buildings already mentioned. There had been improvements at the Junior School, both internally and externally, with the construction of a carriage road in 1885, and the Front and playground had been made more attractive. A row of classical statues (the proceeds of Guvvy profits) and new flower beds now lent an air of beauty and distinction. The School was feeling and looking good. It had a better staff than ever before. All masters were now graduates and exam results were impressive. Entrance scholarships were introduced in 1890, and the Old Boys' Association had been founded in 1888. Mr Aveling was a popular Headmaster with boys, staff and parents alike. Ironically this was nearly the School's undoing, since when he astounded everyone in 1894 by announcing that he was leaving Taunton to found his own school at Blackheath, he was so greatly revered that several masters and half the pupils went with him. There was a huge attendance at Mr Aveling's last Commemoration. He requested a final favour of being permitted to preach on that occasion, choosing the words 'Hold on' in a text taken from Job as his parting message. It was an appropriate one for the College he was abandoning; holding on, or perhaps clinging on, was to be its lot for the next five years. These were, not unnaturally, difficult years for the School. The new Headmaster, Mr J B Ridges, faced a roll of only 40 boarders and 14 day boys in September 1894. The Junior School had only 7 pupils: the Lady Superintendent and her assistant had both 12


resigned at the same time as Mr Aveling. Mr Ridges, whose reputation as a 'Christian gentleman and Christian educationist' had preceded him, tried to restore a mood of confidence, but widespread advertising to recruit new pupils did not bear much fruit, and at his first Commemoration he referred to what he called 'this trying year'. He was an earnest, sober-minded man who achieved good academic results with the boys he had, but his vision of the School again prospering as of old was not realised during his headship. The Rev Urijah Thomas, Chairman of the Congregational Union, presented the prizes and left the boys with the motto 'I can, because I ought'. But the truth was that the School had suffered a blow from which it could not so easily recover. The College jubilee was celebrated in 1897. That was again an occasion on which to express thanks for the past and hope for the future. Already it was being anticipated that, to embrace the future successfully, Independent College would need to adopt a wider vision. 'We celebrate our 50th birthday in our second home with our second name, which doubtless in the future will be changed again to consort better with the spirit of a broader time'. Thus spoke the official report of the jubilee celebrations" which were attended by many of the sons of the original founders, none of the latter being still alive. The words represent perhaps the conception of the new Taunton School which was just around the corner. Meanwhile the jubilee itself was marked with services, dinners, a garden party and a concert. There was a move to set up a Shareholders' Scholarship fund for the sons of ministers, and the school's new Chemistry laboratory and the bath scheme' were both jubilee projects. A link was also created with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria when Mr Addiscott, son of the Minister of Paul's Meeting who was one of the School's original secretaries, presented each pupil with a royal commemorative volume. When the celebrations were over, serious discussions took place regarding the School's future in the light of the considerable financial losses of the previous few years. The story of the ending of proprietary status and the creation of a governing body - what amounted to a virtual refounding of the School - is told in a later chapter. Mr Ridges was asked to stay on until matters were settled, but clearly his future was uncertain and he lost no time in looking for another job. In 1899 he was appointed Headmaster of Leighton Park School. At Taunton he did much for the academic and social aspects of school life, and more friendly relations between staff and pupils were established during his five years as Headmaster. G B Sully (President 1876-1907) described him as having a 'gentle and gentlemanly spirit'. A cultured man, he nevertheless lacked the personality of his successor. The smallness of the school enhanced the personal touch, and more pupils had the opportunity to represent the College at the games which commanded such great enthusiasm. Mr Ridges was an optimist to the end. In an article of 1899 entitled 'At the Top of the Hill' he recalled ruefully how, five years earlier, his feeling of being 'at the turn of the road' could more accurately be described as being in a valley at the bottom of a steep hill. He felt that now the School, with its new foundation, had climbed the worst of that hill, enough to see 'the new sunrise bringing in the new year'. Certainly his optimism proved justified, for with the new century, a new constitution and a new Headmaster, Dr Whittaker, Taunton School, as it was now officially named, stood on the verge of one of the greatest periods of its history. As the first Headmaster of the new foundation, Charles David Whittaker had a momentous task before him, but as the years went by he proved himself more than 13 See 14

The Taunton an, August 1897 See Chapter 6

13


equal to it. He was receiving 'the great inheritance of a Public School' as Mr Ridges had put it at the OT reunion of 1899, but it needed the energy and vision of a man like Dr Whittaker to realize the potential of that inheritance. The School which he took over in 1899 had many fine qualities and traditions, but it had only 43 boarders and 36 day boys. Taunton's survival depended on a speedy increase of these numbers, and so recruitment was Dr Whittaker's most immediate and pressing task. It was one which he set about with ruthless determination and in which he achieved remarkable success. There was a curious feeling from the start that Dr Whittaker was the man of destiny whom Taunton had been awaiting. 'We are convinced', declared The Tauntonian in December 1899, 'that he is the right man in the right place'. Rumours of his genial disposition and his abilities as a communicator of knowledge had gone ahead of him. He was certainly well qualified. After taking his BA degree at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he had obtained two further degrees, a BSc from London in 1893 and an LL M from Cambridge in 189815. This he had achieved by working in the holidays during the years he was teaching maths at his old school, Bishop Stortford College. This school was familiarly known as the Nonconformist Grammar School, and fulfilled in the east of England a role similar to that of Taunton in the west. The Whittakers were loyal Baptists who for three generations had been deacons of their local church. Another link with Taunton was that the pastor of the Baptist church in Harlow during Dr Whittaker's youth had attended the Independent College. At Bishop Stortford Dr Whittaker showed some of the qualities of the devoted teacher dedication to his job, inspired teaching and concern for his pupils out of school - which were to characterise the Taunton years. They were, above all, qualities of energy, and it was a similar dynamism which drove him to obtain his impressive range of academic qualifications. Energy was one of the keys to Dr Whittaker's success at Taunton. It manifested itself in many ways, the most obvious of which was an ambitious development programme. Many of the School's familiar buildings date from his era and, indeed, at his funeral in 1925 those words which had been applied to Christopher Wren were used of Dr Whittaker: 'si monumentum requiris, circumspice'. The words, however, had a broader application, for Dr Whittaker contributed far more than just buildings to Taunton. His other key quality was utter devotion to the School's interests. He really dedicated his life to its prosperity, the welfare of its pupils and its standing in the public school world. He persuaded people of influence to support the School and worked tirelessly to promote it, often making sacrifices himself. No-one who gives himself so Dr C D Whittaker 14

15 He received his LL D from Cambridge in 1903


wholeheartedly to a cause can fail to inspire a following, and the respect and love which Dr Whittaker commanded earned him almost mythical status. When the Doctor undertakes anything, success is assured' someone said in 1911. Dr Whittaker not only saved Taunton at an uncertain moment in its history; he used his vision to carry the School into the future. Dr Whittaker's first task bore an uncanny resemblance to that of two of his predecessors: recruiting more pupils. Whereas, however, Mr Ridges had merely contained the situation, Dr Whittaker doubled the School's numbers in two years. Indeed, it was stated at Commemoration in 1901 that it would be difficult to accommodate more than the 162 now on the school roll. A year later there were 210, and the pressure on space is well illustrated by the following comment at a committee meeting: All the present dormitory accommodation is full, though there is still room for 25 pupils in the teaching rooms'. In 1903 there was such a crowd at Commemoration that not everyone could get into the Schoolroom. Some boys were shut out and missed the speeches, possibly to their own satisfaction. As the numbers grew, more staff were recruited, and several of the appointments made during those early years of the century were to become household names in the School's history.16 The mood was one of confidence, and Taunton's rapidly growing prosperity was the signal for important developments and expansion. In 1904 Dr Whittaker vacated his house in Fairwater, and the Junior School moved into his former quarters, thus freeing space for the 'Studies' which later became a senior boarding house. A house in Richmond Road, Oakleigh, was used for a time to accommodate masters and some senior boys, and Fairwater Cottage, opposite the school entrance, was rented for overflow boarders. This property was eventually bought by the School (in 1920) and continued to house boarders for many years. The last houseparents were Bill and Mary Stock, who moved out in 1975. Thereafter the house was used as a residence for members of staff, including, for many years, the Housemaster of School House. It was finally resold in 1989. Dr Whittaker used his influence and powers of persuasion to secure the additional funds needed to inaugurate, or in the case of the covered bath, to complete an ambitious building programme. The Wills family continued to offer generous support as did Council members and a number of others. Dr Whittaker was anxious to encourage more friends of the School to subscribe £20 and so become Governors who would take an active interest in its affairs. The bath scheme, initiated by the Old Boys in 1897", was suffering a shortfall of £500, which Dr Whittaker undertook to raise. He had the idea of organising a grand fete, which was held at the School on 24 July 1902. The attractions included cake and curio stalls, a conjurer, a Punch and Judy show, a gym display and an Indian fakir in a tent. Fairy lights, some of them electric, were strung along the Front and the band of the Great Western Railway played during the afternoon. The event was a great success, and raised most of the money required. Many years later another successful fete was held, when in 1977 John Dewdney and his team struck lucky on one of the few hot days of a poor summer and raised £3,000 for handicapped children in the present Queen's silver jubilee year. In 1993 Ursula Gray organised a major local fair in the school holidays in aid of the new Children's Hospice at Barnstaple. In the School's 150th year another family fair featured in the fortnight of celebrations scheduled for June 1997. Meanwhile, back in the 1900s, buildings were springing up apace. Apart from the 16 77

See Chapter 13 See Chapter 6

15


indoor pool, there was a new science laboratory" , the addition of the eastern part of the School Hospital - which became the main reception area and is now the School's Medical Centre" - and the residential block for domestic staff which is sited behind the school kitchens. This was designed to provide rooms for six masters and a dormitory for 25 servants, which shows the size of the living-in domestic staff in those days. The servants' block liberated valuable accommodation in School House for extra boarders. In 1905 plans were drawn up for a new classroom block which would cost £2,000. This block is the building which today houses the Bookroom, New Library and Art rooms, but the extension on the Densham Court side which contains the Home Economics and IT departments was not built until 1930. The Technical Activities Centre to the rear was added in 1977. It was decided in 1906 to design a covered passage between the corner of the classroom block and the Chapel, which was also being planned at this time. Nearly a quarter of the £2,000 required for the classrooms was pledged at one meeting by a few Council members, and Dr Whittaker offered £100 of his own money, a large sum when one remembers that his basic salary was only £300. His personal generosity towards the School he loved was constant. It was a material contribution to the great ideal which he had before him. "I want Taunton to be the best school in the country", he declared, when discussing his plans enthusiastically at a dinner. "If you gave me £100,000 today, I'd spend it!" Of course the building which is the greatest monument to the Whittaker era is the Chapel. It was the gift of Lord Winterstoke in memory of his wife, and the architect was his cousin Mr (later Sir) Frank Wills, who designed a number of other chapels such as Henleaze in Bristol as well as the Bristol Art Gallery. At the ceremony in May 1906 when the foundation stone was laid, Lord Winterstoke recalled how he had asked Dr Whittaker what would be of the greatest use in the promotion of the prosperity and influence of the School, and the Doctor had replied "We want a chapel". Lord Winterstoke believed strongly that it was the live influence and piety of those who pervaded a school - he quoted Dr Arnold and Dr Temple of Rugby - that represented the greatest power for good, and his response was swift: 'Very well, I will give you a chapel'. An illuminated address presented to Lord Winterstoke by the Head of School, Donald Macdonald, expressed the School's thanks. 'We, the prefects of Taunton School, beg to be allowed, on behalf of the present boys, to tender to you our very grateful thanks for the munificent generosity which is giving us so stately a chapel. Your unfailing kindness in all matters that concern our life here has been familiar to us all ever since we became Taunton boys. Several of our number have been the grateful recipients of Wills' prizes; and one of us is enjoying a Wills' scholarship; but every boy in the School feels a personal pride in the magnificent possession you are now giving us. We present boys, the successors of many generations of Tauntonians, who have loved and honoured their School, feel that, as to us, and to those who will follow us, additional reason to glory in our Alma Mater is now being given, so on that very account it behoves us the more, in God's name, and by His strength, to bear ourselves in such fashion in the battle of life that we may make good a claim to be sons not wholly unworthy of a School so splendidly enriched by your unceasing generosity.' Such words underline the generosity of the Wills family to Taunton School. 18

16

See Chapter 4

19 It was renamed in 1994


The Chapel before the construction of the Wills houses

The completed Chapel was dedicated on 16 February 1907, and the beauty and craftsmanship of its external and internal features were found beautiful and inspiring as they still are today. The warmth of the reddish Guiting stone, the oak traceried screen of the ante-chapel, the fine pews and barrel roof and the Sicilian marble of the nave and chancel are particularly striking. More is said about the effect of the Chapel upon school life in the next chapter, and S P Record describes the furnishings, windows and organ very fully in Proud Century20. There have, of course, been many additions to Chapel furnishings over the years, such as memorial tablets to members of staff who died in office, Old Boys who fell in war and others. The stained-glass windows evolved gradually. Dr Whittaker paid for two of them himself. Territories" contributed several of the smaller lights in the nave, which explains inscriptions such as 'Given by the Rest in 1908'. The west window, completed in 1913, commemorates Lord Winterstoke, the donor of the Chapel, and contains his coat of arms. Other later windows were the south gallery depiction of the three archangels which was unveiled in 1921 in memory of boys who died in the Great War, and the Quantocks window above the West Door". In 1977 Malcolm Collins crafted a beautiful, portable lectern which was given by OTs of the West Wales Branch. It was much used in informal services during the Rev Terry Curnow's chaplaincy. Other gifts to the Chapel were the Headmaster's reading desk and the Communion plate by Mr E S Densham, who was a munificent benefactor of the Chapel between the wars, though always anonymously. A new Communion table - the one later relegated to the hangar as a result of the modernisation of the late sixties - and altar linen of the finest quality were also provided by him, as were the benches in the nave, which Freddie Dowell remembered having made of the best oak according to Mr Densham's specifications. The present Communion table and cross suspended above it are the work of Mark Coray (Evans 1974-81 and Staff 1990-96), and the Chapel's latest acquisition is a free-standing font which was once in the Chapel of Hestercombe House and has been beautifully restored, also by Mark Coray. The memorial to Dr Whittaker himself is a brass plate affixed to the wall behind the stall originally reserved for the Headmaster. The inscription is appropriately prefaced with the words 'In grateful memory'. For Dr Whittaker the Chapel was always the centre of the School, and this is a view which has been shared by his successors. Norman Roberts had a deep love for the Chapel and called it 'the heart and soul of Taunton School'", and Barry Sutton spoke often of the priority of spiritual matters and the cherished ideal of the whole school 20

See his Chapter 6 and the notes following Chapter 3

22 See

21 Explained in Chapter 3 23 Century of Promise, p 44

17


community worshipping together. The vision at the Chapel's foundation was of a place which might witness the consecration of young life to noble purposes, a place which, as the Rt Hon Augustine Birrell put it, "many generations all over our great Empire may in after life look back on and remember as a place where they were led to form resolutions and acquired habits from which noble actions and heroic lives followed."" The great and varied achievements and service of Tauntonians in many walks of life has reflected the truth contained in that vision. No sooner were the Chapel and the classroom block complete (the latter had, in the end, cost ÂŁ2,200 and the covered passage to the Chapel ÂŁ300) than Dr Whittaker was pressing on with more schemes. The most important change in the School's organisation was his introduction of the house system, which also involved the building of Thone and a new Headmaster's house. The story of this is told in Chapter 3. In 1909 a Day Dressing Room adjacent to the swimming pool was built, together with a new bathroom, tuck-box room, visitors' changing rooms and three fives courts behind. The heating system was improved and electric light installed. A covered way was constructed to connect the swimming pools with the gymnasium (now the School Shop) and the area to the south which was now enclosed and known as the Covered Playground (presently the old gym where exams are held). This covered way still exists as the area in front of the sports notice board. Within the entrance to the swimming pool a footbath was installed: OTs of a certain generation will recall Sgt Saunders who was in charge of the changing rooms from 1916-41 or, later, Mr Payne, the long-serving supervisor who used to cut the carbolic soap into large blocks. This athletic complex, modified a number of times as requirements changed (co-education brought the need for separate areas for boys and girls, for instance), and as buildings such as the Sports Hall were erected and linked to the facilities already in place, was a great asset to the School. Dr Whittaker also set about extending the playing fields, improving the kitchens and developing the school museum; next on the agenda were the Wills 'hostels' and the Library. The latter was another of Lord Winterstoke's benefactions planned before his sudden death, and like the Wills hostels project25 implemented by his niece, Miss Janet Stancomb-Wills. She requested that the Library, which was to contain a large reading room (the present Old Library) and the school museum and library in smaller adjacent rooms, should be called the Winterstoke Library and Common Room. This fine addition to Taunton's amenities was opened in 1912, and continued as the School's main library until 1995, when the securitycontrolled New Library was opened in the former Bevan House premises. The Old Library now serves as a entrance to the new Arts Centre, and is also used as an elegant venue for meetings and functions. In 1914 all building ceased on the outbreak of war, and Dr Whittaker had to turn his attention to the very different concerns of those stressful years. Food shortages, staffing problems, travel difficulties, influenza and, of course, the sombre news of war casualties were hard to bear. The drowning of a boy at OTC camp in 1917 while trying to rescue a sea scout from another party saddened him more than words could express, and the death, on the same day in 1918, of two pupils from meningitis was another heavy blow. His own health suffered, and in 1921, when he felt that the burden of his responsibilities was such that he could no longer serve the School with the usefulness and energy required, he announced his resignation for the following summer. He had received an invitation to become Principal of the Bristol Baptist College, where he 24

18

Speech at the stone-laying ceremony in 1906

25 See the account of the house system in Chapter 3


remained until his death in 1925. Eulogies to Dr Whittaker were many - ten personal tributes appeared in one edition of The Tauntonian alone - and he was universally acknowledged as a great headmaster. He initiated a period of unprecedented development, yet it was his personal qualities and his concern for the individual which most endeared him to all who knew him. All through his headship Dr Whittaker showed an awareness of the financial difficulties of some of his staff and regularly sought Council's approval for modest increases which would relieve this pressure. Concern for the needs of boys convalescing from illness led him to purchase with his own money a small house in Trull which was a country village then. This house, called Sylvan, was leased to the School and known as 'our little house on the hill'. Sylvan, together with Grantham Villa in Fairwater Terrace, which was also owned by Dr Whittaker, were purchased from him by the School shortly before his retirement in 1922. He also did much to establish and improve scholarship schemes, inaugurating a special fund of ÂŁ50 pa which could be used at his discretion. He arranged that the bursaries and discounts available to ministers' sons should apply also to the sons of missionaries, of whom there were many at Taunton at that time. The Marshall brothers were a well-known example. These boys from missionary families were often desperately poor, and Reg Besley remembers how worn and frayed their clothes often looked. There was one boy who wore an old Norfolk jacket green with age, but he was not teased for it, for the boys knew his family had no money. What was not widely known was that Dr Whittaker himself paid the fees of some of those poor boys. This was only revealed by the School Treasurer of that era, Frank Calway, to a contemporary Old Boy many years after Dr Whittaker's death. Like Balzac's country doctor who felt constrained to leave a coin on the mantelpiece of poor homes let alone think of charging a fee, the good Doctor of TS quietly supported those who could not have afforded to remain at Taunton. He was good at raising money for projects, always dipping into his pocket to lead by example, but he did not value money for its own sake, choosing to live quite frugally himself. He once said (in a speech in 1909) that his task as a schoolmaster was not to give his pupils the idea that they should leave school with the primary aim of making money and being prosperous, but rather of developing their powers so as to become true and faithful citizens to their country and faithful servants to their God. He was in the mould of the great idealist headmasters. Dr Whittaker so devoted himself to the School that he knew all his boys, and his concern for them never flagged. It was this personal association with his charges which later made the loss of many of them in war so grievous to him." His unselfishness was also seen in his readiness to place his house at Bigbury-on-Sea in South Devon at the disposal of the School. In those days boys whose parents lived abroad often did not see them for five years or more. There was no air travel, and even in the summer holidays a return sea journey to the remoter parts of the Empire was not possible. In 1913 an Old Boy, T H Stone, writing to Dr Whittaker from Penang, commented 'I expect the usual family of Colonials are staying at school for the holidays'. These 'foreign' boys were looked after by Dr Whittaker, often at his house at Bigbury which rejoiced in the unlikely name of The Crappa. They became known as the 'Bigbury Boys', and their gratitude for their Headmaster's kindness through many years was real and lasting. Mr Loveday recalled 'his wonderful thoughtfulness to the boys entrusted to his care, especially to those from abroad, to whom he seemed 26 27

January 1926 Chapter 10 describes conditions during the First World War

19


even more than a parent'. If a boy's parents happened to be home on leave, they too were welcomed to The Crappa. The house was even used as a Prep School from 192021 when 37 juniors were displaced there because of overflowing numbers at Taunton". After Dr Whittaker's death one of the 'Bigbury boys' paid this moving tribute: 'To a few - may I say the favoured few? - Bigbury has been home. Dr Whittaker spared neither time nor money to make every holiday a success ... We lived together as one big family. Dr Whittaker joined us in the morning swim; he spent all his time amongst us, and when 'the day was far spent', how we enjoyed all those reminiscences of his Stortford, Cambridge and Taunton days. It was then that we were privileged to know the real man, and to realise more fully, year by year, as honour and fame came to the School we all loved, and to which he had given his life, that at the helm was not only a great Headmaster, but a very kind and human English gentleman.' Dr Whittaker's close-set, robust figure was a familiar one locally, although he was too engrossed in the School to take much part in civic affairs. The School was really his family, and he, a bachelor, devoted himself to his pupils as to the children he did not have. In his character, too, there were aspects which were larger than life: he could be impatient and impulsive, but hated hurting anyone's feelings. S P Record describes how he would rush out of a room to avoid saying something he might later regret", and boys would be amused by his explosions of exasperation, sometimes encouraging them. There was an occasion in Chapel when the boys refused to respond to the Litany, egged on by a boy named Scott3° who had told everyone to say nothing as it was popery. Dr Whittaker became increasingly cross, summoning the entire congregation back in the afternoon, but he did not win. He was certainly a devout man: there was a malicious rumour that he read every school prize from cover to cover in case it contained anything unsuitable! But his pupils believed in him and he won their confidence and their affection, as he did with countless others whom he persuaded to support the School, which he believed, had 'a higher public school spirit than ever before'. A token of that affection was the remarkable £830 subscribed at his retirement - more than a year's salary for many in 1922. It was a token of Dr Whittaker's generosity that he immediately donated the cheque to the War Memorial fund, a fund for which he had already secured £10,000 by other means. Reg Besley remembers how the boys of his generation felt a certain guilt that they had treated him badly and made fun of him in his last year when his powers were declining and poor health overtook him. It was as if they knew they had shown disrespect in the presence of greatness. The post-war school which Harold Nicholson took over as Headmaster in 1922 was in a strong position. It had 728 pupils, many new buildings and, thanks to the efforts of Dr Whittaker, was a fully-fledged public school which was nationally known. However the war had meant that many routine matters had been shelved, and Mr Nicholson expressed concern in his first year about shortcomings in the area of maintenance and accommodation. Fairwater, despite recent internal improvements, had a rotting roof and plaster falling off the front, the tepid swimming bath was not in working order, and Thone still had only two lavatories for 69 boys. There were so few baths in Fairwater" that each one had to be used six times a night if each boy was to have more than one bath a fortnight. These matters were put right, and further space for games was also acquired. When Greenway Road was widened by Taunton 28

20

Dr Whittaker reported to the Council in 1920 that he had refused entry to about 200 boys

29 See Proud Century, p 131 3°

W D Scott, Fairwater East 1913-22 had a total of 137 boys in 1922

31 Fairwater


Corporation the excavated earth was, by mutual agreement, deposited in the area beside the Lowers stream, which allowed for two extra rugby pitches to be established on the levelled area. A makeshift pitch was also created on Fairwater Green around this time. Meanwhile the stream was culverted below where it crosses Greenway Road, and the walnut tree, amid great ceremony", was cut down. A soccer pitch for juniors was laid out in 1923 to the east of Wills, in a field which had been leased to a local farmer. This was the area which became the hard hockey pitch in 1971. Apart from these practical matters, Mr Nicholson was anxious to develop the cultural side of the School. The musical and dramatic activities and the many societies which sprang up as a result of his initiative are discussed later in this volume. He recognised the urgent need to expand the library and to improve facilities for music teaching. Mr Wade, the Music Master, was compelled to teach many of his pupils at his private house for want of accommodation, and 'there was not a good piano in the whole building'" Chapter 4 describes Mr Nicholson's attempts to improve the pupils' knowledge of classical music. He is also remembered for adopting a new hymn book in Chapel, changing many of the tunes and abandoning some of the familiar chants in use since the Chapel's foundation. This was a generally unpopular move, as with all innately conservative congregations, though the motive - to improve the musical quality of what was being sung - was good. A Saturday evening programme of recitals and concerts was another feature of Mr Nicholson's headship. Many of the building projects and curriculum developments of these years are described in other parts of this book. The Science Block, which was the memorial to the fallen of the Great War, the Music School and the tennis courts were the chief of these. There was also the extension to Thone, completed in 1928 under the supervision of Freddie Dowell, and the extension to the classroom block on the Densham Court side. This was the area which had been given over to bicycle sheds after the construction of the original block in 1907. Nearly all day boys cycled to school at that time, and the need for a 'parking place' was considerable. Known as the tin huts or tin tabernacles ('tin tabs' for short), these structures once gave rise to an amusing moment in Chapel, when the boy reading the lesson, which happened to be the account of the Transfiguration, announced, at the appropriate place in the story "Let us build three tabernacles, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for a bike shed!" No doubt he suffered for it afterwards. In 1926 the terrace in front of the Wills houses was built, and this was followed by a major expansion of the playing fields with the acquisition, in 1927, of the Uppers, previously owned by Messrs F W and T H Penny and known as 'Penny's fields'. In 1930 the idea was first aired that the Schoolroom might be converted into a school hall, with the erection of a gallery to provide much needed additional seating. This scheme finally went ahead two years later and the room became the Memorial Hall, the Old Boys' tribute to Dr Whittaker and Mr Loveday, who had died in 1931. School House, who had used the Schoolroom as a prep room for many years, now transferred their evening prep sessions to a large room in the classroom block created by knocking three rooms into one.34 Another improvement was the installation of cathedral glass in the Dining Hall south window so that its style might match that of the window in the new Memorial Hall. This was paid for by the ever-generous E S Densham, who also furnished the Prefects' Room most handsomely. The fine refectory table which he gave was unfortunately stolen a few years ago when a group of thieves removed it quite brazenly from the Committee Room in the middle See Chapter 13 report to Council, 20 November 1922 34 The present New Library 32

33 Headmaster's

21


of the school day. Harold Nicholson suffered from indifferent health for a number of years. In 1927 S P Record stood in for a while as Acting Headmaster, and this was again necessary for much of 1935-6. In May 1936 Mr Nicholson, with much regret, tendered his resignation to the School Council. Its members placed on record their gratitude for his 14 years of devoted service and made particular reference to the many improvements in school buildings, the large number of scholastic successes and the high moral tone of the School for which he was so largely responsible'. His period of office had included times of recession and industrial unrest, such as the General Strike of 1926, of uncertainty over teachers' salaries and, on the national and international scene, of concerns about rearmament and the threat of another war. As a man Harold Nicholson was a courteous and cultured person. He had considerable warmth of personality even if he was not, perhaps, a strong Headmaster in some ways. Discipline was somewhat lax during his term of office, though his absences through illness cannot have helped. He demanded high moral standards, though he viewed the inevitable lapses compassionately, allowing a boy a warning without further punishment if he was a first offender. He was really a scholar and in academic matters he did much to promote scholarships and to modernise the curriculum. In 1929 Mrs Nicholson presented the Work Cup, which encouraged houses to strive for good all-round results on the basis of a complicated points system. The cup continued to be awarded until 1979, with Foxcombe being regular winners in the later years. Pupils were also encouraged to think of others, and collections in aid of charities such as the Red Cross and the British Sailors' Society were regular occurrences. During the General Strike clothes parcels were sent to a Welsh mining village in a distressed area, and the sale of poppies on the Terrace in November and roses for Alexandra Day became annual traditions. The philosophy Mr Nicholson taught was that all should lead a full, happy, useful Christian life in whatever sphere they were called to serve. During his headship many boys left to go into business, but some entered the Christian ministry or became scholars. Academic standards held up fairly well. Donald Crichton-Miller claimed that Harold Nicholson, having come from two grammar schools (Manchester and Watford) had no idea of public school practice and failed to exploit Taunton's HMC status', but the verdict of the School Council in 1936 was that he had definitely raised the School's national standing. According to Frank Calway, the School Treasurer, the fact that 90 applications had been received for Mr Nicholson's successor was proof of that. Among them was represented nearly Harold Nicholson 55 Council

22

minute, 29 June 1936

36 See his article in Century of Promise p 38


every public school in the country, including Eton and Harrow. The successful candidate was Donald Crichton-Miller himself. The new Headmaster was young (only 29), a graduate of Cambridge and a Scottish rugby international, and energetic. Changes were not long in coming. A proper uniform, more compulsory games, a one-way system in corridors and on stairs, the requirement of Sunday morning squads to march to church in step and new house arrangements, raising the status of day boys" and requiring their greater participation in school activities, were soon announced. A tidiness campaign was instituted, banning litter and removing to a new School Pound any items left around changing rooms or the main corridor. Boys who did not join the OTC or Scouts were formed into gangs to undertake useful tasks around the School, such as painting, repairing fences, chopping wood, gardening or looking after the Library, which was expanded in 1937 to occupy the whole of what had previously been the Winterstoke Common Room. Under Donald Crichton-Miller there was to be no slacking. He was a man with a direct manner who commanded instant attention. He realised that discipline had been allowed to slide, and he lost no time in making it clear that henceforth the School would be run on his terms. School rules were amended and codified in a book issued to each boy, who would be required to replace it at a cost of one shilling (5p) if he lost it. The number of school prefects was doubled. After Mr Crichton-Miller's first term, the Editor of The Tauntonian was guarded but tactful: 'Whatever changes have been unpopular, the new rules have been respected; whatever has been done, has been done thoroughly. Some traditions have passed away, some familiar landmarks have disappeared, but it is impossible to accept changes with indifference since they affect us so nearly ...' Like all authors of change, Donald Crichton-Miller was disliked and criticised by some, and his new ideas viewed with alarm. Later many of his pupils and ex-pupils came to adore him. But his strong personality ensured that no-one could remain indifferent to him. By the use of boy labour it was soon possible to smarten up the external appearance of the School and to introduce some new features. The old 'heart' was removed and a new drive constructed to the west which extended the Front Field considerably and allowed for better cricket, to which new sight-screens, anonymously gifted, and a new score board given by A M Porter (1880-85) also contributed. Incidentally the score board lasted until 1979, when it was almost falling apart: in that year a new brick-built score box affording shelter to the scorers was put up next to the pavilion. As for the old heart, its outline can still be discerned in a hot, dry summer if the Front is viewed from an upper window. In 1937 an Old Boy, A Havelock Case (1868-71) paid for the raw material for new engineering workshops to be constructed by the boys themselves. The site chosen for the L-shaped building was between the 'Carpy Shed' and the Fairwater dining room, and it was cleared by a gang of boys supervised by Dr H Birchall and Mr W A Morrison. When the latter was tragically killed in a car crash in the summer of 1937, Dr Birchall became the sole leader of the project and due tribute was paid to him at the opening of the workshops by Lord Sempill on 11 December 1937. The complex contained an air section, where boys would be taught aeronautical engineering, a car section with opportunities to strip engines and learn car maintenance, and a general metalwork department. In recognition of the lead taken by TS in aeronautical training - only one other public school had even broached the subject - the Air Ministry presented the School with an aeroplane. It would not be 37

202 of the 565 boys in September 1936 were day boys

23


The school bi-plane

flown but was for learning purposes only, and it was at this time that the hangar was built at the south-east corner of the playing fields to house it. This biplane was in pieces on arrival and the boys had to assemble it. It later perished in a fire which was possibly caused by pupils smoking. The hangar itself was used as a wartime classroom and later became a store. Other major works undertaken by the Tuesday gangs were the laying of the Athletics Track" and the levelling of the area around Thone known as 'the Rough'. It was in 1937 that Thone became a Preparatory Department independent of the Main School with its own staff and Dr HedworthWhitty as its Master. That, too, was an important development. Donald Crichton-Miller was convinced that his policy on physical exercise - that every boy must do some form of games every day - was creating a healthier school. The school medical report for 1938 showed that only 25% of boarders had been admitted to the School Hospital in the previous year, whereas in 1932 the figure had been 47%. Dr Marshall attributed this improvement partly to less overcrowding but also to 'more physical training under supervision'. Every housemaster had to keep a daily chart recording the exercise done by each boy in his house. Those not listed for an official sport had to do a cross country run, with boys off games posted to check that they completed the course. Later things were taken even further. Mass PT sessions involving the whole of the senior school were held on the Parade Ground or the Front: Harold Bennett (1931-9) tells of his relief at evading these occasionally by being asked to photograph them." Donald Crichton-Miller's plans to convert the Covered Playground into a proper gym were only thwarted by the war. His other innovation was early morning exercise. All boys, on rising, had to run round the Front and then swim a length of the (unheated) swimming pool. This was followed by Chapel and breakfast. Assistant housemasters were also expected to take part in this morning routine, and Donald Crichton-Miller often joined in himself. He also played rugby and 38

24

See Chapter 6

39 See Mostly Taunton p 171


hockey for the masters in games against the boys. In the first of such rugby matches he was knocked out and had to be carried off, but he, an international player, was not deterred. The cult of athleticism was now primarily for physical rather than moral reasons - muscular Christianity was fading as a raison d'etre. In his efforts to impose efficiency and fitness on the School Mr Crichton-Miller always led by example. Donald Crichton-Miller's resourcefulness and organisational skills were much in demand during the war years, and the story of how he successfully steered the School through that difficult period is told in Chapter 10. Instead of development, improvisation became the order of the day and Taunton was fortunate to have a decisive leader in whom everyone had such unqualified confidence. He was the ideal Headmaster to run a school in wartime; perhaps he was sometimes too forceful for a peace-time situation, but Taunton has reason to be grateful to a man who achieved much in a relatively short but challenging period. Mr Frank Calway, speaking at a farewell dinner for him at the Castle Hotel in 1945, said of him: 'Crichton-Miller's sojourn among us has been a stepping-stone to higher things in a worldly sense ... His name will stand high in the list of this School's headmasters ... He is about to embark on that stage of his career which will decide his place in history. I believe that the ability and the wisdom he has shown at Taunton should carry him into the front rank of Public School headmasters.' From Taunton Donald Crichton-Miller went on to become Headmaster of his old school, Fettes, and in 1958 he moved from Edinburgh to Stowe, where he had been a master before coming to Taunton. His mission was ostensibly to sort out discipline, but his methods were too vigorous for a school overimbued with the liberal aestheticism of Roxburgh. Five years later he was ousted by the combined tactics of staff, parents and governors, and he did not get another job. The new Headmaster who led Taunton into the post-war years was Mr John Leathem, a Marlburian and classical scholar of St John's College, Cambridge. He had been a wartime headmaster at King's Lynn before coming to Taunton. John Leathem stayed 21 years. Starting from a difficult and disordered state of affairs - the war had just ended, Eltham and Rochester째 had vacated their accommodation and returned home, buildings were in disrepair and the staff in disarray - he built up and maintained the School's positive traditions with integrity and loyalty. Although he was no great innovator, he nevertheless presided over a period of increasing prosperity as the country sought to regain its balance and press ahead after the disruption of the war years. A rapidly changing world was reflected in many developments at Taunton also. Mr Leathem's headmastership linked the tentative, post-war years of the forties with the heady, self-assertive years of the late sixties, two very different periods materially and philosophically. It was his middle years which best reflected the solid achievements of the School. The tone which Mr Leathem set was above all scholarly. He was an erudite man who came from an academic family in Northern Ireland, where Leathemstown is a reminder of the family name. His father was a Cambridge don and his brother Headmaster of Caterham; John Leathem himself was President of the Cambridge Union in 1929. An interesting programme survives of an event organised by the Peterhouse Sexcentenary Club in 1928 in which he and Donald Crichton-Miller (at Pembroke College at the time) spoke in the same debate. John Leathem was a brilliant and witty speaker, much in demand at meetings and dinners. Naturally he handled the School's public occasions with aplomb and impressed parents, though it must be 4째 See Chapter 10

25


remembered that these were less demanding in the 1950s and tended to leave most things to the School's good judgement. Mr Leathem was also a County Councillor and JP, being Chairman of the Taunton Juvenile Bench for many years. As a magistrate he was regarded as 'a man who could provide a fair jurisdiction and make himself understood'". A clear speaker with a first-rate mind, a man of definite beliefs and firm principles which he was not afraid to state, John Leathem was nevertheless a private man. In educational matters he was not competitive and eschewed trendiness, but as a fine classicist he valued scholarship for its own sake. The paradox was that Taunton was a mixed bag academically during these years. Dr Ernest Neal, joining the staff from Rendcomb a term after John Leathem, remembers that he was struck by the poor standard of some of the teaching and the presence of a fair number of boys of low ability. No doubt these helped to fill the School's coffers but they dragged down its overall academic status. John Leathem set about raising standards and trying to weld his staff together. He was a shrewd judge of character and a perceptive interviewer, and many of the masters he appointed served the School long and faithfully". His policy was to ensure he made the right appointments and then to allow them to get on with the job without undue interference. He therefore looked for qualities of character and leadership in his staff; he welcomed ideas from them and would often implement such ideas if they were well thought out and likely to be of benefit to the School. Ernest Neal's plan to reshape the curriculum in favour of science was one such scheme. John Leathem preferred to trust his staff and to avoid clashing with them if at all possible. Over routine matters he could be imperious and headmasterly in manner (George Russ once asked him for some late reports, to be told curtly that they would be handed in when he, John Leathern, was ready to do so), but he valued good manners enough to foster courteous and equable relations with those under him. An important event which occurred early in his headship was the School's centenary in 1947. A joint War Memorial and Centenary Fund had been launched in 1946 with a target of ÂŁ50,000. Part of this went towards building the new pavilion and to scholarships. The actual centenary of the School was celebrated with as much style as post-war restrictions would permit. The centrepiece of the pupils' contributions was the famous pageant brilliantly executed by John Wilkins. It involved every single boy in the School, and those still alive can recall exactly what they had to do and when. A genius of organisation was called for as scenes from the various periods of the School's history were enacted, some with impressive props such as an 1847 train constructed from barrels and drainpipes and hissing with steam as it drew along the Front. There was a PT display, music from the JTC band and a moving In Memoriam scene. The centenary Commemoration brought the School's first royal visit. HRH the Duchess of Kent presented the prizes and addressed the boys. In her remarks she referred to Taunton's wise but ambitious beginnings, and how well the vision of the School's founding fathers had been rewarded. A telegram of congratulation was also received from King George VI. Other special events were outings, dinners for staff and prefects, a fireworks display and a garden party given by the School President, Ben Clark. It was a summer term to remember and the celebrations did everyone good as the austerities of post-war conditions were temporarily forgotten. John Leathem was a bachelor, and for some years his mother acted as hostess at the Headmaster's House, which since 1943 had been at Staplegrove Elm, a building which 41 Somerset

26

County Gazette 20 July 1984

42 Their characters are assessed in Chapter 13


later became the Nuffield Hospital. Donald Crichton-Miller had moved there in order to vacate Whittaker for an expanding Thone. After the death of Mrs Leathem in 1949, the Headmaster became a more isolated figure, and something of a misogynist. In 1950 he moved to 'The Gables' in Private Road to be closer to the School. In his later years at Taunton, from about 1960, when Ernest Neal succeeded Freddie Dowell as Second Master, he lost some of the sharpness and initiative which had characterised his earlier years and was concerned chiefly with maintaining the status quo. There was a small clique of bachelor masters who formed an intimate circle of drinking companions, but to other staff he became a somewhat remote figure. His policy of non-interference gave more autonomy to housemasters but created disciplinary inconsistencies. Ernest Neal urged him to deal with certain masters who were not pulling their weight, but John Leathem hated confrontations and declined to do so. Meanwhile there was his embarrassing tendency to take refuge from his loneliness in alcohol. Jimmy Glover, Housemaster of Loveday, shared his predilection for gin, and a certain amount of late night carousing went on. This disquieted other staff who could see quite plainly what was going on: Geoff Smith used to lock John Leathem out of Wills West, and Ernest Neal considered that his own teetotal example was essential in the circumstances. John Leathem also took to prowling around the School at night, shining his torch down passages and into dormitories in the best tradition of great Victorian headmasters like Benson of Wellington or Sewell of Radley, who, determined to root out moral laxity, told the school in 1849: 'Constantly we shall be visiting the dormitory, coming upon you suddenly, until we feel you have strength enough to resist the temptation of being left alone'43. John Leathem's own motives were uncertain: Peter Murphy (Housemaster, Winterstoke 1962-7) remembers being woken by him at an unearthly hour to be told that a boy was missing from one of the dormitories. A tour of inspection proved the alarm to be unfounded - the boy had merely slipped under the covers at an unusual angle and his head happened not to be resting on the pillow. On other occasions John Leathem would burst into boys' studies on the stone corridor (where the STC is today) and tamper with wiring which he claimed was dangerous. This infuriated the sixth-formers who were as well aware of their Headmaster's weaknesses as anyone. When John Leathem came to retire in 1966 the public acknowledgement was that he had done much for the School in terms of its post-war recovery, development and the enhancement of its academic reputation. That is a fair assessment of a very considerable achievement. Privately, though, many people also knew that he had let things slide in his later years and had forfeited a certain amount of respect. His fault had really been to remain Headmaster for too long. Material developments associated with the Leathem era were the extension to the Science Block (recounted in Chapter 4) and the new classrooms on Densham Court (1956) which released a number of rooms for house recreational purposes, a badly needed facility for Winterstoke and Loveday in particular. There was also the conversion of the old covered playground into a gymnasium (now the 'old gym') in 1965, and the linking of the two hospital buildings, providing a day room and outpatients' extension. Foxcombe was adapted into a Senior House and the Goodland day block was put up, together with the changing rooms opposite. There were also improvements to the kitchens and swimming pool, but a lot remained to be done. Much of the fabric was in need of refurbishment, and the boys' accommodation was 43 Quoted

in J Chandos: English Public Schools 1800-64 p 343

27


desperately old-fashioned when John Rae arrived in 1966. John Leathem, to be fair, had almost certainly been aware of this, but he was faced with a School Council unwilling to spend money and, as we saw, he was disinclined to press for change in a confrontational way. He concentrated instead on the School's 'front of house' image, and was a stickler for manners and dress. Printed forms with the Headmaster's comment on one side and space for the housemaster's reply on the other would be sent out containing questions such as 'Why is X wearing grey socks?' We shall see in Chapter 5 the complicated dress regulations in force at this time. Taunton was nevertheless a fairly happy School under John Leathem. He had his quirks, such as the demanding but bizarre rubric adopted in his Latin tests", but he knew the ways of boys and, by and large, they trusted him. He also inspired confidence in his staff. They were, on the whole, calm years, as in society generally, though towards the end the winds of change were blowing. The rebellious attitudes of the late sixties were kept at bay somewhat by John Leathem's traditionalism, but they could not be ignored for ever. Pressure for change was growing in all quarters. With the arrival in 1966 of a new Headmaster, Dr John Rae, who was young, eager and ambitious, the winds of change at Taunton suddenly became a hurricane. Before his arrival John Rae had been warned by his predecessor that certain younger masters were pressing for change - 'angry young men' was John Leathem's term - and the implication was that caution was called for as the situation needed careful consideration. It was as if John Leathem knew that changes were overdue but feared to see them implemented. Dr Rae resented the tone of his remarks and rejected his advice. As a first-time headmaster he was determined to make his own mark, following the counsel of Donald Crichton-Miller, whom he had served under and hero-worshipped while doing his teaching practice at Fettes: 'Achieve success in your own way and to hell with the critics'. Certainly there was curiosity during Dr Rae's first few weeks, as members of staff made appointments with the new Headmaster in order to test the ground. John Rae had many radical ideas and was anxious to start developing a school which he saw as steeped in lethargy and which had an excessively monastic lifestyle. He wandered round the School dreaming up new schemes, but before he could put any of them into practice he had to get a number of people on his side. The most important of these were the members of the School Council. The recently elected President was Lionel Evans, whom John Rae described as a 'mild-mannered but tough-minded Welshman'45, and he was supportive of the new Headmaster's suggestion that a development appeal was necessary and should be launched forthwith. There were mutterings about cost from a financially conservative Council, but the scheme went ahead. John Rae had decided that the centrepiece of the appeal should be a Sixth Form Centre, and the professional services of Hooker Craigmyle were engaged to handle the fund-raising. John Rae's ally on the staff was the Second Master, Ernest Neal, who had been at Taunton for virtually the whole of John Leathem's headship and agreed that there was now an urgent need for expansion. Dr Neal found himself in the position, after years of encouraging John Leathem to develop facilities, of having to restrain his more impetuous successor. Throughout the difficult years of John Rae's headship, Ernest Neal was a wise diplomat among the staff and a useful sounding board for the Headmaster. He was a man who was respected for his integrity, and it was acknowledged that he did the difficult job of handling the 28

These were marked out of 10, but the number of errors was squared before the mark was awarded. One mistake therefore gave nine out of ten, but two mistakes only six, and three only one. Four mistakes (-16) meant minus six out of ten and you were beaten. 45 Delusions of Grandeur p 45

44


different shades of staff opinion extremely well. For the Common Room was split down the middle. There were those, mainly younger, masters who appreciated what John Rae was trying to do while others could see no good in what they considered to be a dictatorial, interfering style. Things came to a head before the end of the first term when four boys were expelled after cutting class and going to London. John Rae had attempted to tackle absenteeism by demanding that masters reported any boys absent from their lessons directly to him, but in this case only a junior master had done so. The latter was criticised by his colleagues for having 'split' and sided with the dictator in his efforts to disturb the disciplinary acquiescence which characterised Taunton and to overturn the rights of housemasters to sort such matters out in their own wise way. In fact his life was made so unpleasant that John Rae advised him to find another job. Others were similarly advised but for different reasons. The Chaplain, who was a devout, kindly man but a woefully ineffectual teacher, was sacked, and Messrs P J Kearns and I M ('Honky') Horn were among those encouraged to move on. There were changes of housemaster in several houses as John Rae sought to lessen the influence of a section of the staff he had come to distrust. All this reorganisation was accompanied by a relaxing of a number of school rules and practices which were, in John Rae's view, rigid and outdated. He liked to play the enlightened despot though the pupils, suspicious of him, responded less positively than he had hoped to his liberalising tendencies. The truth was that there was unease in the air as the School, and indeed all public schools, stood on the threshold of a greater revolution, one that was to threaten the fabric of society itself. Some of the forms which the rebellion took at Taunton are recounted in other chapters, but no-one who lived through the late sixties can forget how virtually every accepted aspect of school life came under fire, whether it was uniform, games, length of hair, prefects, chapel or corporal punishment. In the wider world there was swinging London, pop art, the Beatles, James Bond, the miniskirt and flared trousers. The catch-all phrase was the permissive society. The image of authority was collapsing on all sides, and a community as rigid and as hierarchical as a boarding school could not hope to remain unaffected. The social unrest among young people generally and the uncertainties and dissension surrounding John Rae's reforms combined to produce at Taunton a heady concoction which led to some unsettled years. The School did not really recover until Norman Roberts steadied the ship in the 1970s. By the time he came to Taunton, John Rae was already a nationally known figure in the educational world, and his radical views gave him a voice in the many controversies of this self-questioning period. His speech at Taunton's 1967 Commemoration caused a stir when he was quoted as saying that there was no future for public schools. What he had really said was that he believed the days of the public school system with its attendant implications of snobbery and social divisiveness, were numbered. The Headmaster's remarks were featured in the national press, and at Taunton he saw the need to clarify them in the next issue of The Tauntonian. It was a tense period when independent schools felt threatened by a hostile Labour government at a time of educational change, and too many people had jumped to the wrong conclusion. Meanwhile John Rae pressed on with his reforms at Taunton. The Library and music facilities were improved. A Chaplain's house - in classic sixties style - was built 29


to the east of Wills to accommodate one of the members of the community who John Rae strongly believed should reside on school premises. The new Chaplain, the Rev Alec Knight, was an OT (School House 1950-8) who was brimming with new ideas. He had the advantage of knowing the School, and John Rae got on well with him. Between them they tried to open up lines of communication which would encourage staff, prefects and pupils to air their views on the questions of the day. The first Parents' Day was held in 1969; previously there had been no general opportunity for parents to meet staff. Hitherto there had also been very little tradition of boys and masters meeting socially. John Leathem never entertained his prefects, for instance. John and Daphne Rae, as a married couple with six children offered a sharp contrast to John Leathem's rather bleak, bachelor existence. The Gables became a family home, and the Raes were determined to redress the balance of male domination at Taunton in one way or another. John invited girls to attend society meetings and join in plays. Proper dances were arranged. Boys were no longer punished for talking to girls, and were even allowed to have girl friends whom they could take to the cinema with their housemaster's permission. John Rae can be credited with creating the right atmosphere for what was to be Taunton's co-educational future - the first moves in the elaborate scheme which Norman Roberts developed so successfully were really made by him. Daphne had her own ways of raising the female influence. She put the cat among the pigeons by attending chapel services - hitherto a male preserve - and there was a sharp intake of breath as she was escorted to her seat beside the Headmaster on the first Sunday. She recounted in her book A World Apart how she asked the Hospital sisters to walk through the main corridor at break to say good morning to the boys: 'They persevered for a few days and then abandoned the idea!' Odd gestures such as this merely puzzled the School and did nothing to breach the gap. Daphne Rae was not particularly happy at Taunton, which she saw as stuffy and too resistant to change. In some ways, of course, she was right: there would be general astonishment today that the attendance of ladies at Chapel could have been an issue at all. A depressing winter in John's third year brought, among other things, the profound tragedy of the suicide of a pupil, precipitated by home rather than • :r school circumstances, but devastating for a Headmaster all the same. Relations with the staff were still strained. Even a plush extension to the Common Room in 1969 failed to placate them, though it made the room less like a funeral parlour than before when, incongruously, the little space there was had been mainly occupied by a large billiard table covered in a purple shroud. In May 1970 the Clark Centre was opened by HRH Princess Anne. The Dr John Rae in 1966 30


occasion was the highlight of John Rae's last year - he had been appointed to Westminster in the summer of 1969 - and the opening of the sixth-form centre, which was one of the first in the country, realised at least one of his dreams for Taunton School. The day was a great success, as the Princess lunched in a marquee with 1,200 guests and then declared the Centre open. It was one of her first public engagements, and she had not long ceased to be a sixth-former herself. She had shown, when having coffee with the prefects, that she was not immune from the concerns and frustrations of her generation: Mark Slee, the Head Boy, revealed afterwards that she had 'enjoyed having someone to knock the system with'. Two souvenirs presented to her were a relief carving of herself and a record by gaslight, the School folk group. Clearly John Rae brought about great change during his four years at Taunton. His achievements were many, but above all he created a more forward-looking atmosphere, a philosophy more ready to acknowledge educational trends than to wallow in isolation, and greater freedom and choice for the individual. Some had tried to turn that freedom into licence and they had had their just deserts, but it was a stormy era anyway. Of course some time-honoured traditions toppled and certain people felt betrayed. Power had become more centralized; housemasters were now called to account, and there were more meetings than before. By being a figure who courted publicity John Rae certainly made the School better known. Verdicts on his headmastership from those who lived through it remain extraordinarily diverse: from 'he didn't do the School any good' to 'I don't think the School would have survived without him'. Most agreed that 'he was necessary'. Some, perhaps those who had found all the stirrings and innovations a shade too traumatic, said this with resignation, rather as a constipated schoolboy might accept castor oil from a stern matron, but others were more positive. The School needed to be shaken out of its torpor and made to confront the issues of the day, and John Rae was the man to do it. He himself admits that he made mistakes and acted too quickly on occasions. Decisions were not always carefully thought out, and greater consultation would have been more diplomatic and endeared him more to the Staff. He may also have been excessively influenced by his wife in certain matters. Perhaps the most accurate assessment is that, like society itself at that time, John Rae asked lots of questions without necessarily giving any answers. These were largely provided by his successor, Norman Roberts. Norman and Bea Roberts moved into 'The Gables' in the summer of 1970. Any uneasy wariness on the part of staff was soon dispelled as it became clear that the new Headmaster was going to represent a steadying influence rather than a further agent of hurried change. Norman Roberts was a perceptive man who studied the form: he interested himself at once in all the School's activities and kept his eyes and ears open. Any minor matters requiring his attention were handled with tact and diplomacy. He regained the trust of housemasters by remedying matters through them rather than by an obiter dictum. Above all, he was an encourager, an attitude which sprang from the not inconsiderable idealism inherent in his character and which was discernible in so many of his pronouncements. He had the great gift of making people believe he was on their side, an invaluable attribute in the art of headmastering. Bea Roberts for her part, threw herself heart and soul into the life of the School, although she never interfered in its running. Her vivacious personality commended itself to all. She was a delightful hostess and the Headmaster's House" became a place 46 This was 'The Gables' until 1979, after which the Robertses transferred to Babingley on its closure as a Sixth Form house. It was then renamed The Headmaster's House.

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where staff and sixth-formers were frequently entertained and always very welcome. In particular a huge cocktail party for the whole school community on the eve of the Autumn Term became a well-loved tradition. Nicknamed 'the bunfight' by some, it was nevertheless greatly appreciated by the staff and others who squeezed in their hordes into the normally spacious rooms of the Headmaster's house for a convivial evening. Bea and Norman were always the perfect hosts and Bea in particular worked hard to brighten up TS and make life more fun for its inhabitants. Plans were drawn up for a new classroom block with specialist facilities which would link the main school building and Loveday, replacing the old stone corridor of School House studies, day rooms and rather unsightly lavatories. This Specialist Teaching Complex was completed in 1974 and has proved an invaluable asset. It also enhanced the central area of the School, opening up a way through to the Chapel and so giving rise to a new byword of school vocabulary - the wind tunnel. Other early developments were an all-weather hockey pitch, the introduction of centralised catering (first discussed as a possibility in 1946 but never adopted!) and the removal of the Art Room from the Science Block to a room below Loveday House. Then in 1974 a major new Appeal was launched, with Craigmyle again acting as professional fundraisers. The target was ÂŁ160,000, of which ÂŁ100,000 was to be for the Senior School. Money earmarked for the Junior School went towards providing a new assembly hall which was opened by John Jameson in TJS's centenary year (1976) and known as the Centenary Hall. Major Peter Poncia, the Appeal Director, took up residence in School to supervise progress. The Secretary was Sheila Acworth-New who was later asked to stay on as Headmaster's Secretary in succession to Nina Cox. The main object of the Senior School appeal was a Technical Activities Centre, but ongoing plans for a tuck shop and Sports Hall were also envisaged. The Sports Hall was finally built in 1982 as the result of a further Appeal, but the Guvvy was opened in 1979. It is greatly to the credit of Norman Roberts that he had the conviction and the energy to press ahead with these important developments at a time when, with inflation running at 26%, he might easily have lost his nerve. Norman was also anxious to keep abreast of national developments in education and was always interested in examining new ideas. Being something of a committee man, he set up groups such as the Educational Policy Committee which met periodically in Oxford to examine wider issues which might affect the School. In the 1970s topics such as attitudes to industry, the very intelligent child and education for personal relationships all came under discussion. Other matters considered at School were public relations and the possibility of making use of the International Baccalaureate as well, of course, as numerous co-educational issues. An offshoot of the public relations question was a series of Taunton Lectures at which famous people would address an invited audience in the Centenary Hall. William Deedes (Editor of the Daily Telegraph), Jack Jones of Trade Union fame and Lord Ritchie-Calder all delivered a Taunton Lecture; one of the most controversial was the South African ambassador defensive of apartheid who caused a demonstration at the School gates. Norman did not agree with his views but he believed in the freedom to air the issues of the day. Nor could he resist the chance to make Taunton better known by encouraging the occasional well-known figure to join the staff. Plans to recruit the rugby player Alistair Hignell fell through, but Somerset cricketers Nigel Popplewell and Vic Marks both taught at the School, the former in the Biology department from 32


1983-85 and the latter, a Classicist, for a term in 1986 when Roger Priest was on sabbatical. During these years Taunton was always prominently represented at meetings of the Boarding Schools' Association and Norman chaired the HMC group of co-educational schools for a considerable period. Taunton was something of a catalyst for other schools contemplating co-education at that time. On the political stage a new Labour government elected in 1974 was already proving hostile to independent education by its removal of direct grant status from many schools. While this did not affect TS directly, Norman made it his business to examine the implications, financial or otherwise, which any further strictures might have for a school like Taunton. He had sound business acumen and was determined to be one step ahead of anyone threatening Taunton's prosperity. The opening of Murray and Gloucester in 1979 was the major internal advance which cemented the process of integration as a visible reality. The official ceremony by HRH the Duchess of Gloucester, planned for the autumn, had to be postponed for two years when the Duchess's pregnancy caused her to curtail her engagements. The advantage was that she as also able to lay the foundation stone for the new Sports Hall. And so, on Commemoration Day in July 1981, came the fourth of Taunton's royal visits.47 The Duchess arrived by helicopter and toured the School, visiting of course the House named after her and the site of the Sports Hall. Pupils lined her route as she walked from the Chapel (where the Choir had sung an anthem) across the parade ground; staff met her over sherry in the Memorial Hall and she lunched with the School Council and Commemoration VIPs in the Library. The Head of School, Geoffrey Flower, was thrilled to be invited to this lunch at the last minute. High security was the order of the day, with cars carefully monitored and no-one allowed to enter or leave the grounds after the Duchess's arrival. This year was the start of Commemoration lunches for parents - a necessary provision as the latter were unable to go elsewhere. The royal visit was a gala occasion which Norman Roberts always recalled as one of the highlights of his headship. Norman's later years were concerned with further developments, both in terms of buildings and on the academic front. Chapter 4 describes some of the many educational and curricular changes of this period, but in general it can be said that a greater demand for vocational subjects and communication skills such as CDT and Information Technology engaged the School's attention. It was important to develop a highly effective careers advisory service, and Norman, with his business-like approach, supported this move Norman Roberts with HRH Duchess of Gloucester The second, not mentioned in the text above, was when HRH Princess Margaret reviewed St John Ambulance cadets at the School in 1957.

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wholeheartedly. Economic factors and growing social pressures such as unemployment and redundancy were likely to affect the School's future recruitment and hence the scope for implementing further development plans. Not that numbers were in any way unhealthy: in 1981 there were 658 pupils in the Senior School. Norman had visions in 1982 of a computer centre, a covered swimming pool and a new school hall, and his report to the Council in that year was in the form of a grandly conceived 'ten year plan'. In the event the IT Centre was established in the old Art Room (in 1988), and more mundane improvements such as the refurbishment of boys' boarding houses to make them comparable to the splendid facilities now enjoyed by the girls, had to take precedence. A new Headmaster's House for the Junior School Head released space to accommodate more junior pupils in 1987, and other badly needed improvements were carried out at Weirfield. The opening of the Nursery there in October 1986 was an exciting development. But a major extension to the Science Block outlined by Dr John Roberts, School President, at Commemoration in 1985 and originally scheduled for the following year never happened. For financial reasons the time scale of the capital development programme had to be lengthened and the science extension was swamped by other projects. By the time he came to retire in 1987 Norman Roberts was the first to acknowledge that not all his dreams had been fulfilled: that was typical of him. His advice to his successor, in a major interview in his last term, was 'Don't stand still and don't imagine everything I have done must be enshrined as immemorial ... there must be new opportunities, new facilities'. Norman's achievements were, none the less, momentous. He guided the School through its greatest period of change, and of all the moves he made, the adoption of coeducation was by far the most significant. The material developments were the most ambitious since Dr Whittaker's time, and for his sheer energy and tireless devotion to the School Norman Roberts merits some comparison with that great headmaster. What Norman achieved could not have been accomplished without hard work and background knowledge. His determination to be well-informed on every aspect of school and national life was of great benefit to the School, though the pressures which this brought to bear cost him something in terms of personal health. Heart trouble in 1983 forced him to abandon the reins for nearly two terms, and though he fought back with resilience, there was always the awareness that his lifestyle was demanding. As a headmaster his weakness was that he did not delegate enough and took too much upon himself, even down to routine disciplinary matters which could have been handled further down the line. That he was prepared to deal with a school crisis at any hour of the day or night (I recall discussing a boy's misdemeanours in his study at 11.45 pm) impressed pupils and staff, and conveyed an impression of tight control. Discipline was never slack under Norman, but it became somewhat frenetic in his last two years, when the acceleration of problems such as drinking caused him considerable stress. In his last term alone 26 pupils were suspended for alcohol offences. Towards the end, his determination to stick to a principle seemed to override his earlier tendency to move judiciously and pragmatically in the style of Machiavelli. Most of the time, however, the secret of Norman's success was that he achieved a perfect balance of practicality and idealism. He was, of course, a scholar - he had been Exhibitioner in History at Hertford College, Oxford - and he had a quick and imaginative mind. However one never thought of him primarily as a historian. He liked to be thought-provoking, as in his lunch table conversations with pupils, and he 34


could go to extremes to be so, as some of his Chapel sermons proved." The Chapel was a place very dear to him. In religion he was a liberal evangelical, and the emotion which was often visible in his elaborations of the Christian faith testified to important and deeply-held convictions. Of course he had his quirks, and there are many anecdotes in this book which throw further light upon his character. His determination to present the latest exam statistics as the best ever in some respect, even if difficult to find, amused some, as did his fondness for 'three things' when addressing the School. Sometimes he would instruct the pupils to tell three people about Taunton School in the holidays, or to read three books. The next term, if they weren't careful, they might find him asking what they were. He could assert himself in staff meetings, once countering a plea for a relaxing of some dress regulation with 'I am the Headmaster and I say no'. It was in a staff meeting in the 1970s that he conceived the ingenious rule that the flare on a trouser leg should not, when pulled tight, exceed the length of the shoe. Sometimes there were over-reactions, such as the famous 'rugby staff meeting' in 1976 when, because through a muddled arrangement a 1st XV player had gone to a music festival and left the team a man short, it was decreed that for the rest of the term in question rugby (or 'rugger', as Norman always called it) would take priority over all other activities. Norman always considered what his reaction as a headmaster should be, and though he was friendly and a delightful companion, one never forgot that he was the Headmaster. He felt that he should preserve a certain distance, taking coffee alone in his study, for example, rather than with the staff, though he was always in the Common Room at break to consult. At national level, the 1970s and 1980s were contrasting decades of inflationary socialism and Thatcherite enterprise, though both saw great changes in society. While always keeping those changes in view, Norman Roberts clung to his belief that Taunton should be both a flourishing commercial enterprise and a force for social good. On that basis he steered the School impressively, especially when at the height of his powers. He deserves to be remembered as one of Taunton's great headmasters. In 1987 Barry Sutton, Headmaster of Hereford Cathedral School, became the twelfth headmaster of Taunton School. Like his predecessor he was a historian, and he brought to the job twelve years of experience as a headmaster. The situation he inherited on arrival at Taunton was a relatively prosperous one; pupil numbers were holding up, staff morale was good and the School was enjoying success in sport, with an unbeaten rugby season in his first term. There was, of course, some unfinished business from the previous regime. Some parts of the development programme had had to be postponed - the science block extension, for instance - and there was an awareness that decisions would have to be taken and priorities determined. A certain disciplinary uncertainty also prevailed: the problem of alcohol and possibly of drugs hovered in the background, and people naturally wondered how the new incumbent would tackle these questions. There was the feeling in some quarters that certain routine matters needed tightening up: perhaps it is always so when a new Head looms. John Rae told the Council in 1970 when he had been appointed to Westminster that he had already received this advice from his new school just as he had received it before arriving at Taunton in 1966, and as his successor Norman Roberts would no doubt do also. New headmasters, it seems, are always expected to 'tighten up'. There was the inevitable air of expectancy as Barry Sutton took the chair at his first staff meeting. Like his predecessor Barry chose to study the form for a while. He announced his 48

The most famous example is recounted in full in the next chapter

35


intention of adopting the 'listening mode', while channels of communication would be open and discussion invited. Before a month had gone by, however, he was initiating preparations for a 'strategy for the nineties', as papers were sent out requesting staff to outline the future of their particular responsibilities as they saw them. A wealth of fascinating detail accrued from this which provided Barry not only with useful facts relevant to any development programme he might plan but also with a valuable insight into the characters of those submitting them. The sheer size of Taunton's estate and its multiplicity of departments had struck Barry very forcibly when he and Margaret arrived from the smaller and more compact Hereford Cathedral School. He needed to be thoroughly familiar with people and places before he could see a clear way forward. To some extent outside events overtook him. It had been obvious even during 19878 that the demand for boarding places was dropping - this was a national trend and stemmed from developing social attitudes against boarding as well as from the high cost - but nothing prepared the School for the severe recession which was to follow. A sharp fall in recruitment automatically led to a heavy pruning of expenditure, affecting all aspects of school life but most obviously capital outlays. This could not have come at a worse time. A decision had been taken to launch a new Appeal in 1989, the primary aim of which was to be a school assembly hall sited on Greenham field adjacent to the Clark Centre The Centre would provide a foyer for the theatre which the School so badly needed. A room large enough to hold all pupils simultaneously and suitably equipped for the School's already impressive drama to be produced in style was close to Barry Sutton's heart, and many staff agreed with him. The old Memorial Hall was totally inadequate on both counts, and the gym was a depressing venue for quality drama. The new Appeal would not be placed in the hands of professional fundraisers but would be run by the School itself. Donald Cooper became the Appeal President, and a steering committee was set up. Valerie Russell was appointed secretary and began sifting through names in the autumn of 1988. Preliminary surveys indicated that the theatre would cost the best part of £1 million, and an Appeal was duly launched for that sum. This was an ambitious target in the best of times: the aim was to raise £250,000 in the first year. The worst of times brought on by the recession meant that only £215,000 was donated or promised within that period. Later the School had to adjust its aims completely as a result of the financial crisis. If Barry Sutton had an annus horribilis then 1989 was the one. The year began inauspiciously with the untimely death of Roger Smith on 3 January at the age of 40. Roger was one of Taunton's most respected masters, a conscientious history teacher and Housemaster of Evans since 1981. He had been in charge of rugby and cricket and had been responsible for raising the School's standing considerably in both games. His reputation was high in the county and beyond. Roger's loss was unsettling for the staff and pupils and for Evans House in particular. The question of boarding houses had also to be tackled. There were five boys' boarding houses and numbers were falling, whereas Murray and Gloucester could scarcely accommodate their girls with an adequate degree of comfort and privacy. Originally Barry had envisaged 'completing the quadrangle' (as he put it) by building a new girls' boarding house to the north of Gloucester, perhaps taking in part of Fairwater. This plan, which was estimated to cost £330,000 was ruled out as too expensive and another solution had to be found. The The idea actually dates back to John Rae, who identified this site in his development plans.

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so.


decision to convert Foxcombe to a girls' house caused much heartache, but Barry felt this was necessary and his proposal was duly accepted by the School Council. Trevor Snow, the Foxcombe housemaster, agreed to transfer to Evans to fill the vacancy caused by Roger Smith's death, but he did not feel he had been adequately compensated for the loss of the boarding house. He claimed that loss of prestige was involved as well as disruption to his family life, and a certain acrimony ensued. There were also a few other problems with staff to resvolve and one or two resignations resulted in the course of that academic year. The most serious crisis concerned the Headmistress of Weirfield, Mrs C M Babbedge. A number of Weirfield staff had voiced criticisms of their Headmistress direct to Barry Sutton and expressed a lack of confidence in her. Morale in the staff room was low. Two members of the School Council, Mrs Rosemary McHugh and Lady Waly-Cohen, were requested to visit Weirfield, talk to staff and assess the situation. The criticisms that Mrs Babbedge was ill at ease with children, staff and parents, that she spent money on the wrong things and that she was often away from the School, were investigated. The upshot was that Mrs Babbedge was summoned before members of the School Council in September 1989 and asked to set out her philosophy and aims for Weirfield. This she did, but her relations with her staff did not noticeably improve. Barry Sutton was not satisfied with the situation, and the possibility of the removal of the Headmistress from office was discussed with the new President, Donald Cooper, and in Council. Barry was told that the 'removal procedure' had to be activated by him. To cut a long story short, Mrs Babbedge's contract with the School was terminated on 31 December 1989. It was the last day of a year which, quite apart from the growing financial constraints, had been a particularly difficult one. The financial situation was responsible for slowing down the Appeal and the implementation of Barry Sutton's 'Strategy for the Nineties' which had set out a programme of school improvements to be met from an ongoing Development Fund. A shortfall of about ÂŁ140,000 in fee income for 1988-9 caused by the loss of 25-30 pupils had to be taken into account. Priority had been given to the construction of a new astroturf hockey pitch and badly needed netball courts, and these had already been completed. The remainder of the money available in 1987-8 (ÂŁ235,000) had been spent on refurbishing two physics labs, with the Science Block extension postponed for the time being. The planned development for 1988-9 had been a new classroom block for TJS, which was still using prefabricated structures that were far from ideal. Tony Wood, the TJS Headmaster, was pressing for a new block as a matter of urgency: TJS was now falling behind other prep schools in terms of buildings and amenities, and it was vital that the School should invest in better facilities to entice parents to send their younger children to Taunton. TJS was also, of course, a primary source of custom for the Senior School, as the vast majority of its pupils passed on through the system. There was another reason why Barry Sutton was keen to press on with a new classroom block, and that was because his reorganisation plans depended on the junior school vacating classrooms in Densham Court. Only then could other areas be adapted for departments such as computing and art. Similarly the building of a theatre - or even a theatre-cum-dining hall, which was an early, more ambitious possibility - would liberate parts of the School for more appropriate uses. Barry had visions of moving the library to the Memorial Hall and the staff room to the Library or possibly the dining hall. He would then occupy the old staff room which was closer 37


to his secretary's office than the room in the tower. The Library was an area which Barry recognised as old-fashioned and unsatisfactory, and he felt early on that the ideal library was a secure one with controlled stock which was run by a professional librarian. This was one ambition which he did finally achieve after several frustrating delays when the New Library opened in the former Bevan house rooms in 1995. But after three years of his headship much of the Strategy for the Nineties was in financial disarray. It was obvious by 1992 that the theatre project would have to be rethought. The likely cost had risen further and the Appeal was running out of steam. Barry Sutton consulted a number of fund-raising organisations who examined the progress to date and concluded that the School had done everything it could. It was during the search for a new approach that Major-General Barry Lane came on the scene and ultimately took control of the redirected Appeal. Barry Lane was a member of the School Council, though not an OT (his first link with the School had been when he carried out a CCF Inspection in 1986 and was impressed with what he saw), and through his involvement with the Cardiff Bay development project he knew Paul Jenkins whom he considered to be an inspirational theatre architect. Mr Jenkins was duly invited to Taunton to assess the possibilities of the various 'spaces' which the School possessed for potential development. Having looked at areas as diverse as the Gym, the dining hall and the school shop in what Barry Sutton recalls as a fascinating afternoon, Mr Jenkins' conclusion was that the space most suitable for adaptation into a studio theatre was in fact the Memorial Hall. Plans were soon tabled for an arts centre complex which would include the theatre with flexible stage arrangements, green rooms and two galleries, one main one at the south end with additional rows of seating flanking the hall and a technical gallery above. The Old Library (with its stock removed to its new home) would provide a foyer, and the idea was to construct a glass pyramid between this area and the theatre entrance. This stage of the project remains in abeyance in 1997 as a temporary 'circus tent' encloses the space where, it is hoped, the pyramid will complete the complex. From December 1994, however, Barry Lane threw himself enthusiastically into supervising the project and co-ordinating the revived Appeal for the ÂŁ900,000 which was the estimated cost of the scheme. Staff will recall an adventurous leap into a black hole for an on-site update on a January night after the gouging out of the Memorial Hall floor as the first stage of the reconstruction had begun. Barry Lane was indefatigable in his efforts to raise money from all possible sources (even, unsuccessfully, from the National Lottery, which would have shocked the School's founding fathers!) and his energy coupled with the skill of the architect and builders brought the project to realisation in approximately nine months. Now the School has a well-equipped space with fine acoustics. The theatre has given a further boost to school drama and is increasingly used by outside groups such as the Taunton Sinfonietta. Incidentally it was the director of that orchestra Miranda Ashe, formerly Miranda Lisk and Head of Strings at TS, who raised ÂŁ2,000 for the new theatre's curtains with a very successful series of supper concerts in the 1994-5 season. Barry Sutton regards the theatre as the development project of his headship which he cherishes most, though he acknowledges his persuading of Barry Lane to direct it as his greatest achievement. In 1997 Barry Lane was elected President of the School Council, a role which will provide a further scope for his managerial skills. A number of other significant changes were introduced by Barry Sutton. An 38


important organisational one was the development of the Senior Management Team in 1989. This brought a group of senior staff together and gave them more clearly defined roles. John Carrington was henceforth styled Deputy Head; the post of Senior Mistress was abolished, and Ursula Gray assumed general managerial responsibilities, becoming Second Deputy. Nigel Maggs continued as Director of Studies and a new post, Director of Recreation, was created. Richard Jowett took this on after retiring from Goodland where he had been Housemaster for 15 years (1973-88). His new job was to co-ordinate the many sporting and extra-curricular activities of the School. The creation of the management team reflected the increasing tendency for schools to be run like businesses but arose in the first place from the need for the School, and Barry Sutton in particular, to be more involved in marketing. Graham Reid, the new Development Director, was studying ways of promoting the School and encouraging recruitment. With the recession setting in and numbers falling, this side of the School was becoming increasingly important, and Barry was going to have to devote time to it, showing people round personally, for instance, where previously prefects had been used for this purpose. He needed to have a well-structured support team which he could rely on. The need to market led to some further developments. Terry Curnow manned the School's stall at ISIS exhibitions, a job to which he devoted much hard work. Open mornings were held on certain Saturdays when interested people with no school connection were invited to visit. A new prospectus was produced after consultation with a local firm, Magus, who also designed new school notepaper and made a number of other suggestions. For all his dislike of sales gimmicks Barry Sutton supported the need for a new 'image' for the School. The outcome of all this was more far-reaching than most people envisaged at the time. Magus had pointed out that TS, with its three parts, needed a more corporate image. The problem was that the parts were not at all similar. Weirfield, especially, was unique with its separate location and traditions, a situation exacerbated in 1989 by the problems emanating from Mrs Babbedge, as we have already seen. The school was still functioning on the momentum supplied by its previous Headmistress, Ruth Hodgson, who had inspired a full measure of both awe and affection. Mrs Babbedge was hardly running the school: it was really running her. After the drastic action already described, the question of creating closer links with the two junior schools in order to exploit their marketing potential had to be addressed. A decision was taken to rename the two schools Taunton Junior Boys' School and Taunton Junior Girls' School from 1990 to emphasize their links with the Senior School. The traditional Weirfield brown was discarded in favour of the more unifying blue. Barry Sutton dreaded having to impart the news of such sweeping changes to Opening of new Prep School in 1995 39


a school as traditional as Weirfield, but he was supported in the move by Mrs Sheila Purdom, the new Headmistress, who helped to push the changes through at local level. The further need to modernise both junior schools to make them more attractive in a competitive market soon raised the possibility of combining them into a single coeducational prep school. A feasibility study was instituted, and plans to create a new school on the Thone site, selling Weirfield to finance it, were seriously considered. All interested parties were given the chance to examine the proposals and to comment on them, and the upshot was that the scheme was adopted. Building started in 1993 and an opening date for the new school, which was to be called Taunton Preparatory School, was fixed for September 1994. Weirfield was sold to property developers for just under ÂŁ1 million in 1993, though obviously a deal had to be struck to enable the school to remain at the site until the new school was complete. Meanwhile a few of the building plans had had to be altered owing to financial pressures. Tony Wood's vision of a rotunda library was never realised, for instance. The parents' priority (to Barry's surprise) was for a swimming pool, and this was built as part of a sports complex incorporating changing rooms and a sports hall. The indoor pool has proved a useful facility for the Senior School and the new Sports Club, although TPS has first claim on it. A 'Weirfield' building containing classrooms, the library and music rooms was built alongside the Luttrell block which was already in place, and an impressive science and technology block completed the school's new buildings. A further classroom block proved too ambitious a scheme, though it remains a possibility for the future. The question of the headship of the new School obviously arose early on. Tony Wood was due to retire in 1995 and had agreed to go a year early, the natural solution being that Sheila Purdom should transfer from Weirfield to become the first Head of TPS. She was in fact appointed to this post. There was some division of opinion over this among staff and parents who were, perhaps naturally, concerned about what the composition of the new staff would be. Some felt that, from the boys' point of view, the transition from being an all-male establishment to a mixed school with a Headmistress would be difficult. Others felt that Mrs Purdom was too forceful a personality who had divided her staff at Weirfield and might do so again. On the other hand she would provide continuity for the girls who were, after all, the pupils suffering the greatest upheaval. All these contentious issues were simmering during the Spring Term of 1994 until, in March, things came to a dramatic climax with Sheila Purdom's resignation. This ostensibly followed a row with the Bursar but may also have been due to loss of nerve. Shortly afterwards she tried to retract her resignation, declaring that she had not meant it, but the School Council would not allow her to do so. The resignation had to stand, and Tony Wood was invited to postpone his retirement for one year and 'see in' the new school. This he agreed to do. A stormy meeting at Weirfield at which Mrs Purdom's supporters turned out in force subjected Barry Sutton to a barrage of angry comments. It was an unpleasant experience for him though, as he said, "they didn't really want any answers, just to be angry". Once again, however, Barry had a difficult situation to contend with, though things gradually settled down. Tony Wood had a successful last year inaugurating the new school, and in 1995 John Gibson, the present Head, was appointed unanimously by a committee of the School Council. In his style of management Barry Sutton preferred to rule by consensus rather than 40


confrontation. Routine changes were often decided at house staff meetings with Barry prepared to go along with the opinions expressed and not dictate a view. The layout of the senior management team was decided at a brainstorming' session in a seminar room where those involved thrashed out the various possibilities. Barry rarely imposed himself on the staff in a headmagisterial manner: if he did so, the occasion would be billed as a set piece and convey a clear and fairly curt message, such as the unprofessionalism of criticising the School in the town or the expectation that staff would attend chapel each day. The failure of many to respond to the latter was a source of deep regret to Barry, who saw chapel worship as central to daily community living. He also encouraged discussion, and tried to make himself available to chat informally to staff, thus rendering a formal visit to his study easier to contemplate. And even then he would sit beside you rather than face you across a desk. A student council, which Norman had preferred to steer clear of (he already had Grapevine, the sometimes provocative student magazine to cope with!), was allowed, and representatives of the various year groups were elected. As it turned out the student council never became a particularly forceful pressure group: the half-hearted attitude of many pupils towards it suggests that the School was getting things mostly right and that there was little to complain about. For the parents there was the Parents' Association, which was initiated by Barry Sutton in 1988. The idea came to him after a routine parents' meeting when, following his talk, he had been unexpectedly bombarded with petty criticisms about the School. The Parents' Association created a forum where parents could talk over their concerns with each other, the Headmaster and certain staff representatives. Appraisal of staff was another matter which Barry preferred to handle in a non-confrontational way. Appraisal was the fashionable thing to do, and in 1991 the School went through the motions, though in a rather halfhearted way. Views on the method of appraisal were divided and a few staff felt threatened. A vertical system using Heads of departments was adopted but was slow to be implemented in certain areas. This did not worry Barry unduly. He was wary of imposing systems like appraisal when as much could be achieved through the medium of professional relationships. He preferred to be a Headmaster who appraised his staff through informal observation and by instinct. This less dogmatic, perhaps old-fashioned approach was also reflected in Barry's dislike of modern jargon. 'Mission statements', 'policy documents' and 'job descriptions' were anathema to him. Once, when pressed for a 'mission statement' by the Council, he said they could do worse than adopt the school motto Ora et labora but was hardly taken seriously. He disliked the idea of the School as a product, and greatly regretted the intrusion of finance into virtually every matter under discussion, the inevitable consequence of a recessionary age. One sign of this was the placing of the Treasurer's business before that of the Headmaster at Council meetings, an arrangement which Barry succeeded by the end of his headship in having reversed - a small victory for philosophy over finance. When staff salaries came under fire in the early 1990s, with allowances being cut and increases delayed he would express regret at a staff meeting with words such as 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am afraid we are a business, though we might all wish it otherwise ...' The world of marketing was not one in which he was comfortable, though he adapted well to it when he had to. He disliked the competitive veneer of academic league tables and despised the idea that they reflected at all accurately the schools they were supposed to represent. He once 41


admitted that he would like to have had the courage to declare that Taunton would have no part in them, but the need to pander to a competitive market decreed otherwise. He accepted unwillingly that the School's governing body had to be preoccupied with questions of finance, though he regretted that this sometimes seemed to be to the exclusion of all else. There were naturally concerns about the large borrowing needed to finance the School's grander projects, and Barry agreed as much as anyone that the arrangements should be sound, realistic and legal. But he cherished at the same time a wider vision which went beyond material things. For him a development like Taunton Preparatory School was also an act of faith. For Barry Sutton values spirituality; one of the aspects of the present age which most alarms him is its loss of soul. He is struck by a failure to appreciate things of cultural and philosophical worth in today's society, and as a historian he naturally looked to the past in seeking inspiration for the present and the future. His 'Strategy for the Nineties' was balanced towards the end of his headship by the setting up of an important series of discussions under the general title 'Towards the Twenty-first Century', in which groups of staff met to consider present aspects of the School and possible developments for the future. Barry's sermons in Chapel, which were nearly always historically based, revealed some of the sources of his inspiration, and it saddened him if people found them irrelevant to the pursuit of modern life. If they seemed less idealistic than those of his predecessor that may owe something to the bland acceptance and spiritual apathy written on the staring faces at which he preached. Strange to say, hostility is often easier to deal with. There was also the fact that his style lacked Norman's fervent evangelicalism. Barry preferred the measured approach of the middle-of-theroad Anglican, a demeanour which nevertheless concealed a deep personal idealism. He believed that respect and support were of paramount importance when doing his job: relationships were more important than rules about rings. Barry's aim as a Headmaster was to run an institution where pupils and staff believed they were cherished, and in doing so he felt that he was being faithful to the traditions of Taunton School. He fostered relations with the Representative Governors because he felt that they best encapsulated what the School was about philosophically and spiritually. His fault may have been that in the balance between idealism and realism the scales sometimes tipped in favour of the former, but few could doubt the validity of idealism for him as a system of thought. Naturally his philosophy coloured his Barry and Margaret Sutton everyday judgements, though realism 42


was not absent. In matters of discipline he felt confident on arriving at Taunton, having done the job before, and accepted the inevitability of having to face some criticisms and complaints. He was also a JP, so had experience of crime at court level and legal procedures, a familiarity which proved useful on a number of occasions during his headship. In school discipline his instinct was perhaps to be too tolerant, but he always stressed that a lack of knowledge on the part of those outside a case made judgements of leniency suspect. Occasionally a delay in informing the staff about the outcome of a particular incident labelled him as indecisive. Certainly he did not favour Norman Roberts's habit of dealing with miscreants in the middle of the night if necessary, but there were often complications and considerations which made some delay inevitable. His preference for rule by consensus sometimes required a situation to be talked through with the relevant staff before a decision could be reached on the action to be taken. Modern discipline is less clear-cut than formerly, as we shall see later in this book. If Barry had to suspend or expel a pupil, he did so with as much compassion as possible. The attitude of the culprit was important to him: a pupil who had no vision of morality and to whom he could not get through he found deeply frightening. Such individuals are thankfully rare. Barry's style when addressing the School after a disciplinary lapse tended to be analytical and too reasonable for an audience who expected headmasters to be threatening if they were serious. But it was not in Barry's nature to be an ogre, and as he himself has said: "In this job you can't be something you're not". This remained his modus operandi during his ten years at Taunton. They were years which saw many important developments. TPS, new buildings, academic innovations such as GCSE and GNVQ, changes in the School's composition and management system and the move towards competitive marketing all belong to this era. The story of Barry Sutton's headship has been the balancing of the needs of individuals against the restrictions imposed by finance. Some unhappy issues brought about by the latter caused Barry distress but he could do little about them. At such times he found much support in Margaret. For her part, she adapted extremely well to the Common Room, of which she became a part-time teaching member in 1989, first of Physics and later of Maths. Her quiet yet friendly manner and her matter-of-fact approach to school life made it too easy to take for granted the skill with which she combined her two roles of member of staff and Headmaster's wife. The tone which Barry commanded was primarily one of concern for people, as his friendly philosophising in the Common Room or elsewhere - illustrated, perhaps, by one of his favourite historical quips - so frequently bore out. Reassuringly old-fashioned himself (a member of staff who corrected one of his reports containing the spelling 'shew' was referred to the Book of Common Prayer), he was nevertheless the agent of a surprising amount of change. Of course he would like to have done more: most headmasters would say the same. But he has chosen above all to seek out and value the philosophy of a school which has a distinguished history and noble traditions, and he feels a sense of honour that the close of his headship should coincide with Taunton's 150th year. Like the eleven headmasters before him, he has imprinted his personality upon the place. The current advertisements for TS state 'There is only one Taunton School', and even if marketing slogans have not been Barry Sutton's native language, his attachment to the slogan's sentiment has been genuine and heartfelt. He has served the School and its pupils past and present with a loyalty which has been unswerving. 43


Chapter Two

THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM

Taunton School was a religious foundation. Indeed religion is woven into the very 1 resolutions from which its beginnings sprang, for it was the need to provide an education in keeping with the Independent, or Congregationalist denomination which moved those worthy gentlemen who gathered in 1846 to seek the foundation of a new school in Taunton. Independents were properly members of the Independent Denomination of Protestant Dissenters, and the school which opened its doors in August 1847 assumed the equally formidable title of The West of England Dissenters' Proprietary School. The jewel in the crown of its curriculum was to be Theological Studies, including not only the study of the Bible, but Greek, Hebrew and Church History. The entire Staff and all involved in the running of the School were to be Independents. The Headmaster was a minister. The day began and ended with religious observance. Chapel services were attended twice on Sundays and there were frequent visits from reverend gentlemen on the School Committee. There was little danger that the pupils would not be brought up in the fear of the Lord. It is easy to forget, from the standpoint of our so-called post-Christian society, the religious fervour of Victorian England. Religion was central to daily life and seen as the promoter of the nation's social and moral needs. It was natural that religion, with its emphasis on the virtues of work, responsible behaviour and respectability, should be bound up with education. Thomas Arnold of Rugby declared that the Church was a society 'for the putting down of moral evil' and 'for the moral improvement of mankind'' and few would have disagreed, whether from within the Established Church (like Arnold) or from a Dissenting viewpoint. The importance attached to a close knowledge of the Bible and the tendency to develop rules to monitor and control conduct which might hinder moral progress is strongly reflected in the curriculum and organisation of schools like the West of England Dissenters' Proprietary School. It is likely that the stern ethic which so characterised it came even more naturally to Nonconformists with their 200 year legacy of Puritanism than it did to Anglicans. Its effect was absolute. Alongside this general view of religion as synonymous with moral responsibility and indispensable for moral and social progress, the Victorian age was marked by sharp denominational rivalry. Both factors, as well as the general growth in population, no doubt contributed to the remarkable church building energies of this period. The Independents, or Congregationalists, who so coloured Taunton School's early history, more than doubled their places of worship between 1861 and 1901. Baptists increased the number of their churches from just over 1000 to over 6000, and the Roman Catholics nearly doubled theirs. At a popular level there was the Salvation Army and the revivalist churches founded under the influence of the American evangelists 44

I

Quoted in Victorian England p7


Moody and Sankey. Added to all this was a strong revival in the Established Church throughout the nineteenth century. Parallel to the legacy of John Wesley which had led to Methodism, there was a new evangelical movement within the Church of England, as well as the Tractarian or Anglo-Catholic revival started by Newman and the Oxford Movement. Around the time that Taunton School was founded Anglicans as well as Dissenters were furiously building new churches and, in the case of the Anglicans, renovating old ones. More than 7000 were restored between 1840 and 1880. The Church of England had thrown off its eighteenth-century image as a lax, disorganised body largely in the hands of the landed gentry and joined the many other denominations in its guardianship of the moral health of the nation. It was, however, the political privilege retained by the Church of England in certain significant areas, notably education, which contributed to the view, held by the founders of Taunton School, that the establishment of schools for dissenters was 'highly important and necessary'. Although Dissenters had gained the absolute right to hold public office under the Municipal Corporations Act of Lord Melbourne's government in 1835', the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were still closed to those who were not members of the Established Church. This remained the case until Acts of 1856 and 1858 permitted undergraduates to matriculate and take degrees; final barriers against those wishing to take up scholarships and teaching posts were not removed until the passing of the University Tests Act in 1871. The 1840s were also years when Dissenters felt threatened by proposed government legislation on state, or national education, such as it then was. There had been such dissenting anger at the Factory Bill of 1843 which proposed that the teachers and managers of schools for factory children should be Anglicans, that the Bill had had to be abandoned. And there was intense rivalry over establishing state aided schools between the National Society, an Anglican organisation, and the non-denominational British and Foreign Schools Society and other Dissenting denominations. The feeling that the Established church was racing ahead in this area was widespread and probably justified, as the findings of the Newcastle Commission in 1858 showed that the National Society had opened nearly eight times as many schools as the British Society and more than three times as many as all the non-Anglicans put together. The Congregationalists had 33,000 stateaided pupils by this time, the lowest figure of any of the major nonconformist denominations, though it may be true that Congregationalists had tended to support the British Schools rather than build their own. However the formation of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1831 had created a greater sense of identity for Congegationalists generally. This, therefore, was the climate in which the West of England Dissenters' Proprietary School was founded. From the beginning it naturally had close links with the Congregational Chapels in the town. These were Paul's Meeting, a chapel built in Paul Street around 1780, now the United Reformed Church, and North Street, whose congregation had seceded from Paul's Meeting some years before. The Ministers of these churches were joint Secretaries of the School, and the boys attended their services every Sunday, alternately morning and evening. The actual opening of the School on 27 July 1847 was marked by a Service at Paul's Meeting; a celebration dinner was also held in the church vestry at North Street. Subsequent landmarks in the School's history have all been hallowed by prayer and worship: the laying of the foundation stone of the new School and the latter's opening in 1870, the dedication of the Chapel, Key stages in this process had been the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828, and the further impact of the 1832 Reform Act.

2

45


war memorial and other buildings, and the special commemorations on the occasion of jubilees and other significant anniversaries. Not surprisingly, the School's first prospectus alludes to 'especial reference being had to the moral and religious training of the pupils'. Dr Bewglass, the Principal, must have satisfied the School Committee on this score, for its Chairman, the Rev David Thomas of Bristol reported at the second annual meeting of the Shareholders in 1849 a meeting which itself began with prayer - that his impression, having inspected the School, was that ' a religious spirit prevails, and a considerable number of the boys give evidence of decided piety'. Satisfaction was also expressed at the support the School had received thus far from the 'religious public', and its aims were reiterated as 'preparing our rising youth for occupying positions of usefulness and honour in the Church and in the world'. Every annual report for the first twenty years speaks in similar terms; the whole business of running the school is subordinate to the will of the Divine Master and seen as a 'High and Holy task'. How did these high ideals work out in practice? W C Hine, who entered the School in 1848, recalls how after a servant had woken the boys with a handbell at 6.30 am prayers were held in the Schoolroom at 7 am before breakfast. The first lesson in School every morning was Religious Instruction. Evening prayers followed Prep at 8 pm. On Sundays, the two town chapels were visited alternately, but Hine's most vivid memory of these weekly treks is not of the services, but of two elderly ladies whom the boys regularly saw being carried in sedan chairs to service at the Wesleyan Church, now Temple Methodist. All in all it was a school life where religion loomed large, though not to the exclusion of other activities and some provision for leisure limited as these were in those far-off days. In a religious age, the arrangements for the teaching and practice of Christianity probably did not seem excessive. As Lord Winterstoke's nephew, Mr H W S Wills, put it in 1914: 'Taunton School was founded in a day when it was necessary to state principles and stand by them'. It is clear, however, that even in the relatively early period of its history the School showed a tolerant attitude in religion which was in many ways remarkable for its period. From this sprang the ecumenism and interdenominational approach which became a notable feature of more recent years. Initially, of course, as we have seen, a protective stance was adopted - much of it due to local rivalries at a time when relations between Anglicans and Nonconformists in Taunton were strained. But it was not so very long before a more open attitude manifested itself, at least with regard to the pupils which the School welcomed through its doors. By 1885 the Rev F W Aveling was able to declare 'We have no -isms here. Our college is as little denominational as any boarding school in England.' And two years later: 'Our school has thrown open its doors to all sects. We have boys of every denomination.' Prospectuses and advertisements for the new Independent College on the Fairwater site still speak of special attention being given to moral and religious education, but this is couched in more measured terms, referring, for example, to a successful blend of sacred and secular teaching. Examiners' reports were now more preoccupied with the latter; the awe-inspiring Theological Studies has become mere Scripture. Though any denominational requirement on the part of the pupils and masters (Mr Loveday was a staunch Anglican and later Churchwarden of St James's) had gone', great care was taken to ensure that the teaching and even domestic staff were of Christian character. An advertisement in 1882 for a living-in steward and matron stated that 'it 46

3 A resolution accepting 'assistant masters of unquestionable religious character from any evangelical denomination' was passed in February 1855.


is indispensable that they be recognised members of a Nonconformist Christian Church'. When Mrs Milne was selected as the first Lady Superintendent of the new Junior School, her suitability was enhanced by the fact that she was the widow of a Congregational minister, and was declared to be 'sound in the Faith'. The Trust Deed containing the regulations of the School Company, issued after it was incorporated as a Limited Company under the Companies Act in 1892, declared categorically that all religious teaching was to be 'in strict conformity with the principles of the Christian Religion as professed by Christians commonly known as the Independent Denomination of Protestant Dissenters in England .... and no religious doctrine shall under any circumstances be expounded in any School of the Company in opposition to those specified.' The basic Christian doctrines were listed after this stern pronouncement, concluding with two particularly valued by Protestants: justification by faith, and the connection between pardon of sin and holiness of life. In 1887 the Rev F W Aveling proposed, in view of the School's increasingly interdenominational intake, that membership of the Shareholders' Committee should be open to 'any gentleman of evangelical view in religion'. This would include among others Wesleyans and evangelical Anglicans, who, he said, had been good friends to the College. His proposal was defeated by one vote, an absurd failure in the light of subsequent business enacted at the same meeting, when two new members of Committee were elected, one of whom was a Baptist and the other 'quite as much a Baptist as an Independent!' Five years later a rule of the newly formed company allowed its directors to be Congregationalists, Baptists or Presbyterians'. This seems likely to have been due to a 'common law' shift in opinion rather than a definite resolution, though evidently some suspicion of the Established Church remained. There is an amusing disqualification clause stating that a director must resign his office if he becomes 'lunatic or bankrupt or insolvent ... or ceases to belong to the Independent or Baptist or Presbyterian denomination': a neat summary of one Victorian interpretation of respectability. Before the appointment of Dr Whittaker, who was a Baptist, the Principal was required to be a Congregationalist, but now the Trust Deed was changed to read 'The Headmaster shall be a recognised Member of a Free Church'. This widened the School's appeal at a time when it was under considerable pressure from lack of numbers. The Baptists were as strong a force as the Congregationalists, and similar in tradition, and so moves to commend the School to the Baptist Union and Western Baptist Association were largely successful. An important additional factor was that Baptists had no school of their own in the West of England at that time. But what enhanced the spirit of ecumenism most was Dr Whittaker's own character. He never allowed his Baptist beliefs to dominate his view of Christianity and his obituary describes him as a truly broad-minded man: 'Definite in his own belief, he was perfectly sympathetic and respectful to other forms of the Christian faith'. He enjoyed cordial relations with the clergy at St James's - the School's 'parish Church' for many years - and was responsible for inviting leading members of a variety of denominations to important School occasions such as Prize Day. What he believed was important was to adopt firm beliefs of one's own without any bigotry of spirit: it was thus that one acquired true character. He helped in a significant way to develop the inter-denominational atmosphere of Taunton School. The last Headmaster to be a Free Churchman was John Leathem, a Congregationalist 4

The Presbyterian Church of England had been formed in 1876.

47


of firm nonconformist principles. All subsequent holders of the office have been Anglicans, though Dr Rae was from a Congregational background. He admits to espousing Anglicanism in order to widen the possibility of obtaining a headship' ... ironically Taunton did not require it! In 1965 the School's Trust Deed was altered, and the requirement from then on was that the Headmaster appointed should be 'satisfactorily certified to be of virtuous and moral life and behaviour'; surprisingly there is no mention of religion or any stipulation that he need be a member of a Christian Church. It may be that the change was effected in the knowledge that Mr Leathem was due to retire in 1966 and that, amid the trends to secularisation of the sixties it would be wise to throw the Rev F W Aveling net as wide as possible in the search for his successor. In the event the particulars of the appointment, when published, stated that applicants should be members of a Protestant church, and similar wording was used again in 1970. It must not be forgotten that the first four Headmasters of Taunton School were ministers, and this must have affected the tone of the place considerably, even if life at grassroots level was less directly affected. The Rev F W Aveling, for example, was described in 1887 as an 'out and out Radical and Non-conformist'. A close awareness of church affairs by the Headmaster meant that religion was given greater prominence on public occasions than it might otherwise have had. Pupils often had to endure lengthy speeches on the virtues of religion and the reformed brand of it. At the 1883 Speech Day the guest of honour, Lord Kilcoursie, indulged in a detailed history of nonconformity and its relation to the Church of England. Heavy articles appeared in The Tauntonian: an analysis of biblical miracles, and a table examining the occurrence of the number 7 in the Pentateuch. Religious causes were supported, among them the London Missionary Society and an appeal for Mansfield College, Oxford's newly founded nonconformist college. Even the Guvvy profits went towards cushioning the pews in the town chapels. On reflection this may not have been a bad move considering the long hours the boys had to sit there! Positive relations with the Established Church were maintained by both Mr Aveling and Dr Whittaker, even if some members of the Committee had reservations. The invitation of an Anglican, the Rector of Churchstanton, to preach at Speech Day in 1888 was regarded as a considerable innovation. After his sermon he was thanked by Mr Aveling for his 'true Christian unity'. However, it is clear that only evangelical Anglicans were welcome at this stage. In a letter encouraging support for Mansfield College and its work in the training of Independent ministers at Oxford, there are references to superstition and sacerdotalism being rife in the city - dangers for rising 5 See Delusions of Grandeur, p 25

48


young men to avoid. Not surprisingly the Oxford Movement did not commend itself to 'those who cling passionately to the Evangelical faith', as Mr Aveling put it. He knew of ritualists who had only too easily fallen prey to atheism. In a speech at the Old Boys' dinner in 1890 the Headmaster urged Queen Victoria to attend places of worship other than the established church, and declared that if she went to hear some Independent ministers she would be none the worse for it. The Queen, whose dislike of evangelicals was equal to her distrust of high churchmen, might not have agreed. Mr Aveling also expressed disappointment that Queen Victoria had not yet been to Taunton to present the prizes. This may have been said tongue in cheek, though it does anticipate another famous appeal to the Royal Family in 1982, when Norman Roberts in his 'School fit for a Prince' speech at Commemoration urged the Prince and Princess of Wales to send the recently born Prince William to Taunton School. I am sure, knowing Norman's unflinching loyalty and unshakeable belief in the School that his words were uttered in all seriousness. Unfortunately on this occasion, there was another school which had been kept out in the cold for longer: Eton College. Taunton's loyalty to the Crown, despite religious differences, has usually been staunch and is frequently reiterated in the records of its early history. One example is Queen Victoria's 80th birthday when it was affirmed that 'In Non-conformity only has Taunton School departed from English tradition', though there had been less enthusiasm for her jubilee in 1887 when pupils were banned from watching the town's jubilee procession. Even a century later when the present Queen paid her long overdue first visit to Taunton in May 1986 Norman Roberts also declared 'lessons as usual' but relented at the last minute and cancelled periods 4 and 5, allowing pupils to town to join the crowds. Over the years the School has enjoyed four royal visits, which are described elsewhere. In nineteenth-century politics the inclination was to Gladstone rather than Disraeli. Needless to say, Gladstone was admired in the religious context for his high ideals rather than his high churchmanship, and his name rarely failed to elicit applause if mentioned in the course of a speech. An adulatory poem about him appeared in The Tauntonian in January 1886 and is worth quoting: TO GLADSTONE Uncrowned Ruler of a State, Intellect of type unique, Genius of a nation's fate, Generous helper of the weak, Old in years, but young in mind, Sternly just, tho' wondrous kind, To thy laurel crown one leaf Do I plead to add, unknown; With thy honor's golden sheaf Do I bind one blade alone! Is the leaf of flimsy frame And the blade of corn yet green? Tho' a gift be all unseen, 'Tis a gift, still all the same. Homage thus I render thee Master soul of Liberty! 49


A lecture about heroes by the Rev E Jenkins of Bridgwater (an 1887 Saturday evening 'entertainment' which the speaker stated could equally well have been called 'Pluck, Perseverance and Piety') praised Gladstone (cheers in the hall) for his strength and gentleness, and declared that no living man had had to take a larger amount of insult. He had been charged with being an infidel, but had never lost his courtesy. Perhaps Mr Aveling could sympathise: he himself claimed he had been called an atheist in the town of Taunton for not belonging to the Established Church. The concept of the School as an example of 'new Puritanism' was a popular one around this time. The Commemoration speaker in 1887, the Rt Hon J W Mellor, QC told his audience that they were the true successors of the Puritans and ought to consider how the latter had come to influence their times so remarkably. The answer was their determination and love of righteousness, their earnest perseverance and selfdenial. Mr J B Ridges said in a speech to the Old Boys (1896) that the school had been Puritan and still was. 'It was founded by men of the true Puritan spirit, and it is conducted still by men who have that spirit'. From this new Puritanism sprang the useful, noble, true and righteous education which Taunton offered. One of the earliest motions debated at the new Independent College Debating Society was 'That the beheading of Charles I was a righteous act'. To the credit of the debaters there seems to have been a measured historical assessment of the respective tyranny of the King and Cromwell rather than the confusion of loyalties felt by a post-Puritan institution supportive of the Crown. The President, Mr Aveling, spoke in favour of Cromwell and the respect he won for England abroad, and he no doubt voted with the ayes. The result was a tied vote of 20 each way; who the Chairman was or whether there was a casting vote is not recorded. A certain reappraisal of the School's religious position was bound to come with its acquisition of Public School status in 1899. This would continue to be broadly based, liberal in outlook and denominationally non-exclusive. However it was reaffirmed that the School was primarily for those who belonged to the Free Churches, and the decision was made to place on the Governing Body representatives of the main Free Church bodies, such as the Congregational and Baptist Unions and the Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. There would be twelve such nominees - two from each of six denominational bodies - and Free Church ministers who contributed ÂŁ10 or more to the Capital Fund of the School would also be eligible to become Governors. The new governing body was seen as leading to an increase in the prosperity and popularity of the School, which was, of course, badly needed at this time. For many years the School had attended en masse the annual meeting of the Somerset Congregational Union every autumn. Often it was held at the School and seems to have been regarded as something of a prestige occasion, at least for the authorities. For the boys it must have seemed a long day of services, discussions and reports, though being excused lessons may have been a consolation. In 1904 the entire delegates of the Baptist Union visited by special train! Sunday services continued to be attended at Paul's Meeting and North Street, though Mr Aveling had tried to introduce a Sunday evening service in the Schoolroom which was more suitable for young people. He had fallen out over this with the Committee who insisted that the boys attended in the town unless the weather was foul. This problem was finally solved, and a new religious perspective emerged, with the opening of the School Chapel in 1907. This was undoubtedly the most important 50


religious development in the School's history. For Dr Whittaker it was clearly the achievement dearest to his heart. 'We gained spiritual sustenance from the town chapels, but our own chapel is a spiritual home.' Except for the opening ceremony, he was the first to preach in it. It was a glory and a boon. More prosaic yet sound words came from the Rev Arnold Thomas (familiarly known as the Nonconformist Bishop of Bristol!): 'I hope the boys will behave well. Everyone has a great deal to do with the spiritual value of any act of worship.' At times of turbulent discipline - the 1960s for example - when it is often argued that rules about behaviour in Chapel have little to do with true religion, one does well to remember that wisdom. The ideal of collective worship by the whole School was one held dear from the start. At the laying of the Chapel's foundation stone, the Rt Hon Augustine Birrell, President of the Board of Education, spoke of such worship as the culminating ideal of those who had a common character to maintain, the same traditions behind them and the same hopes before them. Christian unity would find a true expression there. Although the boys continued to attend morning services in the town at churches of their own denomination, the Sunday evening service was a united one in the School Chapel. This was a good compromise which allowed for both diversity and unity during a period when the rapidly growing school was attracting an increasing number of Anglicans as well as boys from Free Church homes. Children are generally less concerned with denominational niceties than adults, and the Sunday evening service provided a focus of unity which was acceptable to all. It continued as the School's main act of Sunday worship until the end of 1960, after which morning services became the norm, with attendance required at only one main service each Sunday. Evening services have, however, continued to be held occasionally since then, and even today some pupils profess to prefer them. Although it had lost some of its Victorian intensity, religion was still a social and moral force in the early decades of this century. At Taunton especially, under Dr Whittaker's influence, there were constant reminders of the equation of religion with high educational ideals and the supreme purpose in life. Preaching at the Chapel's dedication in 1907 the Rev Arnold Thomas enumerated the 'windows' through which we may look towards the holy city: prayer, obedience, the Bible and Sunday observance. These were aspects of the faith which evangelicals and nonconformists had always taken seriously. In 1903 Dr Whittaker had said that almost every stone of the School was consecrated in prayer, and certainly some of the prayers uttered at significant moments in the School's history have been moving ones. 'May the beauty of the Lord our God be upon this house and all who dwell in it. Establish Thou the work of our hands: yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it.' So prayed the Rev David Thomas at the opening of the new School in 1870. In Chapel there was a special place in the order of service for extemporary prayer - a hallowed Free Church tradition - but service books with set prayers have been published from time to time. One of Norman Roberts's favourites was 'Grant, 0 Lord, that we may be either hot or cold; that we may stand for something lest we fall for anything'. In the same volume there was a prayer for parents which included the phrase 'Give them the resources they require': an appropriate petition in the 1970s, when rampant inflation was pushing fees up alarmingly! The holding of House Prayers every evening continued as a tradition until relatively recently, but has now been abandoned by all houses. Latterly the maintenance of 51


House Prayers as part of the evening assembly had depended on the attitude of house staff, and some gave up the tradition earlier than others. School House for example retained formal prayers until it closed in 1994. Some Houses had a Bible reading as well, and an old piano which stood in the Fairwater Prep room until the 1970s testified to the inclusion of a hymn until not so many years before that. Scripture teaching was thorough at the beginning of the century, if somewhat unimaginative, and the all-pervading importance of religion was such that any master would have been well qualified to undertake it. The pupils' knowledge of the Bible would have been considerably better than it is in today's secular age, when even in Divinity lessons more time is devoted to discussions, topics relating to questions of morality and comparative religion. In the old days, however, it was the Bible, which would also have been given considerable prominence in the many services the boarders attended on Sundays: sermons were almost invariably quite learned affairs based closely on a biblical text. A printed copy of one sermon from Paul's Meeting on ' Your young men shall see visions' runs to nine pages of The Tauntonian! Incidentally, R G P Besley (1916-24 and later President of the School) has an amusing memory of the boys lining up before they marched to church on a Sunday morning. The duty master would bellow 'Senior Congregationalists, North Street - Junior Baptists, Albemarle Senior Baptists, Silver Street' and so forth, as the boys sorted themselves out. Last of all, and with more than a trace of disdain, would come the order 'Any Episcopalians St James's'. However, there was some compensation for belonging to an Establishment minority: Matins tended to be shorter than the lengthy services of the Chapels and there was a good chance of a place at the front of the queue for First Lunch. Sundays also involved a strict observance of the Sabbath. Games were frowned upon, and certainly in the early days boys were not allowed to go out with visitors, only to church, though Dr Bewglass seems to have permitted a little recreation in the afternoon, between services. W C Hine recalls looking for birds' nests in the hedge on a Sunday afternoon, apparently without recrimination. Later a walk in the country was allowable, but not more energetic activities. During the severe winter of 1912 when skating was an enjoyable diversion, boarders were taken to the Somerset Levels one Friday and provided with a flooded area at School where they were able to skate on Saturday and Monday. To skate on the intervening Sunday would have been unthinkable. As late as 1926 four boys were sent to the Headmaster for playing cards on Sunday and caned. In the same punishment book there is a record of a boy being punished for 'Sunday trading after explicit instructions': one wonders what he did! Today a large number of local shopkeepers (but for new laws and changed times) would be guilty of a similar infringement. Harold Bennett remembers 'boring Sunday afternoons' in the 1930s, when restrictions were nevertheless easing a little and a few activities such as cycling, informal games and play readings were permitted on Sundays. Even as recently as 1964 John Leathem framed his Sunday rules with great care: 'Games may be played on Sundays but not on an organised basis. No pressure - direct or indirect - is to be put upon any boy to take part. House practices are forbidden. Nothing must be done to disturb neighbours.' Today the slight lull in the busy week's activities leads some boarders to speak of Sunday boredom still, though in reality there is plenty that they can now do. The cinema is popular with many. Outlawed for many years along with 'fairs, race meetings and billiard halls', cinemas are relatively recently permitted places of diversion for Taunton School pupils. You 52


could have been severely punished for going to one in pre-war days. And Sunday cinema shows, which began around 1932, would no doubt have been regarded as the work of the devil. Now the old Sunday has gone for ever, and with it much of the dreariness which must have bottled up youthful energies in the past. But perhaps we have also lost something - something to which our forbears attached immense value: the need to pause, to reflect and to acknowledge that there is something above and beyond the trivia of everyday existence, to which we should accord some priority and which gives that existence meaning. A striking example of a similar sort of faith in the will of God as an absolute, guiding force is seen in an 'hi Memoriam' notice mourning the death of a junior boy, Hartley Payne, from a fever in 1904. The emphasis is totally alien to what we would find today: 'God the Almighty and All-Wise has need in His heavenly kingdom for the young pilgrim who has hardly even begun the battle ... and though to us it may seem strange when the summons 'Friend, come up higher' comes to one who seems hardly to have started the preparation here on earth for that higher existence, yet He knows best ...' Nowadays this would seem excessive even at a church service, but Victorian and Edwardian preoccupations with death were considerable, and Queen Victoria herself is known to have loved funerals. Ten years later the Great War brought the need for many more black-edged notices, this time with greater incomprehension and a sense of that grim horror which shattered the faith of so many. Indeed, many of those who fought on the Somme must have felt it more appropriate to sing 'We're here because we're here' than to place any residual faith in divine will, and who can blame them? After the stressful war years which had made the Chapel so often a focus for sorrow as the names of the fallen were read out, the School settled into the routines of school-based worship. Dr Whittaker started a tradition by which the Headmaster always preached to the School on the first Sunday of term, and this has been maintained, with a few exceptions, Harold to the present day. Nicholson published a collection of his own sermons in 1932. And Barry Sutton attaches enough importance to preaching that he included it in his job description when developing the School's senior management structure in recent years. In the Chapel's early years a list of preachers for the term was drawn up by the Headmaster and published in The Tauntonian. Chapel interior 1950s 53


Many famous names have occupied its pulpit. Sometimes they were Old Boys who had entered the ministry, such as the Rev Dr M E Aubrey, who became Secretary of the Baptist Union and the Rev Prof Morris West, later Principal of Bristol Baptist College. Some were eminent academics, such as Professor C H Dodd who many years later became the Director of the New English Bible, or Professor H Wheeler Robinson of Regent's Park College, Oxford. There were also frequent visits from missionaries and Congregational Moderators of the various provinces, though Anglicans were not excluded, the Vicar of St Mary's, Taunton and the Chaplain of University College, Oxford being occasional preachers. Members of staff were also invited to speak, the most regular being Aubrey French, S P Record and Dr Ernest Neal. The first Roman Catholic to preach in the Chapel was Father Stephen of the monastery at Cerne Abbas, who aroused considerable interest at several services on 4 November 1951. One of the most memorable preachers of all was the late Bishop Wilson of Birmingham, who for many years presided at the annual Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall. He spoke most movingly of his terrible wartime sufferings at the hands of Japanese guards, some of whom came, through his example, to embrace the Christian faith and whom he later baptised. When numbers became too great to accommodate the whole school in Chapel, it was decided to hold separate services for juniors and this experiment was a great success. Thone also held its own services from 1944, often conducted by its first Headmaster, Dr Hedworth-Whitty, and that tradition was continued by subsequent Headmasters, of whom Tony Wood (1974-95) was eminently qualified to do so, being a Church of England Lay Reader. Under the present Head, John Gibson, pupils are again attending local churches two or three times a term, so the wheel has come full circle. Annual Commemoration Services were held in the School Chapel until 1961, after which they transferred to St Mary's Church. Pressure on space meant that there were usually two services, one on Sunday morning for the boys and one in the evening for parents and friends, most of whom would then stay overnight in order to attend the Prize Giving on the following Monday. Commemoration preachers have included the Bishop of Bath and Wells on several occasions, Sir John Wolfenden, the Free Church Moderator Dr Kenneth Slack and, in the Centenary year, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In 1945 there was no visitor. To mark the end of an era, Mr S P Record, who had been a loyal friend of the Chapel since its foundation, preached in the morning and Mr Crichton-Miller at night. Both were leaving the School next day. Many special services have been held in the Chapel through the ninety years of its history. One of the first, on 20 May 1910, was timed to coincide exactly with the funeral of King Edward VII. It provided a means of identifying with a solemn national event in the days before radio and television. At the end of both world wars special commemoration services took place, with the names of the fallen being read out. And twice a year those same sacrifices are recalled at the School's Remembrance Service in November and after the OT Service held on the Sunday of the reunion weekend, when a wreath of summer flowers is laid on the War Memorial. On 31 January 1965 Taunton joined all the churches in the land holding a special service commemorating Sir Winston Churchill. Dr Whittaker's funeral was held in the Chapel in 1925, and there have been a number of memorial services following the death of pupils, long-serving Old Tauntonians and members of staff such as John Dearden, Eric Wright and Freddie 54


Dowell. One of the most moving was held in memory of Fidel Fahnbulleh, a popular Head of Fairwater, who died of leukaemia in 1995, the year after he left school. On a happier note, the Chapel has been the scene of an increasing number of weddings of OTs and members of staff in recent years: in some instances - Hugh and Selma Todd and Ian and Jill Payne - both parties were members of the school community. There have been baptisms, usually of children of staff but sometimes of pupils, and an annual Confirmation Service since 1941, when the Bishop of Bath and Wells received candidates from Taunton and Rochester boys here in wartime at a joint service. There have also been broadcast services, the first in 1942, which involved the participants in preliminary rehearsals and voice tests at the Bristol studios, was heard by an estimated seven million radio listeners. Another in 1959, which was a great success, was spoken of with enthusiasm by John Leathem at that year's Commemoration. Since then the School has produced the 'Sunday Half Hour' programme of radio hymn singing on at least five occasions since 1977, and the Choir has periodically recorded the Radio 4 Daily Service. The appointment of a School Chaplain from 1941 has greatly enhanced the spiritual life of the School. The first holder of the office was the Rev McEwan Lawson, who came from Mill Hill School, a school incidentally which is linked with Taunton historically. A Dissenting foundation strongly supported by Congregationalists, Mill Hill was the school attended by Lord Winterstoke, who when he later gave the School Chapel, requested that the order of service observed at Mill Hill should be used at Taunton. Mr McEwan Lawson made a number of immediate changes, with the aim of making Chapel services more relevant and thought-provoking. Weekday chapels (at 7.50 am in those days) now had a definite theme with more varied readings which might include extracts from books such as Pilgrim's Progress. For the Sunday services he sometimes arranged that a single thread should run through the whole term, the first being 'A Trustworthy Belief for These Times' - a challenging title in what was, of course, a wartime situation. He started a discussion circle which met in Wills East on Sunday evenings in the Kings' private sitting room. An amusing note tells how the gathering sometimes resembled a lion's den with the visiting preacher lowered, so to speak, into their midst: 'We snap at him or gnaw his bones, and he kicks back merrily under coffee and divine care!' Mr McEwan Lawson did much to simplify junior services, by writing new prayers of his own, for instance. He also introduced a Harvest Festival service which bcame an annual event with the Chapel bedecked with produce, later given to local homes or hospitals, and the strains of the traditional anthem 'Thou visitest the earth' by Maurice Greene. The harvest service continued until it was swamped by the innovations of the late sixties, only to enjoy a cursory revival in a 'modernised' form in the seventies with 'technological' hymns such as 'God of concrete, God of steel'. Another of Mr Lawson's changes was to introduce a voluntary midweek evening service, which caught on well. This was an important move historically as it pointed the way to the concept of voluntary chapel which became an important issue 25 years later with the Rev Alec Knight. In some ways McEwan Lawson was ahead of his time. He was too much of an innovator for some; traditionalists were uneasy with several of the changes, and there were mutterings of Machiavellian plots to rob the School of cherished traditions. In the 1970s that could have become a compliment: Norman Roberts was an admirer of Machiavelli. Eye trouble unfortunately forced McEwan Lawson to reduce his commitment to the 55


School, though he had achieved a lot in his six years. He was replaced as Chaplain in 1947 by the Rev E A Brown who was Minister of North Street Congregational Church and had initially made contact with the School through the groups of boys who still occasionally worshipped there. Mr Brown stayed for twenty-one years. He revived the Sunday evening discussion group which had lapsed, under the name of the Christian Forum; also hymn practices to improve the singing, and these have continued, off and on, to the present day. Another familiar issue was the deteriorating condition of the hymn books, with recommendation of more gentle handling. A switch from Hymns of the Kingdom to Songs of Praise had taken place by this time:: the latter book remained in use until Hymns for Church and School was adopted in 1985, at the instigation of the Rev Terry Curnow and the then organist Mr Martin Ellis, who sat on numerous hymnbook revision committees and had definite ideas about hymnody! The 1950s and early 1960s were largely years of acceptance, and the religious life of the School proceeded smoothly year after year marked by the pattern of festivals and events which had become established. There were few innovations. Such as there were seem almost too trivial to record, but they illustrate the orderliness of this era. ('Every third Sunday at Senior Evening Service a second lesson replaces the anthem or extra hymn') Chapel secretaries and wardens were appointed from among the boys to assist with preparation for services and the efficient running of Chapel generally. All this reflected the post-war honeymoon period which the Church enjoyed in society at large. Numbers were up; people went to church, and traditionalist outlooks held sway. They were ideal conditions for the Rev E A Brown to conduct his gentle ministry. Taunton School enjoyed record numbers at Confirmations during this period. There were rarely fewer than 50 candidates and, in the annus mirabilis of 1959 a record 76. An interesting denominational shift is evident in the post-war years. Whereas in 1944 there were still as many as 50 boys being received into Free Church membership (at a service usually held within a few days of the School Confirmation) by 1952 there were only six against 34 confirmations; in 1955 only four, and in 1959 again six. The School was clearly moving in an Anglican direction, and by 1968 its first Church of England Headmaster, Dr Rae, was ready to appoint its first Anglican Chaplain. The man chosen to superintend those turbulent years was an Old Boy, the Rev Alec Knight. The rot was a little later setting in at Taunton than in some places. Perhaps the continuity of the Leathem era had helped to keep the waters unruffled. An editorial in The Tauntonian in 1964 referred to a recent report which had said that a Sixth Form rebellion was taking place in Britain's public schools. It went on to assert confidently 'At Taunton there is no rebellion ... the only culture that has invaded the School is that of Liverpool'. The problem rather was apathy. But what started with the Beatles went further than anyone foresaw, as the attitudes engendered during that fateful period led to a questioning and a re-appraisal of every aspect of society. And of course religion and morality were among the prime targets of this bombardment. The reaction was, of course, gradual rather than instantaneous. In religious terms this meant, at first, little more than a fluctuation in the numbers attending voluntary Chapel. Confirmations were down slightly, but even in 1966 there were still 46 candidates. However, ominous words emanated from that summer's Tauntonian: 'Ours is not an age of faith.... questions of moral right or wrong are lost in the mists of an endless relativity ... Today we are more alone than at any time in our history.' An exaggeration, perhaps, to which the coincidental ending of the long comfortable reign 56


of John Leathem as Headmaster may have contributed. But the sense of moral uncertainty and of being on the brink of great change was inescapable. An Experiment in Worship service in John Rae's first term made people 'think and talk furiously' about what religion should mean. This format continued after Dr Rae had invited Alec Knight to replace the Rev E A Brown in the spring of 1968. Of course moral relativism, in a perverse sort of way, gave a boost to the ecumenical movement around this time. The uncertainty about absolutes encouraged a blurring of denominational distinctions. John Rae secured inter-Communion for the School Chapel late in 1966 as a special college arrangement, but it was not long before the Church of England relaxed its rules generally. An ecumenical series of services in 1968 brought preachers of six different denominations to the Chapel pulpit, including a Quaker and the Abbot of Downside. Further steady progress in ecumenical attitudes was made during the following two decades, and in the 1990s few pupils would think primarily of allegiance to any particular denomination. The negative side is that many would claim no religious allegiance at all. Questioning established beliefs was the essence of this era. A new school forum, the cryptically named RDG (for 'Religious Discussion Group') was aggressive in its choice of subjects. 'Why believe in God?' and 'After death - what?' were among the early ones. Contentious articles about religion began appearing in The Tauntonian. There were unstructured poems (who is god what is god), a parody of The Lord's Prayer (Hollow is your name) and a strong letter from R N Swan deploring compulsory chapel and the exclusive teaching of Christianity. The Rev Brian Kirk of Taunton United Congregational (later United Reformed) Church was brought in to provide a strongly worded reply. A survey of religious attitudes circulated late in 1968 to the whole School revealed vestigial loyalties: if Chapel were voluntary, about a half would go 'sometimes' and a third 'not at all'. Even greater hostility was to dominate the next few years. Some preferred iconoclastic or rebellious action to discussion. Boys refused to sing in Chapel, some even to open the hymn book. The ethics of encouraging others not to sing was fiercely discussed. John Rae conferred frequently with the Chaplain. The Chapel, in retreat, indulged in its own iconoclasm. The old communion table and oak choir stalls were relegated to the hangar and a free-standing, formica-topped altar, carpet and chairs replaced them. A huge seven-foot high cross (the gift of Rex Williams) was suspended from the ceiling. The blue reredos screen and brass candlesticks were put away. New Chapel Chancel after modernisation 57


strip-lighting was installed: greatly admired in the 1960s, it was hated by the 1990s and has now given way to more subtle and beautiful lighting given in memory of the late David Hobbs. Other moves included the introduction of lectures on moral or vaguely religious contemporary issues for sixth formers, and the drastic reduction of the number of compulsory services generally. Pupils now had to attend on only three weekdays and boarders once on Sundays. An outside event which affected the Chapel indirectly around this time was the union of Congregational and Presbyterian churches to form the United Reformed Church in 1972. This move was significant in that it was the first British Church union to cut across confessional boundaries. In Taunton Paul's Meeting elected to join the URC while North Street remained Congregational. In 1972 the School Council was asked by the Taunton Registration District to state whether the School Chapel had elected to unite with the URC, and what the title of the building and its denomination would be after the formation of the new church. After discussion it was decided that, as the Chapel had never been administered by the Congregational Union and was already described in the prospectus as 'inter-denominational', it would remain independent and outside the URC. It was also felt, probably rightly, that such considerations were remote from the concerns of the Chapel's potentially volatile congregation, who were not encouraged to express their opinion. There had, of course, been an Anglican chaplain since 1968, and Norman Roberts declared firmly that the Chapel's title would be 'Taunton School Chapel' and that its status would remain interdenominational. Alec Knight as Chaplain was keen to implement more active forms of worship which might include plays, mimes and liturgical experiments. He was strongly supported in this by both John Rae and Norman Roberts. In the early 1970s various patterns of services were tried, and the resulting model was a monthly rotation involving different age groups. Evening services were held at the rather unlikely time of 8.45 pm, though they reverted to the more traditional 6.30 pm from 1974. The Sixth Form Lectures were retained, and opportunities for voluntary attendance and celebrations of Holy Communion were built into the plan. An Easter drama became a feature at the end of the Spring Term, and a roving evangelist with a guitar paid the School a visit. Alec Knight also favoured experimental group sessions involving imaginative meditation and dialogue. These were not popular with some staff (and possibly pupils) who could not see their point or were embarrassed by them. I recall one such 'service' in the Centenary Hall where Geoff Stephens and I, both on duty, sat together, I on his right. When we were asked to look at our left neighbour, meditate for 30 seconds and then utter one sentence about his character, Geoff, staring straight ahead, muttered quite bluntly 'You needn't bother'. As he was Second Master and I was a very junior member of staff, I was quite relieved. Shortly after that Alec Knight left Taunton and became Director of the Bloxham Project, an organisation concerned with the role of worship in independent schools and where he could indulge his whims without restraint. During the Chaplaincy of the Rev Terry Curnow (1975-84) the Chapel sailed in quieter waters after the stormy and unsettled period which had gone before. That it could do so was due in no small measure to the efforts of his predecessor Alec Knight to defuse the rebellious attitudes which prevailed during his time at Taunton. His willingness to listen, to invite question and debate and above all to be adaptable 58


proved a valuable means of meeting a critical sixth form half way, and even if not all of his experiments were successful they provoked ideas and discussion which influenced the School's attitude to worship and religious teaching for some considerable time. Alec Knight always wore the 'alternative' clerical dress of an ordinary white tie against a black shirt, but this was the only sense in which the man was black and white. His sympathies crossed many boundaries and his explorations of faith and intellect were open-minded. His development of Personal Relations helped to expand the Divinity syllabus and make it less theological; today Education for Personal Relations is an important element in the curriculum in its own right. Several of Alec Knight's innovations, such as Worship Workshops and the monthly Community Service, were continued by Terry Curnow. The latter was meant to draw the 'estate workers' to worship along with the School, a rather eighteenth-century idea, perhaps. When they failed to appear, the experiment was abandoned though resurrected some years later as a united service for the three schools. This was a period when the Church generally was trying to bridge the credibility gap which had been widening since the 1950s and had suffered some severe blows during the theological debate of the post-Honest to God era. It needed to rediscover both spirituality and sound biblical teaching, and to relate the latter to the modern world. This suited Terry Curnow, who preferred an intellectual approach to an overtly trendy one. Although some of Alec Knight's service patterns were retained for a while, the more extravagant aspects of their content were abandoned. If Terry wished to experiment, he preferred to design a service around a scientific idea, a literary theme such as Christian poetry or possibly music and readings. What he did achieve was to demonstrate the need for intellectual discipline as well as personal commitment and social awareness. The latter was conveyed by several series of addresses involving outside speakers who had experience of certain social problems, such as Samaritans, prison governors and hospice workers. One of these series was arranged to coincide with the International Year of the Disabled in 1981. The role of Christianity was sometimes implied rather than stated, as those who came to speak did not always have experience of 'preaching' as such, but the idea was to encourage the pupils to discern the practical implications of Christian belief. Faith itself was not neglected, with studies on the Trinity and the Apostle's Creed, and a careful organisation of voluntary chapel brought increasing numbers, especially to services of Holy Communion. Terry Curnow's strength was that he made plenty of outside contacts and cultivated them. There were numerous visiting preachers - sometimes two on the same Sunday - and he also encouraged members of staff to take services, sometimes even the pupils themselves. This had also been dear to Alec Knight's heart but the prevailing rebellious outlook made it difficult to implement. However, by the late seventies attitudes were steadying, and Foxcombe, Loveday and the Sixth Form girls all took services during Terry Curnow's chaplaincy. Memorable visitors included Lord Soper, who spoke with his customary conviction, and a rather unlikely Austrian pastor in national costume, Pastor Pokorny, who had been a member of the Hitler Youth but had repented of it. He was doing a tour of Britain and somehow Terry had got hold of him. For Terry was and is an organised man. He once gave Nigel Maggs a reading so far ahead that he read it a week too early! When a School House boy, Robin Copestick, stood up in the middle of a service and said he didn't agree with what the Chaplain 59


was saying, we all knew within five seconds that the interruption was prearranged. This did not prevent it from making a valuable point about a preacher's assumption of his right to the congregation's silence. Incidentally, the only other impromptu reaction I recall consisted of action rather than words and was not pre-planned. A visiting preacher was expounding on the Creation, and in the congregation was an American girl from the deep South who was with us for a year. The sermon was veering dangerously near evolution (as Martin Ellis might have said) and we knew that Patti Oakes did not believe in evolution. At some point it all became too much for her; she shuffled along her row, walked noisily through the Chapel and slammed the door as she left. To his credit the Norman Roberts preacher continued unruffled, though Norman Roberts was clearly itching for the service to end so that he could summon Patti to his study! Even in the 1980s experimentation had its wilder extremes. The wildest came one January Sunday in 1985 when, as was his custom, Norman Roberts was preaching at the first school service of term. It happened also to be the first Sunday in office of a new Chaplain, Martin Beaumont. The service proceeded unremarkably until Norman was in the middle of his sermon. Then suddenly there was a slight noise of the side and back doors of the Chapel opening surreptitiously, and two armed men in balaclavas confronted us. This was a time when there had been a number of aircraft hi-jackings, and the IRA campaign of violence was at its height. There was no question we thought it was real. The rifles were raised as the terrorists stepped forward threateningly with shouts of 'Don't move!'. Instead of adopting the practical course of ducking behind the pulpit, Norman, ever idealistic, tried to reason with the gunmen: 'I've just been talking about peace .... What you don't realise ....' Too late! The guns were fired, a truly deafening noise: after involuntarily recoiling we opened our eyes to see who was dead or injured (Norman?), fearful of further violence. Nothing. Just silence. Then Norman emerged into the aisle: 'And that is what happens when violence rules our hearts....' It was a put-up job. Peter Roberts and another boy had been issued with CCF rifles and blanks before the service and sworn to secrecy. We were all stunned. Poor Martin Beaumont had literally had a baptism of fire. How drained he looked as his slightly quavering voice pronounced the blessing, an inevitably tame ending after such drama. Nowadays we would have been given counselling rather than coffee in the library afterwards. As it was, we indulged in an animated step-by-step analysis of our reactions, though one housemaster went off crossly muttering about the illegality of discharging blanks in a public assembly. One lesson that service taught me was to recognise the emotion of real fear which is latent 60


within us all. I now knew the nature of something quite chilling whose existence I had only suspected before. I also knew that I would remember it should I ever find myself publicly threatened in that way again, perhaps for real next time. God forbid I ever should, but in 1996 my empathy was very real for the children of Dunblane. Martin Beaumont's chaplaincy was an example of outstanding pastoral ministry. One of the most tolerant and understanding of men, he had a quiet presence and sympathetic approach which had a great influence on the school community. He had been both an assistant Chaplain at Marlborough and a parish priest in Devon, and he went on to Haileybury from Taunton. During his seven years at Taunton (1985-91) he was a prime example of Christian living who involved himself in a stunning range of activities - rugby, acting, camping, walking, fund-raising - and so brought the gospel to the people without being an evangelical in any churchy sense. In Chapel he preferred an inductive approach, using modern parables to illustrate a point rather than any in-depth analysis of the faith or spiritual extravagance. Religious experience was toned down, though many pupils to whom it was alien probably did not miss it. For these were years when attitudes to religion were undergoing further change. People were distancing themselves from the Church not so much out of hostility as out of apathy or lack of any Church connection in the first place. The rebellious pupils of the sixties had become the apathetic parents of the nineties. These years also saw a rise in the importance of counselling as a service offered by schools and by the nation to children with problems; at national level, for instance, they saw the establishment of Childline and the passing of the Children Act. Martin Beaumont's ability to be a good listener, not in Alec Knight's sense of examining religious truths and chairing discussion groups, but in a more personal, private way, was undoubtedly his greatest asset. Where do 150 years of moral and religious witness at Taunton School leave us at present? The Chaplain since 1992 has been the Rev Geoffrey Evans, formerly Taunton Hospitals Chaplain, and with him there has been a shift towards a renewed search for spirituality in the setting of dignified worship. This has brought about some rearrangement of the chancel area of the Chapel. Terry Curnow had on one occasion resurrected the old communion table and choir stalls, but Norman Roberts would have none of it and the experiment lasted only one day. The old furnishings, he felt, were out of tune with the times and Rev Geoffrey Evans and Rev Terry Curnow 61


there was to be no turning back of the clock. Consigned to the hangar once more, they never re-emerged but perished in a fire some years later. Fifteen years on tastes had changed and the mood was calmer. Out went the formica altar, replaced by Mark Coray's new Holy Table of simple but chaste design, and the arrival of Geoffrey Evans brought further changes as he and Barry Sutton pursued their common search for the beauty of holiness. This time there was no iconoclasm, unless one calls destructive the removal of a sordid, mustard-coloured carpet to reveal the beautiful Sicilian marble of the chancel and the replacement of the plain choir benches with tasteful chairs. A further search even brought to light the brass cross and candlesticks given to the School by King's, Rochester in thanks for wartime hospitality; they needed considerable cleaning having been tarnished to make them suitable for use as props in a school play. Now restored they grace the new altar in the beautiful sanctuary. The search for spirituality is often desperately difficult in a materialistic world where increasingly pupils have no Church background. Any form of Christian discipline tends to be alien to young people living in an age which brings expectation of the best in creature comforts but bears witness to growing indiscipline within society itself. Few pupils offer themselves for Confirmation now: increasingly the space for a new pupil's 'Religious Denomination' on the School's registration form is marked 'NIL'. However, for those who do commit themselves perhaps it means more. Harold Bennett recalls going through the motions of Confirmation 60 years ago with instruction from a clergyman whom he clearly regarded as a bumbling old fool. The chief attraction of Confirmation classes was the chance of going to the chip shop afterwards, and he only ever attended one Communion service. The divorcing of Christian commitment from social respectability may be no bad thing. What is certain is that young people recognise commitment in others and respect sincerely held convictions even if they themselves disagree or are undecided. Taunton School declares itself in its current prospectus to be a 'Christian School', and it will rightly continue to be concerned with moral teaching. The Chapel will continue to be the centre of the School, whatever the spirit of the age. Its effect on the pupils summoned to hear the message it proclaims may be diverse but it will provoke a response. Even amid the religious zeal which was a feature of the social history of the School's earlier years, there were probably many boys who would have agreed with Winston Churchill when he declared that he had been to Chapel so often at Harrow that he really felt he had no need to go again for the rest of his life. On the other hand Taunton has produced a fair smattering of ministers and clergymen over 150 years, and it is clear from the remarks and reactions of Old Tauntonians that they retain great affection for the Chapel and the sense of corporate identity which it fostered. The School has come a long way since the days of Dr Bewglass and of uncompromising religious principles and moral certainty. Society has moved the goalposts, and no-one is now quite sure where wisdom does begin. But the search for it will go on, for that is the business of a school, and in that search the Chapel and what it stands for will always have a vital role to play.

62


Chapter Three

'THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOUSE'

A

t the end of one of those 'flu epidemics which afflict the School from time to time - though more rarely now than formerly, owing to annual 'flu jabs' and better general health - the following note appears in the School House report in The Tauntonian: 'The overflow from Hospital occupied our dormitories, and we moved to other Houses who acted as our hosts for some considerable time. In thanking them for their consideration and generosity I might add, however, that we are still convinced that there's no place like House!'

That was in 1940. But the same sentiment would doubtless apply today. While boarders are at school, their house is their home, and they quickly become attached to it emotionally as well as physically. Familiar rooms and faces, established routines and certain inherited traditions all combine to produce that mysterious ingredient known as house spirit. For most pupils their closest friends will be those in their own house, and their first loyalty will be to that house. It is right that this should be so, and we should not forget it as we trace the complex history of the houses in Taunton School. Drastic changes, which at times are inevitable, can provoke traumatic reactions from those whose 'school home' is moved, disrupted or closed down. In this sensitive area it is good to be able to say that amid the many changes in school organisation which have occurred, there are still parts of the house system which bear some resemblance to the original format as it was conceived in the early years of this century. For the first fifty years and more of the school's existence there were no 'houses' in the sense that we understand this term today. In the early years on Wellington Road the boarders - and the vast majority of pupils were boarders - simply occupied their spartan quarters in the Stepswater buildings for the purposes, so to speak, of pursuing the 'first class liberal education' anticipated by the founders. They were under the direct supervision of the Headmaster, and no attempt was made to divide them into groups. Though bound together by the common ties of friendship and shared experience which come to characterise any group of people randomly thrown together, those early boarders had no experience of a house system. For one thing, the School was too small; it was also newly established and still feeling its way. In any case, the spur to inter-house rivalry was games, and games, as we shall see, hardly existed in any organised form in those early days. Even after the move to the present site in 1870, and the possibility of greater expansion, the question of establishing a house system did not really arise. The great public schools, of course, had long had such a system, but at this stage Taunton was not yet aping the public schools in the way it would do 63


It was still, relatively later. speaking, a local school; it had changed its name to Independent College but it was still a company with shareholders, not a public school with charitable status. There may also have been the consideration that the School, as a dissenting institution should not be copying too closely the habits of the Establishment. Not unnaturally the main school building on the new site became Study bedroom in early days known as 'The School House' or 'The House'. It is recorded that when the college re-opened for the autumn term 1873 on 1st August, there were 146 boarders in 'the House'. Committee meetings were advertised as taking place in 'the School House at the College'. A prospectus of around 1885 states that accommodation was available for 150 boarders, together with a few study bedrooms for senior students preparing for higher examinations. The extra charge for these was ÂŁ2.12s 6d (E2.62) per term. There is prominent reference to the health, comfort and neatness of the pupils being in the charge of a Resident Matron, though obviously living-in masters were responsible for organisation and control. It is easy to forget how small the staff actually was: even well into the headship of the Rev F W Aveling, there were only 7 masters not counting the Principal and his deputy. A spate of illness dogged the School in the early 1880s and caused numbers of boarders to drop below 100 for a while, ruling out any reorganisation. The even greater problems of the 1890s reduced still further the tally of occupants of 'The House' and gave them rather more space than the school's Finance Committee would have liked! This foreshadowed a time when the words 'School House' would have an altered meaning and a boarding house with a corporate identity would adopt pole position in the new structure which was to evolve in a more prosperous era. Meanwhile games and the passion for games were increasing. There was ample space close to the school building, facilities improved, and even if numbers were dropping, the competitive spirit was strong. The Victorian public school obsession with games, which began around the 1860s, had its effect. The Rugby Football Union founded in 1871, was essentially a public school product, and followed the formulation of association football rules at Charterhouse some years earlier. Nearly all the great schools were furiously expanding their games facilities, and by the 1890s the obsession was absolute. Early editions of the Public Schools Year Book, for example, contain nearly as much information about games and players as they do about the schools themselves. Added to this was a whole host of school literature which was extremely popular and helped to fuel certain outlooks such as games, prefectorial status and house spirit. The first and most famous of these, Tom Brown's Schooldays, which had appeared in 1857, started a long tradition of house and games worship. To Tom and East, School House is all; the praepostors do not even check the School House boys at the callover preceding the house match because "they know very well that no School House boy would cut the match .2' To watch and support the House was an honour I

64

Tom Brown's Schooldays, p 52, Heirloom Library


unparalleled; actually to play for it assumed almost religious dimensions. Though Taunton was less steeped in this sort of thing than more traditional schools there is nevertheless evidence of an incipient yearning for some form of internal competition of the house match type. Around 1896 there are references to some informally arranged football matches between 'Dorm 14 and School' and also between 'Devon and Somerset'. Accounts of these matches like to refer to them as house matches, and there was clearly considerable interest in them. Now, as already noted, this was a period when house matches were in their heyday at the major public schools. Few encounters were as eagerly anticipated or as keenly fought, and it was not uncommon for housemasters to be seen weeping on the touchline if things went badly. Later at Taunton, too, after the adoption of the House system, the house became the focal point of school loyalty and has proved to be an enduring and cherished part of the fabric of school life ever since. Supporting one's house in the various sports competitions, even if not taking part, is a sine qua non of house membership, and house staff presence at the fixture is also expected. As for weeping on the touchline, Taunton has probably had that too, though in the case of Neil Mason watching house rugby the emotions were undoubtedly more forcefully expressed! Nor does it have to be sport. The idea of competition between the houses has, over the years, extended to practically every facet of school activity, be it debating, singing or chess. In all the same tradition of support endures, for as an emblem of house loyalty it is part of the raison d'etre of the event itself. On one occasion at a house debating competition, when an interim vote not affecting the result was taken between debates to give the judges time to deliberate, Christopher Evans, Housemaster of Wills East (and later Headmaster of Dauntsey's School) was heard to declare from the front stalls as he raised his hand for the ayes: "I don't agree with the blasted motion, but I must vote for my house." In another competition Roger Priest's house was proposing something fairly outrageous such as the abolition of all censorship, or it may have been school rules. With characteristic caution Roger abstained. He could not be seen to vote against his house. At the turn of the century, however, Taunton was a little behind. It had no house system. Any desire that may have been afoot to develop one was defeated by the low numbers resulting from the crises of the 1890s. You cannot divide a school of only 60 pupils into houses in any realistic way. However, as numbers rose under Dr Whittaker the matter was again reviewed and, though the house system was still impracticable, it was decided to divide the School into four territorial divisions. That each was to be large enough to command a 1st and 2nd XI clearly indicates the chief motive for initiating such a system: that of internal sports competition. The four territories were Somerset, Wales, West and Rest, and membership was determined by where a boy lived. And so in the early years of this century 'territorials' were not soldiers but the eagerly awaited sports clashes which we would know today as house matches. The first references to these matches at Taunton in 1905 speak of the "wildest enthusiasm" which they aroused and state that the territorials represented the chief interest of the football season. Taunton had climbed on the bandwagon at last. The Territorial System lasted for seven years. They were years of expansion and of rising numbers, and the system outgrew itself very quickly. At Speech Day on 27 July 1905 Dr Whittaker was congratulated for having 260 boarders and 26 day boys on the school roll: by the autumn term of 1906 numbers had topped 300, and by spring 1909 65


350. The distribution of boys among the territories was becoming more and more unequal. Somerset was the largest territory numerically and tended to dominate most competitions, though Wales triumphed in the territorial rugby in every year after the game's revival in 1906. The unfortunately named Rest - rather too close to also-rans! appear to have enjoyed little success apart from the Fives in 1910. Their nickname was the Scrags. And so it was not long before the territorial system was ripe for reform. In fact the editor of The Tauntonian in March 1911 wondered if he should offer a prize for the best suggestion for the re-organisation of the School. The Headmaster did invite suggestions, though seemingly few of these were forthcoming, and no pupil at least dared to express his opinions in writing. Despite these moments of questioning and self-doubt the first move towards the house system had really already been made. In a speech to the London branch dinner of the OBA early in 1909 Dr Whittaker referred to the creation of a house where the boys would live together under the charge of a Housemaster. The man chosen for this post was F W Wisson, the Second Master. Also present at the dinner, Mr Wisson spoke of the honour and sense of responsibility with which he contemplated his new responsibilities. There was a great need for the right influences to be exerted outside class time (which was "but a small part of a boy's education") and he saw his task as helping to mould the boys under him in spiritual and moral growth and putting worthy ideals and aspirations before them. And so the House system was born in Taunton School: cautiously, experimentally and on a small scale at first, as Dr Whittaker said. He had consulted the Headmasters of Mill Hill and Bishop's Stortford and been advised that the School should retain ultimate control of any boarding houses established and of the appointment of their Housemasters. This has remained the case. But in 1909 Taunton embraced the house system in the true sense of the word: the house was to be no mere convenient division of numbers for games or administrative purposes, but an experience of living, a home while at school and a place where, as in a family, a pupil would find security and friendship and where his character would develop. Those ideals still stand today. The house which can claim to be Taunton School's first house opened 161, in September 1909 and was called Thone. However, the building which was to be its eventual home and where, of course, the Junior School later settled, had not even been conceived at this stage.' The name - derived from Thonodunum, the Roman colony that once stood where Taunton is now Thone in 1911 came first. Mr and Mrs 66

2 The desirability of a house on the school premises and possible plans for it were first discussed in Council on 24 November 1909.


Wisson (he had conveniently married Miss Kidd, the Matron, just at the right moment!) accordingly opened their new boarding house in Fernlea, a house in The Avenue not far from the school. There were 11 original members, whose names are quoted in full in The Tauntonian. By the summer term there were 18, and a move to larger premises was necessary. Dr Whittaker had just built a new house for himself in later years it was called Whittaker - and the proposal was that Thone should move there for probably two terms until a purpose-built house nearby, now approved by the School Council and already under construction, should be ready. Numbers continued to rise, and from all accounts house life was flourishing. Dr Whittaker's house seemed palatial after the constrictions of Fernlea, and the kindness of the Wissons is often mentioned. They even had a house dog, a Pekingese named Ching! The final move into the completed Thone was postponed several times and eventually took place in May 1911. Bad weather had delayed construction, and a sense of the boys' exasperation comes through a contemporary note in The Tauntonian: 'We have been 'moving' all term but, paradoxical as it may appear, we are still stationary. However, it seems that nothing short of an earthquake can stop us now from entering the land of promise ...' When they finally arrived, the boys were not disappointed: the abundance of space, light and airiness were most appealing. During the 12 years of its existence as a senior house, Thone appears to have been a happy and prosperous House, with the Wissons as model houseparents. A certain sense of separateness communicates itself in the various house notes. Thone was clearly something of a unit apart. It had its own prospectus and was rather grandly known as 'The Master's Boarding House'. Higher fees were charged to boys who boarded there. This no doubt reflected the fact that it was more of a home, personally supervised by the Wissons. H M Porter (1912-17) recalls in a letter of 1974: "It was a sort of de luxe House for those whose parents could afford it - a thoroughly odd arrangement, but no-one resented it". Indeed, because it predated the universal adoption of the house system, Thone was a home before it became a house for competitive purposes. In the house's first two years Thone boys were also members of territories for games contests: there is, for example, the proud mention of one member of Thone, Jack Griffiths, contributing to a first wicket partnership of 99 for Wales in territorial cricket, as well as having the highest batting average in the 1st XI (25.78) in the 1910 season. There were rugby and cricket matches arranged between Thone and Fernlea, which had been retained by the school for dormitory purposes after Thone vacated it and was to be one of the named houses of the 1911 reorganisation. These may well be the first 'house matches' of the new era. Thone lost the rugby but proudly won the cricket by 10 runs. Territorial spirit was giving way to house spirit, and great changes were just around the corner. Dr Whittaker's decision to abandon the system of territories and adopt the House system in September 1911 was hailed with delight by the school. Eight houses replaced four territories: at grass roots level this meant, as the editor of The Tauntonian put it, 'a great many boys get a chance of playing who otherwise might never have touched a ball'. However, house loyalties of a deeper nature were soon to develop: there is a sense of pride and adventure in the early sets of house notes, a greater awareness of being a corporate entity, and gratitude for having the leadership of a housemaster. In spite of the misgivings of a few in advance of the changeover - 'To those of us who have grown up with our territory, it will come as a wrench when these shall be no more' - it is clear that the passing of the territories was not mourned. 67


Instead, the new arrangements were entered upon with enthusiasm. We breathed a sigh of relief' said the Studies B report succinctly. Boys are suspicious of change, but when it comes they adapt to it quickly. The names of the eight houses were not the most imaginative. House A and House B occupied the main building; Studies A and B were in Fairwater. Then there were Fernlea and Elmgrove, the two houses off school premises where, in response to everincreasing numbers, boarders had been accommodated for some time. Thone was already established, and there were also the Day Boys, clearly not considered of great importance as they alone were not given a housemaster! There is no information as to how existing pupils were allocated to houses: it may well have depended mainly on where they were sleeping at the time. The comment in house notes to the effect that 'some of us returned this term to find that drastic changes were about to take place in the School' suggests that pupils were not aware in advance of any very precise arrangements. Further changes were, in any case, already on the horizon. In May 1911 Miss Janet Stancomb-Wills, niece of Lord Winterstoke, who had died earlier in that year, declared her wish to carry out the building projects which her uncle had been considering before his death. These included the Library and the Wills 'hostels', as they were known at first, soon to be named Wills East and Wills West. Fernlea and Elmgrove moved into the completed houses in 1912, clearly delighted with their new surroundings and the convenience of being on the school campus at last. 'We have at last reached our promised land' reported the writer of the first Wills West notes 'and our one regret is that our patriarch leader could only view from Pisgah's Mount the glories of our new inheritance!' Their erstwhile housemaster had left to become an HMI! Boys in both houses persisted for a while in using the old names Fernlea and Elmgrove. This was purely by force of habit, though one cannot blame them for rejecting 'Hostels A' and 'Hostels B' as the houses were called before the definitive decision to use the name Wills. But there is an amusing recollection (by H M Porter) of Dr Whittaker fulminating about the continued use of the names of 'trumpery villas in the suburbs of Taunton' instead of 'Wills' - one of the most honoured and famous names in Britain'. Clearly Dr Whittaker was a man who could convey his indignation publicly and forcibly if he felt it or wished to make a show of feeling it. The good teacher is greatly helped by being a good actor! The first Housemasters of Wills East and West respectively were Messrs EDS Pean and RD Went. The land the houses are built on had belonged to Miss Stancomb-Wills, and the original proposal had been that she should let the property to the School at a modest rent. However, in October 1912 she decided most generously to make it a gift. There were two large dormitories for 16 boys in each house, plus married accommodation for the Housemaster at each end and a number of smaller rooms for three or four masters. In those days most masters lived in and helped with boarding duties: board and lodging was a valuable way of supplementing low salaries and many could not afford to get married early in their careers. Later some of the smaller rooms were used for prefects and senior boys, and in recent years (1992) the large dormitories were divided into smaller units, giving flexibility in accommodating year groups and providing more privacy for the boys. So hallowed phrases such as 'Top Dorm' and 'Middle Dorm' no longer apply, though there is still a 'Bottom Study' and 68


the strength of the Wills houses at around 32 boys each has remained remarkably constant through the years. After one year House A and House B became School House East and West. The name 'The School House' had not unnaturally perhaps always been associated with the main school building since its erection in 1870 and even in 1911 the list of house prefects uses the heading 'School House A' and 'School House B'. The change to a geographical nomenclature did not represent a wildly imaginative leap, but schoolchildren will always find a manageable form for even the most pompous of names, and House East and House West became familiar currency for several generations of Tauntonians until the houses finally merged in 1946. For a number of years following this the single-word spelling Schoolhouse was fashionable, though the single name House remained popular, and survived till the end as a chant at interhouse sports fixtures. The abbreviation 'SH' is not found anywhere before 1955 and the school 'blue list' only abandoned the traditional 'H' in 1979. The first Housemasters of School House were the pious Hampton Pridham (East) and the dynamic E.V. Watkins (West) who contributed much to many spheres of school life. The first Head of House (or 'Prefect' as the office was then known) in East was C.W.G. Britts, who was sadly killed in the Great War only a few years later and, in West, for the first two years Leslie Marshall, whose later career led him to become School Doctor. His brother Alan, a brilliant sportsman, was at the same time the first Captain (ie sports captain) of Studies A, becoming Prefect in Fairwater West for 1912-13. Many years later he returned as Housemaster! They were one example of a number of well-known pairs of brothers to have passed through the School, and A.G. and L.P. Marshall were household names in the OTA, where they were faithful and active for many years.

A house room in Fairwater in the 1930s

69


When Studies A and B became Fairwater East and West in 1912, a name was resurrected which had clearly fallen out of use. This is surprising, since Fairwater House, which dates in part from the early 18th century and was greatly added to in 1844, constitutes a historical link with the past, being the focal point of the estate purchased by the school's Committee of Shareholders in 1865 prior to the move from Wellington Road. But the House notes of December 1912 make it clear that the name Fairwater was not a familiar one: 'The new name of our House has given rise to much speculation ... We revive a name of venerable antiquity, and without undue selfesteem, we trust that the original occupants of Fairwater House do not feel themselves disgraced'. This last comment is clearly an ironic reference to the denizens of the building prior to 1865: it had been a lunatic asylum! Even in the 1970s there were still some studies with old doors containing a slot near the base through which (it is said) food was thrown to the unfortunate inmates within. In Harold Bennett's time (1930s) the suit cupboard still bore resemblance to a padded cell. There is also a rumour that the House is haunted: I suppose there would be! One shudders at the basic and barbaric treatment suffered by mental patients in those days, though Fairwater's history as a lunatic asylum has provided much mileage through the years for goodnatured humour and house rivalry - 'Some say it still is!' Fairwater House had been used as the Headmaster's residence in the early years of the new school. In 1876 the east end was given over to the newly founded Junior School under a lady superintendent and a governess, and the Headmaster continued to occupy the west end. By 1903 numbers of junior boys and staff had increased, and it was necessary to take over the whole of the bottom floor. Boys from the Senior School, also expanding, slept on the top floor, and no doubt the proliferation of rooms to be found there led to the term Studies for this area and initially for the houses which developed there. It is not clear whether the Headmaster was ousted from the building by all this expansion or whether he survived in cramped conditions until his own house was completed. And, as we have seen, Thone's occupancy of the latter for most of 1910-11 meant that he had rather a long wait. There is a wonderfully bland remark among some School Notes for 1911: 'The Head is now installed in the house vacated by Mr Wisson. We see less of him perhaps than we did, but it is satisfactory to think that he has at last a dwelling place!' Is this polite indifference or boyish relief from the wanderings of a nomadic Headmaster? There was also some new building in Fairwater itself around this time to the benefit of the 'new' house of Fairwater West. This consisted of a prep room, extra studies and a bathroom attached. Clearly the Autumn Term of 1912 had been a frustrating time for house members, as they put up with what the writer of the house notes calls 'the leisurely methods of local workmen'. He adds: We are still wondering how they manage to keep them up year in and year out.' This amused me, as I have similar memories of the school painters in School House, as they took a leisurely fortnight to paint three rooms in the 1970s. Taunton School was the Forth Bridge to them at that time, though they later fell victim to the accelerated work ethic of the Thatcher era, when the School, in search of better value for money, decided to put painting jobs out to contract and so dispense with their services. And so, for a few years until further changes came along, the eight houses of Taunton School were now established. In April 1913 the following verses appeared in The Tauntonian: 70


THE SCHOOL In Somerset there is a School, of fame and numbers great, With England's foremost Public Schools it has ta'en rank of late; Of Houses, Taunton School has eight, and fighting crews are they, Eight finer Houses who could find in all the world today? Chorus: For Taunton School we shout aloud, Of Taunton School we all are proud; To keep its name up we have vowed - The name of Taunton School. The School House East of coming men has got a goodly set, Who quite deserve the name of Cubs, although not lions yet; The School House West will always be a very sporting lot, A Record share of all the Cups already they have got. Fairwater East, a doughty House, once proved to all the rest That in their native element - in water - they were best; Fairwater West its share of deeds upon the field has done, The Cup they set their minds upon they generally won. Wills House East has martial sons, a warlike House they be, This was the House which wanted first to have an O.T.C.; Wills House West has proved itself in practice very strong, The list of finals it has played is getting very long. Thone and Day Boys come the last, and, though not yet the best, They always give a sporting game to any of the rest; School House, Fairwater, Wills, and Thone, and Day Boys is the lot, There's ne'er a school through all the land so fine a set has got. I have no idea whether these lines - I hesitate to call them poetry! - were intended to be some sort of school song. There is no music supplied or even an author's name other than the initial 'C', and the verses are without editorial comment. By way of digression, there had been an appeal for a school song by the editor of The Tauntonian as early as 1907. Taunton School was 'old enough and large enough to have a School Song' and old boy poets who had squandered their poetical talent were invited to think beyond mere limericks and 'launch into a bolder strain'. By this is meant that as Taunton School had recently become a Public School, it ought to be adopting more of the public school paraphernalia, of which a school song was undoubtedly part. However, there was a disappointing response. One religious offering has all the stylised grandeur of a Victorian hymn, with imagery evoking the poor Tauntonian struggling, and one feels close to sinking in life's stormy waters. The first verse is worth quoting: Tauntonians of this 'lighten'd day Wist ye how we won our way Out the darksome past; Out the fierce relentless strife, 'Gainst the whelming sea of life, its troubled waters deep, Scarred by many a merc'less peak; of the gulf of dark despair; Wist ye Who our Pilot there, To the light at last? 71


Three further contributions in a following edition, upon which readers were invited to vote in a sort of early version of the Eurovision Song Contest, were merely labelled Alpha, Beta and Gamma. The first, with its repeated use of the school motto at the end of each verse and its sombre rhetorical opening ('Shall the stream of Lethe's river from our minds the memory blot?') is a gloomy reworking of the moral and religious theme. The other two are of the 'hearty' variety, with a rousing chorus and references to 'unsullied honour', 'manly games' and 'grasping situations in a gentlemanly way'! They seem incredibly laboured now, but remember that this was a 'hearty' generation to which such sentiments appealed. The winning entry 'There's a Somersetshire valley where I fain for aye would dally' at least has The Tauntonian hovering as a bird rather than tossing perilously on the sea: There's a Somersetshire valley, where I fain for aye would dally, The fair Vale of Taunton Deane to call my home; But a bird of passage resting in a distant land for nesting Knows the day will surely come again to roam. So, however far I wander, I shall oft return the fonder Of the pleasant halt I found when on the wing; From the snug nest of my mother to the building of another Alma Mater, Taunton School, of thee I sing. There are echoes of the famous Clifton College song ('There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight') in the lines: See, the stumps are pitched for cricket, and the last man's at the wicket, Whilst the match may still be lost, or drawn, or won; and in the chorus shout of 'Play the game !!!' (sic) The editor of The Tauntonian felt, on announcing the competition result, that he could take the liberty of revealing the name of the author, Mr Leonard Jordan. This is an interesting reflection of the greater caution regarding anonymity of authorship in those days. The other would-be authors are not named, though in acknowledging Mr Jordan's 'successful wooing of the muse' they are at least thanked for their 'labours of love'. The amusing aspect to this whole school song episode - apart from the wording of the songs themselves - is that there is no follow up. As far as I can gather, the song in question was never properly adopted and was probably never sung. Strangely Taunton School never did acquire a school song. Old Boys were still complaining about this in 1955 when the deficit was the subject of a speech at an OT dinner. And so young voices never did belt out the loyal chorus For I know I shall be thinking when the western sun is sinking/ Of the ivy-covered school I'm proud to claim'. The truth is that most of them, as like as not, would nowadays not be thinking of it: the era of eternal schooldays as of school songs is long past, but this incident evokes the innocent enthusiasm of that pre-1914 generation. To return to the poem about the houses, that too is an interesting historical document even if it has little poetic worth. It contains a number of hidden references of the type that often feature successfully in speeches at house dinners. Many of them have to do with sport, which, as we have seen, is the main basis of house rivalry. For example, the record share of cups held by School House West is an allusion to S.P. Record, who was standing in as housemaster of that house during 1913 owing to the illness of E.V. Watkins. Fairwater East's native element is water because they had won the Brown Swimming Cup in 1912. And School House East boys were at the time nicknamed 72


Dandylions which may explain that reference. Then there is the implication that Thone and Dayboys are somewhat inferior in games prowess: Thone with its cosseted and more select environment, perhaps, and the Dayboys - often regarded as little better than social outcasts in many predominantly boarding schools at that period - lacking the toughness and single-mindedness of the boarders. One can excuse a certain inferiority complex by the poor Dayboys, who were not even given a Housemaster until Hampton Pridham offered to take them on in the spring of 1914! They did not acquire a house room till after 1925, when a Board of Education inspection criticised this deficiency. More serious are the statements about Taunton School taking rank with the foremost Public Schools and the OTC. Dr Whittaker had been admitted to membership of the HMC in the previous year (1912), and this was seen as a considerable advance in the School's status. The School Council, early in 1913, had decided 'almost unanimously' that there should be an OTC in the school: By that summer the contingent had been established, and drill and musketry practice were being held. The hope was expressed that over the next few years Old Boys would see with pleasure the Corps taking an honourable place among the Public Schools at Bisley. The writer could not know the ironic truth of what the next few years would really bring, and that the most catastrophic of wars was but a year away. A sense of pride in one's house, of the desire to succeed on its behalf, but most of all of belonging to a community shines through the house notes from those early years. Much of the material is, of course, concerned with who has won what cup and how houses have fared in the various stages of the house sports competitions. ('Yet another final! The question is: Are we going to possess a cup this time? Having defeated Wills East, we now have to battle versus Fairwater East in the final ...' Wills West 1914) Some things never change! But there is also much well-wishing of those leaving or taking examinations and a genuine delight at the return of old friends: Congratulations to A. Mead on passing his Matric. He has done us proud. Fairwater East 1913 We are about to lose our Prefect W.H.S. Carter who has so ably led us. Our hope is that he will continue to shine at the 'Varsity as he has done at Wills East. Wills East 1914 We are glad that we have recovered our House Master. For some time we have missed him, owing to the fact that he caught the measles. School House East 1915 Fatty Muir left us last term and is working in Glasgow. Rumour has it that he applied for a commission in a Scotch regiment. We wish him good luck but trust he will not end up in a kilted regiment! School House West 1915 We sadly missed the Old Boys at Whitsuntide, and are looking forward to a Grand Reunion when the war is over. Thone 1915 And nothing can mask the Day Boys' sense of delight at having acquired a proper identity: We end this term with a possession never before owned by the Day Boys - 'a House Master'. Mr Pridham who, as a married man, is now, so to speak, one of ourselves, felt he would like to superintend us and try and make our House one to be reckoned with in the School. We have welcomed him with open arms, and are already feeling his beneficent influence. As the war advanced, concern for those who were serving with the colours increased, and house notes frequently name with pride former members who had enlisted and report news of them, good or bad A general comment from a Wills East writer sums it up well: 'In spite of the war cloud we have reached the end of another term 73


successfully. We have thought much of our late companions who are now serving their country.' The war had a sobering effect generally, and awareness of it dominates the writings of these years, though it is clear that school life continued more or less normally. There was certainly less disruption than in the Second World War. The impact of war on the school is discussed elsewhere in this book: suffice it to say (for the moment) that anxiety about friends and Old Boys serving overseas was prominent, as was pride in their endeavours. News travelled more slowly in those days, and it was only towards the end of the war that emerged the full extent of the sacrifices made and the sufferings endured, if indeed they ever did to what was essentially a stoical generation. The history of the houses continues with the establishment of Foxcombe as a junior house for boys of 11-14 in 1916. Mr Gilbert Harris, who had joined the school staff in 1912, acquired the property when he married in the summer of 1915. Till then he had been a housemaster in the Junior School with responsibility for boys housed at the top of the Main Building and known as Top Corridor. There is a reference in house notes to Mr Harris's wish, after his marriage, to continue to look after the junior boys' in and out of school interests' although he would no longer be living in. Mr Harris had, however, always wanted to run a house of his own, and a year later he placed his own residence in Greenway Road at the School's disposal and Foxcombe's history as a house began. The opening of Foxcombe allowed for a considerable expansion of the junior part of Taunton School, known at that time as the Lower School. Even so it became necessary, because of the limited space in Fairwater, to rent two further houses nearby, Glenthorne and Grantham Villa, in which to accommodate junior boys. Dr Whittaker also housed a number in his own residence, which became known as 'Head's House'. This is a hark-back to the same problem which had attended the increase in senior boys ten years earlier. However, the formation of the juniors into house-type groups allowed greater scope for competitive games and paved the way for the adoption of a fully fledged junior house system when the Junior School (officially the lower part of the Lower School) finally acquired the Thone building in 1921 and had room to spread its wings. There is an account for instance of a very successful cricket league for junior boys in 1918: eight teams, including an artificial division of the Fairwater-based boys into Lower School East and Lower School West, competed for cups and prizes presented by Mrs Gilbert Harris. There was also great celebration when Glenthorne managed to win a Colts' cricket cup which involved the younger boys in senior houses, beating Wills West in the final. Mr Harris himself was a man of perspicacity as well as of private means. Over the course of the next few years he purchased the adjacent property, allowing the house to expand, but most wisely of all, the field to the rear which is known today as Foxcombe Field . This was an invaluable asset for the School, providing it with space for games and direct access to open countryside, besides sparing the land from an almost inevitable development for building. Besides his housemastering duties, Mr Harris also acted as the School's Bursar for a number of years. He was responsible, among other things, for the reconstruction of the Hospital and the further expansion of Fairwater, when a dining hall designed and built by him was added to the house in 1921 replacing the Carpenter's Shop and junior gymnasium which had been there before. This dining room gave Fairwater boys complete independence from the Main 74


School, and the room continued in use until the end of Mr Hastilow's housemastership in 1976. From my own memories, which cover only the last two years of these separate feeding arrangements, the food served in Fairwater was the envy of the rest of the School, and I as a young master was advised by experienced colleagues that I could do worse than get myself invited to lunch there frequently! Harold Bennett's praise for the Fairwater food in the 1930s seems to confirm that this reputation for haute cuisine was a long-standing one. It owed much to the skills and devotion of Fairwater's longserving and well-loved cook, Mrs Summerhayes, and perhaps a little to the bon viveur inclinations of the Hastilows and of the latter-day Assistant Housemaster and gourmet par excellence Christopher Pollard. The sudden death of Gilbert Harris in 1925 was a blow for Foxcombe and the School. A quiet, unobtrusive man, he had been full of ideas beneficial to the school and been a great influence for good. His obituary conveys his enviable gift: By his kindly acts he endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact'. Under him Foxcombe with about 70 boys at the time developed a certain capacity for independence and selfmanagement, qualities which were to be a distinctive stamp of the house's character throughout its life, sometimes to the irritation - or was it envy? - of some other members of the House staff. Mr Hampton Pridham, who had transferred from the Day Boys in 1919 to become Mr Harris's assistant, took over the House, which he ran very successfully until his own death in 1938. However, it was the financial burden which proved particularly challenging to the School. Foxcombe had, of course, belonged privately to the Harrises, and the School Council now had to acquire the buildings and playing fields for ÂŁ10,000, which meant that other projects had to be abandoned for the time being. Around 1920 the School began to rent yet another house for juniors, Lyndale, which duly took its place among the proliferation of Lower School subdivisions existing at this time. It was clear that pressure on numbers would soon demand some drastic reorganisation. Two hundred boys had had to be turned away in September 1920. Building work was going on in Fairwater: the dining room, but also an extension of the housemaster's quarters. From 1918-21 the Fairwater boys were moved out and housed at the top of the Main Building', while the juniors from Top Corridor lived in the upper part of Fairwater. For a while the old name of Studies was revived: there are records of Studies East and West taking part in games competitions. Amusing oddities such as Lower Lower School (Upper) and Lower Lower School (Lower) feature in a list of cricket results: of the preceding adjectives, one 'lower' probably refers to junior status and the other to the group's location in Fairwater, but the contents of the brackets are a mystery! A solution to all this confusion was provided by Mr Wisson's announcement that he was resigning in March 1921 after 22 years at Taunton. He wished to lead a quieter life in Switzerland, a country he loved greatly and to which he had taken parties of boys on several occasions. Though the Wissons would be greatly missed - he as a scholar and inspired teacher, responsible for many scholarship successes, she as a highly respected and kindly person, and both of them the creators and houseparents of Thone and clearly revered by its members - this change did provide the impetus for an important re-organisation of the houses. On completion of the building work at Fairwater, the house was finally vacated of all junior boys. Most of them went to Thone, which from then on formed the centre of what was to become - and has been 3

An account of possible reasons for this is given in Chapter 9

75


ever since - the junior department of Taunton School. S P Record was in charge for many years. A few of the younger boys from the Senior School were transferred to Thone - 'thrown in to set the rest of us a good example' as a contemporary wryly commented. Meanwhile the juniors from Top Corridor returned to their lofty abode, where the House remained until 1976, though a proposal by Ben Clark to the School Council in 1935 changed its name to Winterstoke. With the juniors gone, the expatriate Fairwater boys were re-installed in the enlarged Fairwater, together with the former inhabitants of Thone who formed a new house known as Fairwater South. This arrangement continued until 1940, when Fairwater reverted to being East and West only. Sudden changes in a house's composition and location are hard to adjust to, and Fairwater South's first house report is a trifle pathetic, its theme being 'we live in hope' ('So far we have had no successes to mention' ... 'Our non-colours lost to House West' .... 'We lost in chess' ...). Houses, like good wines, need time to settle and mature. Evans House experienced similar teething troubles when it transferred from being a junior to a senior house in 1977. Though each of the sections of Fairwater had its own masters attached to it, the housemaster with overall responsibility for all the boys in the building was, from 1921, Mr Aubrey French. Mr and Mrs French gave many years of devoted service to the house and were cherished by generations of Fairwater boys. Much was done during the 1920s and 1930s to improve living conditions and these were also years of success for Fairwater in many spheres. Aubrey French established an atmosphere of tolerance and friendly good humour which endeared itself to all. He organised unforgettable concerts and entertainments in the house, featuring in them himself as mimic and raconteur, and a colleague once said that if laughter could be heard emanating from the normally sedate Masters' Common Room, then like as not Aubrey French was telling one of his inexhaustible fund of stories! Not a little of Fairwater's sense of community and house spirit during the inter-war years was due to the influence of Mr and Mrs French. Numbers in the School were increasing steadily during this period. In 1923, for instance, there were 711 boys on the Senior School roll. Demand for junior places led to the building, in 1928, of an extension to Thone, which gave the building the appearance which it still has today. Then in 1937 Thone acquired full status as an independent Prep School, completely separate from the Senior School in organisation and with its own staff and Headmaster. The first occupant of the post was Dr R G Hedworth-Whitty. There was also a growing demand for day places generally. Of the 660 which was the average number on the school books during the 1920s, approximately 140 were day boys. This was less than a quarter, and considerably lower than in later years or today, when the number of day pupils has easily overtaken the number Aubrey French 76


of boarders. However, the steady increase in the demand for day places continued through the Thirties, and by 1936 204 of the 595 pupils, or about a third, were day boys. One of the first changes made by Mr Crichton-Miller was to divide the Day Boys into separate junior and senior houses. Mr George du Heaume, a modern linguist who had come to the school in 1925, took charge of the juniors while Mr A J Williams (known as 'Pa Bill' and a great character) continued with the Seniors. Each house was given a common room of its own: the writer of the Senior Day Boys' notes in The Tauntonian comments humorously that 'General behaviour is improved, and with the advent of our new Common Room (the old Geography lab) we hope to become the quietist and most orderly House in the School'! A further change which is evident from 1937 is that less stress was placed on the geographical divisions of School House and Fairwater. Prefects are listed under the main house name only and not as East, West or South. A single house report now suffices for the whole house, though the subdivisions retained considerable importance for inter-house games. In the end, it was the fact that the two School Houses were too small, owing to low numbers following the Second World War, to put a 2nd XV in the field which caused them finally to be joined into a unified house in 1946. As for Fairwater, South disappeared in 1940 though East and West continued for sports purposes until 1967. In September 1946 it was decided that the two day houses should be given appropriate house names in common with the boarding houses. The names chosen were Somerset for the Senior Day Boys and Quantocks for the juniors. The acquisition of a name was seen, at least by the juniors, as a step up in status and justified by the day boys' full participation in all school activities. Enthusiasm for the change shines through the words of a contemporary house member: "We feel sure that all past members of the House who have played their games and run their races against the background of those well-known hills will find the name suitable". A few years later, in 1949, at the inspiration of their Housemaster, Mr John Dearden, members of Quantocks House and their parents presented a window in the School Chapel in recognition of their devotion and gratitude to the School. The window, with its appropriate inscription 'Levavi oculos' ('I lifted up mine eyes') recalls both the 121st Psalm and the House name, as well as presenting as its pictorial theme the young man finding guidance from Christ the Pilot on the sea of life. It is a permanent reminder of a House which only lasted 25 years but which clearly meant much to the many boys who passed through its doors. Meanwhile junior boarders were increasing in number, and in 1945 Loveday House was founded to help meet this demand. Accommodation was provided in the area occupied by Eltham and Rochester in war-time and the house started with an enthusiastic housemaster Mr A J Thomas and 63 boys. A few volunteers had come from Winterstoke and Foxcombe to help the house become established, though obviously, with no tradition to live up to or past to live down it was feeling its way a bit. Gradually facilities were improved - a dining hall and house library were provided during the first year - though the most important event seems to have been the winning of the first cup, for cross-country running and the start of many sporting successes throughout its 32 years. Loveday had invented a tradition; it felt it had got off the ground. At least it had the advantage of a famous name: Mr J G Loveday coloured much of the first hundred years of Taunton School's history, and with 63 77


years on the staff must be approaching Guinness Book of Records material! As one might expect, there were few changes in the structure of the houses during the solid, dependable years of the fifties, but by the sixties Loveday House things were stirring and Dr John Rae lost no time in announcing further changes at his first Commemoration in 1967. The senior day house Somerset had become excessively large, with over 90 boys; the Head of House complained in his report that too many were content to sit back and do little for the House. Competition with fellow day-boys in smaller groups would provide a better incentive to take part. Accordingly there would, from September, be two senior day boy houses named Goodland and Marshall. Dr Rae declared firmly that he was abandoning geographical terminology in favour of famous names connected with the School, a procedure which has applied to every house subsequently created. Harold Goodland was a prominent OT and had been a member of the School Council for over 40 years, apart from holding many distinguished civic positions. Goodland Gardens in Taunton town centre are also named after him. The Marshall brothers, Alan and Leslie, are mentioned elsewhere in these pages and were, of course, outstanding athletes and servants of the school. The first Housemasters of the new houses were Nigel Maggs in Goodland and Eric Wright in Marshall, of whom the former later became Director of Studies. Eric Wright served for 15 years, many of them as a 'one man band' without an assistant until 1982, a year before his retirement from the school itself. For all those years he and his wife Margaret devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the interests of Marshall. Eric felt that the house was, to some extent, searching for an identity - hence the independent approach - and he worked indefatigably to create the appropriate surroundings and the right atmosphere. Most of the basement area in Lightcliffe used as Marshall house rooms was constructed single-handed by Eric Wright. In 1964 Foxcombe was renovated and a new prep room was built. In contrast to the cavern-like room which had existed before, it was spacious and so brilliantly lit that local residents dubbed it the Crystal Palace'! A year later Foxcombe became a senior house. Six senior boys from other houses volunteered to become prefects and help bridge the gap at the older end of the age range, and tours of the building were arranged for interested parties, mainly 'astounded prefects' from other houses. The refurbishment of the house included improvements to the studies, sound proofing and a new heating system as well as the prep room. It was all very impressive : the facilities were certainly superior to what was offered in other houses at this time. However, the transition period lasted some time, as boys had to move up through the house to create the right balance of ages, but eventually Foxcombe's 'coming of age' was complete and the house thrived for many years as both a boys' and later as a girls' 78


senior house. The Housemaster throughout the sixties and early seventies was Mr M D Johnson, and much of the success of the changeover was due to his organisation and careful control. An overflow of boarders from Foxcombe was accommodated in Lightcliffe, where Eric Wright, having despatched Marshall homewards, turned his hand to boarding duties every evening. The creation of a new Senior House allowed for a slight lowering of the age of promotion from junior houses as from autumn 1965. Mr Leathem explained at that summer's Commemoration that there would be a much younger school in September and that this coincided well with the proposal that boys be promoted at 13, the age at which they entered their houses at the majority of public schools. The next major realignment with standard public school procedure was to come in 1977 when Thone, or Taunton Junior School as it was by then, became a full six-year preparatory school and the junior houses in the Senior School were abolished altogether. Four years after the creation of Goodland and Marshall, there was a sense of deja vu when Quantocks, the junior day house, also threatened to burst at the seams. John Dewdney, who was Housemaster at the time, recalled an earlier state of affairs during John Dearden's housemastership which was far from perfect: 'The house was about 60 in number, jammed yelling at the top of its voice into what is now the book room (later Room 2) or endeavouring to shower under the one shower in the corner of its changing room, now the masters' changing room'. This situation was alleviated somewhat by a move to the new Day Boy block, which was opened in 1962. But by 1971 Quantocks had over 80 boys and space was again at a premium. As so often happens when a school is in a predicament like this, it is another change or reorganisation which provides the stimulus for expansion or development. In this case the adoption of a centralised cafeteria system released the section of the Day Boy Block which Goodland and Quantocks had used as a dining room - Eric Wright, in his isolationist way, had always insisted that Marshall dined separately - and so there was room to create two junior day houses from September 1971. They would be named Evans, after Ernest Evans, and Neal, in honour of the eminent biologist and naturalist Dr Ernest Neal, who had just retired that summer after 25 distinguished years on the staff, many of them as Housemaster of Foxcombe (1953-60) and Wills East (1960-70), and latterly also as Second Master. Mr Dewdney was to continue as Housemaster of Neal, while Evans was taken over by Roger Priest, who had been Assistant in Goodland for the previous two years. A few years later it fell to Mr Priest to superintend the transition of Evans from junior to senior house when, in 1977, the junior houses were dissolved and a third senior day boy house created. Roger Priest served Evans for ten years in all before moving to Wills West to sample boarding life for another twelve. In this 150th anniversary year he celebrates thirty years on the school staff. The 1970s, of course, marked the advent of co-education, the biggest change to have hit the school in its history so far. The story of it is told in full in another chapter. The 17 nervous young ladies of the Weirfield School Lower Sixth who arrived on the Taunton School campus in September 1971 constituted a 'house' known rather confusingly as Weirfield. What else? The girls were still linked to both schools and searching for an identity. Their intrepid Housemistress was Mrs Pru Willcocks. A few girls were boarders, who resided in the Headmaster's house on Private Road. Mrs Roberts, in particular, did much to make them welcome: they were even allowed to 'cook, sew and paint the walls and shelves'! Day girls were based in rooms at the west 79


end of the Hospital. In 1974 the school acquired another house in Private Road, Babingley, which became home to the boarders under the supervision of Mrs Gill Brown. Gradually it established itself as a House in its own right, separate from the day girls: joint house notes, for example, gave way to separate house notes by 1976, the year of full integration at all age levels. But there was a delay, a somewhat frustrating delay, before the fully integrated picture could emerge. This was due to lack of on-site accommodation for girl boarders, and plans were developed to build the splendid Murray-Gloucester block which is now such a striking feature as you enter the school grounds. This was carried out in the spring and summer of 1979, and in September a new era began, with all pupils, boys and girls, based on the school campus in houses containing a full vertical age range. Weirfield and Babingley thus came to an end as sixth form houses, as their girls either left or transferred to other houses for their final year. Younger girls had been organised in year groups from 1976-78 in order to give them greater confidence and security as they entered the more spacious and unfamiliar world of Taunton School. Then in 1978 two day girl houses were formed, Bevan and Jenkin, named after former Headmistresses of Weirfield School. A year later Besley was added, with Mrs Willcocks transferring from her sixth form house to become its first Housemistress. She was soon to be succeeded by Mrs Jill Lisk, who served for 16 years. Meanwhile the boarders were accommodated at Weirholm in Elm Grove and a school property at 109 Staplegrove Road. This was known simply as '109' and Mrs Ursula Alderson (later Gray) was in charge of it. Miss Ann Parkin was responsible for Weirholm. This arrangement was far from ideal as the girls had no proper base at school and having left their houses before Chapel in the morning, did not return until mid-evening. They even did prep in the main school, at an earlier time than the rest of the boarders. In fact things were carefully calculated that they should start their homeward journey at 7.55 pm, before the boys came out of prep at 8 pm. Many a ruler was dropped and school bag mislaid by those girls to delay them for the vital five minutes! During the last year of this arrangement (1978-79) these boarders assumed the collective name of Murray, which had already been chosen for one of the two new boarding houses. Mrs Alderson provided valuable continuity when she continued as Housemistress of the new House: Mrs Gill Brown took on the other one. And so Murray really predates Gloucester in its foundation, though Gloucester has the consolation of having been opened by royalty, albeit two years late.

401' 41i. •

6,01. 101 !fi

Murray and Gloucester (photo by Harold Bennett)

80

,

•


The other change which paralleled the coming of the girls was the disappearance of the junior houses. This was effected over a two-year period. After 1975 there were no more transfers at 11 from the Junior School, which would henceforth retain its boys till the age of 13 when they would proceed direct to Senior Houses in the third year. This ended the anomaly by which there had been third formers in both junior and senior houses. Boys entirely new to Taunton School at 13 entered a senior house as there was little point in switching after one year, whereas those who came up from the Junior School usually remained for three years in their junior house. In 1976-7 Winterstoke and Loveday were able to be combined into one house, based in Loveday, as there was no new intake, and a year later this too came to an end when all its members were promoted willy nilly. Of the two day houses, Neal ceased to exist in 1977 and Evans, as we have seen, became a senior day house. So ended a long tradition, and there were many who regretted the passing of the junior houses, which had provided a useful 'half-way house' for boys perhaps not quite ready for the rigours of a senior house; where they could gain in confidence and maturity as well as holding modest responsibilities at third-form level. At the time of the changeover it was interesting to note the difference between the last 11 year olds to transfer in 1975 (who were thus 'at the bottom' for three consecutive years) and those, a year younger, who remained at Taunton Junior School until 13 (and were 'at the top' for three years). The former became very used to taking orders, the latter to giving them - they got rather a shock when they eventually reached the Senior School! The 1980s were, by and large, a period of consolidation for the newly-formed houses, as each developed its individual strengths and character. There were relatively few changes in house staff during these years, though the departure of Chris Evans in 1985 to become Headmaster of Dauntsey's School created a vacancy in Wills East as John Carrington, Head of well as depriving the school of a Second Master. Humanities and Housemaster of Marshall, was promoted to the school position and Harry McFaul entered Wills East. James Williams relinquished Fairwater in 1984, a move which gave him more time for his beloved country pursuits, and the Rev Terry Curnow exchanged his Chaplain's role for that of Housemaster. The tragically sudden death of Roger Smith in January 1989 was a severe blow for Evans House and the School generally. However, it was Foxcombe that was to suffer the greatest upheavals during the eighties. Graham Reid had to give up the house very suddenly in 1982 when his daughter was found to be suffering from a serious illness (from which, thankfully, she eventually made a full recovery) and Trevor Snow took over the house at short notice. Seven years later another crisis arose. The recession of the late eighties was having an adverse effect on pupil numbers. While those of girl boarders were holding up well, the number of boarding boys was declining, and it was decided to convert Foxcombe from a boys' into a girls' house. This would also give more space in Murray and Gloucester, where girls were living in cramped conditions at that time. The decision was logical but it had a devastating effect. Too little notice had really been given - about five months - and staff, parents and particularly the boys in the house found it a shock difficult to recover from. The boys in the house demanded that There was the Headmaster explain his reasons in person at a house assembly. argument, anger, despair and finally resignation. The gut reaction was that Foxcombe would never work as a girls' house; of course the name would have to change; a great tradition was ending. In addition, this all happened two days before that most volatile 81


of inter-house events, the House Singing Competition. Who can forget the emotion as the lights dimmed after the Foxcombe song, and by a clever lighting trick the house name was illuminated on the proscenium arch? When September came it was a case of Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis. Foxcombe did not change its name; the girls arrived and settled in, and perhaps to some people's surprise the world did not fall apart. An extensive upgrading of the facilities during the holidays - washbasins in every room, for instance - caused some irritation and envy among the building's former residents. Staff doing the obligatory pre-term tour of the house were impressed. Ursula Gray, one of the few House staff to have run three houses', left Bevan and 'came back into boarding' to take charge of the new Foxcombe. After two years Marie-Christine Tyack took over the reins, and the House was run very successfully until, sadly, falling numbers of girl boarders forced its ultimate closure in 1996. Now it has become Taunton International Study Centre and should have an exciting future in a different role. The last change in the history of the houses to be recorded, with its implications for me personally, was a particularly sad one. School House had sympathised with Foxcombe when the boys were turned out in 1989. It so happened that there were a number of friendships that year between the seniors of the two houses, and in fact a number of the Foxcombe boys who had to find new homes chose to join School House the following year. That great house which had always regarded itself as first among equals and occupied a central position in the school, both geographically and historically, little thought that within five years its own head would be on the block. But nothing is certain in the late-20th century world of education, and the falling demand for boarding places coupled with the need to develop dining facilities for the new Taunton Preparatory School and other marketing potential, led to the reluctant recommendation by the Headmaster to the School Council that School House should close in July 1994. This time a year's notice was given and better thought was paid to preparing the boys and their parents for the heavy blow that was to fall. The grief and dismay were, none the less, very great, and the Assembly at which the Headmaster announced the decision was the saddest ever held in the House's famous prep room. The determination by all to make the House's last year a resounding success was fully realised with, among other things, a triple victory in athletics on the very last day. All houses are different, even though they are run on roughly the same lines. Different characteristics and reputations develop which depend on the personalities of house staff and pupils among other things. The true spirit of a house is apparent only to its members and retains an air of mystery to the uninitiated. This spirit influences all those involved in a house and their ways of doing things. Foxcombe girls chose a two-day holiday outing so that they could all share time together at their last weekend as a house. Foxcombe boys and School House, with their longer history, invited many former members back to share their final celebrations: Foxcombe arranged an all-day garden party hosted by the Snows; and School House, with its more formal traditions, took over the Library for one of the grandest dinners ever held there. There was also a School House Thanksgiving Service on the following Sunday, attended by pupils, old boys, parents and friends. The theme of the sermon was 'a house not made with hands' and focused upon the spiritual qualities characterising a house which cannot be destroyed. It is that sense of the indefinable which makes the historian of the houses always an outsider to all except his own, and that is what is so fascinating. 4

82

S P Record was Housemaster of Fairwater West, School House West and Thone


Chapter Four

LEARNING FOR LIVING

W

e saw in Chapter 2 how religious instruction occupied a central place in the original curriculum of the West of England Dissenters' Proprietary School. The study of the Bible, which was to be in the original Hebrew and Greek for the more able scholars, was complemented by lessons in theology and religious history, no doubt with some stress upon the development and importance of Nonconformity. This, however, was only part of a much more comprehensive programme of study, and as we trace the various curriculum changes which have occurred during the 150 years of Taunton's history, we must not forget the practical approach of the School's founding fathers who established a broadly-based course of study which would benefit the pupils and give them an all-round education appropriate to the needs of contemporary society. This aim has survived in spite of unprecedented changes in that society and still has relevance in today's world. The areas which the original teaching programme was to embrace were set out by the Committee in advance of the School's opening and before Dr Bewglass was even appointed. At a meeting held in December 1846 it was decided that 'the course of study shall include classical and mathematical instruction, comprising ancient and modern languages and the various branches of Mathematics; commercial training including writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, land surveying, geography and navigation, theological studies embracing Hebrew, the Greek testament, Scripture and Church history ...' Drawing and music would also be catered for, though these would be charged as extras. These details were published in the first prospectus, 1000 copies of which were ordered to be printed early in 1847, and also in various nonconformist publications. The proposed curriculum was therefore very much in place by the time Dr Bewglass accepted the Committee's offer of the Headship on 16 March 1847. Further ideas of the work to be undertaken at the new school can be gained from the book orders submitted by Dr Bewglass prior to the opening date and, indeed, throughout his period as Headmaster. Requests for 10 copies of 'Book-keeping' and 20 copies of 'Lessons on the Truth of Christianity', both issued by the Irish Commissioners of National Education, betray his origins perhaps. Other books ordered were Valphy's 'Latin Delectus', Butter's 'Gradations in Reading and Spelling', Sennie's 'English Grammar', Thompson's 'Geography' as well as French verb tables and various Hebrew grammars and lexicons. Incongruously, perhaps, these requests are listed alongside other more practical needs: sponges for cleaning the mathematical board, a gallon of black ink, 9 gallons of ale and a person to sweep the chimneys. A later book order indicates that mathematics was a subject which was thoroughly taught: Connell's 'Differential and Integral Calculus', Thompson's 'Euclid Part I' and Young's 'Analysis of Cubic and Biquadratic Equations' were all acquired. Books were obtained in 83


quantities of rarely more than 12, which suggests that they were issued to different classes as required rather than retained by individual pupils. It had certainly been established early on that books were to be included in the fees - a practice which the School finally reverted to in 1992. For the practical subject of land surveying Dr Bewglass ordered a cross staff and field chain. All this suggests a curriculum which compared very favourably with what was on offer elsewhere. Mid-nineteenth century education presented an extraordinary range of schools, learning methods and curricular content. In many schools the latter was extremely limited. Elementary education was haphazard and often ineffectual in its teaching of the three Rs, and illiteracy was still widespread. Sunday schools and dame schools went some way towards teaching children to read, but their scope was limited and their teachers poorly qualified. The endowed grammar schools were often in decay and offered an outmoded curriculum. Many of them charged fees but their endowments frequently proved totally inadequate for providing an up-to-date education. Their rigid statutes caused the subjects they taught - and the salaries of the teachers they employed - to be frozen in time. The public schools were gradually establishing themselves as places where the upper classes and middle classes with social aspirations could educate their children, but most of them were hopelessly tied to an exclusively classical curriculum. Finally there were some private schools, usually dismal imitations of the minor public schools, and the Dissenting Academies. These academies had mostly sprung up since 1779 when Nonconformists had gained the right to enter teaching and establish schools. Such schools tended to be in towns and to cater for the needs of merchants and manufacturers, many of whom were members of Nonconformist denominations. Their curriculum was more modern and practical than what was offered by the grammar schools and was likely to include rudiments of a commercial education in what was a rising industrial society. It is highly probable that the curriculum envisaged by Taunton's founders corresponded to this pattern. Men like W D Wills, the tobacco giant and chairman of the first shareholders' meeting in 1847, would have known well the advantage in business of a proper commercial training. That the Committee members were all practical in life as in religion is clear from accounts of their business-like approach to questions concerning the equipping and daily running of the School. They were both prudent financially and conscientious in their duties. The market which the School aimed at was composed of people like themselves: middle class, hard working and unpretentious. A glance at early school registers shows that a large proportion of parents who sent their sons to Taunton worked in industry or business, or were Nonconformist members of the professions. As an establishment set up expressly for the Independent denomination, the School successfully avoided attracting the social climbers or nouveaux riches who were patronising the public schools in an effort to make their children into gentlemen through contact with the upper classes and the established church. They were prepared to accept a narrow classical curriculum for the sake of social advancement, whereas Taunton parents were likely to support a broadly-based curriculum out of common sense. Snobbery was notably absent from the Taunton ethos, and though public school features were later copied and acquired, this has remained largely the case. Taunton, therefore, by making its religious principles paramount, was able to proceed in a level-headed way with its arrangements, academic and otherwise. It managed to avoid the concerns of a school 84


like Cheltenham College (founded in 1841) which had refused to accept the sons of tradesmen as this might lead to the embarrassment of the sons of gentlemen shaking hands with schoolfellows behind the counter! Ten years after the West of England Proprietary School opened its doors, the Rev W H Griffith, on his appointment as Principal, wrote to all parents, and his words encapsulate, in a somewhat bombastic style, the well-rounded scholastic aims of the institution: 'Our object is very simple and very momentous. We seek to furnish that sound instruction which may fit the pupils for the active duties of life and that high scholarship which may qualify them for its most elevated pursuits and at the same time to secure for the pupils the utmost possible comfort and for the parents the greatest possible measure of economy; and above all, to bring minds committed to our training under that religious influence which will secure for them advantages higher than any which are earthly and temporal'i This sounds like the best of all possible worlds, so is probably good marketing, but how successful was this programme of learning for living? How did the School, with its wide age range, tackle the broad curriculum outlined earlier in this chapter, and how well did it prepare pupils for the active duties of life'? We can learn something from examiners' comments and Prize Day reports which survive from that early period. The custom appears to have been that a visiting examiner, a minister of the Independent persuasion, conducted an examination of the pupils at the end of the school year in June. This must have been an oral examination, as a verbal report was delivered to assembled parents and shareholders at the Prize Day ceremony on the same evening. The Rev G Smith of Poplar, at the end of the School's first year in 1848, gives no details about the pupils' achievements other than that he was 'highly gratified' with their progress in what had been a difficult settling in period. Next year the Rev David Thomas of Bristol spoke in similar terms: 'signs of intelligence and progress' were, he said 'numerous and decided'. We do, however, learn that three pupils qualified for matriculation at London University in that year, and the same number in 1850. This was out of a total of about 30 leavers. Remarks by another examiner, the Rev J Burder, are again vague, but confirm the market for which the School's broad curriculum was designed: 'The specification of the subjects which the examination embraced would be superfluous; suffice it to say that it included not only such branches of knowledge as are requisite for the tradesman and merchant, but, with regard to several of the pupils, such studies also as are desirable both for the Professions, and for the few, who in future life may be able and willing to devote much of their time to literary pursuits'.2 Dr Bewglass, with is own taste for literature, no doubt took this last group under his wing. The impression given by these early 'examinations' - expanded to two days from 1849 - is that they were more akin to what would now be termed school inspections. After all, a single examiner required to assess all pupils in every subject has a comprehensive brief, and these visiting ministers, however denominationally sound, may not have been suitably qualified to pass accurate and detailed judgement on every aspect of such a wide-ranging curriculum. By 1854 further curriculum developments had taken place. Requests for copies of Keightley's English History and other history books testify to the addition of that subject. Prizes were, however, awarded for history and geography jointly for a number of years. Chemical apparatus and material for experiments as well as some

••••.

I See Proud Century, p 46 From Third Annual Shareholders' Report, 1850

2

85


chemistry text books were obtained in 1851 and the purchase of geological charts and specimens suggests that Geology was also taught, perhaps to a select few. One report describes how the 126 pupils in the School in 1850 were divided into seven forms, so even allowing for smaller groups, classes would have been similar in size to today. Language teaching was expanded with the addition of German in 1851: at least, an order for 12 copies of 011endry's Method of Studying German (and one key copy!) was submitted to the Committee. The latter also considered the appointment of a French master around this time, and in 1852 Monsieur Lalone was engaged for six months in the first instance at U60 per annum. However his appointment was terminated after three months for a variety of reasons with which the Committee concur' as the minutes record with characteristic vagueness in cases like this. M Lalone's successor also had a rough ride, lasting only a few months, and a third holder of the post was the master with whom W C Hine had his altercation in 1853.3 From the length of the prize lists can be seen the seriousness with which the School regarded academic study. In 1852, for instance, 125 prizes were awarded in all, generally a first and a second prize in each form for a wide range of subjects. All the more usual of these featured - Scripture, English, Arithmetic, Greek, Latin, Chemistry, French, and so forth - and there were also intriguing awards for such things as Principles of Astronomy and Use of Globes. There were writing, drawing and essay prizes, including a grandly worded 'Assiduous Attention to Writing' prize. Writing was treated like an art in the nineteenth-century, and a special master was engaged to teach it. (Mr Loveday began his long tenure of office as Writing Master in 1868). Generally slates were used for practice: Dr Bewglass decreed that the special writing books were to be used only once a week. Their contents were to exemplify the best copperplate and prizes were given for progress in writing as well as achievement. The beautifully inscribed minute books which contain much of the School's early history are proof of the high standards to which writing was taught in Victorian England. The prizes awarded may have impressed more in quantity than in quality. Sums of money allocated to their purchase were not great. Reminiscing in 1897, the Rev T B Knight (1848-9) recalled how poor the prizes had seemed; they were not bound editions but seemed more like 'the discarded stock of some Taunton bookseller'. S D Wills produced at the 1898 Commemoration 'a little tenpenny book' which he had won for Geography in the School's early years. There were, however, two annual prizes of substantial value, a senior and a junior, which were given for 'superior general proficiency' in a demanding and wide-ranging syllabus which included Latin set texts, advanced Mathematics and the Greek Testament. These prizes were abandoned after a few years, probably because the School could no longer afford them. This was not surprising: 'the senior award, at ÂŁ10, would be worth more than ÂŁ1000 at today's values. In 1856 the examination held at the end of the summer term was a written one, probably for the first time. The fact that the boys did not know the questions in advance and were required to write their answers without assistance was considered worthy of special mention. Logic and natural philosophy had now entered the curriculum: a 'friend of the college' was brought in to mark the philosophy and chemistry papers, and the remainder were corrected internally. During the Rev T Clark's headship the School was spared the comings and going of French masters at least: Mr Clark had been a Professor of Languages at Rotherham before his 86

3 See

Chapter 9


appointment to Taunton and was able to take upon himself the teaching and examining of Modern Languages. This may account for a notable performance in the year after Mr Clark's departure when an oral test was held by that summer's examiner the Rev Henry Addiscott, Minister of Paul's Meeting. It sounds an impressive piece of organisation, as the pupils were required, by classes, to read in Greek, Latin, French and German in succession. Mr Addiscott declared himself greatly impressed by the ease and elegance of their diction: on the other hand, there is no particular evidence that the Secretary of the Institution was a polyglot! During Mr Griffith's period as Principal examiners' reports continued to be unreservedly complimentary. The Rev W H Griffith School was clearly doing a good job and the conscientious attitude of the masters is commented upon. How well qualified they were is open to question. In 1855 it had been agreed between the Principal and the Committee that 'a superior class of master would tend to the more efficient education of the pupil' and that three well-qualified teachers would produce better results than the five then employed. The curriculum was certainly extraordinarily diverse. The numbers qualifying in the London University matriculation examination, however, remained small, usually around three or four, though a certain Master Thompson brought honour to the School in 1864 by attaining third place in the national list of results, the title of university scholar and an exhibition of ÂŁ20 pa. Public confidence in the School was high, and the Stepswater premises were full. In fact some applicants were being turned away. For the first 20 years of the School's history, the average number of pupils on the roll was 120. Now further expansion was at hand, and Independent College could move to its new home confident that it was in sound academic shape. The traditional end-of-year examinations continued at the new College, but from 1875 professional examiners rather more high-powered than ministers on the local circuit were brought in to conduct them. This had followed a recent offer by the universities to examine the pupils of private schools, and in 1875 Mr Edward Thompson, Fellow of Christ's College Cambridge and Assistant Examiner in Classics to London University spent four days at Taunton conducting a very thorough examination. His report is the most detailed available to date, and it is a highly complimentary one. The general theme is that there was ample evidence of understanding as well as learning, and 'no attempt at display, nor anywhere the slightest trace of 'cramming'.' The Latin and Greek classes were well grounded in grammar but also knew the subject matter of the Catiline of Sallust and the peculiar Homeric forms. Mathematical attainments were sound in Algebra, Trigonometry and mental arithmetic. Mr Thompson refers to the latter as 'one of the traditions of the 87


school' . In Modern Languages he saw evidence of careful teaching bringing a knowledge 'more substantial than that generally attained by schoolboys of the same age'. In conclusion he hoped that boys would continue to sit for the University of London Matriculation exam as there was plenty of university material. This report was a thorough vindication of the School's syllabus and teaching methods, and led to the Committee's proposal that pupils be encouraged to compete in the Oxford or Cambridge local examinations. As an incentive four exhibitions, two of £15 and two of £10, were to be awarded to pupils who obtained the highest positions in these examinations. Runners-up would receive one guinea. If exhibitioners subsequently matriculated at London University they would be entitled to receive their award payments for two years: being placed in the first division would bring an additional prize of £5, and in the honours division £10. These amounts were later raised to £15 and £20 respectively. Three years later two special scholarships were established of which the more valuable was a Shareholder's Scholarship of £40 for the candidate who most distinguished himself in London University Matriculation. There was a condition that he must go on to graduate at a British university. The other award, known as the Wills Scholarship, was an internal award based on an examination in Classics, Mathematics, French, English and Natural Science. It was worth £20 a year, which was equivalent to the remission of approximately half the boarding fees in force at that time. All prospectuses of this era list the school's terms as 'inclusive of French and German' which may seem a somewhat strange deal to offer to parents. The explanation is probably that foreign languages were not regarded very seriously by many schools around this time and were often relegated, especially in public schools, to 'Modern' sides which were despised by those who considered an exclusively classical education a sine qua non. A historical reason may be that earlier in the century demands for curriculum reform elsewhere had suffered setbacks: the Eldon Judgement of 1805 had, for instance, rejected the proposed adoption of French and German at Leeds Grammar School. Taunton may have been anxious to demonstrate that it was not party to such narrow thinking. It is not clear what system of subject options was in use at the School around this time, but it seems likely that the combination of subjects taken was much more flexible than elsewhere. Obviously not everyone studied everything. There is a reference in an 1878 examination report to the accuracy of German translation by 'some of the few who had learned the language'; and when discussing candidates' progress in Greek, the examiner remarks that his only dissatisfaction is 'with the small number of boys who learn the far better and more useful of the two classical languages'. Dr Smith, the examiner, was evidently a Graecophile. French was more widely learned than German at Taunton, as is still the case, and we noted an earlier comment which suggested a favourable comparison of its pupils' attainment with the national average. The general message which the School wished to convey by advertising and encouraging language teaching was that it had a broad and practical curriculum where all subjects were valued and where pupils had a wide choice. As the picture emerges, it becomes clear that though classics were prominent at Taunton they did not dominate to the exclusion of virtually everything else. They appear, in the 1860s at least, to have been the yardstick by which a boy's form was determined. J Hatchwell (1862-5), writing in 1932, recalled: 'In my time every boy's position on entering the school was regulated by his proficiency in Latin. 88


Consequently, when I entered, not having touched Latin, I was put at the very bottom. My status was most peculiar, because having done quadratic equations and several books of Euclid, I was in the highest classes for Mathematical subjects. However, things straightened out in time and I was fitted into appropriate classes for the different subjects.' This use of Latin to determine a boy's form does not necessarily mean that it dominated the syllabus. In the 1970s a pupil's form was dictated by his ability in French. Some sort of setting or grouping of pupils of similar ability seems, from the above comments, to have operated - if in a rather primitive form - in the School's earlier period as it does today. In many other schools, especially public schools, the worship of classics was absolute. Boys totally unsuited to the academic discipline of a classical training were subjected to the rigours of Homer and Livy. Often they derived no value from this, and left school ignorant, as the Royal Commission of 1864 noted. Much of what they did was simply rote learning, the endless repetition of lines from classical texts, known at Winchester as 'standing up' or 'formal construing'. Churchill's famous story of how on arrival at his prep school, having done no Latin, he was given the first declension to learn without any explanation, illustrates the point. "I think I can say it, sir, but what does it mean?" When told that he would use the vocative case mensa when addressing a table, his retort 'But I never do!' was countered with a stern warning that he would be severely punished if he were impertinent.' Later in his school life Churchill won a prize for reciting 1200 lines of Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome without an error; such feats were not uncommon in schools then. Taunton may not have been immune from some of these defects in that the teaching methods of any subject rarely operate in isolation but owe much to fashion. Even classical scholars under John Leathem in the 1950s recollect a strong emphasis on 'construing' and that much of the work consisted of straight translation prepared in advance. But the favourable remarks noted earlier about the pupils' comprehension of the subject-matter of Sallust and their avoidance of mere learning by heart suggest that Taunton's approach to the classics was a more moderate and balanced one. Another area in which many contemporary schools lagged behind was science. At Taunton, as we saw, chemistry, physiology and biology (natural science) had all been taught since the 1850s. However, the Devonshire Commission which examined the curricula of 128 public schools and endowed grammar schools in 1875 found that science was only taught in half of them. Only 13 had a laboratory of any kind and only 18 any apparatus. Languages fared nearly as badly, though it became fashionable to employ a Foreign Master to teach a variety of modern languages, the chief of which was French. English arrogance assumed that because such a master was foreign he was therefore able to cope with any language emanating from the other side of the Channel. Absurd situations arose: there was a Pole at Repton in the 1870s trying to cope with French, German, Italian, Spanish and dancing!' Taunton, too, employed a fairly motley succession of gentlemen with foreign-sounding names between 1870 and 1890. They at least were restricted to French and German. In the 1870s there were Monsieur Scrive and Monsieur Lowenstam (a useful hybrid, perhaps?), followed in the 1880s by a series of gentlemen, mostly Germans, who stayed little more than a year. Herr Schwarz (1882-3) was succeeded by Monsieur Corneille (1883), Herr Brinkmann (1884) and Herr Wandelt (1885). The latter appears to have settled in better, perhaps because he was inveigled into playing rugby for the school team. Herr Schlenkrich 4

See My Early Life, p 24 Gathorne-Hardy op.cit. p156

5 See

89


only lasted for a term in 1889. Probably many of these men found it difficult to keep order. English attitudes to foreigners at the time, coupled with the requirement to teach French and German willy nilly and probably with few guidelines in what were unfamiliar surroundings, must have made their lives far from easy and their teaching standards questionable. There are some unfavourable remarks in an 1879 examiner's report about the boys' French pronunciation, which was criticised as being too anglicised. This was almost certainly a widespread phenomenon in an England where most people had only vague ideas about what lay beyond Calais. Certainly enthusiasm for the so-called 'direct method' of teaching languages, with its ignoring of grammar, was muted at Taunton. An article in The Tauntonian remarked in 1889: 'Children thus taught may learn to prattle, but they will never know the language.' In 1890 Taunton appointed a language specialist to teach French and German, W R Bentham, who had a Cambridge degree, and this appointment heralded a period of greater stability in language teaching. Experimenting with foreigners was over for the meantime. But on the whole the School's attitude to modern languages in the nineteenth century was a positive one. When the Rev F W Aveling assumed the headship in 1880 he reaffirmed the School's broad traditions in a letter to parents: 'With the wide and varied course of study through which pupils are conducted, we give facilities to each individual student to become proficient in that branch of learning to which his own taste naturally inclines.' He also expressed a firm belief in the importance of general knowledge. His own subject was chemistry, and it was therefore certain that science teaching would flourish during his headship. He wanted to start a museum displaying objects of scientific interest, and even invited contributions via the school prospectus. Mr Aveling announced the intention of taking on the chemistry teaching himself: Mr Lambert, the new Second Master, was in charge of natural science. At this stage we may speculate as to how much teaching specialisation there was among the staff. S P Record is of the opinion that, in the early days at least, all masters taught all subjects, with some obvious exceptions like music and writing.' This was probably true, but as educational standards - and examination requirements - rose generally, a better qualified staff naturally gravitated to certain disciplines. It is perhaps significant that from Mr Aveling's time onwards, prospectuses list staff according to subjects: earlier the description had merely named the Principal, and Second Master (from 1857), adding the words 'assisted by an efficient staff of masters'. Two additional subjects offered by the School from the 1880s were Political Economy and Mental and Moral Philosophy. Both interested Mr Aveling personally', and the breakdown of the latter's subject content in the prospectus makes impressive reading: deduction, induction, sensations, intellect, emotion, volition, ethics. No-one could say that the School's educational aims were not ambitious. During the 1880s the range of public examinations for which Independent College pupils were entered was extended. Besides the London University Matriculation and Cambridge Locals, the College of Preceptors' examinations were also taken by a growing number, as were the matriculation exams of certain other universities, such as University College, Aberystwyth, which one boy entered in 1887. Mr Aveling encouraged boys to sit for Civil Service and Pharmaceutical Society examinations if appropriate, and the attention of parents was drawn to the importance of considering a boy's future career. These were years of academic strength for the School. 1883 was 6

90

See Proud Century, p 228

7 He gave a course of lectures on Political Economy in the town in 1882


hailed as the most successful year to date for examination results, and in 1887 the first Oxbridge award was obtained when a boy won an exhibition in Mathematics to Worcester College, Oxford. This was a success worth advertising, and it was decided by the Committee in 1888 that a special board should be displayed in the Schoolroom on which the major academic achievements of pupils would be recorded.' Further curriculum developments to the turn of the century included a considerable boost to music with the acquisition of the organ by Mr Aveling and 'two friends' for £150. To defray the expense of purchasing it, a subscription was charged for its use as well as a guinea a term for lessons, which were offered soon after the organ's installation in the Schoolroom. Mr Aveling quite brazenly invited further donations from anyone who felt disposed to give. Piano lessons were arranged with a visiting teacher around this time, also at one guinea per term, and £25 was set aside for the purchase of a piano for the Junior School to encourage younger boys to learn to play. In 1882 it is recorded that a voluntary college singing class - perhaps roughly equivalent to the modern Choral Society - had over 80 members. There was an extra charge of 3s 6d (17p) a term for this. The number of boys learning other musical instruments was also growing, and frequent concerts were held. The music master until 1882, Mr John Comer, had given long service to the School, and the Committee decided that he ought to retire 'because of his advanced age'. He was given a £50 thank you gift and a term's notice. His successor, Thomas Dudeney, appears to have been something of a livewire. Accounts of his stately and powerful presence at the organ and references to his bad jokes suggest that a more recent school organist (Martin Ellis) had a century-old model! Once Mr Dudeney is reputed to have vented his anger on the Singing Class thus: "I am disgusted with you. The tenor of your conduct is altogether bass and treble as bad as the conduct of any other class I take." He only stayed for three years at Taunton, going on to become organist at St James's Church, but he presided over a period of marked improvement in the School's musical reputation. Practical subjects were not forgotten, and a carpenter's workshop was set up in 1887 for boys to learn woodwork. An extra charge of a shilling a week was made to cover the cost of materials and supervision, and 24 boys took up this opportunity in the first year. Science was flourishing, and Mr Aveling was authorised to buy a microscope (costing not more than £7) for the department. He also used his resourcefulness to acquire a chemistry laboratory (or the contents of one) from a school which had closed down. The museum was growing in size by virtue of some rather bizarre donations: a dentist gave a glass case of preserved snakes in 1885, 8 The

board is visible in the illustration below

91


for instance. Under Mr Ridges Botany was added to the sciences taught at Taunton. Shorthand joined book-keeping on the syllabus in 1889, and in 1895 it was decided that all boys below the fifth form would study these two subjects. Thirteen boys were congratulated at the Prize Day of 1897 for obtaining Pitman's certificates. Typing (still available as a sixth-form option today) was taught from 1902, when the School first acquired two typewriters. These machines were hired at first: the School could not afford to buy them. These innovations reflect the School's determination to keep pace with the developments and opportunities of an industrial society. Practical competence was valued, but it was not to be at the expense of the welltrained mind. Mr Aveling steered a middle course. He declared at the end of the 1880s: More and more must science and modern languages take the place of classics.' However, he himself was a classicist as well as a scientist and he valued the intellectual discipline conferred by the study of the ancients. Every Speech Day from the early 1880s - and for many years afterwards - began with a Greek or Latin address by a pupil to the Guest of Honour. A translation of this was sometimes published in The Tauntonian. One year there were three addresses in Latin, German and French to the Rev Walker King ('Vir Rev'!), the guest on that occasion. These addresses kept a balance between ancient and modern languages. Taunton may have become best known for its science teaching but it always retained a strong classics department. In fact it must have been one of the very few schools in the country still to have a classics staff of three in the 1980s. With the retirement of John Dewdney in 1988 and Richard Giles in 1995 their number has dwindled to one. It was a sign of the times that these gentlemen were not replaced. Now Roger Priest keeps the classical flag flying in isolation, but it is still possible to learn Greek at Taunton and not many schools can say that. Lists of prizewinners were long in the last years of the nineteenth-century and in the first years of this. A number of special awards had now joined the various subject prizes. Sir William Henry Wills gave prizes for History and French, and Mr Aveling had introduced a Principal's silver medal for Scripture soon after his arrival. An Old Boy (F Colthurst) offered a similar medal for modern languages, and there was a Spencer Prize for mathematics and mechanics, given by a former School President. The Rev Henry Addiscott, Secretary to the Governors, gave an essay prize, which is still awarded today. These special prizes were mostly won by senior boys, many of whom had also distinguished themselves in the various public examinations. The certificates for these examinations, many of which had taken place earlier in the school year than they would do nowadays, were also presented at Speech Day. Certain boys who did not win prizes might receive an honourable mention. Eligibility for prizes was based on the combined results gained in external and school examinations. There was also a time-honoured system of internal certificates for progress and achievement which were known as optimi. By extension Optimi were also the pupils with the best results. Optimi certificates go back almost to the School's foundation, and were originally issued four times in every long term of half a year. Based on the review of the classes of the Institution for this half quarter' they appear to have fulfilled a role similar to that played by the periodic orders given today. The black, blue, pink and gold bordered certificates were a gracious acknowledgement to the pupils with the best order marks or grades. Today staff more prosaically write the grades on a yeargroup list and distribute the orders verbally. Until relatively recently the pupils 92


themselves operated a 'points' system, by which they would work out how their personal grades related to the neutral C3 by adding or subtracting points for higher or lower orders. They could thus compare, say, a score of 'plus 18' this time with 'minus 2' last time, or with the score of a class-mate. This system had no official status during my time on the staff but was purely pupil driven. Such competitiveness is not encouraged today and staff are expected to dispense orders privately without reference to the performance of other pupils. The competitive spirit of the young tends to assert itself notwithstanding. The annual prize giving at Taunton has survived changing attitudes of this nature. Many schools have abandoned prizes or restricted their ceremonies to just a few special awards, but Taunton has maintained the formal speech day and distribution of prizes throughout its history. In the Wellington Road days, as we saw, it was more of an annual meeting at which the examining minister gave his report to assembled pupils, parents and shareholders anxious to reassure themselves as to the good standing and financial health of the institution. Prizes would then be presented to the best pupils. From 1861 we find references to recitations and musical interludes among the ceremonies. The occasion continued to be held in June, on the last evening of term, until 1879. In 1880, with the change to a three-term year, the Summer Term continued to 31 July, with a grander day-time ceremony which included a luncheon and presentation to Mr Griffith who was retiring. The association of a religious service with the school prize giving, thus creating a Commemoration ceremony not unlike what still exists today, seems to date from 1883. Probably the arrival of the organ had a lot to do with this. Mr Aveling also raised the importance of the occasion by inviting MPs and other prominent figures to present the prizes. Viscount Kilcoursie came in 1883, Sir Thomas Acland in 1888 and Captain Alexander Luttrell, JP in 1893. The Headmaster was caught out in 1884 when Lewis Fry MP had to cancel when he was suddenly required to attend a reading of the Manchester Ship Canal bill in the House. Norman Roberts had a similar problem exactly a century later, when Denis Howell, then Shadow Minister for Sport, was also detained by parliamentary business. On that occasion Sir Edward du Cann stepped in at short notice. From 1897-99 the Prize Day was held in the autumn. The College Jubilee - and, coincidentally, Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, though that took second place - had dictated a different pattern of events in 1897, and this arrangement stuck until Dr Whittaker restored the summer ceremony in 1900. The practice of giving prizes was evidently being questioned as early as the 1900s, for in 1908 Sir George White, MP, that year's Commemoration speaker, referred to the topical argument that prizes should be abolished and that pupils should work for the love of knowledge alone. He himself was against it, for prizes added stimulus and encouraged pupils to do their best. Only during the war years did Taunton abandon prizes. During the First World War Dr Whittaker presented special commendatory certificates in lieu of prizes' and in the Second successful pupils received national savings stamps or certificates, which also helped the war effort. 1915 was one of only two occasions in the School's history when Commemoration was cancelled. In other war years the ceremony was held, though in a modified form with fewer in attendance. The second cancellation was caused by the 1952 polio outbreak, and John Leathem gave away the prizes at the School's final assembly in the Memorial Hall. Over the years the number of special benefactors' prizes has greatly increased. Many 9

For an example, see Proud Century p 222

93


of these commemorate Old Tauntonians or members of staff who gave long service or died prematurely. Examples are the Went Memorial and Pridham prizes (in memory of R D Went and Hampton Pridham respectivelym), the Tucker Prize for History (commemorating P A D Tucker, the history master and swimming coach who died in 1969) and the Roger Smith awards for endeavour which were set up in Roger's memory in 1989. One of the most appropriately named special prizes is the Record prize, in memory of S P Record: it is given annually to the pupil who records the best set of results in the GCSE examinations. Returning to the academic development of the School around the turn of the century we can attribute much sound progress to the years presided over by Mr J B Ridges. These were difficult years for the School Mr J B Ridges which had to regain a steady course after the disruptions caused by Mr Aveling's departure. Numbers were low, but academic standards held up well, and Mr Ridges modernised the year-group structure, bringing in the form system and numbering the years from one to six like most schools. The old system of seven classes, with Class I as the most senior had existed since the School's foundation and had outlived its usefulness. 1895 was hailed in many reports as a year of outstanding scholastic success. The most prestigious achievement was the winning by a Taunton boy of the Dyke scholarship, open to boys in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and tenable at Oxford for four years. However, average pupils were not neglected, and Mr Ridges' avowed aim was to help all the boys to gain the best success they could according to their abilities rather than to concentrate on winning a few special distinctions. It was notable also in 1895 that no candidate failed the College of Preceptors' examination, and this reflected the thoroughness of the work being undertaken. Dr Whittaker was anxious to continue this tradition and affirmed in his first Prize Day speech his determination to get the best out of every boy. Meanwhile developments in science were proceeding apace. The old Guvvy had become a science demonstration room in 1896 and Mr Ridges had been planning a physics laboratory before he left. The culmination was the opening of a new science wing in November 1902. Adjoining the back of the main building, the two new labs provided working positions for 16 pupils, with the old lab next door becoming a preparation room. The new buildings were opened by Mr A J Goodford, the Chairman of Somerset County Council, and a major report in the Somerset County Gazette" helped to publicise the School's new facilities and possibly to attract new pupils. Mr Goodford, impressed by what he saw, spoke of his own determination to promote scientific and commercial subjects in county schools which, he admitted, were regrettably lagging behind in those areas. 94

10 See Chapter 13 11 In the issue of 8 November 1902


The range of public examinations for which the School was entering pupils was now so great that a booklet entitled 'A Year's Work' listing the results was published annually. This contained an impressive summary of the pupils' achievements as well as being a useful form of advertising. In the academic year 1901-2, for example, there were candidates for ten different examination boards. Apart from entries for the Cambridge Locals, College of Preceptors and London University Matriculation, there were successes in the South Kensington Science and Art examinations, in bank and accountancy exams and in practical exams in subjects like book-keeping, drawing and commercial arithmetic set by the London Chamber of Commerce. Such diversity is rendered even more impressive by the addition of five music places at Trinity College, London, over 70 Pitman's shorthand certificates and a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1909 the Cambridge Local exam results were good enough to merit the proclamation of an extra day's holiday. In other years pupils took Civil Service exams or elementary French set by the London Chamber of Commerce, an organisation which, interestingly, the School again patronised for its weaker linguists in the 1970s. In the 1900s we find Commercial and Business French frequently mentioned as forming part of the languages syllabus, something which was not the case in many schools. True to its traditions Taunton has revived commercial French on a number of subsequent occasions, notably in 1974 when it formed part of the Six One course, and in the 1990s when the top fifth form set prepared French for Professional Use as a supplementary GCE subject. As numbers rose under Dr Whittaker it was possible to reorganise the teaching to suit the many requirements of the pupils. The most obvious division was between a classical and a modern side which operated from the fourth form. English, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and French were taught on both sides, the French being more commercially orientated on the modern side and more literary on the classical. Drawing and Gymnastics were taught to every form, and a 1905 prospectus declares that Choral Singing was taken by the whole school. Possibly it was realised that including the tone deaf was too great a challenge, as this statement does not recur! All pupils of course learned Scripture; Dr Whittaker recognised a special personal responsibility in this, aiming at the cultivation in the boys of 'a manly, religious life'. A staff which was gradually increasing in size - there had been only eight resident and three non-resident masters in 1900 - helped to make this diverse programme possible. In 1915 the School was subject to a full Chesmistry Laboratory 1902 inspection by the Board 95


of Education, and a number of the inspectors' suggestions were implemented by Dr Whittaker. Latin and French were started later, and history and geography were strengthened. Nature study was introduced. Some other changes were made in science and mathematics with the aim of improving the Lower School teaching in these subjects. Mr Loveday was having some difficulty in keeping Drawing going at all levels (he was nearly seventy), and another art master, Mr E J French, was employed to ease the load. The inspectors also suggested a revision of the School's examination commitments, with a view to simplifying the programme and reducing the number of boards used. This led to the School's adoption of the Oxford and Cambridge Board for the majority of its candidates, who would take the examinations at lower and higher levels. The London Matriculation was, however, retained for some. Two consequences of this full inspection were recognition as efficient by the Board of Education and, as a result, the right granted by the War Office to recommend candidates for nomination to Sandhurst. Further academic changes were put on hold by the war; the supply of masters was unpredictable, and Dr Whittaker had difficulty in ensuring continuity of teaching during those anxious years. Even so, Taunton pupils won five awards to Oxford and Cambridge in both 1917 and 1918, an outstanding achievement. After the war a Special Business Side (renamed the Commercial Side under Mr Nicholson) was given equality of status with the Classical and Modern Sides already in existence. Another change was the adoption of the London General School examination. By this time the various universities and professional organizations were beginning to recognize each other's certificates, and this allowed more flexibility for pupils considering university entrance and other professional training. The General School certificate was one of the first qualifications to gain wide acceptance. Pupils' options were extended in the 1920s with the introduction of a Science Side in its own right. This was around the time that science received a considerable boost with the opening of the new war memorial building. The Science Side was designed for boys with natural abilities in science or maths who would be considering careers in medicine or engineering. Meanwhile the Commercial Side had changed in emphasis. Less time was given to shorthand and book-keeping, as it was felt that these subjects could be picked up fairly easily at a later stage. Instead more attention was paid to elementary Economics which was a sound basis for any business career. An Option existed within the Commercial Side for boys to learn Spanish, a language of growing importance as far as trade with South America was concerned. Spanish had not hitherto been taught at Taunton. The language was not, however, offered to the Modern Side which concerned itself with a more literary approach, teaching French and German language and literature and retaining Latin. The latter long remained a requirement for entrance to many university courses; and certainly one foreign language was necessary for candidates to Oxford and Cambridge until the late 1960s. Science Side pupils at Taunton continued the study of French to the lower level of the Oxford and Cambridge board. Beyond School Certificate level, the choice included a popular Maths and Science course, with a number of university entrance awards to its credit, and a Modern Studies course, started in 1923, which contained a range of artsbased options, notably English, History and languages. Classics was offered at this level by arrangement only; at the time of the 1926 Board of Education Inspection only one boy was taking it. A Classical Sixth Form was formed in 1934, when the 96


recognition of an Advanced Classics Course by the Board of Education placed Taunton among only 20 out of 1500 recognised schools with three officially established advanced courses. This was a matter of considerable prestige for Mr Nicholson and for the School. During the 1920s and 1930s academic standards remained high, especially in Science with a steady trickle of Oxbridge awards, averaging two or three a year. Music teaching also received a boost, and there were many Associated Board examination successes during this period. Mr Nicholson was anxious to promote music, which he loved greatly - he had founded the Music Circle while at Manchester Grammar School - and the opening of the new Music School in 1929 was a major step forward. Old Boys have many memories of the Gilbert and Sullivan and other musical evenings which Mr and Mrs Nicholson arranged in an effort to familiarise pupils with some of the better known names and compositions in musical history. Mrs Nicholson also liked to sing solo pieces, though OTs who remembered this did not rate her voice very highly. Another innovation was the development of special facilities for medical study, with a gifted teacher, Dr Watson, in charge: it was even possible for a post-matriculation student to gain his first MB direct from the School. Several pupils did, in fact, achieve this, notably four in 1929 and three in 1936. Mr Nicholson frequently stressed the value of advanced work and the extent to which specialist teaching at school could prove invaluable for a boy's later career. He believed also that qualities of leadership were best cultivated between the ages of 16 and 18 and urged his pupils not to waste those years of great potential. The expansion of science teaching after the opening of the new science block in 1925 allowed for the introduction of zoology and botany as examination subjects along with Chemistry, Physics and Biology. In 1935 Biology was introduced for several of the Remove forms (equivalent to the fourth form), and more boys, irrespective of other options, offered it as an examination subject from 1937. This move laid the foundation for the priority which would be given to this subject in Dr Neal's time and later. In 1926 Mr Nicholson accepted the presidency of the newly-formed Scientific Society which aimed to stimulate interest in aspects of science which feel outside normal classwork. Visiting lecturers were invited to the School to deliver these and there were occasional visits to places of scientific interest such as Taunton Gas Works. The society still flourishes today; and it has attracted many distinguished speakers over the years. As a modern linguist of some repute Mr Nicholson encouraged the boys to go on visits abroad. He himself had had experience of such visits while at Manchester and Watford, and felt very strongly that they helped to broaden the outlook and, as he said at the 1926 Commemoration, 'save a boy from that provincialism or insularity which is perhaps the special danger of our island race'. And so this marked the beginning of the era of the 'school trip'. There were formal visits to Paris, camping holidays in Normandy, Brittany (and even Algeria in 1934), youth hostelling in Germany'', and walking tours in Spain and Switzerland. Here is an extract from an account of an Easter visit to Paris which reads for all the world like an advertisement for a Cook's tour: 'The host and hostess of the hotel are most profuse in their greetings of welcome. They hope we have travelled well, will enjoy our stay at Paris, and allot us our rooms. Three meals a day are about all one gets. Petit dejeuner at about 8 am (which hardly counts as a meal), dejeuner at 11 am, and diner at 6 pm. The 12

See Chapter 10

97


touring for the day is done between the last two. It is good fun, and good practice in speaking French, in ordering one's own dish for the particular courses. Sometimes a short tour is made before dejeuner - such a taking an autobus along the Grands Boulevards past the Porte St Denis, Place de la Bastille, l'Hotel de Ville, through the rue de Rivoli to Palais Royal, where lunch is taken. Another nice trip is round the South of Paris. The Luxembourg museum and grounds, the Pantheon, where great writers such as Victor Hugo are buried, la Sorbonne, Cluny Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral (with its treasures), and St Gervais Church, which was bombarded by the German Big Bertha during the war, are among the places of call. A day at the Bois de Boulogne - especially with an hour or two on the lake - is very much enjoyed. A night at L'Opera with its magnificent staircase must not be missed. The Hotel des Invalides with Napoleon's Tomb is generally visited more than once. Its beauty is indescribable. With permission one may visit the Mint and the Observatory. A day shopping at the Magasins du Louvre, or Au Bon Marche or Aux Galeries Lafayette or Coty's (they never tell you how much scent you can take duty free!) generally concludes the tour. By now one begins to look forward to a good English meal served oftener than twice a day.' Many of these tours in the pre-war years were organised by H H Billett, Austin Willoughby, or 'Pa Bill'. The latter was actually escorting a group to Switzerland when war was brewing in 1939. The journey home via Basle, Paris and Dieppe was fraught with innumerable passport checks and long delays: the party finally reached Taunton on 27 August, a week before war was declared. When school trips abroad resumed in 1954, Eric Betty's pilgrimages to continental resorts became an annual and sometimes a biannual tradition. Switzerland was the favourite, but Padua, Innsbruck and Bellagio were also visited, all the trips of course involving long train journeys across Europe. Since the 1970s these school trips have largely given way to language exchanges, which offer the advantage of placing pupils singly with different families and giving them the experience of attending school with their 'correspondents', while retaining the security of travelling in a group. Successful arrangements developed in France with schools at Coulommiers, La Ferte-Gaucher and St Brieuc, and in Germany with the Gymnasium Oedeme in Liineburg, an exchange which is 20 years old this year. Occasional teacher exchanges have also taken place. As far back at 1928 Mr H H Billett spent a year at the College de Saintes near Bordeaux and a French teacher came to Taunton; Mr W J Morgan had an interesting year in Berlin during Hitler's rise to power (1936-7); and in 1979 Peter Murphy exchanged for a term with the extrovert, convivial and demon driver Fritz Kemm, who still returns to Taunton from time to time. He once drove David Miller and myself back from an evening out in Bristol in under half an hour in his hotted up Volkswagen, talking loudly all the way. David Miller was also a lover of fast cars, but even his composure threatened to disintegrate: "Hey, Fritz, you know the police sit on the bridges in England ..." I just clung to my seat. It may be interesting to note, before leaving the subject of foreign visits, that the very first school trip abroad was not inspired by Harold Nicholson but took place in January 1910. It was a winter sports trip to Switzerland organised by Mr F W Wisson. Five boys accompanied him to Engelberg, knowing 'little or nothing about skating or skiing', and returned full of the delights of a Swiss winter. Among their fellow-guests in the hotel were Rudyard Kipling and Jerome K Jerome whom they found very 98


companionable. Nearly a century later pupils can still enjoy this oldest of Taunton's travelling traditions on the excellent skiing trips organised regularly by Richard Jowett. In 1937 the decision was taken - at a Staff meeting - to abandon the Cambridge School Certificate and henceforth to enter all pupils for the Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board's examinations. This was the more normal public school custom, and Taunton was competing favourably with other public schools academically. Donald Crichton-Miller made some other important changes in 1937 following a Board of Education inspection, the first since 1926. A Sixth Form business course was established, and Art and PE were extended to the Senior School. Meanwhile the amount of prep for the youngest pupils was reduced, and the shortened session for junior boarders lasted until the end of the junior houses in 1977. Prep for them ended at 8 pm, with a second half-hour session, curiously known as 'third prep', for the top year of juniors only. 1939 brought six university scholarships and six county scholarships as well as a good spread of exam success lower down the school. In academic terms it was the best year so far in the School's history, as Donald CrichtonMiller reported at that year's Commemoration. The guest speaker, Dr Berry, said that every boy had the right to ask two things of his school. The first was that it should prepare him for some definite job in the world. That had always been a high priority at Taunton. The second was that a school should train its pupils for life, which brings us back to the title of this chapter. A school, said Dr Berry, must prepare those within it for the rough and tumble of life and teach the need for patience, adaptability and team spirit. Such words were apt in the summer of 1939. The difficulties of the war years meant that teaching had to be organised on an ad hoc basis, and the valuable contribution made by the masters of the two schools evacuated to Taunton is acknowledged later in this book." As things slowly returned to normal from 1945, it was natural that the curriculum and academic organisation should come under some scrutiny. A major Education Act had been passed in 1944; the theme of daily life was post-war reconstruction, and the School had full independent status, a new Headmaster and a new Deputy." In actual fact there were no great changes, and getting back to normal involved more concentration on material and logistical adjustments - new kitchens, the restoration of the playing fields, and so forth - than with academic policy. The first major change affecting the School was the replacement of the old School Certificate with GCE examinations at Advanced and Ordinary Level in 1951. This raised the question of exactly what would constitute eligibility for sixth form courses. In 1951 the School offered 13 subjects for A Level study (with a continuing sharp division between arts and sciences which restricted choice) and 17 at O Level. Forty-five years later there was a choice of 22 subjects at A Level and 23 at GCSE, and these figures are still rising. Apparently the School's first set of results contained some surprises but was generally praiseworthy. The new pass at 0 Level equalled the credit grade of the old School Certificate and (for a few years) there was some shortfall in the pass rate resulting from the higher standard demanded. Boys in the lower band of the fifth form, known at that time as General VB (or more familiarly GVB), were now gaining fewer passes - only an average of 2.5 per candidate in 1954, though this figure rose to 4 in 1956 after a decision to allow weaker pupils to reduce the number of subjects taken and allowing for re-sits at Christmas. The other sections of the fifth form, the Science V, Arts V and General VA naturally achieved higher pass 13 See 14

Chapter 10 A G Marshall became Second Master on S P Record's retirement

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rates, of which the Science V usually scored best (9 passes per boy in 1955). GVB was the D stream which is usually the most difficult to handle and the most challenging to teach, as Paul Wickham clearly recalls: he was given the dreaded GVB on his arrival on the staff as a young master in 1963. A Level results were generally more impressive than 0 Level ones during these years, and Oxbridge awards held up well. In fact, with 37 between 1947 and 1959, they were better than before the war. Academically the School was strong at the top but it had a long tail. The post-war bulge' kept numbers healthy during the late fifties and early sixties, and extra classroom accommodation was badly needed to cope with the increased demand. In 1956 a new block of eight rooms was built alongside Loveday, creating Densham Court, named after Mr E S Densham, an Old Boy and member of Council (1936-66) who for many years was a most generous benefactor of the school, often anonymously. In 1957 major improvements to the science block were completed with the construction of a new biology block directly behind it. This was really the brainchild of Dr Ernest Neal, who planned and supervised every detail. He had also been responsible, shortly after his appointment as Head of Science in 1948, for a major reshaping of the curriculum to extend science to all boys from the age of 11. Junior forms did General Science, while biology was now taken by all boys in the removes and fifth forms. Pressure on space had therefore been great, and Geoff Stephens, for one, recalls the inconvenience of having to teach biology in a physics lab. A new biologist, Bill Snee, had also been appointed to cope with the extra teaching. The new biology building comprised laboratories and a science library and was linked to the main block by a bridge. Two thirds of the cost of building and equipping it - ÂŁ12,500 was obtained from the Industrial Fund for Scientific Education, and the War Memorial Fund provided the rest. The Industrial Fund also allocated money for the upgrading of physics and chemistry equipment in the older laboratories, an improvement which was badly needed. John Leathem was determined to maintain an even balance between arts and sciences. He also believed firmly in the value of general knowledge. In 1963 universities introduced comprehensive general papers as an entrance requirement, reflecting the feeling in the country that senior pupils in schools were lacking in a good general knowledge. Taunton quickly sought to remedy this deficiency (which John Leathem blamed on television) by introducing Thursday afternoon sessions for sixth formers devoted to civics, philosophy and aesthetic topics. This was the beginning of what became known as General Studies, and the choice of courses has Or Ernest Neal 100


widened greatly over thirty and more years. Today the options include psychology, fashion design, astronomy, film appreciation, bridge and even driving and practical gardening at the home of Dr Ervine, a member of staff. At the time John Leathem retired in 1966 the School was producing a creditable list of high academic achievements. As well as County Scholarships (until 1963) and awards to Oxford and Cambridge, there were industrial scholarships - five in 1966 alone - where successful scholars were sponsored financially through university by leading firms. One boy (A Steed) even won a Drapers' Company scholarship to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. At least one service scholarship was won every year from 1962 to 1966, and there were other individual successes such as P I B Pearce's Camborne School of Mines Scholarship in 1964. Such attainments impressed at Commemoration, but were they just the icing on a cake that had grown rather stale? Lower down the School, GVB still existed and the weaker boys were less well provided for than was dictated by modern educational needs. Changing times had not brought corresponding changes in the School's academic outlook. There had, it is true, been certain important alterations, such as the introduction of science teaching lower down the School, but the form structure and nomenclature with its Arts forms, Science forms, General removes and fifths, had remained virtually unchanged for the whole of John Leathem's headmastership. Now John Rae was to set about dismantling it. One of Dr Rae's prime aims was to bridge the divide between arts and sciences which came into effect two years before 0 Level. He felt it was quite wrong that some boys did no science beyond the age of 15. Some sixth formers agreed with him, and the academic year of 1966-7 (John Rae's first) seemed to substantiate the impression that there was, and should be, an intermingling of arts and science experiences rather than a chasm between the two. Some scientists had taken major roles in the school play and were prominent in the orchestra; arts students were increasingly involved in Scientific Society, and an S Level physicist had won the Addiscott Prize for Poetry in 1966. John Rae saw science as Taunton's trump card and Dr Ernest Neal as the chief architect of its success over recent years. There is no doubt that the science department was impressive and that its teaching was of a high order. Regular Oxbridge awards as well as a sound spread of results lower down the School bore witness to that. John Rae decided that the benefits of all the sciences were, from 1968, to be available to all pupils up to 0 Level, and a curriculum committee was set up to examine how the new system would work. The upshot was the disbanding of the old fifth form groupings into arts and sciences. An option system now allowed much greater flexibility for all boys, including those who leaned predominantly to the arts side, to choose an appropriate combination of science subjects. The old-fashioned terminology of the removes was also abolished. The curriculum committee was a forerunner of the Academic Policy Committee (APC), which John Rae set up on a permanent basis in 1969. This body, consisting of Heads of Department, the Second Master, the Sixth Form Tutor (at that time Dr P G Smith) and Nigel Maggs (who had been responsible for working out the practical details of the new curriculum) would, in future, meet about three times a term under the chairmanship of the Headmaster, to consider academic matters. When Dr Smith retired in the summer of 1969 his successor as Sixth Form Tutor had been named as Mr Peter Tucker, who was Head of History. However, 'Paddy' Tucker, who was a devoted, caring schoolmaster, school swimming coach and inspired gardener (the Tucker Memorial Garden is named after him) died tragically 101


that autumn after a short illness. The post of Sixth Form Tutor lapsed (except, curiously, on the 'wind tunnel' notice board headings where it was emblazoned for another 25 years!) and a wider academic post, known first as Head of Academic Organisation and later as Director of Studies was created. Its first incumbent was Nigel Maggs, who had already done much to put John Rae's curriculum proposals into practice. Over the next 25 years Nigel Maggs became synonymous with the role, indulging his natural flair for administration and sometimes idiosyncratic interpretation of it to the Staff. He was a rock in the swirling sea of examination entries and regulations, UCCA forms and educational policy changes which raged through the seventies and eighties and into the nineties. He kept staff and pupils right over deadlines, procedures and forms, and he and his box files were the sources of all academic wisdom. Going through the term's academic calendar was a solemn ritual at beginning of term staff meetings. Not even a bomb scare during an 0 Level exam fortunately a hoax - perturbed Nigel unduly; he knew exactly what to do and on what form to report the matter to the Board. An editorial in The Tauntonian in 1967 referred to Taunton's 'traditional morbid interest in itself', and one of John Rae's declared extra-curricular aims was to involve the School more in the local community. His own personal concerns at this time centred around the exclusive nature of the public school system and his desire to make it more accessible to ordinary people." As it happened, the Head Boy in 1965 had expressed the similar opinion, following an extended visit to Taunton of secondary modern pupils from Weston-Super-Mare as part of a citizenship course, that student representatives of the various Somerset schools - public, grammar, comprehensive, technical and secondary modern - should meet regularly to exchange views. This idea had not, however, been taken up by John Leathem. By 1966 education was firmly in the news with a widespread move to comprehensive schools in the maintained sector. The role of the independent schools in society was also receiving national attention, with a Public Schools Commission investigating the possibility of their offering a greater social mix. John Rae approved of the idea that more boarding places should be made available for pupils from the maintained system, and the forging of closer links with Somerset County Council could only be good for the School. The origins of Taunton's social service activities go back to this period, and the visits to the elderly in their homes and work with the handicapped at Princess Margaret School were ways of showing that the School cared about the community. Further afield, a number of boys were given every encouragement when they arranged to spend their post-A Level period helping immigrant families in the East end of London. By encouraging all this John Rae hoped to counter the criticism that Taunton was a rather dull and inward-looking school: there was much learning and educational experience to be gained from more outside contact. A major change worked out by Nigel Maggs was the Block System for A Level teaching. This allowed sixth form students much greater flexibility in choosing their A Level subjects which might now include both arts and science subjects. Because some subjects appeared in more than one block in order to create a wider choice, the timetable became more complicated to draw up. Assisting Nigel Maggs in this was Roy Exton, whose innovative, mathematical brain helped to circumvent a myriad of logistical problems. He would sit in his accustomed seat in the Common Room, peering at the timetable draft spread out on his knees and, muttering to himself, would 102

15 See

Delusions of Grandeur pp 30-31


cover it with hieroglyphics which certainly only he understood! During the following years the timetable has become more complex still, with the addition of new subjects such as Business Studies, Classical Civilisation and Social Biology. There now seems an unwritten rule that only a senior mathematician can cope with timetable complexities, and John Gillard (Head of Maths) is the compiler at present. Annual planning has to start early, but the aim remains to allow as much choice as possible in the A Level blocks as well as in the options which apply lower down the school. A consequence of the introduction of the Block System was the establishment of an important annual conference session called the Promotions Meeting. Nigel Maggs Held at the beginning of the autumn term, this meeting aimed to assist entrants to the sixth form with their choice of A Level subjects in the light of the 0 Level results which were normally published in late August. Every pupil was seen individually by a committee consisting of the Headmaster, senior staff and Heads of Department. Results were analysed and the pupil's future intentions discussed, the aim being to guide the new sixth former to a realistic choice. This meeting could be something of a marathon for the staff, especially those whose specialist advice was only called upon occasionally ("I think there's an A Level musician due about ten to six", Mike Brown would say with a sigh at the four o'clock tea break) but the session has proved to be of immense importance. Now that courses have diversified and the qualifications recommended for various career intentions have become much more complex, the modern sixth-former needs to be well advised. The Promotions Meeting could be a daunting experience, especially in the early days. Many pupils found it extremely intimidating to stand alone before a 'hollow square' of senior staff, particularly if their exam results left something to be desired. Those with unrealistic aims generally had a rough ride - 'a verbal caning which you couldn't get over as quickly as the real thing' as one School House boy once put it. Some pupils came out in tears. In the 1980s efforts were made to make the whole experience less traumatic: staff were available informally to answer queries before the meeting, pupils were asked to sit down, and house staff were invited to be present to support their charges. These changes were helpful and made those being interviewed feel more at ease at a time when, after all, important decisions were being made. Norman Roberts continued John Rae's forward-looking approach to the curriculum. He introduced a Junior Managerial Studies course whose aim was to prepare weaker pupils for qualifications in a spread of practical subjects, including Institutional and Environmental Studies and an Art and Design qualification. The idea was to prepare boys for middle management and front-line posts in industry. The course had its own 103


Director (Mr R C Q Farmer) and took as its headquarters the old CCF but near the Biology block which had become vacant after the disbanding of the CCF in 1969. A few years later this became the Applied Studies Course, and it was a definite success. However, because it failed to attract girls, it came to seem out of place in a coeducational school, and was abandoned after 1980. There was also a Six One course for pupils who were not suited to A Levels but who could benefit from a year in the Sixth Form, perhaps for social reasons. It was later known as the New Taunton Sixth (NT6). Those requiring to repeat some 0 Levels joined a group called 6R which offered the chance of transferring to A Level courses after Christmas if resits were successful. Another of Norman's principles was that each teaching department should be able to benefit from specialist facilities in the way that these had long been enjoyed by science and art. The Specialist Teaching Complex (STC) opened in January 1975 went a long way towards meeting this demand. Its carpeted English, Geography and Modern Language rooms (complete with large and small language laboratories) heralded a new era of technical provision. They brought the teaching of a single subject into an identifiable area which was supplied with the needs of that particular discipline, together with storage and office space for staff. The STC rooms were a showpiece for visitors, and Norman Roberts never lost an opportunity to demonstrate the electric curtains in the Geography room or the concealed recording facility in the languages department. He was equally proud of the Technical Activities Centre (TAC) which was built in the angle between the Art Room and the Loveday changing room. The latter, no longer needed after the closure of the junior houses in 1977, became the entrance from the octagon to the new complex, while beyond it the old shower room became a pottery. Equipment for the pottery was raised by a 20-mile sponsored walk to the top of the Quantocks in which Norman and Bea Roberts and many staff and pupils participated. The weary limbs and creaking joints (there were exceptions: the indefatigable John Oakshatt ran the 20 miles before 11 am and helped with administration for the rest of the day!) were worth putting up with, as ÂŁ2,000 was raised. The completed Technical Centre was opened by Raymond Baxter on 11 March 1978 and, with its extensive facilities for carpentry, metalwork and design projects, it has proved a great asset to the School. The question of projects of every kind has greatly affected the curriculum in many subjects in the Technical Activities Centre 1978 (photo by Harold Bennett) last 20 years. The idea 104


that sixth formers should undertake a project on a topic of their own choosing was an extension of the General Studies principle, and was first worked out by Nigel Maggs in 1970. It was originally a voluntary system. The arrangement was that pupils should begin their projects in the Lower Sixth year, using the summer holidays if necessary, and have their work completed by the autumn ready for assessment, followed by exhibition in December. Over the years some impressive projects were produced, ranging from the highly academic to the essentially practical. Examples of prizewinning efforts were Anthony Fung's treatise on Coronary Heart Disease in 1981, a novel, The Freak, by Jenny Wilson in 1985, Rebecca Osborn's study of otters (1990) and David Kirk's construction of a Georgian Dolls House, which made the cover of The Tauntonian in 1979. The project scheme was an important academic development, but gradually it was overshadowed by requirements for coursework and special projects which began to form part of actual A Level syllabuses. Pupils who had to work on a Business Studies or Design project were exempted from producing a general one, and the gradual spread of coursework to all subjects led to the abandonment of sixth form projects after 1991. During the 1970s efforts were made to provide a useful programme of study for an increasing number of foreign pupils. English for Foreigners began in 1976 with the effervescent Barbara Thomas in charge. Many of those requiring special English tuition were Hong Kong Chinese, and it can be said that Taunton School has enjoyed excellent relations with the colony during the final decades of its existence. Norman Roberts visited Hong Kong in 1982 and promoted further a school which was already highly thought of there. A school parent's involvement with Cathay Pacific even secured Norman and Bea a free upgrade to Business Class on the flight home! At that stage Norman declared that there was enough interest in Taunton for him to fill the School with Hong Kong Chinese if he so chose. In practice, of course, he maintained a sensible balance, though his remark prompted an amusing cartoon in the student magazine Grapevine (not Norman's favourite bedtime reading) showing the Headmaster struggling home with two oversized suitcases brimming with oriental faces. In more recent years the range of nationalities coming to Taunton has widened considerably, and there are now a fair number of Koreans, Malaysians and Russians joining the School. It has also become popular, as a result of a school initiative, for Germans, many of whom already speak good English, to spend a year or more at Taunton as part of their education. Political changes such as the movement of Russia away from communism to a market economy have played a major role in these changes, just as the tightening of controls in countries like Nigeria and Iran has severely reduced the School's intake from those areas. In 1976 an Arab sheikh suddenly decided to send his tribe of eight children to Taunton, and for the next few years there were Khodaris at various stages of the school system. The first two boys to arrive were placed in a junior house and I clearly recall their sense of disorientation as they stood there, quite lost, speaking no English and wearing mink anoraks which were worth several thousand pounds. The girls were looked after by Bea Roberts at The Gables, where she remembers dealing with problems such as 'Which direction is Mecca?' and a teasing remark by a Taunton pupil that they went round on camels at home. The indignant response was 'We don't have camels, Mrs Roberts, we have Cadillacs!' The pecuniary implications of such a deal were obviously advantageous to the School at a time when it was stretched financially, but perhaps the communication 105


problems had not been fully considered in the Headmaster's eagerness to clinch it. As it was, Chris Pollard had to become a sort of private tutor to the young Khodari boys until they had become more familiar with the English language and with a school organisation that was very strange to them. For her part, Barbara Thomas did much to encourage all the foreign pupils to become involved - to taste the culture as well as learn the language. She was succeeded (after being laid low by a nasty accident when walking her dogs) by Anne Etherton, under whom a fully developed department for English as a Foreign Language became established in the School. In 1992 the EFL Centre found a permanent home in the Clark Centre, and since 1996 it has been run by Peter Etherton while his wife Anne has gone on to become the first Principal of TISC. Without doubt one of Taunton's strengths has been the manner in which it has developed its programmes for foreign pupils, many of whom have contributed to its academic and cultural successes. The School's expertise in this field is now internationally acknowledged. Other academic innovations of the 1970s and 1980s related to the differing needs of girls as full integration took place. A domestic science department was set up in the old Loveday dormitories above the art room around the time that the TAC was built. The subject has gone through a number of name and other changes since Roy Exton's timetable called it simply Cookery: Home Economics and Food and Nutrition emphasize that there is also a theoretical side. Many girls - and a few boys - have benefited from the light, well-equipped department which in certain years has also offered General Studies courses for pupils keen to learn basic culinary skills. Any course where you can eat the end product has a particular appeal for boys! Needlework was also provided for in a special room also in the former Loveday. For a few years a special rotating programme known as the Carrousel allowed all third formers - boys and girls - to 'taste' each practical subject for a few weeks in turn, and some boys coped very well with the sewing machines. Others did not, with some oddly shaped garments resulting! Muriel Gilham ran a successful needlework department until, sadly, she lost her job when financial considerations caused needlework to be axed along with pottery. In the last fifteen years Information Technology has transformed many aspects of the curriculum. The gradual intrusion of computers into virtually every aspect of life could not be ignored. It was decided in 1981 that all pupils should take a short course in computer literacy so that even those close to leaving school would at least learn the basic skills. The first computer acquired by the School was an 8K PET in 1978, and two years later more advanced machines were gifted by Mr and Mrs Ling. At first they were housed in a physics laboratory. The rapid expansion of computing led, in 1988, to the establishment of a new IT room in the former art department which duly moved upstairs to the old Loveday prep and recreation rooms. These rooms had reverted to ordinary classrooms after the closure of the junior houses, but, being light and spacious, they lent themselves well to a subject like art which requires plenty of room both for composition and the exhibition of completed works. The latter also grace the walls of passage-ways around the School; the variety of artistic media is such that sculptures now adorn the landing outside the art rooms, and other areas such as the octagon and STC entrance are frequently used to exhibit larger works of art and design projects. Meanwhile John Fisher moved from Physics to lead the new IT department. Computers were by now impinging more obviously on daily school life. John Fisher 106


encouraged staff to familiarise themselves with the hardware and ran summer school courses on desk top publishing. School office staff had to go on courses. The administration for GCE was computerized at the Oxford board from 1981, and in 1984 Norman Roberts asked the Maths Department to issue computer print-outs of appointments for Parents' Day. More and more pupils were already familiar with IT before entering the Senior School, and many families were by the 1990s acquiring computers at home. The requirement of the National Curriculum that IT should be a component in the teaching of all subjects had cross-curricular repercussions. Examination coursework and projects are now frequently produced on computer, the advantages of word-processing being obvious and considerable. One of the problems with fast-moving computer technology is the constant need to replace and upgrade equipment and the expense that involves, but the computer age is clearly here to stay and there is little doubt that its influence will increasingly affect educational policy. Educational changes at national level have loomed large during the ten years of Barry Sutton's headship. The greatest has been the introduction of the GCSE examination in 1988 to replace the old 0 Level and CSE. The latter had not featured much at Taunton: it was used for Classical Studies and some weaker candidates in English in the 1970s, but was generally resisted by parents. With GCSE Taunton, like all schools, had to adapt its syllabuses, impose new marking criteria and field all the attendant criticisms concerning the value of the grades pertaining to the new papers. A Levels underwent drastic revision in 1990 in the wake of GCSE, and a new AS Level qualification, equivalent to half an A Level, also came into being. This created a useful side-option for, say, science specialists who wished to keep up a language, and AS teaching was largely absorbed into time allocated to General Studies. The number of examination boards used by the School proliferated as new courses with interesting variants were developed. Norman Roberts had always clung to Oxford, but Barry Sutton felt that changing times justified greater diversity, and teaching departments were now given the freedom to choose. More recently modular A Levels, with candidates able to acquire their qualification in stages from the Lower Sixth onwards, have altered the traditional concept of a course leading to a single decisive examination in the pupil's final term. Coursework came to play a much more important part in both GCSE and A Level, and this also meant that some of the pressure of the final examination period was reduced, while imposing deadlines on pupils earlier in the course. There were even GCSE subjects where a 100% coursework option was possible. Recent suggestions are that the usefulness of coursework will come under close governmental scrutiny over the next few years. The rapidity of these and other changes in educational fashion has meant that Taunton, like other schools, must be vigilant and adaptable. Some of the innovations such as the National Curriculum and testing have not been compulsory for independent schools, but there is a constant need to keep abreast of developments and maintain parity in order to maximise the School's marketing potential. Taunton was, for example, one of the first HMC schools to offer BTEC and GNVQ courses after the Further Education monopoly of these was removed in 1991. This option, which at TS was largely the initiative of Ian Payne, has provided an alternative entrance to university for some. The Director of Studies - at present Neil Mason - is supported in his key role by a number of advisers and assistants, the chief of whom, Stephen Pugh, is in charge of GCSE. A bewildering range of subjects makes exam administration 107


increasingly complex, and it requires careful advance planning. The various teaching departments have to keep up to date with the curricular and administrative changes which apply to their particular subjects. The staff themselves have had to become familiar with the buzz-words' of the last two decades: in-service training, appraisal, pupil profiling, professional development and marketing. Like the pupils, the staff have had to adapt to an educationally volatile and more competitive world. The Taunton School leaver preparing to enter that world today and find success in it has a more challenging task than ever before. The choice of higher education courses is a minefield of complexities, and entrance qualifications can be competitive. A job is not guaranteed at the end, and even if the graduate is fortunate enough to obtain one, the demand to perform is likely to be stronger than in the past and the threat of redundancy greater. Few aiming at placements in business or industry can rely on traditional family connections, as often in years gone by. If the world has become a harsher place - and it could be argued that it is simply that people's expectations are higher - the Taunton pupil is better prepared for it. Vocational guidance and documentation on higher education, ISCO tests", mock interviews, careers conventions, university open days and industrial visits are organised by the School in a highly professional manner. This service to pupils is a world apart from the rather more relaxed arrangement of nearly 50 years ago, when George Russ would dispense careers advice out of hours from a cupboard-like room in Thone whose shelves he could use for the limited 'literature' available at that time but which was occupied by various other people during the day. But at least Taunton did something, even then. Many schools made no provision for careers guidance at all at that time. As we have seen, Taunton has always had a practical approach to scholarship and been concerned about what its pupils may do with it in later life. Short courses arranged to fill in spare time for post-examination candidates in the last week of the summer term have, over recent years, provided much useful and practical advice on subjects as wide-ranging as health matters, financial management, student travel and public services. Culture has not been forgotten, with talks on music and Chris Pollard's once traditional paeon on food and wine; and former pupils were brought back to speak first-hand on the pitfalls of student life. It was one of these postGCSE courses which provided the title for this chapter. Taunton can be proud of the way in which it has helped many generations of pupils qPI hull towards their future careers. If this is a more daunting task today than in cosier worlds gone by, then the School must simply grapple more determinedly with its avowed aim of educating young people for life. So far it has risen to the challenge and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to do so. Ursula Gray and pupils in the Careers Room The School later devised and ran its own tests, with house staff trained to do the reports. This removed the need to subscribe to ISCO.

16

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Chapter Five

TRIVIAL ROUNDS AND COMMON TASKS

The trivial round, the common task Will furnish all we ought to ask; Room to deny ourselves - a road To bring us daily nearer God. John Keble he daily life of a school is a myriad of routines, traditions and organisational details. All schools attempt to impose an ordered lifestyle on their pupils, though they vary considerably in the minutiae of their daily routine and the degree to which they demand adherence to it. This has to do with discipline to a large extent, but the end product of it all is a certain prevailing atmosphere not unlike that which pervades the individual houses as mentioned in an earlier chapter. This atmosphere will be less sharply defined than the house one because it permeates a larger unit, but it may be equally hard for the outsider to describe precisely. It will reflect many things: the relationship between staff and pupils and between the pupils themselves; the facilities available to the school community; the moral attitudes on which the teaching, supervision and discipline are based; the school's success in its various endeavours; as well as certain traditions which are handed down and which help to provide a sense of identity and continuity between the generations. The pupil at grassroots level is vaguely aware of the influence of these philosophical factors on the nature of his or her school life - the awareness is heightened if things are very good or very bad - but his principal concern is generally with facts. What will his daily existence be like in practice? What will he have to do, and when? And, for the new pupil in particular, whom should he fear and what must he guard against? What he makes of his school life (with possible repercussions in later years) may depend on how he answers these questions and how he reacts to the social structure which he encounters - the 'system' if you like. One of the few things which has not changed is the need for the newcomer to adapt to an existence with which he is unfamiliar and which he can only fully understand by experiencing. Otherwise, of course, the changes have been enormous. In common with all schools, Taunton has a lifestyle today which is far removed from that of its Victorian forbears. It could not be otherwise. In fact, when one considers the vast changes which have occurred since 1847 in every aspect of life and society, not to mention the upheavals wrought by one of history's most turbulent centuries, it is surprising that it has not changed more. If schools reflect rather than initiate social change, as I believe they do,

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then it is the rate and manner of the changes which are of particular interest. Conservative elements within any institution - and public schools are more prone to them than most - tend to slow the rate of change, and there is likely to be a resulting conflict between the values and outlook of the school as represented by senior elements within its structure and the mood of society in general. We have already seen this conflict operating in the situation whereby a school of religious foundation and where religious values and teaching are still important has mainly secular pupils. Another example, at a more trivial level, would be that the school imposes a uniform in the interests of good order and discipline upon a generation who generally see little connection between clothes and good order and for whom casual dress and individualism are the established norm. As it develops and changes, the school, in determining its modus operandi, has to steer a careful course, taking on board the social, legal and educational concerns of the day as well as that most volatile of society's influences - fashion. It hardly needs saying that the school environment which Taunton's first pupils entered in the 1840s was a whole world apart from that of today. To the modern pupil it would seem a limited and spartan world and, owing to the difficulties of travel, an isolated one. There were long terms (only two a year, known as 'halves') and no exeats. There were none of the diversions of modern life, no telephone, television or even radio, and hardly any organised games. There were few comforts, and ill health posed a considerable threat. School work was demanding with, as we saw, a curriculum strongly biased towards religious teaching; discipline was strict and sometimes fierce. It was a world which demanded conformity in behaviour if non-conformity in religion, and where a stern moral ethic prevailed. It was, in fact, a very fair reflection of the Victorian society of which it was part. Despite this rather grim picture, there is evidence of considerable concern for the pupils' well-being in comparison with some other schools. Before the opening date in July 1847 an endless series of meetings discussed virtually every aspect of the school's organisation and considered the necessities which would require to be provided, down to the finest detail. There are references to the purchase of items such as a weighing machine, a coal scuttle, a scraper for the garden door, a flour bin, a knife board and even a soup tureen and a mustard pot. Bedroom stools and a clothes basket were installed upstairs. Food was clearly intended to be well seasoned: two dozen salt spoons and twelve white metal pepper castors are listed among the kitchen requirements. Dr Bewglass himself betrays a taste for luxury in ordering such items as 'gravy spoons of German silver' and, more particularly, the fine regulator clock which he acquired to place on the school landing, and which cost ÂŁ12, a princely sum for a clock in those days. Contracts for the supply of goods were established with tradesmen in the area. The West of England Coal Company was engaged to provide coal for heating. Messrs Hartnell and Pearse were employed to repair the shoes of the pupils. A Mr Norman was appointed as hairdresser. Local grocers and bakers were responsible for delivering the required supplies to the School. For some reason all bread was to be one day old on arrival. These tradesmen must have benefited considerably from the School's business, and it is clear from the school accounts that a long association was retained with many of them. The enumeration of their names reads like a game of Happy Families: Mr Batten the baker, Mr Bean the bookseller, Mr Dening the 110


butterman, Mr Body the tailor and Mrs Sealey the laundress. Sanitary arrangements at Stepswater were rudimentary. The Committee resolved the purchase of 'a long wooden trough for washing the pupils' feet' and a wrapper to put under their feet whilst washing them in the kitchen. The washroom in the basement contained the trough already mentioned, with a rack for boots and shoes above it. On the other side of the room stood three rows of basins. In the earliest days water was obtained from a well, for there are references to problems concerning the water supply in November 1847, when soil had got into the water and a noisome odour pervaded the house. The water was almost certainly unfit for drinking, which may explain the copious supplies of ale which feature on the lists of items purchased. A number of water closets were provided at the back of the building, but they seem to have given some trouble, as there were fairly regular requests for the Committee to examine them. Such requests were frequently postponed: probably it was a less than pleasant task! (Even at the new college, the WCs only acquired doors in 1887.) In 1853 there is a report of three WCs being vandalised, but whether this was by pupils is not known. Water and drainage were subjects of considerable prominence throughout the School's early history. The primitive conditions meant that the threat of disease lurked ever in the background, and the Headmaster was always anxious to assure parents that the best possible precautions were being taken. A cholera epidemic in the town in the 1850s struck fear into everyone, and pupils were strictly confined to the school premises: contaminated water was found to be the cause. Financial outlays on drains were considered well worth mentioning in the school prospectus, and even after the move to the new site enormous sums were spent - ÂŁ1500 in 1909 for example - to renew the entire drainage system. An 1882 prospectus waxes almost lyrical: 'All the arrangements are in harmony with the latest and highest requirements of Sanitary science'. Thus something which we take entirely for granted today was a matter for widespread discussion in the 19th century, and even with their reputation for prudery, the Victorians could be surprisingly candid when talking about sanitation. One of the central points promulgated with the plans for the new college at Mount Nebo (a scheme which, of course, fell through) was that the 'urinary arrangements were extremely satisfactory'. Fifty years after the College was boasting about the wonders of its new sanitation, boys were distinctly unimpressed by the insalubrious state of the school lavatories. Harold Bennett, who preferred to patronise the marginally better facilities at Fairwater, put it a lot more strongly than that! Clearly the school's sanitary arrangements had failed to fulfil the promise of their auspicious beginning, or else public expectations had risen. Better facilities arrived in the late thirties, with dire threats from Donald Crichton-Miller should they be abused. Finally the coeducational integration of the early seventies provided the impetus for plusher facilities on an adequate scale when new toilet blocks were constructed for both boys and girls. Neither was the provision of baths a high priority. There were none at all before 1879. In that year a Committee discussion under the heading 'As to a bathroom' resolved the purchase of three baths, one of 5ft 6in and two of 5ft, for approximately ÂŁ8 each. In relative terms this was expensive and shows that bathrooms were still a luxury for the Victorians. Boys who 'required the use of the bathroom' were to be charged 2s 6d (12 p) a term extra. In 1881, however, it was decided by the Committee that 'every boy shall have a warm bath on returning after each vacation'. It was as if this should suffice for the whole term! There were certainly few other opportunities. There were no baths 111


in the living area of the main school building in 1881: P B Allen, who arrived at Taunton in the September of that year, recalled in a letter of 1947 that there was only compulsory feet bathing in hot water every Saturday night. Even the 'large and elegant sanatorium' - the School Hospital, also built in 1881 and the recipient of the highest praise from the medical authorities - had no bath at first and then, after a bath was installed following strong representations from the School Doctor in 1886, only one for over 30 years. Probably there were not the facilities for heating enough water for more. In 1885 a tender was sought to improve the hot water system, but this work could only be carried out in conjunction with a new pumping mechanism for the basic source of water - the College stream, which often proved woefully inadequate. In fact a rain water tank was provided in 1886 to supplement the poor water supply to the laundry, and we shall see in the next chapter how the swimming pool suffered the same problem.

New bath and shower room 1905

When bath facilities finally improved these were mostly centred in the athletic block adjoining the two swimming pools. An annexe of the highly acclaimed Day Dressing Room opened in 1905 contained a number of 'slipper baths' and a 'shower bath' - the latter a series of shower heads projecting over a long trough. Dr Whittaker's tendency to enthusiastic exaggeration is recognisable in the wording of the contemporary prospectus: 'Some 150 baths have been drawn off and used without the necessity of a minute's pause after a cross-country run.' The prospectus adds: 'It will hardly be credited to what an extent this ample and complete provision for changing before and after games adds to the general well-being of the School.' This latter statement may not be an exaggeration, as the earlier provision seems to have been totally inadequate to cope with the sweating and mud-spattered individuals returning from the playing fields. It was after games that ablutionary needs were greatest, and therefore the changing rooms were the first area to be improved in this respect. In the boarding houses progress was much slower, and even until well through this century there were rarely enough baths or hot water to allow each boy more than one bath a week. Paul Wickham (1950s) recalls the duty prefect in Fairwater offering a second bath as a bonus - if a boy was in hospital or there was a gap on the list. Loveday 112


in the 1970s still used the old stone-floored bathroom which later became the pottery: five or six antiquated bath tubs grouped around a very public central shower trough had all the barrenness of a concentration camp. From Monday to Friday boys were allocated one bath night which was supervised by the Matron, Mary Denbury; prefects might request an extra bath at the weekend. The installation of more showers gradually alleviated the problem in all houses and helped to save water. Most pupils prefer showers anyway: they are quicker to take and involve less waiting around. They also occupy less space where old buildings afford little. School House had only four showers and no bath until the 1980s. When this inadequacy finally caused a bath to be installed, as well as more showers on the top floor, the bath, ironically, was little used. On the other hand, the nearest School House ever came to a riot was when restrainers were put on the showers to reduce the flow of water in the interests of economy. Modern pupils are very hygiene conscious and proper showers with a strong jet of water are for them a top priority. Matron had to have the restrainers removed, even if Ben Walker in his office below had to resume putting up his umbrella when the water overflowed the shower tray and seeped through the floor! The School House boys of the 1980s would have found the washing arrangements of the nineteenth century very difficult to cope with. All Dr Bewglass's requests for furnishings and other supplies had to be submitted to the Committee at their weekly meetings. Mostly his recommendations were accepted without question, though a few were turned down. A large bell was not thought necessary in addition to a hand bell, for example. The members of the committee were canny gentlemen. When bolsters were needed local tradesmen had to produce samples for their inspection, and before blankets were purchased a deputation went to Wellington to examine the quality of blanketing offered by Fox and Elworthy at 3s 4d (17p) a yard. At another meeting the Secretary was requested to make inquiries about the price usually charged for washing school linen before engaging a laundry. And there is a minute from 1847 recording that on no account should the Committee pay more for a second supply of mattresses than they had paid originally. All this good husbandry with its attention to detail, seems to reflect a genuine concern for the pupils' welfare in the desire to provide value for money. This is confirmed by W C Hine (1848-54) who describes the original school as 'thoroughly furnished throughout' and recalls that the food was plentiful and nourishing. Before the School even opened, it had been decided that breakfast would consist of thick bread and butter and diluted milk. At dinner-time (1 pm) the boys were served meat cut from a joint or meat-pie and vegetables, followed by a plain or rice pudding. On Sundays there was a currant pudding known as 'stickjaw'. Tea was the same as breakfast except that on Sundays the pupils were allowed tea instead of milk to drink. Supper consisted of bread and cheese, which was partaken of after prep at 8 pm or on Sundays after the boys returned from church. Fruit was also supplied for the pupils to buy with their pocket money on half holidays, and Hine remembers obtaining six beautiful apples for a penny. Members of the House Committee often visited the school during mealtimes (even breakfast!) to assure themselves that pupils were being well fed and that their needs were being met. Their wholesome if repetitive diet meant that Taunton boys were better off than some of their more unfortunate counterparts in other boarding schools of the period. Indeed it seems certain that the Taunton Committee were anxious to avoid the privations for 113


which some schools were notorious. Even well-known public schools were not immune. Feeding arrangements at Merchant Taylor's were shameful - there was no midday meal at all till 1870, and pupils were expected to supply a substantial proportion of their own diet - and schools like Christ's Hospital and Hurstpierpoint spent very little on food. One of several factors leading to the great rebellion at Marlborough in 1851 was that the pupils did not have enough to eat. No such rioting disturbed the tenor of daily life at Taunton. The Irish potato famine had a peripheral effect in that a shortage of potatoes was noted, but the Committee recommended that carrots and turnips ('which are quite fit for human consumption') should temporarily replace them. At all times when advertising the School pains were taken to stress that the pupils were well nourished both in body and soul. The gentlemen who supervised the running of the School regarded this as a moral obligation. They took their task extremely seriously. The West of England Proprietary School was also heated at a time when many other schools were extremely cold. I B Knight (1848-9) recalls a roaring fire in the entrance hall when he first enrolled, and among the early concerns of the Committee had been the need to repair the chimneys and to employ a chimneysweep. It was also recommended that a fire guard be purchased for the Schoolroom. It is unlikely that there was much heating in the bedrooms. In fact, there is ample evidence among the Visitors' comments of the Victorian obsession with the proper ventilation of sleeping quarters.' Mr Ernest Rossiter, one of the Committee, mentions this in three consecutive entries and even goes as far as stipulating that in fine weather all bedroom windows should be open till five o'clock. He also ordered the removal of bricks from the chimney flue to increase ventilation in the servants' room. As for all bedding, it was to be exposed for airing by 9 am and the rooms left empty and locked during the day. Ventilation continued to be debated at the new college: in 1889 a visitors' committee was requested to examine and report on the air flow to the boys' bedrooms. Such matters of ventilation were a regular concern. Only water closets, cisterns and drains appear to have provoked more animated discussion. The school authorities stressed from the start that every pupil had a separate bed and this is repeated in every prospectus up to the 1890s. This had by no means been the rule in many schools, though as the century progressed standards gradually rose and, in any case, moral considerations were superseding practical ones in this sort of area. Both at Stepswater and in the new college the bedrooms or dormitories were medium-sized, accommodating between four and ten boys. The largest were in the Wills houses, but these were divided into smaller rooms in the 1980s and early 1990s. This has also been the trend in other parts of the school, and a majority of boarders now have study bedrooms, either single or shared with one or two other pupils. Study bedrooms at Taunton go back, as we saw, to 1877 when a few were made available to senior pupils at a supplement. The question of open dormitory versus enclosed cubicle was a much discussed one around the turn of the century: when asked his opinion about this in 1900, Dr Whittaker declared that he believed Taunton, with its smallish rooms, had found the happy medium. At no time did Taunton have the long, barnlike dormitories common in many establishments and still seen today in schools like Haileybury. Under the eagle eye of the Committee, the daily routine at Stepswater made provision for the needs of body, mind and spirit. The boys rose at 6.30 am after a 114

1 Other schools were equally obsessive: at St Edward's, Oxford, a rule long remained that all dormitory windows were to be wide open all night.


servant came round with a handbell. After half an hour in which to wash and dress, they assembled for prayers in the Schoolroom at 7 am. This was followed by breakfast and some time in the playground if the weather was fine. Then school work till 12 o'clock and another hour of recreation outside until the dinner hour. Two hours of afternoon lessons were followed by a rest till tea at 6 o'clock. From 7 to 8 o'clock there was preparation for the next day's lessons and then evening prayers. Bedtime was at 9 o'clock with all lights out by ten. This was quite a demanding schedule especially when one remembers that a fair number of the boys were very young - some being only 8 or 9 years old. This routine continued day in, day out for the whole term, or 'half'. This could be as long as five months: the first part of the school year extended from early August till Christmas, and the second from the end of January to mid-June. (The three-term year was introduced in 1880). In the early days pupils hardly left the school at all, except to go to church. If they had acquaintances in the town they were permitted to visit them on Committee Days - the third Wednesday in each month - but it was stressed that their hosts must collect them from the school premises and deliver them back there. There was no question of any pupils wandering into Taunton on a half holiday: total supervision was the rule, and even on a country walk a master would accompany the boys. The school exercised almost as much control over its employees and staff, nearly all of whom were, of course, resident. Instructions issued for the steward and matron make it clear that their loyalty was to the institution 24 hours a day and they were expressly forbidden from being absent from school premises simultaneously 'except on Lord's Day morning'. Housemasters and other resident staff were always a vital element in this total society. Accepting responsibility for their charges day and night, they were expected to be available at all times. Before the days of easy travel few probably had much reason to leave the premises anyway, except briefly. There was actually an exeat book for masters until as late as the 1950s: two of the last entries in it are B E Collingwood and G Stephens. Even comparatively recently staff, and especially young assistant house staff, were not expected to be pursuing outside

Wills dormitory before conversion (1950s)

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interests in term-time. The tradition was that, while the holidays were his own, the young master was obliged to devote himself totally to the school and its activities during term. In the Guide for Staff issued in Norman Roberts's time, the message is unequivocal: 'Staff are not encouraged to undertake outside activities if these detract in any way from the time and effort they give to the School in and out of the classroom'. Any paid work outside school required the Headmaster's permission. In the present climate both staff and pupils demand more freedom to dispose of their free time, such as it is, as they wish. The increased stresses and complexities involved in being a resident member of staff have made it essential for such staff to make room for 'non-contact time' or 'time out' (as the modern jargon has it) in their busy programme. And an increasingly free society means inevitably that pupil movements are less restricted than they were. On a daily basis sixth formers may now go into town at any time when they have no school commitment. Exeats, restricted until a few years ago to two a term, are now virtually unlimited, and half-term holidays are more generous. In 1921 the school prospectus went out of its way to emphasise that 'there is no socalled half-term holiday and the Headmaster is instructed by the School Council invariably to refuse any request for such', and in 1963 the rule was still that 'leave of absence is not granted during the term, save in exceptional circumstances'. Even in the late 1970s Norman Roberts opposed the introduction of a Half Term holiday in the Spring term. In 1981 a Saturday morning off was grudgingly introduced; the occasion was to be known as the Long Weekend and not Half Term. The changes made in recent years accord largely with the wishes of parents, who seem much happier to see their children periodically than their Victorian ancestors were 150 years ago. The enclosed existence of the School's early pupils was rarely broken. However, twice a year there was a Panorama show in the Town Hall, to which Dr Bewglass would take the boys one afternoon when a private showing had been arranged. F L Carver writes in a rare example of a weekly letter home surviving from the 1850s: 'Last Friday the Doctor took us all to Carter's Panorama: we had a private exhibition for fifty shillings, forty of which the boys collected amongst themselves, and the Doctor added the other ten.' W C Hine recalls attending a similar show, the subject of which was 'the Sikh War'.2 These panorama performances no doubt impressed the boys and from them they became acquainted with historical events in a world which by our mediainfested standards was unimaginably isolated. Magic lantern lectures were another form of visual communication which was later very popular, but even they had not yet begun', and it must be remembered that the invention of the cinema was still nearly half a century away. The other event which interrupted the regularity of school routine was a twice-yearly outing to Cothelstone. This required a whole holiday and the journey would be by horse brake. A special treat for the boys at their midday picnic was a barrel of beer tapped by the steward. There was an old watch tower to explore and games could be played on the hillside. A contemporary account of one of these picnics describes the boys as returning to school merry (possibly in more ways than one!) and serenading Dr Bewglass with 'For he's a jolly good fellow'. Cothelstone Hill is a place with which the School has retained an association off and on through the years. Numerous Field Day exercises and rambles have passed over it, and for many years (especially during the Second World War) annual Scout camps were held there. Generations of Old Tauntonians recall these with much affection' One of the great traditions associated This refers to the subjugation of the Sikhs of the Punjab in 1849 as part of British expansion in NW India. See Victorian England, p 344. 3 The first recorded magic lantern show was given to the boys by Mr Cornish, the School Doctor, in 1878. 2

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with the annual OTA reunion has been, almost since time immemorial, the traditional Sunday afternoon walk at Cothelstone followed by an open-air cream tea in the porch of the gamekeeper's lodge. One other occasion which was marked during those early years was Luther's birthday. Dr Bewglass happened to be a particular admirer of the reformer, and he allowed a half holiday on which what was known as a 'jollification' was held. This involved the special treat of an apple pie supper (with unlimited second helpings!) followed by a self-made entertainment featuring boys and masters. It sounds like an early version of the house socials which are still popular (and, surprisingly, retain a certain inherent naivetĂŠ) today. Other recreations and games, such as they were, will be discussed in the next chapter. The clothes worn by these early pupils demonstrated considerable diversity within the range of clothes that comprised acceptable dress of the day. Looking back nearly 50 years later, the Rev J B Knight (1848-9) recalled widely differing sartorial styles: 'Shall we class them as over-dressed, well-dressed, under-dressed? There were lads wearing clothes of the Regent Street cut, others countrified in style and texture. Some displayed jewellery even to rings and gold watches ... thus early in our history did 'false pride' obtrude itself.' There was therefore no fixed uniform, though a list of suggested items was sent to parents to guide them when assembling a suitable outfit for their son. This included three suits of cloth clothes, half a dozen shirts and nine collars, four night shirts, socks for both winter and summer, three pairs of boots or shoes and a pair of strong slippers. All these were to be clearly marked with the owner's name. Parents were also requested to supply a strong deal box - the forerunner of the traditional school trunk - to hold all these items, with an inventory affixed to the inside of the lid. Finally each boy had to provide a silver dessert spoon, upon which would be engraved his school number. In 1927 W C Hine still had the remains of the spoon bearing the number 65 which he had received in 1848. This rather odd idea must have been a whim of Dr Bewglass who, as we saw, had a taste for refinement. Thirty years later, little had altered, except that the best of the three suits was to be black, and an umbrella and a Bible were added to the list of required items. In the 1880s (after the installation of the organ) a copy of the New Congregational Hymn Book was also needed for daily prayers, though this could be obtained at the College. The black suit was for Sunday best, and boys under 5ft 4in wore Eton collars. Caps were supplied on arrival. At Wellington Road boys had had to wear a cap when playing outside, but it was not at first a regulation one. J B Knight again: 'Our headgear was most motley, including Christy's latest novelty in silk hats to Fletcher's cheapest Scotch cap.' However the Wesleyan College boys had a distinctive cap and it was not long (in 1857) before the West of England Dissenters' School followed suit. By the 1880s there were two types of cap, playground caps and college caps, as well as the college football shirt which was black with a blue sash. The rest of the football kit consisted of knee-length breeches, long socks and boots, and contemporary etchings5 show players wearing caps also. Later a whole range of caps, tassels and badges burgeoned as Taunton followed the trend of other public schools in the invention of ever more emblems of status and prowess at games. What is surprising is that Taunton did not have a compulsory school uniform until 1938. Until then clothing lists merely offered guidelines to parents, though during Dr George Band, an Elthamian at Taunton during the war, described his later enthusiasm for mountaineering to expeditions to Cothelstone. He was a member of Sir John Hunt's team that 5 On display in the School EFL Centre conquered Everest in 1953.

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Whittaker's time a school blazer was first made available, and it was decreed that on Sundays boys must wear a straw hat with the school band. A glance at whole school photographs of the 1920s and early 1930s, some of which are still on display around the School, will reveal a motley range of jackets and trousers of varying style and shade. Harold Bennett (1931-9) recalls similarly: 'Boys were wearing more or less anything they chose, pullovers including outrageous (outrageous for those days, that is), maybe black trousers and brown shoes, yet they were very rarely, if ever challenged.' They were when Donald Crichton-Miller arrived in 1936! As part of his campaign to smarten up the School College cap 1880s an official uniform was introduced within two years. 'Sunday blacks' were abolished, although the straw hat was retained for a while, later to be replaced by a new school cap. Grey suits with black shoes were adopted as the standard formal wear, and each house adopted a distinctive coloured tie. Some of these were still around in the 1980s, though an alteration in the school rules sought to discourage and even ban them when it was felt that their garish colours clashed with attempts to create a tasteful uniform for the present day. Certainly the Wills West tie was a rather unappealing shade of light green and Fairwater's was bright orange, but the move to ban them was seen as an assault on house identity and, of course, pupils immediately sought to resurrect these ties and wear them at house competitions. Fairwater even extended the colour loyalty and paraded a huge orange curtain at house matches for a number of years. School House designed a new and more tasteful version of their heliotrope tie which became increasingly popular as the House's demise approached. Ex-Foxcombe boys continued to wear a new house tie introduced by Trevor Snow in the house's latter days even after the house had closed. This became a bone of contention, as it was felt inappropriate that the boys should proclaim membership of a body which no longer existed: Foxcombe was now a girls' house. John Carrington tried to outlaw the ties but gave up when it became obvious that the rebels would have to be allowed to work their way through the system. Theirs was an act of defiance born of nostalgic loyalty - there are worse things - and it was encouraged to some extent by their ex-housemaster, who refused to be drawn on the issue. Uniform is one of those school issues on which, like food and discipline, everyone has an opinion. It is a regular subject for discussion at house staff meetings! The wearing of caps (1960s), the width of trousers (early 1970s), the parameters of casual dress (late 1970s), the wearing of suede shoes (1980s) and the designing of a new girls' uniform (1990s) are all questions which have been responsible for much heated debate. Minor changes in dress dictated by fashion or liberalising tendencies have been legion. In 1949 new caps were designed and an effort made by John Leathem to improve the 118


smartness of pupils after the make-do-and-mend attitude of the war years. As well as school blazers, there were various versions of sports blazer popular at this period, as contemporary cricket photographs show. Caps survived until John Rae abolished them in 1968. Most schools were abandoning them around this time anyway. There was no casual dress until Norman Roberts's time - surprising, perhaps, but the world was still formal then. There had been something called Grey Easy Dress, permitted during the summer term, which was little more than school uniform with an opennecked shirt, though sandals or gym shoes were allowed. Alternative Easy Dress consisted of white shirt and khaki shorts - so very 1950s, but making a comeback in recent years! Otherwise there was just the daily uniform and Sunday suit. Pupils did not change in the evenings: even when this was allowed (after tea) in the 1970s few bothered to do so as there was little time between tea and prep anyway. Rebellious pupils in the sixties had demanded some concessions: in 1969 sweaters had been allowed for boarders in the evenings. A writer in The Tauntonian acknowledged dramatically if grudgingly: 'This was felt to be a step in the right direction judging from the multi-coloured profusion of garments which materialised like a growing light in a sea of darkness.' More was to follow: the rot had set in. Norman Roberts altered the rules in 1970 to allow pupils to wear their own clothes at certain specified times. There was lots of small print. In common with many other boarding schools at that time, Taunton did not allow jeans: these were not, perhaps, considered the dress of a gentleman, though it annoyed boys that the newly arrived sixth-form girls were able to get away with wearing them. The jeans question became one of the most vexed domestic issues of the 1970s. The outside world was gradually becoming a sea of blue denim, but still Norman Roberts held out. He even banned blue trousers to facilitate dealing with borderline cases! According to a staff meeting minute of 1984 any member of staff in doubt about a particular garment was to send the pupil to him with the clothes at 8.30 am and he would adjudicate. Shirts also had to have a collar; no logos were allowed and plain colours were demanded. Care was also taken to ensure that pupils were not seen casually dressed by visitors or Old Tauntonians, and it was especially noted that pupils must not change till after the conclusion of home rugby matches. In all this the School was fighting a rearguard action and the rules became very difficult to enforce. Fashion does not limit itself to subdued shades and collars, and the increased spending power of the young and their interest in clothes finally demanded a more modern approach. Since 1988 casual dress has been largely deregulated, though there is a time and a place for it still. Formal school dress has also undergone a transformation in the last three or four years. In 1993 Barry Sutton decided to allow sixth-form boys to choose their own dark suit: now they may also indulge their own taste in ties. Sixth-form girls now wear an elegant blue pleated skirt and white blouse. Junior girls continue to wear the Taunton kilt designed some years ago when the original grey skirt went out. A new school blazer of superior quality has now replaced the old woollen one which responded particularly badly to the ill-treatment often meted out to such garments by junior boys. Care is also taken to ensure that uniforms for the Prep School and for TISC retain their own distinctive features while indicating their allegiance to the Taunton School family. It is surprising how little the day's routine has changed since the turn of the century whatever may have happened to its content. A prospectus of 1904 described the sequence: a short Bible Class (after the opening of the Chapel in 1907 this was replaced 119


by a brief morning service held there) followed by breakfast at 8 am; morning school from 9 am to 12.40 pm (as it happens, identical to today, though there have been minor modifications over the years); dinner at 1 pm (called lunch now, but in Edwardian Britain only the upper classes had evening dinner); afternoon school from 2.30 to 4 pm (slightly earlier now) followed by games; tea at 6 pm and Prep from 6.30 pm with a break for supper in the middle. The chief difference is that prayers or Chapel took place before breakfast; Dr Whittaker also introduced a daily evening Chapel service at 6.30 pm, with the start of Prep put back to 6.45 pm. There it has remained ever since', though the Chapel service has long gone. Boarders tend to spend the interval between tea and Prep around the Front and West door socialising with their contemporaries rather than in the company of the Almighty. The 'Prep Break' seems therefore to be a hallowed institution at Taunton. There were moves to abolish it in the early 1990s as some house staff felt it was counterproductive: pupils were often late returning to their work places for the shorter, second session and never really got down to their studies. It was for this reason in the 1970s that Foxcombe, typically, had prep straight through for two hours and all leisure time afterwards. Those were the days when house staff had more autonomy to decide house routines and Graham Reid preferred it that way. The School, reflecting society, is much more concerned with standardised procedures now. Supper had been abandoned around 1974 anyway. This had consisted of a hot drink and biscuits, but after the introduction of the cafeteria system in 1971 major changes to the catering arrangements and especially the cost of employing staff beyond certain hours, made it impractical to continue serving it. In any case, facilities such as cookers and kettles were much more readily available within houses than they had been in years past. The Prep break remains a popular time for pupils to make their own refreshments as well as to socialise or, in summer, to play informal games on the Front while it is still light. The provision of an 'alternative' food supply has always been a high priority for schoolchildren, especially at boarding schools. Conditioned by tales of sausages in the studies at Greyfriars or tea and buttered crumpets at St Dominic's, as well as numerous accounts of the more illicit 'midnight feasts', earlier generations at least felt they had missed out if they did not climb on this bandwagon. And boys are always hungry anyway. We saw earlier how pupils in many Victorian public schools could barely have survived without a generous supply of their own food. At Taunton they fared somewhat better. However, the type of food served in any institution rarely meets children's every need: bread and scrape may keep the wolf from the door, but young people yearn for something more exciting. This accounts for the undying popularity in most schools of the tuck shop. At Taunton the tuck shop was known as the Guvvy, and, happily, still is, for the name was revived when the present building was opened by Roy North, the comedian, on the south side of Densham Court in 1979. The origin of the name goes back to 1888. In that year a pupil initiative obtained permission from Mr Aveling for a tuck shop on school premises. Previously the boys had relied on two nearby establishments known as the 'Opp' and 'Mammy Dudd's', the former being opposite the school entrance and the latter run by a Mrs Duddridge. Now they had their own shop, and the person in charge was known as the 'Governor': hence the name Guvvy. It supplied 'first class sweets, confections and excellent pastry', and made ÂŁ10 profit in its first term. A committee of masters and monitors controlled its affairs and decided the destination 6

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Except in the Summer term, when the starting time has been 7.00 or 7.15


of any profits. These benefited various aspects of school life such as the Library and fives courts, as well as paying for end-of-term treats and cakes on Sundays for the boys. The committee evidently had a good business head: an offer was made to the school Governors quite early on that Guvvy profits would supply one volume of the new Encyclopaedia Britannica per term if the Governors would supply two! The original Guvvy was sited near where the Sports Hall stands today. The modern Guvvy which contains social areas both upstairs and downstairs has been used for many recreational purposes including parties, discotheques and the Summer School bar. It was conceived as a social centre for the middle school pupils at a time when sixth formers used the Clark Centre, but since 1996 it has doubled as both tuck shop and Sixth Form Club, an organisation which brings seniors together in civilised surroundings where they can socialise and enjoy food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In addition to the Guvvy, Taunton pupils of an earlier generation had tuck boxes. The tuck box room was another of the traditions of school literature which caught on at Taunton after it became a 'public school' in 1899. A room was provided for the storage of the boxes in the athletic block which grew up around the swimming pool. They are referred to as 'play boxes' in the prospectus of 1920: such a box is recommended as a receptacle for 'a boy's own particular treasures. It is a very general possession and is found useful'. In those days pupils had hardly any means of cooking or preparing their own food. There were, however, three primitive gas rings in a shack at the back of the Main Building. Reg Besley, who experienced the worst of school food in wartime, recalled these gas rings with a reverence and gratitude comparable to the encomiums addressed to them by a contemporary poet THE GAS RINGS Ye Rings, upon whose bosom I have laid Full many an offering to the god of fire, To whom all honour I have ever paid To lose his help would be a fate most dire; Your fiery hands oft yielded timely aid In preparation of some wondrous feast Of sausages - from what, I know not, made, Perchance some sorry nag not long deceased O toasted bread of blackest Ebon shade, That brings to mind the tale of long ago, How Alfred burnt the cakes of some old maid And had his ears boxed twenty times or so. Ye Rings, ye triple crown of azure blue, More useful far than any crown of gold, What happy hours do I not owe to you And other hours, but those must not be told. The last line probably refers to detentions received for being caught using the gas rings: they were supposed to be reserved for certain senior boys . The other source of sweet-toothed pleasures has for a very long time been the shop attached to the garage on Greenway Road. This time-honoured haunt, known 121


universally as Mossie's, (pronounced Mozzie's) is regarded as a useful alternative to the Guvvy, being patronised particularly in the evenings and when pupils are en route to and from the games fields. The origin of the name goes back a long way: at one time there was a shop and rather primitive garage run by a man named Marks; he may have been Jewish, or was considered to charge high prices, but in any case was dubbed Moses by the boys, whence Mossie's. Paul Wickham certainly remembers the shop in the 1940s. Though the original owners have faded into obscurity, their nickname lives on as part of the lore handed down from one Taunton generation to another. 'Going to Mossie's' is a solemn daily (or more than daily) ritual for many Taunton pupils: I am convinced that, in recent years, romances have even blossomed on that short journey! On one charity day a taxi service there from the main building was organised by Foxcombe, and it was well patronised. The garage must be among the few who hail the last day of term with despondency. The coming of the cafeteria system made a great impact on the eating patterns of Taunton pupils. Prior to September 1971, most pupils ate in their houses: School House and the two Wills houses used the school dining hall. The junior boarders dined in a room off the Octagon which has since had a chequered history, first as a classroom by day and Winterstoke prep room by night, then as the Mixed Common Room, a place which enjoyed acquiring notoriety during the first year of full integration as the only internal area of the School where junior boys and girls could legally meet/ Later the room became the Bevan house room and, with Bevan's move to the old School House premises in 1994, has finally been transformed into the New Library. For all the food was a traditional school meal, without choice, served at the table. Boys had set places, and house staff ate with their charges. The food was plain and unimaginative: sliced meat or shepherd's pie, for example, followed perhaps by rice pudding. The trend, however, in many schools was, from the 1960s, towards centralised catering. There were many advantages of this: reduced costs, the

Dining Hall before cafeteria system 7

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avoidance of the need to transport food to distant areas of the school, the release of former dining rooms for other school purposes and the ability to offer more choice to pupils. Speed was also a factor. Major Dixon calculated that it took an average of 8 seconds for each pupils to make his choice at the serving hatch and pass through the system. (In this organisational sense he was a worthy successor to S P Record, who also had a reputation for split-second timing over dining hall administration!) A selfservice salad bar was set up and has remained extremely popular to this day. The choice of hot dishes has widened considerably since 1971 with many pasta, vegetarian and oriental dishes regularly available as well as more traditional meat and fish dishes. The new variety of choice helped to meet the needs of foreign pupils, girls who in some cases had differing tastes from boys, and any who responded to the greater sense of culinary adventure permeating a society which was becoming more used to foreign travel. Ben Walker who succeeded John Dixon and was himself a restaurateur of considerable reputation, having run the prestigious Dragon House restaurant at Bilbrook, did much to continue the good work begun by John Dixon. The latter was a fine organiser, whose Catering Corps background provided invaluable experience in an area where the School was treading new ground in 1971; he had high and efficient standards, and could boast that he was always within 50p of his budget. Ben Walker's more obvious love for food and extravagant enthusiasm meant that he sometimes overstepped his. But it is to his imaginative approach - he would actually stand in the passage and arraign pupils of over-conservative tastes with invitations such as 'Now why don't you try a bit of that? - it tastes lovely!' - that the development of an appetising range of international dishes was due. He paid particular attention to presentation, and tasty sauces and attractive garnishes began to appear. Ben's legacy, ably carried on by Adrian Pavey who learnt from him, means that grilled salmon in a prawn and cream sauce or duck a l'orange are not necessarily rare lunch-time dishes. And the culinary expertise which has won the School a reputation for high-class catering, with an entry in the Schools Good Food Guide a few years ago, now attracts outside organisations to hold functions at the School, a useful source of extra income in difficult times. The disadvantages of the cafeteria system were seen as a lessening of staff control over what pupils ate and their behaviour - there were mutterings about table manners and the decline of civilised conversation, and the odd crisis, such as when the Second Master, Geoff Stephens, inadvertently sat down on a nasty piece of chewing gum left by an uncivilised pupil which temporarily glued him to his seat. All chewing gum was banned from the School from that moment and still is! Some pupils certainly bolted their food, and the time taken over a meal showed a marked decline for most, though this was not discouraged as there was a need to vacate places for later diners. We may compare a visitor's comment of 1883: 'Dined with the boys: fish and meat of first-rate quality and well cooked. Time occupied - 35 minutes'. Incidentally, there is another interesting entry of February 1887, in which the mysterious instruction was issued that no further fish was to be served at the College. No reason is given. Perhaps Mr Aveling heartily disliked it, or else fish was the suspected source of a food poisoning epidemic. If so, the reaction was somewhat extreme: the college accounts show that no fish whatever was purchased for over seven years until Mr Ridges arrived in 1894! For many pupils the most vivid memory of the Dining Hall during the first 20 years of the cafeteria system will be of that doyenne of the bread and jam table Jean 123


Hartland, standing at her post of duty mechanically handing out the platefuls to the files of pupils, befriending some, terrorising others, always practical and ready to speak her mind. She dreaded Wednesdays and Saturdays, when there were chips for tea: these tended to be dropped on the floor, if not actually thrown around by playful pupils. Woe betide the master on duty who did not impose appropriate authority or who was ineffectual in organising the clear-up at the end. If I was on cafeteria duty on a Saturday evening - the last day of what always seemed a long and dreary week - Jean would come up to me towards the end and say, "Tell me the worst, Mr Brown: who have I got in the morning?" She and her diminutive sister Denise were two of Taunton School's greatest characters. The practical need to serve the school evening meal early to reduce the cost of keeping staff on enhances the pupils' appreciation of other sources for satisfying their late-evening hunger. The Guvvy answers this need at the weekend, but on other evenings pupils rely on in-house facilities once Mossie's is closed. These house tuck shops and coffee bars are very successful, and often partly run by the pupils themselves. Any profit goes towards better house facilities or subsidises house outings and parties. The 'take-away' feature of modern eating means that a number of pizza and kebab establishments in Taunton do good late-night business with school boarding houses as little vans zoom around delivering their offerings, to the occasional irritation of house staff. Neil Mason once banned all reception of these items for a time (whether because of discarded mess or boys being late for bed I forget), but the ruling meant that certain people, such as a boy from Singapore named Jason Poh (who held an unofficial kebab-eating record!), had to reorganise their late-night routines considerably. Of course the main weekday evening routine for boarders is Prep and, as we saw, the timing of this has varied little over the years. Before the house system boys simply did their prep in the Schoolroom, or overflow classrooms, supervised by a master or senior pupil. Later prep became an activity which was organised by houses: each house had its own prep room which often doubled as a classroom during the day. The large ground-floor rooms in Wills East and Wills West, for instance, were used for teaching until about 1976. Now they are purely recreation areas. In the 1980s the need to provide such areas gained a higher priority, and this happened also to be a period when house staff were experimenting with smaller prep areas and allowing more pupils to work in their own rooms. The changes that have occurred answer the modem pupil's call for greater privacy and have also helped to reduce the discipline problems - the infamous 'prep room riots'! - which often occurred when an inexperienced prefect or sixth-former was in charge of a large roomful of spirited juniors. Junior pupils were and still are expected to do some chores. In the school's early history cheap labour meant that there was a plentiful supply of servants on hand to deal with practically every domestic task. The 'young gentlemen' as they were called - class was always relevant in Victorian England even if Taunton was never a snobbish school - were not required to assist, and there is even evidence that they had their beds made for them. In 1884 it is recorded that the boys had their shoes cleaned for them three times a week. Later at the new College they may have assisted in the grounds if there were tasks requiring numbers or brute force, but not with domestic matters. The 1st XV were called upon to pull on the rope when the Walnut Tree was felled in 124


1923: contemporaries recall with amusement how they all fell backwards into the stream! Chief among the servants were the Matron and Steward, among whose duties was to engage and dismiss other servants and to vet their suitability. Their moral responsibilities extended to conducting house prayers among the servants and 'securing their attendance at public worship'. In 1882 the posts of Steward and Matron were advertised as suitable for a husband and wife and it is clear from the job description that their tasks were those involved in running a large household. For these responsibilities they were to be paid a joint salary of ÂŁ90 a year. Often married couples were engaged by the School: this was common practice in the nineteenth century for working class people who went into 'service'. In 1879, for instance, there is a note detailing the duties of the Under Steward's wife. These included cleaning the study bedrooms which some senior pupils occupied and helping attend to any boys who were sick. Numerous skivvies were employed in the kitchens or to wait at table. Even in the 1930s Harold Bennett remembers elderly women serving in the Fairwater dining room. The Matron would have ensured that the boys kept their areas tidy, but the idea of pupils being allocated chores of a general nature such as sweeping the Prep Room or fetching the post appears to date from some time after the introduction of the house system. OTs of an older vintage do not, however, recall chores playing much part in house life. When they later became more prominent - and the Second World War, with its labour shortages, provided a strong impetus - they would be allocated on a rota basis, usually by the Head of House. Relevant to the notion of chores was the ideal that everyone should do something to assist in the running of the house and so contribute to the sense of community which the house represented. In practice, of course, it was juniors and not seniors who were saddled with these tasks. I myself recall how Richard Giles in a burst of egalitarianism in School House in the 1980s demanded that the Lower Sixth be allocated chores along with everybody else. The solution? Along with all houses School House had a 'litter area' which it was responsible for keeping tidy, and so these sixth formers were told to patrol this area as their chore, with 'litter' being entered on the chores list. Of course they never did it: most of them did not even know where the house's litter area was! This raises the question of the close connection between chores and fagging. Once the prefectorial system was established it was easy for juniors and their allocated chores to become an excuse for seniors to leave their rooms or general house areas like kitchens or recreation rooms in a mess. In many houses a third-form boy was attached to each prefect's study and expected to tidy up each morning. This could become a lengthy task if the prefect was lazy or untidy. Fagging at Taunton probably never reached the proportions it assumed at many public schools, where for the new boy it could become almost a system of full-time slavery. In its latter years it was held in check somewhat by the official line that it did not exist: we had chores, but we did not have fagging, the Headmaster would say proudly. For the third-year boy the distinction was a fine one, and the Headmaster's assurance of little comfort. Various attempts were made by house staff to create a more equitable situation. Peter Murphy (Housemaster, School House 1967-73) remembers battling to make seniors clear up their own kitchen mess, for instance. The boys themselves, in their hierarchical way, said little: they knew the prize which awaited them when they, in their turn, reached the Upper Sixth and would be waited on hand and foot. At first 125


housemasters tried a fairly ineffectual ploy: juniors could no longer be attached to senior pupils by name, but only do general tidying in the rooms concerned. That was easy: the Head of House simply wrote 'Smith - Room 35' instead of 'Smith - M Dando's study' and nothing else changed! Gradually, however, the self-assertive society of the 1980s, more questioning in its outlook and less deferential in its attitude to authority permeated even the most traditional of school boarding houses. Fagging fell victim to social mores rather than to direct abolition. This did not prevent some middle-ranking pupils from complaining that it was unfair that they, having suffered the study chores would never benefit from them! Respecting the views of such people in the perpetuum mobile of school society would mean that reform is never possible - an argument I myself was fond of quoting at the time. One beginning of term ritual which sparked a mixed reaction was the fire practice. The earliest reference in the School's history to the adoption of any fire precautions is a memorandum of 1887 stating that ladders should be available in case of an emergency at the College; in 1890 there was a request for the provision of fire extinguishing appliances costing around ÂŁ7. However when it was discovered that the extinguishers would cost ÂŁ17 it was decided to provide only fire buckets which, it was stipulated, should be full of water at all times. Whether regular fire practices were held in those earlier days is not recorded. In later years all boarding houses had to hold a night practice within the first week or so of term. A traditional announcement at housemasters' meetings was 'Fire practices to be carried out within the next fortnight and reported to Mr Willoughby'. Austin Willoughby (TS 1927-65) was Secretary of the Masters' Common Room and also Housemaster of Wills East for 15 years: a benign, cultured man who liked large cars, silk ties and madeira. (P G Smith, writing about him in 1965, recalled his calamitous golf swing and how he used to take him (PG) to book sales in country houses.) Why he was in charge of fire practices is not clear, but I suspect it was one of those little jobs which members of staff acquire for no particular reason and which become traditionally associated with them. Richard Giles once called off a School House fire practice ten seconds before the alarm was due to go off when he remembered that there was a visiting professor who had been lecturing to the Scientific Society staying in the guest room on the first floor: the prefects, spread around the house, could not understand the delay. And Raymond Lawrence, renowned for his efficiency when Housemaster of Loveday (1976-7), found a boy asleep on doing a final round after the house had been evacuated. Having woken him, he smuggled him across to the assembly point - Wills West prep room and concealed him behind a door to produce him like a conjurer after the roll call when his noted absence first provoked pointed, guilt-inducing questions of the two boys who slept in beds adjacent to the missing boy and had not followed their housemaster's explicit instructions to ensure that their neighbours were awake and not burning. But the best Loveday fire practice story concerns John Wright (Housemaster, 1962-71) who had a taste for creating the real thing. Determined to avoid the anticlimax of a bleary trek across to Wills and back, he procured firelighters, sawdust and newspapers and lit a real fire on the Loveday landing in the middle of the night. Fuses had been removed from the lights and the stairs blocked with furniture so that the boys would have to use the escape chute. At first the boys refused to wake up, and finally John Wright had to shout 'Fire!' and hold lighted newspaper high so that it would be seen through the glass partitions of the dormitories. At last they all got out down the 126


chute, but two dormitories at the Housemaster's end had been forgotten. As the stairs were blocked no-one could get back in, and the handbell was upstairs too. Shouting below the dormitory windows finally roused the missing boys and with them, most of the rest of the School. Undeterred by this fiasco, John Wright tried a similar ploy on a subsequent occasion. His tactics would, I am sure, horrify a modern fire officer, but what is certain is that fire practices organised by Mr Wright were never dull. Modern pupils take for granted many comforts which did not feature in the daily lives of their predecessors. We have already seen how recreational and kitchen facilities have expanded enormously. In Victorian times, of course, there was not even electricity. An article in the November 1888 edition of The Tauntonian explained for the benefit of readers what electricity was and how it could be used. Some homes in New York already used electricity. The town of Taunton first had electric light in 18898; the School , short of money in the 1890s, first installed it in its new 'chemical and physical laboratories' and some other rooms in 1902. Gradually its use was extended, though contemporary accounts show that expenditure on gas still greatly exceeded electrical costs, and it was not until 1913 that the school spent more on electricity (£79) than on gas (£65). However, by 1905 the Schoolroom, Dining Hall and all classrooms were lit by electric light. By 1908 power plugs had been fitted in the Physics laboratory and the Prospectus could proudly claim: 'The electric light, supplied by the Corporation of Taunton, has been installed throughout the premises'. This was an inventive age, and the same article mentioned above goes on to extol the virtues of the telephone. We can still grasp something of the sense of wonder which this most exciting of inventions inspired at the time: 'The telephone is now displacing the telegraph to some extent over short lines, and latterly, over considerable distances; in this instrument the electric current is used to reproduce the sounds of the human voice, so that if you were to speak or sing into a sending instrument in Taunton, which was connected by a wire to a receiving instrument at, say, Norton, the person listening there would be able to hear what you said, and to distinguish who said it; you see this obviates sending the message letter by letter, and thus saves a great amount of time and trouble.' Taunton School acquired the telephone in 1903. Before that there had been an internal 'speaking tube' between the College and the School Hospital. Installed in January 1888, it was found to be useful at night and in case of emergency. The question of installing an outside full telephone facility was discussed by the School Council throughout 1902. In 1900 an agreement allowing five poles and wires to be fixed on school property had been entered into. Now it was ascertained that obtaining a separate telephone line would cost £10 a year, and a party line £6. The latter course was adopted with an extension to the School Hospital incorporated, and the School's very first telephone number was Taunton 160. Nowadays, of course, the phone is taken for granted and pupils expect access to it all the time. The weekly letter home is virtually extinct! However, it is only relatively recently that the multiplicity of payphones now peppering the school premises were installed for the pupils' convenience. For most of this century boarders were not allowed to make or receive phone calls, and even in 1975 there were only two phones for pupils' use: one in the main entrance hall, and the other, for sixth formers only, in the Clark Centre. As telephone technology has taken us into the world of cardphones, answering machines and faxes so the School has found it wise to move with the times - it now has its own 8 9

It was the first town in Britain to do so. The Tauntonian, November 1888

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telephone exchange. In 1893 a new heating system with four different circuits was installed in the ground floor of the main building by Mr Stevens of Taunton who had successfully supplied similar systems to other educational establishments. This gentleman was hailed as a benefactor not only for the warmth with which he endowed pupils' everyday surroundings but also because his firm's excavation of the main corridor caused the Christmas holidays to be extended by three days! On only one other occasion has the start of term been delayed because of heating problems, and that was in January 1979, when a four-day postponement was due to fuel shortages and the ominous threat of industrial action common in that strike-ridden decade. Other aspects of social progress gradually made their mark on school life as the years wore on. Photography was advancing: in 1889 a series of views of the College was taken by a well-known Taunton photographer, Mr Crockett, and sold well. In 1892 there was a school photographic competition, the subject of which was to be the new classical statues on the Front. The first photographs to be published in The Tauntonian were a view of the School from the railway bridge and an internal shot of the Schoolroom which appeared in 1895. Regular photographs of school first teams began around the turn of the century. The first 'school film' (later an indispensable part of Saturday evening entertainments for many) seems to date from 1904, when it is reported that an end-of-term supper was followed by the special novelty of a Cinematograph Entertainment. Radio is first mentioned in 1922, when a Taunton School Radio Society was inaugurated, with the Headmaster, Harold Nicholson, as President. An aerial was erected, stretching from the tower to the gable of the schoolroom (later Memorial Hall) and classes were started in Morse code. Some society members constructed crystal sets, and by 1923 there were about 30 of these in the School. All radio stations in Britain could be picked up, even Paris and The Hague

Patrick Moore examines school radioastronomy equipment

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occasionally, though signals were often faint. Society reports communicate plenty of pioneering spirit: 'We shall soon be trying our hand at transmission ... we need to find a reason for a marked 'fading' of broadcast signals ... Crisp is attempting an Armstrong super regenerative circuit.' Gilbert Harris installed an additional aerial at Foxcombe, and many a winter evening was whiled away with valves and crystals. The School's radioastronomers, who in 1994 under the guidance of Trevor Hill recorded the collision of the comet Shoemaker Levy-9 with Jupiter, were worthy successors of those early pioneers. Their investigations and discoveries attracted international interest (besides making the first leader of The Times) and Patrick Moore came to the School to present a television programme about the group's achievements in radioastronomy. Television, invented by John Logie Baird in 1924, was a rare luxury before 1939 when transmissions ceased on the outbreak of war. The first school set was not acquired until near the end of Mr Leathem's headship; it was placed in a biology room (Room 60) to which members of staff could take groups of pupils by prior arrangement, though Paul Wickham recalls that he was not exactly encouraged when he tried to arrange evening viewings of The Forsyte Saga. John Leathem himself disapproved of television and did not own a set until he was presented with one on his retirement in 1966. Richard Jowett remembers collecting subscriptions for a Common Room set hired at the time of the 1968 Olympics, and a few resident staff may have owned private sets before this. At the time of my own arrival at Taunton School in 1974 there was a portable set available for classroom use and one in the Clark Centre. Boarding houses had black-and-white television only. Of course all that has changed now, and television is frequently used as a teaching medium. Houses often have two or three sets, allowing for different channels as well as video films to be watched simultaneously. As one School House boy remarked: 'It gets more like prison all the time, sir!' In serious terms, of course, the reverse is true. Pupils enjoy a more comfortable school life than at any previous time, but this accords with rises in society's standard of living and expectations generally. What was tolerable to one generation is unacceptable to the next. The room in the new athletic block of 1905 containing a 'shower-bath and five slipper baths' was photographed and presented in the prospectus of the time as the last word in sanitary luxury. That picture looks bleak and spartan today. In John Leathem's era most of the beds were still rock hard with unsprung mattresses, and this was still the case in 1975 in junior houses when only prefects were allowed the luxury of a soft mattress. What was once the prefect's privilege is now everybody's 'right'. Old Tauntonians who return to the School frequently remark that conditions have become soft, but then so has society. Actually there is nothing new in this sort of comment. Sir Herbert Ashman, reminiscing about his own schooldays at Commemoration in 1902, declared that 'school life at that time was not quite what it is now'. He added that in the old days boys had had to take care of themselves somewhat, but the conditions had made a man of him. His argument, perhaps so typical, nevertheless reiterates the unchanging truth with which we began this chapter - that, whatever the conditions, the young pupil, boy or girl, who plunges into a new school world must still learn to find his or her feet amid the vicissitudes of that world and its seemingly innocent daily routines and experiences which may yet contain hidden pitfalls. By doing so successfully he or she can achieve that independence and self-assurance for which so many Tauntonians have been grateful.

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Chapter Six

IN CORPORE SANO

D

uring the early years of Taunton's history, the school authorities were more concerned with the prevention of disease than with the promotion of health through games. For disease - often caused by poor sanitation - was a real threat to schools and other residential institutions in Victorian England. It was also a major source of worry to parents of children at boarding school, much more than any reservations they might have had about organisation, curriculum or discipline, all of which were questionable in a number of schools of the period. These, however, parents preferred to leave to the schools' good judgement. The West of England Dissenters' School was hardly into its second year when it was struck by an outbreak of scarlatina; parents were given the option of withdrawing their children as a precaution, and consequently the school closed early for the Christmas holidays on 1st December. A similar crisis arose in 1855, when a number of college servants were afflicted with smallpox, and parents were hastily informed that the Summer Term would end forthwith (28 May); a later communication advised them that the premises had been cleansed and that it was perfectly safe for the new 'half to start early on 17 July - a long haul through to Christmas! Apart from the occasional reminder that fee money should accompany a boy on his return to school, nearly all the Headmaster's communications with parents during this early period were on health matters. Not that he wrote to them often. Sometimes letters were countersigned by the Rev J S Underwood, the 'Corresponding Secretary' of the Company; sometimes the Secretary wrote in his own name. In 1851 parents were advised that, in addition to the Medical Officer already associated with the school (Mr Cornish), a homeopathic surgeon was to be appointed. They were asked to choose which treatment they preferred for their sons. Homeopathy was at this time in its infancy, so this was a bold move on the School's part. The man appointed was a Mr Blake, a Taunton confectioner who had had the initiative to obtain a homeopathic qualification at the London Hospital while his wife looked after the shop. These gentlemen were styled 'Mr' and are referred to in records as surgeons: the 'Doctor' was the Headmaster! Usually the health of the pupils was good. In 1852 the Committee reported triumphantly that not one case of serious illness had occurred. But the fact that the state of the pupils' health was referred to every year at the annual meeting, and in practically every report of Committee members' frequent visits to the School, shows that it was always a prominent and important consideration. If it was good, then it was customary to attribute this to a benevolent Providence, reflecting no doubt the religious uprightness of the institution. A typical comment is this: 'The health of the Establishment has been such as to constrain your Committee to acknowledge with devout gratitude the kindness of their Heavenly Father'. Cleanliness truly was next to 130


godliness. The concept of games as a function of healthy existence was a limited one in the 1840s and 1850s. Of course the Wellington Road premises lacked facilities, but it is true to say that few contemporary schools took games seriously or had formal structures in place for the teaching of sport. Boys organised games for pleasure, as they always have done, but the concept of mens sana in corpore sano had not yet developed into the fanatical obsession with games which permeated most public schools in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, and which continued to dominate them until 1914 or beyond. Games had certainly existed in older schools prior to 1850 - and wild and dangerous events they often were, with huge numbers involved and few rules - but they were frequently optional extras for those who wanted them and viewed as purely recreational. Only later did they acquire a moral role, becoming bound up with ideas of 'manliness', 'honour' and 'muscular Christianity'. They came to symbolise the public school spirit, the very stuff out of which the British Empire was made. Indeed it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the way the Empire was organised and run became in many ways a vast extension of the public school world. That was still some way away when Dr Bewglass took up his post in the Wellington Road. Early advertisements for the School emphasize the generous provision of recreational facilities, but the stress is on recreation rather than organised games. The 1848 accounts reveal that ÂŁ83 was spent on gravelling and fitting out a suitable playground in the area behind the Stepswater buildings. Dr Bewglass ordered a swinging pole, a climbing pole, a see-saw and a sledge. The sledge is mentioned in the minutes of several early committee meetings and seems to have taken some time to construct. Whether it was to be kept for winter pleasure is not mentioned. Later part of the playground was covered and enclosed, and in 1854 it was lighted with gas lamps. This may have been the area where a form of fives was played in the early days, and which later was used as a rackets court. A later plea by the boys for a proper rackets court in 1856 was turned down by the Committee because of the expense. Dr Bewglass himself regarded walking as beneficial to health and always took his 'constitutional'. Country walks, with the boys accompanied by a master, were a regular feature of school life. Back in the playground, the boys indulged in tipcat, marbles, rounders or a game played on the gravel called prisoners' base - probably a version of tig. There was half an hour's free time after breakfast in the playground and an hour before lunch. In summer swimming in the river was popular, probably at nearby French Weir or Roughmoor. Whether this was encouraged is not known - there is a mysterious entry in the school accounts of ÂŁ5 for bathing money in 1851 - but there was a sad case of a boy, Harry Peek, being drowned in June 1863. The Committee resolved to adopt 'some means for the future prevention of a similar lamentable event', but this seems to have amounted to nothing more than ensuring that pupils who wished to swim used only an official 'bathing place' and were supervised by a master. Certainly the boys would not acquire a swimming pool until after their arrival on the new Fairwater site. There is likely to have been some organised cricket and probably football of a kind, though it must be remembered that football rules had not been codified by this time, the Rugby version of the game being in an experimental phase and largely associated still with the school of its origin. Certainly the pupils challenged the gentlemen of the 131


Committee to a cricket match in the summer of 1855, with what result is not known. The match was probably played in a field adjoining the school which was rented along with the buildings. From the beginning the Committee was anxious to acquire additional land for a play area and at one time considered renting two gardens at an extra payment of £60 per annum. The field was the property of Mr Woodford, the owner of the main school buildings; he was worried about possible damage to the spine of the field' caused by youthful games, and stipulated that any such damage should be made good at the end of an initial seven-year let. The possibility that the School might wish to acquire its own cow was discussed in the spring of its opening year, though it is doubtful whether it ever did so. However in October 1847 a decision was made to purchase two pigs for £3 and an iron trough. What became of them noone knows, as they are not mentioned again, but modern pupils who use the term as slang for prefects will be amused to know that the first 'school pigs' were actually real ones! Sheep might have been a better bet, for the length of the grass was a problem for those early cricketers. At a time before there were such things as mowing machines, the School employed the local milkman to prepare a wicket with his scythe. Mr Loveday recalled at a cricket dinner in 1925 how in his very first summer at the School (1868) the milkman failed to turn up on the morning of a match against the Wesleyan College (now Queen's College' ), and he had had to organise a squad of boys armed with penknives! Needless to say the match was lost, and the School was never really able to take its cricket seriously until the move to Fairwater and the acquisition of something resembling a proper pitch. According to Mr Loveday the School did not win a cricket match till 1870, when, in the first summer in its new home, it finally scored a victory over Queen's College on the Front. One of Dr Bewglass's priorities had been to appoint a Drilling Master, and the first man chosen for the job was Sergeant-Major Armstrong. Rather than receiving a fixed salary, he was to be paid 5 shillings (25p) a year for every pupil under his instruction. Drill was therefore charged as an extra, with parents strongly encouraged to consent to their sons' participation. It consisted both of physical jerks and of exercises in posture and deportment, a social grace which many Victorians set great store by. In 1857 parents were charged 3 guineas a year extra to cover drilling, washing and pew rent to the two Chapels attended on Sundays. The early school accounts reveal virtually no expenditure on anything connected with games or sport. The priorities were books, furnishings and housekeeping requirements, apart from the need to deal with running repairs and problems with drains and sanitation. Some of the broken windows occasionally mentioned were doubtless due to the informal ball games played near the school buildings. During Mr Griffith's headmastership in 1866 it is recorded that the sum of £5 was allocated to provide prizes for athletic sports, so it is possible that some sort of Sports Day was first held in that year, no doubt on a very informal basis on the field next door. The following year the prize money was reduced to £3, and there is no further reference to any expenditure on athletics during the remaining Wellington Road years. The move to Fairwater in 1870 gave a great boost to games. The new Independent College was virtually in the country, and there was plenty of space around the school buildings for both team sports and athletics. An outdoor swimming bath had also been built and gymnastic equipment supplied. It seems certain that an annual Sports 132

The name was changed at Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887.


Day would have been held from the 1870s, though the earliest report of one dates only from 1882 when The Tauntonian magazine was first published. This report forms part of a light-hearted poem about the term's events penned, rather cryptically by 'An Old Boy and Young Girl'. One wonders who she was - perhaps one of the bright-eyed ladies referred to as 'stunners' in the poem! This Sports Day appears to have been something of a gala occasion, with the school band playing; the selection of events is also interesting: 'And now a word about the Sports; they were a grand success, The sun regardless of expense shone out the boys to bless. The band played stirring music to speed the walkers and the runners, But the bright eyes of the ladies helps them most: "they were such stunners." All the masters helped the games, for as umpires they did toil Messrs. AVELING, LAMBERT, SCHWARZ, P. MACKENSIE, and J. HOYLE. Down the course ran the lads: The 100 yards was swiftly ended; Shouts and cries and loud hurrahs, applause and music all were blended. Bang went pistol, off went runners, towards the goal they did disperse (If you scan these lines correctly, you will find them classic verse). The first was gained by SOM'VILLE, R., the second AVELING won; In either race, the 100 yards was in the same time done; I cannot say which had the stouter legs or firmer calf, But each did run the distance in ten seconds and a half. The walking race the next event, much interest did impart, R. SOM'VILLE who won it, had a bit too large a start; And by this start they gave him, he defeated F. WATTS LEA, Yet the latter's walking really was a pretty sight to see. In the pole jump BENSON cleared eight feet, ASHFORD two inches more; While SOM'VILLE major threw the ball quite eighty-two yards four. The Sports being ended, in the school the prizes were provided, While Mr DUDENEY at the organ splendidly presided. Then all was silent for a while, and all did cease to chatter, As Mr. LOVEDAY read the names, and Mrs A. MOCATTA Distributed the prizes to those successful boys, While their comrades tried to crack the roof with their tremendous noise.' The organ in the Schoolroom, referred to at the end of the poem, would have been a great novelty at this time: it had been installed only a couple of months or so before, in April 1882, after Mr Aveling obtained it from St Mary's Church in Taunton. Later, of course, it was transferred to the School Chapel. Perhaps because it was treated less seriously than the regular sports of rugby and cricket, Sports Day receives only sporadic mentions in early editions of the school magazine. In 1883 there is an allusion to an Old Boy winning the Quarter Mile at Taunton Athletic Sports, presumably a town event. In 1884 there is just this vague statement: 'Our Athletic Sports will come off this term; we presume early' but no account of them follows in the next issue. In 1885 there is a full report of the event, which is interesting because it lists the prizes awarded to winning competitors. Among the assorted items presented in those days before cups and trophies were a barometer, a silver-knobbed ebony stick, fish carvers and, edifying rather than useful, 133


a Life of Luther. The Somerset Light Infantry band played during the afternoon; there were amusing events such as a Bucket race and an obstacle race involving tubs, ropes and a tarpaulin which competitors had to crawl under, and even a race for Old Boys, who seem to have attended in considerable force. Again organ solos preceded a formal prize giving. All this would, of course, have happened at the front of the school, and appears to have been organised by Mr Loveday. Turning to the team games of rugby and cricket, we can see a steady improvement in the School's performance as the years went by. Rugby - always known as football in those days - was first played in the 1878-9 season, five years after the founding of the RFU and the first England-Scotland international, and around the time when the number of players per side was reduced from 20 to 15.2 P B Allen (1881-6), looking back in 1947, commented that 'at Rugger we lacked organisation as well as able exponents' while recalling nevertheless a great Old Tauntonian three-quarter B W L Ashford who went on to play for one of the strongest Somerset teams of that era. School cricket, as we saw, was greatly helped by the use of an improved pitch, though even here long grass was a problem and high scores in the outfield were rare. The writer of a scorebook which survives from 1876 voices this very complaint. Some other interesting facts emerge. Under the old school year of two halves, matches were played both before and after the summer holiday. A special match against Taunton Town was arranged, for example, on Monday, 7 August which, the writer notes, was a Bank Holiday. This was a novelty, as the Bank Holidays Act had only been passed in 1871. One problem in those days was lack of opposition. Travel was more difficult one 1876 fixture v Dunster started two hours behind schedule because of the lateness of the trains - and there were fewer schools to play. Of those that there were, some would doubtless have been deemed unsuitable opposition for social reasons, or Independent College would have been deemed unsuitable by them. Victorian snobbery is legendary. Most of the School's external encounters - apart from games against the Wesleyan College - were with village or town clubs such as Taunton and Dunster; other opponents were Norton Fitzwarren and Wellington. There were also, of course, numerous internal matches, some in lighter vein, such as a game in 1876 between the 1st XI armed with broomsticks and the 2nd XI with bats! The highest individual scores in that 1876 season were 58 by the Captain, H A Erlebach in the Bank Holiday match and 62 by J G Loveday against the Old Boys. Both of these gentlemen were masters. The idea of members of staff being eligible for school teams seems strange today, but it was accepted practice at Taunton in the nineteenth century for both cricket and rugby. Mr Loveday himself was a fine cricketer, and actually captained the Eleven, such as it was, in the last two years at Wellington Road. At the new College he became a mainstay of the team, actually winning in 1882 the bat awarded annually for the highest average. In that season the School won 13, drew 5 and lost 5. Clearly the standard had risen, and the fixture list expanded accordingly. The writer of the season's report commented that 'Mr Loveday's value as a cricketer cannot be overrated'. The first unbeaten cricket season came four years later, in 1886, under the brilliant captaincy of R S B Savery, though even then four masters were members of the team. Apart from Mr Loveday, there were two Woods, Mr W E Wood who had joined the staff the year before with a degree from Queen's University, Belfast and Mr T Wood, the new Music Master who had arrived that term with the reputation of being 2

134

Rugby School continued to play 20 a side in internal matches until 1888.


not only an accomplished teacher, string player and organist but an excellent wicketkeeper likely also to be 'the prettiest bat in the team'. He actually went on to captain the school side in 1890, being 'unanimously elected'. The fourth master was Mr F W Lea, an Old Boy who, having been Captain of the School in 1884, returned with a 1st BSc degree and what must be record speed to teach in his old school in January 1886. He only missed one cricket season! In 1886 R S B Savery established a school record by scoring 143 against Taunton Town - a record which he himself broke the following year when he made 180 against a touring team, York Rovers. This still stands as the highest individual score by a school cricketer, though the outstanding performances of John Jameson (later Warwickshire and England) over four seasons (1956-9) are perhaps the most impressive achievement. Jameson's highest score was 163 not out versus Kingswood on 4 July 1959, but he scored five centuries, three of them in consecutive matches, amassing a total of 1031 runs in the season and a batting average of 93.72. Needless to say the 1960 season was a lean one, with the following comment in The Tauntonian: 'Jameson's domination of the batting in 1959 meant that several of this year's batsmen did not have the match practice they would have enjoyed in a more normal season.' His brother, T E N Jameson (TS 1958-66) was also a fine cricketer who captained the School Eleven in 1966, later winning a Cambridge blue and playing firstclass cricket for a time, also for Warwickshire. Another outstanding TS cricket feat was the taking of all 10 wickets against Queen's by A G Marshall in July 1910. In July 1926 his brother Leslie scored 213 for the OTs on the Front versus Minehead. Though this feat did not occur in a school match, the score still stands as the highest ever achieved by a batsman on the school ground. In rugby football too the contributions of the staff were considerable before the turn of the century. The gifted Mr T Wood played for many years, as did Mr A E Moss, himself a former pupil. Mr Loveday played in his younger days, but turned to refereeing when the rough and tumble of those early football games became too much for him. He did well to play until 1887 when he was 41 years old, though even then he was still regarded as 'invaluable in the scrum'. These school matches could be rough affairs, with frequent hacking and less controlled scrummaging than today. The game was still progressing from the early 20-a-side days when there had been up to 16 players in the scrum, but gradually more open play was developing, with the skills of backs and half backs more in demand. The referee's job was far from easy, as a warning prior to the 1884 season makes clear: 'Some members of the team ought to remember that the game ought to be played without so much rowing. The Umpire's decisions must be undisputed; even a Captain has no right to call out 'man down' or 'offside' unless first called by the Umpire; far less a member of the team.' In 1889 the best man in the team, H Perrett (later a master), was thrown heavily and put hors de combat 'while trying to tackle a man by the neck'. The commentator acknowledges that this was rather risky, to say the least! It was probably because of such risks that the Committee required parents' permission for boys to join school teams during this period. An interesting Committee Minute of April 1891 declares that no boy should be punished or disadvantaged for not taking part in football or other sports. Whether this arose from an issue raised by Mr Aveling is not known, though it is recorded that in 1883 football had been made compulsory on Mondays and Thursdays, a move strongly approved by most, as it led to more cohesive team structure and a general improvement in play. At a 135


contemporary meeting of the College Debating Society the motion was proposed 'That compulsory cricket and football in our public schools is advisable'. It was carried overwhelmingly. Masters continued to play for school teams for a good number of years, though not always on a regular basis. In rugby they took little part after 1890, when a couple of poor seasons and falling numbers in the School finally led to the abandonment of rugby for the association game in 1896. All that had to change, of course, with the transfer to soccer, although a new fixture list was quickly drawn up without too much difficulty. The first game was against Huish's Grammar School, a 7-1 victory for the College. In school cricket the participation of masters lasted longer. Three of the 1st XI in 1892 were members of staff, though in the following year certain fixtures were designated as 'without masters'. This may have resulted from the feeling that the boys were not getting a look in, or possibly from complaints made by opposing schools. Accordingly there were from 1893 two versions of the 1st XI, an A team with masters and a B team without. Five masters in the 1893 A team contributed significantly to the joint results sheet recording the season's overall record. The ruling was broadly that only boys could play against other schools but masters were eligible to take part in club games. Mr G B Newport was still playing in such matches in 1907, the last year before the A team was disbanded. He made a century against North Curry in 1901. Mr Record and Mr Watkins played the odd game in 1906 and 1907. The Headmaster himself, Mr J B Ridges, was a competent sportsman and played occasionally in school cricket and football teams between 1895 and 1899, appearing regularly for the soccer XI in its first season after the decision to abandon rugby, perhaps as an encouragement following what had been a reluctant move. In the second season he strained his side and was unfortunately put out of action. Mr Ridges also played cricket for the School team against the Old Boys in 1895 but in the following year he joined the Old Boys against the School. It is, one could say, a Headmaster's privilege to make the best of both worlds - or is it the delicate question of balancing two loyalties, to the School and to its former pupils? Steady improvements to the sporting facilities were taking place all through these years. The questionable state of the cricket pitch was tackled in 1877, with the relaying of the wicket and better arrangements for the upkeep of the ground. A few years later the grassed area was extended by the laying of turf near the main school entrance to replace the existing gravel. The problem of cutting the grass was finally solved by putting it out to contract for ÂŁ20 a year: the arrangement by which the Matron was in charge of the new Mowing Machine (sic) and of hiring the gardener to work it and a horse to pull it had not proved very satisfactory! However, from 1892 Mr Loveday and Mr T Wood assumed responsibility for the grounds, thereby enhancing their meagre salaries by ÂŁ10 each. In the spring of 1884 excitement mounted as plans were made to build a cricket pavilion. The building was completed by the summer, and its design by a Mr Newton (an Old Boy) was 'universally admired'. An early photograph shows its position close to where the new pavilion is today. That year's cricket season was, appropriately, a good one. In 1911 the pavilion was moved to the position closer to the railway line and school entrance, where it still stands. This site was frequently criticised by players in later years, though it may have been chosen because of the obstruction of the famous walnut tree at the east side of the pitch. In 1955, with the walnut tree long gone, the 136


Centenary of Old Pavilion 1984

new, present-day pavilion - a memorial to those who fell in the Second World War was erected near the original site. An entertaining period cricket match was held in June 1984 to mark the centenary of the Old Pavilion, which is now used as a shed and storeroom. Christopher Evans umpired expansively in a top hat and tails, and Chris Pollard's impersonation of the great W G Grace, beard and all, was memorable! Several other positive moves to develop sport took place as the century drew to its close. Whatever may have been the Committee's reservations, both Mr Aveling and Mr Ridges strongly supported these developments in the name of healthy exercise as well as the School's need to diversify. And the boys themselves were keen. At the 1883 Half Term holiday in October - a relatively recent innovation - there was such a rush to hire tricycles that those letting them out could not cope with the demand. On another occasion a paper-chase was instituted at the boys' suggestion. Mr Aveling ('always willing to give permission for any healthy sport') was happy to agree to what was an early version of cross country. It was effected by having two groups of boys, 'hares' and 'hounds' chase one another across a variable country route, the 'hares' leaving a trail for the 'hounds' to follow and both groups being timed. The routes were considerably longer than present-day cross country courses: one went through farmland to Bishops Lydeard, another as far as Creech. With fields often flooded in wet weather, the going was frequently laborious as the boys ploughed through the mud, sometimes swimming across ditches or the canal. They thought nothing of 'three and half hours' good running', though these paper-chases were finally banned in rainy weather. The sweetest moment must have come at the end: 'Miss Marsters3 gave us a jolly hot bath'! 3 The

Matron

137


The boys were also responsible for the introduction of twiceyearly fives competitions: this resolution was passed by no less a body than the School Parliament (an early version of the Debating Society) and the aim was to raise the profile of the game. There would be annual doubles and singles competitions, on an Fives courts around 1920 individual basis, of course, in those pre-house days. As we saw, fives had been played at Wellington Road, and two improvised courts had developed on the new site against the Schoolroom and Classroom walls. By 1888 these were totally inadequate, and there was strong feeling that Taunton should compare more favourably with other, often smaller schools who had better facilities. A letter to The Tauntonian urged the courts' upgrading, and within a year Guvvy profits had paid for their asphalting to the boys' general satisfaction. Now they would aim for a new asphalt tennis court with future profits: lawn tennis had started on a grass court in 1883, but better provision was again sought as interest in the game grew. All this pupil initiative had a logical conclusion. In The Tauntonian of November 1888 we read that 'the boys have taken the entire management of the games into their own hands'. What this probably meant in practice was that there was a Sports Committee, run mainly by the boys, but upon which a few masters also sat. Its secretary was a senior pupil, but the help and advice of experienced masters like Mr Loveday would obviously have been invaluable when it came to organising events such as Sports Day. The actual coaching of games was really in its infancy at this time. A coach named Attewell gave some assistance in 1883, but he seems to have spent most of his time playing for the team! A fully engaged cricket professional was unheard of until Dr Whittaker employed J T Parmenter in 1900. In 1890 the better all-round form of the various cricket elevens was attributed to the energies of Mr T Wood, who made an effort to supervise as many practices as possible, encouraging a 'scientific' rather than a 'hit and miss' style of play. Mr Wood also found time to captain the 1st XI in that 1890 season. Games captains appear at that time to have been elected. In the early 1880s this was by the team itself: there is a reference to W P Balfern's 'unanimous election' as Rugby Captain in 1883, and an article about cricket prospects states unequivocally that 'the 1st and 2nd Elevens have each elected their Captain'. Whether the Committee later took this task upon itself is not clear. But though there was almost certainly an insistence throughout these years that all boys took some exercise, such as football, it seems that the various games were generally seen as clubs rather than a direct product of school organisation. Swimming and bathing were immensely popular in the late nineteenth century. This may have been due partly to fashion, as numerous public baths were opened during these years, but swimming also provided a means of freshening up at a time when 138


bathing facilities in private houses were fairly limited. Schools were often much worse. Independent College in the early1880s had no indoor baths - P B Allen (188186) recalled the compulsory ritual of Saturday night foot bathing - but it did have an outdoor swimming bath. This had been built when the School moved to its present site in 1870 but its operation was crude to say the least. The water supply was the stream which flows through the school grounds from the present playing-fields towards the Tone, (now underground), and a horse was used to turn a water-wheel which helped to pump the water. A Committee minute requests that 'horse gear be attached to the wheel at a cost of £14, provided the pump be certified as efficient to convey water to the cistern of the College'. Pipes leading directly into the pool were to be attached to the gutters of the covered playground nearby, presumably to augment the supply with rainwater. The end product was a bathing facility which was unpredictable, far from clean and unheated for nearly 100 years. It was nevertheless a considerable attraction in hot summers, and swimming classes were begun in 1879. This account of a bathing session in the mid 1880s captures something of the fun and frivolity which prevailed: 'During this hot weather, 'bathing' seems to be the event of the day, and when the appointed time arrives, the bathing place swarms with figures which are performing all sorts of antics in the water, from the somewhat ludicrous 'first attempt' to the 'exhibition dive'. Not satisfied with the ordinary aquatic games, some of the bathers have hit upon the somewhat entertaining spectacle of bathing with old clothes on, and when tired of this, of undressing in the water, and donning the usual bathing attire. Another amusement consists in placing a hat some distance from the springboard, and diving into it. Several have attained considerable proficiency in such performances.' By this time a few improvements were under way. A deep and a shallow end were created; a filter was fitted and a new pumping system installed; the pool was made more watertight. Swimming races - organised by the Guvvy - were first held in the summer of 1892. A stopwatch had to be borrowed for the occasion! Plans to make this an annual event were thwarted by the failure of the water supply in some of the years following, notably in 1896 and 1899 when the pool was virtually dry. The School paid £1 for the boys to use the public swimming bath at French Weir for the term. These problems may have prompted the Old Boys to initiate major improvements to the swimming pool as their contribution to the jubilee celebrations of the College in 1897. They knew how much the pool had meant to them as pupils: 'Many Old Boys put a halo round their memories of the bath ... Boys will bathe in anything, in reason, and at any time, if desperate ...' And no doubt the following generation ought to feel the same: 'If it was good enough to tempt us out of bed at 2 o'clock in the morning in the face of dire penalties, it must be good enough now for boys who have any manliness in them'. A hundred years on one can probably say that the schoolboy's love of risk has altered little, though midnight swimming nowadays would be regarded as a challenge in breaking a tight security net rather than a test of manliness. Plans were accordingly drawn up for covering and heating the north end of the bath so that it could be used all year round. An appeal for £500 went out and work was soon under way. In the event it was decided to construct a separate bath 30' x 40' which would be covered and heated to 70°F. Surrounded by a changing area, it would be situated at right angles to the open pool which was also vastly improved and would be available for summer swimming. The opening of the new pool, preceded by 139


a service in the Schoolroom with a sermon on the text 'Be strong', was performed by Sir William Henry Wills in October 1901. The new facility was described in a current school prospectus as 'one of our chief possessions'; by 1911 it could be stated rather pompously that 'the art of natation is one of the Indoor swimming bath, 1900s features of the School'. It was obviously an advantage to be able to swim all year, though later, with the growth in competitive swimming, the pool proved too small for any proper training and some Old Boys have mixed feelings about it. Memories of being thrown into what seemed like a black hole containing far from warm water remain with quite a few! Many years later 'Pincher' Martin was still performing a similar ceremony by the open pool. Heating the indoor bath proved expensive, and at the outbreak of the Second World War parts of the pool's structure - especially metal parts - were dismantled to help the war effort. Freddie Dowell confessed that he hoped a bomb might fall on it. Nowadays the pool is derelict, though the brick building housing it still stands, its access steps removed in the 1980s after some inquisitive pupils found they could get in and use it as a smoking haunt! How far did public school games mania affect Taunton once it had officially become a 'public school'? Dr Whittaker, when asked his attitude to games in a newspaper interview in 1900 was guarded at first, saying that many public schools paid too much attention to games, but then he could not resist plunging into a list of the School's sporting successes with great enthusiasm. And just round the corner territorial and house rivalry was about to fan the flame and voice the demand for yet more games and more competitions. Hockey, water-polo, and cross country proper all originated from these years, and there were requests from the boys for boxing, cycling and fencing too. Games were certainly associated with manly ideals, as we have already seen, but at Taunton they were never allowed to dominate and reduce all else to secondary importance. They never acquired quasi-religious status as they did, for example, at Marlborough where certain housemasters regarded even Chapel as a waste of valuable time that could have been spent on the games field.' Such idolatry would have been abhorred by all faithful Independents! R G P Besley (1916-24) recalls how senior boys, at least, tended to polarise into games players or intellectuals, but both were respected. The School was given a day off in 1913 after a boy won a Scholarship to Sidney Sussex, Cambridge. Nor were positions of responsibility given automatically to games players just because they were good sportsmen. In some schools the captain of rugby was always head boy as a matter of course. At Eton you could be beaten by the Captain of the Eleven ('eleven tanned') just because he was Captain. While the offices of Prefect (Head of House) and Captain may have coincided occasionally - even often - at 4

140

See Gathome-Hardy op. cit. p165


Taunton (A G Marshall, R A Gerrard) it was not a foregone conclusion that it should be so. Taunton perhaps had a better sense of proportion. However, it was almost certainly the desire for better public school status which prompted the switch back to rugby as the school's main winter game in 1919. As early as 1906 an internal challenge rugby match between 'Wales' and 'England' suggested the possibility of raising a fair school team if required. A match between boys and masters also aroused interest. The following year saw the introduction of territorial rugby in the Spring term and house matches followed from 1912. Studies A (later Fairwater East) were the first victors. In 1911 the Debating Society debated the motion that 'Soccer is a better game than rugby'. This was carried, but only by 22-19. As it happened this debate occurred during a highly successful soccer season in which the School lost only one match. One of the great players of this period was A H Chadder, who went on to win a blue at Oxford and played many times for England, often as captain. However, the school fixture list still smacked of a certain nonconformist restriction: teams such as the Rev J Hyland's XI and Wellington Church Institute were not typical public school opponents. Opinion was gradually shifting towards rugby, and though any definitive move was put on hold by the war years, by 1919 the School was ready to adopt 'union rules' and take a step up in the world. This change was well-timed, as the soccer fixture list had fallen apart in the war years and a new start was needed. School matches in the first rugby season were naturally tentative affairs. A few games were arranged against OT sides such as the Welsh Old Boys and there was a fixture against Bristol University. The School's performance was promising, but there was still a lot to learn. Good coaching would be vital if success was to be forthcoming. Lengthy articles on tactics appeared in The Tauntonian. In the event the boys adapted to rugby extraordinarily successfully. Fortunately there happened to be a number of talented sportsmen among the seniors, and sterling coaching work was done by Messrs Mayne and Morgan and, from 1921, the great A G Marshall, who had been invited to join the Staff of his old school by Dr Whittaker. By then the fixture list included King's College, Monkton Combe, Bristol Grammar School, Wellington, Mill Hill and Kingswood. Amazingly that 1921-2 season was almost an unbeaten one: only two games versus Clifton were lost, and in the following year the School 1st XV won 16 out of 18 matches, losing only a charity match and a Clifton club game. King's were beaten 31-0 and the Royal Naval College Dartmouth 36-0. In 1924 came what appears to be the highest score achieved in a school rugby match when the 2nd XV beat Queen's 95-0. On the negative side, I myself recall watching a junior B team losing to Canford 90-0 in 1976; this might have become a record if the referee had not noticeably shortened the second half! The standard of junior play was noted by A G Marshall to have improved steadily during the 1920s; this provided a firm foundation on which future 1st team successes could be built. Boys in the junior part of the School continued to play soccer, with some inter-school matches, throughout this period and until 1954. Junior houses also played a house soccer knock-out competition in the Spring term for the Harris cup, a trophy given by the late Gilbert Harris during his time at Foxcombe.. The inter-war years were strong ones for school sport, and there are some legendary names associated with the period. One of the best known was R A Gerrard, (1927-30) who played international rugby for England in all the Five Nations matches from 193234. While at school he played in the 1st XV for three seasons, being its mainstay in the 141


last of these (1929-30). On 18 December 1929 when the School beat Douai 38-0, Gerrard scored 6 of the 10 Taunton tries, and 3 of the other 4 were set up by his passes. He was described as a 'centre threequarter of abnormal proportions'; his size and skill also brought him success in athletics, when he won first place in putting the weight at the Public School Championships at Stamford Bridge in 1929 and 1930. He was furthermore a fine cricketer, playing for the County Colts and scoring three centuries in the school 1930 season. This followed a record established the previous year when, batting with W M Raw in a match against the Somerset Stragglers, the highest partnership score ever made by players in a school fixture was established. Gerrard made 130 and Raw 132. R A Gerrard also found time to represent the School at water polo: he was a skilful goal scorer and helped Wills East to more than one victory in the Day Cup R A Gerrard house competition. Though rugby was his first love, he was a gifted all-round sportsman and one of the great sporting names of Taunton School's history. Sadly he was killed in the Second World Wars, though his name is perpetuated in the R A Gerrard sports scholarships which are awarded annually. A nucleus of fine players in the late 1920s ensured that Taunton rugby soon acquired an impressive reputation. R A Gerrard was well supported by G V Shillito, who won a blue at Oxford in 1930, E C Howie and H Williams, one of the best forwards ever to have played for the OTs. Earlier there had been R Jennings who went on to play over 50 times for Cornwall and, though he never won an England cap, was selected to tour Australia and New Zealand with the British Lions in 1930. G E Andrews was a talented winger who played for Wales in 1926 and 1927. And J A Ewart captained the great school side of 1925-6 which achieved its ambition of beating Taunton Town. It was not surprising that this wealth of talent led to the foundation in 1931 of the OT rugby club, which was able to nurture and develop the playing careers of many excellent school footballers. In the seven years to 1927, Taunton's 1st XV had achieved an astonishing record: of 129 games played, 103 had been won, 2 drawn and only 24 lost. Points for were 2499 and points against 800. Stronger opposition was sought and the key fixture became the Blundell's match. Played on the third Wednesday in November and the second Saturday in February, this 'local derby' was in the 1930s regarded as a catalyst for the season, and regularly attracted national interest with a special match report in The Times. The Blundell's match continued to be an important occasion long after the war, and even in 1995 a reunion of 1950s Old Boys organised by Paul Wickham got off to a particularly good start because the School happened to have beaten Blundell's very soundly that afternoon. Taunton's outstanding success in rugby earned it a national reputation as a rugby school, and the game dominated school sport in the middle decades of this century. Many Old Boys affirm that rugby dominated school life, and 5

142

See Chapter 10


the measure of its charisma may be judged by the support which the game commanded from those not fortunate enough to gain the honour of representing the School. Until well into the 1950s boys would rush straight from Saturday lunch to reserve a good seat in the small grandstand which at that time overlooked the 1st XV pitch. There was no need of the rule which in the 1970s ordered them to support; in the game's heyday they wanted to be there. The greatest OT cricketer of this period was undoubtedly J C White (1903-07). At school he was played as a batsman, but it was as a slow left-hander that he became renowned in his subsequent career as Somerset captain and England test cricketer. Altogether he won 15 caps for England and captained the team four times. E W Swanton said of him: 'He will be remembered for his superb control of length, for his unique subtleties of flight and not least for that charm of personality which has made him universally popular with spectator as well as player.'6 White gracefully acknowledged that it was when he was at school that Mr Newport, cricket master and himself a county player, first taught him how to bowl his slow twisters. White was one of the most consistent post-First World War players, never taking less than 100 wickets in any first-class season between 1919 and 1928. He took all ten wickets in 1921 in a Somerset-Worcestershire match, and was capped for England against Australia (in the same year) and the West Indies. In 1928 he was selected as Vice Captain of the England team which sailed to Australia to defend the ashes. After a successful tour he revisited his old school in June 1929, when he was presented with a special shield made of wood from the old walnut tree. A report of the event describes White as 'overawed by the educational atmosphere', though his acceptance speech was well received. In the afternoon he captained an MCC side against the School, a match which is interesting because of the way it links White with two players mentioned above. White himself took 6 wickets for 14 runs: one of them was that of R A Gerrard, who only made 3 on this occasion. W M Raw, however, survived White's bowling, making 15, and White's own wicket fell to a fine catch by Raw. The bowler was J H Cameron (Fairwater East 1926-33), the only school cricketer to date to take more than 100 wickets in a season, White's own yardstick. Cameron later played for the West Indies, probably the only Tauntonian ever to have done so. The final twist of fate in the MCC match was that heavy rain came on and the game had to be declared a draw! Though cricket and rugby remained the most important games at school level, with by far the greatest amount of time devoted to them, there were a number of others which flourished at this time. Fives had long been popular at house level and as a recreation, and there was a move to introduce boxing in 1920. An inter-house competition was started (on the Masters' Tennis Courts) of which School House West were the first winners. However it was only held sporadically. It was revived as an individual competition under Mr Crichton-Miller, who let it be known that he did not approve of it on a house basis. All boxing ceased when John Leathem became Headmaster. Cross country was upgraded from 'paper chase status' and was enjoyed by some, though many regarded the house competition as 'a necessary evil' just as they still do today. Athletics were largely confined to the end of the Easter Term for fear they might interfere with major games. Tennis took a step forward with the creation of a hard court in 1928 and the formation of a prefects' club. And swimming and bathing remained as popular as ever, if the conditions were right. In the years following the opening of the Covered Bath, a short swimming display or 6

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 30 October 1936

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competition was usually held along with a gymnastic one, as part of the Prize Day celebrations. With the coming of territories, a larger swimming sports event was held from 1908, Somerset winning the new silver cup presented in that year by Dr Brown, the retiring School Doctor. Competitive events included 'One length in clothes' and 'Diving for plates'! In 1909 individual medley (with 'side stroke' for one of the lengths) was added. Somerset retained the Brown cup every year until the first House Swimming Sports in 1912, when it passed to Fairwater East. The ample facilities for swimming encouraged many boys to learn to swim who might not otherwise have done so, and a large number became extremely proficient. By 1924 Mr Nicholson was able to make a special point of this at Commemoration, reporting that 326 boys held at least 50 yards swimming certificates; 222 of them had quarter-mile ones. Life-saving had also been introduced, with 19 boys already qualified to bronze medallion standard, which entitled them to become instructors. It was decided to award a silver medal to the holder of the school 100 yards swimming record; the first winner was one of the outstanding swimmers of this era, J A Ewart (76.4 sec). This award, now known as the Gorbold Trophy, is still made today, and spectators always watch with interest as a special tape is lowered across the pool to mark the spot where, in the fifth length, exactly 100 yards will have been completed. The Gorbold Trophy was named after two brothers who contributed much to school swimming in the 1960s: their father also helped Mr P A D Tucker with coaching the team, which the latter had taken over from Austin Willoughby in 1954. They were remarkably successful years. The Meade-King Cup, for example, an annual competition organised by Taunton Swimming Club between the area's four leading independent schools (Taunton, King's, Queen's and Wellington), was won by Taunton for 15 successive years from 1957 to 1971. From 1959-63 the swimming team was not beaten by any other school, and the new Bursar, Mr L V C ('Poggy') White, inherited a strong team when he took over the running of school swimming from Mr Tucker in 1964. And during his eight years in charge the School lost only one match. These achievements were all the more remarkable when one considers the shortcomings of the school swimming bath. This had not kept pace with other schools in terms of facilities. A filtration plant had been installed in 1954 which was a step forward, since it meant that training days no longer had to be missed while the water was changed, and the swimmers could now see where they were going! But there were often problems filling the pool and maintaining water levels, and the pool itself remained unheated until 1966. In a poor summer these factors could considerably delay the start of training. In the 1961 report the writer comments with some feeling that the water in the Queen's College pool was 10째 warmer than at Taunton School, and that was on 15 June! In 1965 the first fixture could not be held until 17 June. However, from 1959 the school swimmers had adopted the practice of using the town baths for training during the Spring term, and they were thus in better shape for a season whose start could be delayed by adverse weather. Further improvements to the swimming pool area were made by David Miller during his time in charge of swimming (1978-92), with a new entrance, improved changing arrangements and new covers and rollers for the pool, which was itself relined and provided with new access ladders. A 'Captain of Baths' was appointed, whose job it was to organise squads of boys (usually juniors from his house) to cover and uncover the pool night and morning. Third formers frequently used this as an 144


excuse to be late for bed! David Miller will be remembered for the precision with which he organised the swimming sports and the nonchalance with which he superintended them on the day. Rules, entries and results were all most carefully listed: just as well, as David's swift poolside delivery - he was determined to run to time had to compete with poor acoustics and a chattering Swimm i lig Sports 1989 crowd. The results he droned out were usually inaudible, though one caught the occasional dreaded 'DQ' (disqualified), 'DNS' (did not swim) and 'Learn to use a stop-watch, Curnow!' David Miller also organised a standards competition for many years. This enabled all the members of a house who could swim to record times for each stroke within a specified period. Points were awarded on a scale of 0-5, and from this a house average could be worked out, and a cup was awarded for the best one. This was often keenly contested by the pupils, though, as it depended more on general effort and getting people to turn up and swim, it did involve long hours of supervision by house staff. Eventually they rebelled, and in 1989 during a cold May when, as one housemaster put it, 'it was ludicrous hanging around the pool in the near darkness at 9 pm with everyone shivering', the competition was called off and has not been revived. Until 1972 the Brown swimming cup was always awarded on an average basis, including both standards and points gained in Sports Day events, but from 1973 with Ken Cleves in charge, a separate cup called the Melrose Trophy (J S Melrose of School House was Victor Ludorum and a top school swimmer in the early seventies) was awarded to the house victorious on the day itself. In the last 10 years a number of new cups have been competed for, notably the Wright Cup for merit (in memory of Eric Wright) and the King Cup, recalling the outstanding performances of the school's best swimmer of the eighties, Paul King of Foxcombe. An offshoot of swimming which became very popular was water polo. There is a record of a house competition taking place in the summer of 1914 (won by Wills East) and this may have become an annual event, though there is no further mention of it for some years. All sports are sparsely reported during the war period: much space in the school magazine had to be given over to details of Old Boys who were serving with the forces and, sadly, to news of the many casualties suffered. Water polo was revived in 1924 with a master, Mr Duchesne, providing the coaching. The following year the sport received a major boost with the arrival on the staff of Dr Hedworth-Whitty, who had been a member of the British Olympic team. Under his enthusiastic leadership play improved greatly, outside fixtures were drawn up, and a house competition arranged. A cup for this was presented by Mr P W Day, a former member of staff who was now Headmaster of Tettenhall College. It was not long before the School water polo side was taking part in the Somerset County Championship, winning it in 1936 145


and 1937, in the latter year scoring 24 goals and conceding only 2 in an unbeaten record. This was a fitting note on which to end Dr Whitty's 12 years as coach and enthusiast, a position which on assuming the Headship of Thone in 1937, he regretfully had to relinquish. However, water polo as a sport continued to arouse interest, and it became the custom for a polo match to follow most swimming fixtures, home or away. In recent years the Gooderham Cup is to water polo what the Meade-King is to swimming, and TS has a good record of wins. Philip Penny (1943-5 and later School Doctor from 1964 to 1992) was a fine swimmer and polo player who captained the school team for three years in succession (1949-51) and presided over a particularly successful period in school swimming. He earned the distinction of gaining reawarded swimming colours three times, and also held the West of England 200 yards breaststroke record for 4 years, which was no mean achievement. Later he was invited to swim for England against France. During Dr Penny's time as School Doctor he continued to take a strong interest in school swimming, and often captained the Old Boys in water polo matches against the School. For part of this time he was medical adviser to the ASA, and it was owing to his 'official' recommendation that no-one should swim in the pool until the water temperature was 70째F that heating was finally installed in 1966. Poggy White (Bursar, 1963-77) recalled an occasion during Dr Rae's headmastership which he thought was probably unique in any school's history: a water polo match in which one team included the Headmaster, the Bursar, the School Doctor (Philip Penny) and the Chaplain (Alec Knight). His other amusing water polo recollection was the remark made to him by one of the office girls, who asked him quite seriously how he got the horse into the swimming pool before a match! Returning to the main school games of rugby and cricket we can pick out some highlights as we scan the years. 1938 was memorable for both games. The rugby XV was undefeated in all school matches, and the cricket XI enjoyed a tour of the West Indies accompanied by Alan Marshall and the Headmaster, Donald Crichton-Miller. This was an ambitious venture, involving as it did a sea journey of nearly a fortnight in each direction - there was none of the fast air travel that there is today! The party was shown lavish hospitality and apart from the cricket was given many delightful excursions and entertainments. They were welcomed by the Mayor of Kingston and the Bishop of Jamaica and entertained at the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club. The Governor himself came to watch one of their matches. They played a side captained by J H Cameron in a game which they failed to win even with Alan Marshall's help. In fact they did not win a match, but that did not seem to matter 1st X1 tour to Jamaica, 1938 among so many 146


unforgettable experiences. During the war many fixtures were curtailed, though some new ones were possible against schools such as Dover College and King's College, London both of which were evacuated to the West Country. There were also encounters with service teams: four of the School's six matches in October 1942 were Army, Navy or RAF fixtures. Apart from wartime concerns, illness was a disrupting force in several of the war years: flu epidemics in 1940 and 1943; measles in 1941 and a 2nd XI reduced to only two matches in one summer 'owing to mumps and rain'. In 1943 Alan Marshall, on becoming Housemaster of Fairwater, gave up responsibility for games and Mr Arthur Griffiths took over all games administration, a mammoth task. However, the 1st XV were for two seasons coached by the Headmaster himself. In 1945 Mr J E Bailey arrived to take charge of rugby and a run of success followed. There was an unbeaten season in 1947 with a celebratory dinner at the Tudor Cafe given by the Headmaster, and this was followed in the spring by victory in the Public School Sevens at Richmond, the only time that TS has won this championship, now held at Rosslyn Park. Ben Clark, the School President, presented each member of the team with a silver propelling pencil on that momentous occasion. Taunton were runners-up in 1949, 1955 and 1963. One member of that winning side of 1947-8 was David Hazell, who in 1956 was to be capped for England in all the home internationals, and in that same year return to his old school, at the invitation of John Leathem, to teach PE and (from 1967) to coach the 1st XVs of a succeeding generation. Before him in that position was Eric Wright who took on the job from J E Bailey on his arrival at Taunton in 1950. David Hazell recalls training under Eric Wright for just one term in his last year in the 1st XV, when he was Captain: as so often happens, he distrusted the 'new man' with his innovations, retaining his cherished loyalties to 'Boss' Bailey. He little thought that 15 years later he would inherit that same job from the man who never missed a practice in 17 years and whose inspired leadership had come to arouse the admiration of all. For under Eric Wright's single-minded guidance an unbeaten season in 1952 heralded a long period when the School's rugby reputation stood high. With David Hazell in charge the game continued to thrive, but there were frustrating years when results did not always reflect either expectations or the players' true ability. Or else the team was plagued with injuries. In the late seventies the problem was size - Taunton had talent, but other schools all seemed to have heavier forwards, and brute force was winning vital ball for the opposition. And so there were lean years. Roger Smith and Hugh Todd on taking over the coaching of senior side did much to rescue an ailing sport in the 1980s and by the end of that decade - marked also, of course, by Roger's tragically sudden death fortunes were decidedly looking up. The best season since the war in 1987, with every single match won, was celebrated at a special dinner to which members of previous unbeaten 1st XVs in 1947, 1952 and 1961 were invited. And this was followed by the school sevens team reaching the semi-final of the Rosslyn Park National Tournament in two successive years. Among the most talented players of recent times have been Andrew Hodges, captain of that remarkable 1987 side as well as in 1986, and Mike Payne, an outstanding scrum-half and captain who played for the 1st XV for three successive seasons.' Taunton has been fortunate to have had among its staff men of ability both as rugby players themselves and as skilled and inspiring coaches. As we have seen, much was due in the earlier days to the superb talents of Alan Marshall who did so much for all 7

1981-3

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school sport and left a strong legacy to his successors. J E Bailey and Eric Wright were indefatigable in maintaining high standards. David Hazell and Roger Smith brought a positive vision during a period of uncertainty. And Hugh Todd has ensured that the school 1st XV has remained a force to be reckoned with. The fear around 1980 that coeducation had made us a 'small' school in rugby terms which would tell against us permanently has proved unfounded in the longer term. A successful 1st XV owes much to those who coach the younger age groups and help boys form good playing habits and develop winning strategies in match play. Key teams such as the Senior Colts have benefited from the coaching of men like David Wrench, former Barbarian and England prop forward - a larger-than-life and idiosyncratic player, and even more idiosyncratic referee ('never mind, boy, it's our ball anyway') - and more recently, Neil Mason who has trained his team hard but singlemindedly. If the raw material had potential, he would get the best out of it, as seen most spectacularly in 1994, when there was not only an unbeaten season with 565 points for and only 88 against, but the team was chosen as the best colts team in the country in the Mizuno Schools' Challenge. Other club players presently on the school staff are Simon Hogg (Clifton) and Mark Chatterton (Exeter), and their assistance, when they are not actually playing themselves, helps to ensure that rugby enjoys a sound reputation at Taunton School, and that a demanding fixture list is maintained. An annual match is played against a school as far away as Cranleigh. In 1996 this match was an exciting draw. That the referee on that occasion was the gentleman who had refereed the World Cup final speaks volumes for the respect with which Taunton rugby is regarded. In common with other sports, rugby and cricket teams have enjoyed successful home and overseas tours in recent years. The 1st XV toured Portugal in the Christmas holidays of 1987, an appropriate sequel to what had happened to be an unbeaten season, but their most recent venture has been on a grander scale. This was the highly successful visit to South Africa in the summer of 1996. Apart from their unbeaten match record, the players were able to gain a fascinating insight into a country which is never far from the news as it emerges from a sombre period in its history and establishes itself once again in the arena of international sport. Some of the country's starker aspects did shock, such as the very obvious juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, but there were abiding memories too of wonderful hospitality, good rugby, new and strange landscapes, game parks and even of meeting a vintage OT, F W Dawe (School House West 1923-26). A colts cricket tour to Sri Lanka in 1983 celebrated the team's victory in the Lord's Taverner's Trophy the previous summer. A keenly fought final had been played against Durham School at Edgbaston: four of the Taunton Under 15s in the team were talented enough already to be playing regularly for the school 1st XI. The tour to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka was an unmitigated success. Though the match results were somewhat disappointing - the players had not quite bargained for the heat and humidity, not to mention variable pitch conditions and the inevitable gippy tummy - the whole experience of Sri Lanka, with its stunning beauty, cosmopolitan culture and, above all, friendly and welcoming people, was unforgettable. That period of the early eighties was a bright one for school cricket. Not since the era of the Jameson brothers had the results been so impressive. The late sixties and seventies had seen some poor years, and interest in cricket waned for a time after John Rae had made one of his characteristically sudden announcements that sixth formers 148


who did not wish to play cricket need no longer do so. David Hazell, who was in charge of the 1st XI at that time (following Brian Hastilow's long and successful reign in the 1950s) recalls that he had a hard job holding the side together. Some boys departed for less exacting pursuits. In 1970 all the 2nd XI fixtures were cancelled owing to lack of numbers. But gradually the players came back. David Hazell handed over the 1st XI to Roger Smith in order to concentrate on athletics. After some mixed seasons, an array of young talent was beginning to emerge around 1981. In that year six of the regular 1st XI players were under 16. And two were only 14, the young Nick Pringle, who made 75 against King's, and bowler Julian Pike, who was the leading wicket taker of the season. They were clearly marked out for a cricketing future, playing for the 1st XI for the full 5 years of their time at Taunton. In 1982 another young star joined the ranks: Ricky Bartlett, who three years later won the Gray Nichols award for the most promising young cricketer of the year, and has since played both for Somerset and the Minor Counties. With the addition of a number of other good players and the benefit of considerable continuity from year to year, this team had developed into a formidable force by 1985. Captained by Julian Pike, that season's 1st XI produced the best record for 80 years. They won 11 matches and lost only to Downside. Exact comparisons are difficult as the total number of fixtures has varied, and draws at cricket are more frequent and have wider implications than in other games, but only twice before had the School achieved 11 wins in a season. Those years were 1905, when the 1st XI lost only to the Old Boys and, as the writer of that year's cricket report commented 'They hardly count as they are really part of us', and 1930, when players like R A Gerrard and J H Cameron formed the core of a formidable team. The three losses were to club sides and to the Old Boys by 2 runs. Though the 1985 season was a hard act to follow, there has since then been a steady flow of highly talented players who have helped to keep school cricket at an impressive level. The policy of promoting exceptional cricketers to the 1st XI continued, and in recent years a side with a fair proportion of young players has been the rule. Some of these have gone on to play county cricket: Aftab Habib, who at 14 made 330 runs in his first school season, later joined Middlesex and now plays for Leicestershire. Piran Holloway who arrived at TS as a sixth former in 1987 with a cricketing reputation, proved to be Habib's ideal partner in the 1988 season which produced yet another remarkable tally of wins. Both boys enjoyed exceptional opportunities before even embarking on their last year at school, Holloway playing for Warwickshire in the County Championship and Habib for the England Schools Under 18 team. Both also played against Sri Lanka in a mini-test series. When they left school in 1989 they moved directly into the world of professional cricket where they have found considerable success. Julian Pike's younger brother Vyvian, a superb leg spinner, was a mainstay of the team from 1985-87, notably taking 8 for 45 in the King's match in his last season. He is now playing for Gloucestershire. Jonathan Kerslake, a superb wicket keeper and good all-rounder played for Somerset 2nd XI while still at school. Only two years after the annus mirabilis of 1985 he was able to lead the school 1st XI to an unbeaten season of 8 wins and 11 draws. The only previous unbeaten season in the School's history was in 1886 when, as we saw, both conditions and opposition were rather different. Of course there are countless other boys less gifted than these cricketing stars who have derived immense enjoyment from the game through the years. Junior teams have 149


sometimes suffered from the need to promote promising cricketers to the 1st XI - in 1989, for example, the Senior Colts lost every game after their star player departed for higher things - and occasionally lack of numbers has led to a change in the normal pattern of teams and age-groups. In some years there has been a 3rd XI, for instance, and sometimes there has not. Some boys are attracted to a team like the Thirds because they feel they can enjoy their cricket in a more relaxed manner, without the constant pressure to perform. Fewer fixtures may also mean more time for exam revision, or that is the theory, at least. For many years the 3rd XI was run by Gerry Hunter, whose own philosophy of life was very much in tune with the ideals of such a team. He would put in his report remarks such as 'Colley's Cavaliers have had a swashbuckling time' or 'There is a definite need for a 3rd XI ... the important thing in this sphere is not averages but enjoyment', or again, 'The bowling tended to be short and the batting somewhat agricultural, but ...'. Gerry Hunter was a character, a man whose conception of sport, old fashioned to many, embodied the untarnished ideal of 'playing the game', but he struck a chord. In 1973 there were more boys trying to play for his team than he could accommodate. Perhaps this also had something to do with the fact that the civilised 3rd XI was the first school cricket team to be 'enhanced by beauty and charm' (as GTGH put it) in the persons of three recently integrated young ladies from Weirfield who undertook the scoring! For those unable to aspire to even 'alternative' school teams such as the Thirds, there were the house leagues. These games were often as keenly contested as any school match, and what the teams lacked in skill they made up for in enthusiasm. Various eight-a-side formats were tried, usually limiting both batting and bowling so that domination of the game by one or two boys was reduced and everyone had a chance to try his hand. One year a girls' team entered one of these cricket leagues: unfortunately they did not win a match, in spite of careful coaching by Simon Hogg. Sometimes a league final, if it involved two goodish teams, would be played on the Front, on a proper square rather than a strip and with white-coated umpires. It is easy for the regular school cricketer to overlook the awe with which those non-team boys trod the historic turf for their one and only time. Then there is the Farmar Cup. The inter-house trophy was named after G AF A Farmar, a fine School House cricketer of the 1920s who captained the 1st XI in 1927 and whose parents presented the beautiful silver cup to the School. Inter-house cricket is as old as the house system itself, and there was a territorial competition before that. The matches are spread over several weeks, and the final is still an important date in the Summer term calendar. Though no longer a two-day game - it is governed, like virtually all cricket nowadays, by certain limited over rules - it is taken seriously and may exhibit the talents of both school players of repute and boys of less well-known but sometimes surprising aptitude. The most frequent winners have been Fairwater,8 if that means anything amidst the complex history of the houses, but perhaps the most remarkable record is the one held by the Farmar Cup itself. It is the only house competition to have resisted successfully war, disease and weather, having been held every single year of its existence. Weather may have caused postponement on occasion, but the Farmar Cup has never been cancelled. Cricket would not be what it is at Taunton School without the guiding hand of the staff who coach the teams. That, of course, is true of all sports, but cricket is set a little apart by the traditional presence of the cricket professional who assumes responsibility 8

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23 wins including contributions by East, West and South. The single house with most wins (14) is Wills West


for the grounds as well as assisting the senior cricket master with the coaching of the 1st XI. As we have seen, professional coaching was virtually non-existent until the turn of the century. When Dr Whittaker employed J T Parmenter in 1900, his services seem to have been regarded as a luxury, as he was paid not by the School but from Guvvy profits! For a number of years temporary appointments like this had to suffice, but after the war a full time cricket coach was appointed. The man who got this job in 1923 was A C Haywood, who had played for the Kent 2nd XI and would undoubtedly have become a member of the county side if he had not taken up the post at Taunton. He was regarded as the ideal coach for a public school, being keen, willing and respectful (!) and he had an eye for improving the school grounds which he looked after meticulously. He died very suddenly in 1938 after umpiring the Old Boys' match: he was only 40. Haywood was replaced in 1939 by H S ('Pro') Wigginton formerly of Leicestershire and Paisley Grammar School. He had hardly established himself when he was called away on war service but he returned in 1946 to face the problems of broken nets, a scarcity of cricket balls and a lack of petrol for mowers, not to mention the fact that several practice areas had been dug up to grow vegetables! Pro Wigginton gave many years of valuable coaching to school sides until he left to go to South Africa. After a few years' gap during which 'Griff' looked after the grounds, the School was extremely fortunate to secure in 1954 the services of Harry Parks as Head Groundsman and cricket professional. His appointment followed a distinguished county career with Sussex during which he scored 42 first-class centuries. At Taunton he had just the right touch and his pleasant manner endeared him to all. Besides being a good umpire he worked wonders with the grounds; Taunton wickets were invariably better prepared than any encountered on away matches. His efforts set standards which make our visitors envious and which are still upheld today by Mike Bowie and his team. Harry Parks also had the pleasure of coaching the young John Jameson, who was to inherit the professional's job from him' when he retired from test cricket and returned to his old school in 1976. David Hazell, who as cricket master from 1969 to 1972 worked closely with Harry Parks, remembers how embarrassed he was that Harry was not allowed into the Common Room. Rules about 'mixing' forbade this and the two had to confer in the passage. That same outdated class-conscious viewpoint which had labelled the master in team photographs as 'Mr' but the coach as merely 'Haywood' or 'Wigginton' and which had praised A C Haywood for being 'respectful' was still insidiously at work. It was an irony that it should be directed at such a perfect gentleman as Harry Parks. Of others who have given freely of their time before and since much could be said. For training a cricket team is a task which demands patience and commitment and the cricket coach's other job of umpiring matches is time-consuming. Since Mike Bowie took over responsibility for the grounds, Andrew Kennedy, a former Lancashire player, has acted as cricket professional, a role he has combined with some geography teaching. In 1989 Derek Baty succeeded the late Roger Smith as master in charge of cricket which he combines into a busy life of French teaching and running Wills West. Another devotee of the game who could not be omitted from any account of school cricket is Paul Wickham. Though now retired, he is known to virtually all OTs either as master, Old Boy, contemporary or friend - one whose wholesale commitment and acerbic wit are not easily forgotten! What Paul did for all sport at TS during his 30 years on the staff - but especially for cricket, his first love - cannot easily be 9

There was a year's gap as Maurice Hill held this post in 1975-6

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John Jameson (centre) with trophy winners 1982

exaggerated. He coached many teams, usually the Foals, ran leagues, organised the successful Prep Schools' tournaments which have become annual events and has provided valuable links with the game at county level through his own considerable involvement with Somerset and his wide knowledge of who's who in the cricket world. Even retirement is something of a myth as he has returned, phoenix-like, to help with various school activities, including cricket coaching. No-one is particularly surprised to see him sitting in the Common Room as though nothing had changed and to encounter once again his straight opinions and sharp humour, and perhaps to receive, deserved or undeserved, his withering riposte delivered with all the devastating accuracy of a bodyline bowler. Hockey at TS dates from the very beginning of the century. It was first tried as an experiment in the Spring Term of 1901, replacing football which was normally played for both winter terms. It does not seem to have been a great success, with the season's report suggesting it was likely to lapse the following year. Too many boys, keen at first, had become slack in turning out to practise. The writer cannot resist a bit of moralising: 'If there are lessons to be learnt at school, one of the chief is that of unselfishness and the subordination of the individual to the universal good'. Hockey did, however, survive, with five fixtures arranged in its second season, of which two were won. An irregular forward line and too much isolated dribbling were blamed for the lack of greater success. In both 1902 and 1903 the team relied heavily on Mr Newport, the science master, who seems to have been the best player. By 1906 interest had switched to territorial contests: there was only one school match, against Taunton 2nds, which the School lost 1-2. Soon after that rugby was re-introduced as the Spring Term territorial game, and hockey was abandoned. It was not to return until 1937. Probably the main reason for this long period in exile was the unprecedented success 152


of the School rugby XV through many of those years. Much of this was due to the vision and expert coaching of A G Marshall as well, of course, to talented players like R A Gerrard. Riding on this success was a strong body of opinion which feared that the hard-won reputation of being a leading rugby school would be lost if Taunton diversified into hockey. Fewer schools played hockey anyway at that time. There was also the feeling around 1929 that the 'high' which rugby had enjoyed all through the twenties was too good to last: when was the slump due? To undermine a period of successful stability could hasten that slump, and so the strong rugby lobby at Taunton successfully opposed the introduction of hockey throughout Mr Nicholson's headmastership. A change of attitude developed after the arrival of Mr Crichton-Miller in 1936. A keen sportsman, he allowed informal games one afternoon a week, and hockey was again played, in a rudimentary sort of way, on the pitch in front of the school's main entrance. Ironically Donald Crichton-Miller's sport was rugby - he had been a Scottish international - but he often turned out himself to play hockey for the masters against the boys. Most of the games in that first season were on this theme; unfortunately the weather was against the players as well as lack of skill. It is reported that much time was spent digging the ball out of the mud, both on the Front and the Wills pitch (grass, of course, at that time) which was also used. But a start had been made: 150 boys had shown interest, and the mood was what today might be called upbeat. More important was that the School had an able exponent of the game in Mr J B Evans, a former England international, and his enthusiasm was to ensure rapid progress. In the following year a few outside fixtures were arranged together with an 'unofficial' house competition, which Wills West won. It had to be unofficial because the traditionalists were suspicious of it and would not give it school status. But standards of play were improving with Mr Evans's coaching, and the School XI actually beat King's College in 1938. Meanwhile the boys v masters games continued on Tuesdays in both Autumn and Spring. From 1940 hockey was gaining ground, with a few matches in both winter terms, though these were obviously carefully arranged so as not to interfere with rugby fixtures in any way. Rugby was to hold sway for many more years as a two-term sport, with house matches generally played in the first half of the Spring term. A slot was now found for hockey house matches towards the end of the Autumn term, where they remained until 1963. One practical problem which affected hockey more than rugby was that hockey played on grass does require reasonable ground conditions. These were the days before shale pitches, and the grounds staff had to work hard to achieve a surface of acceptable standard. Adverse weather (particularly the appalling winters of 1940 and 1941) was often the hockey players' worst enemy. Support for the game was, however, growing. One article urged boys to take it up because it was a useful game to be able to play in later life when one was too old to play football - probably not a thought prominent in most boys' minds! The words nevertheless had a strange aptness for the master who took over the hockey after the war, Mr T R Harris: an injury meant that he had to give up playing rugby football for the county, and he turned to hockey instead. A fair number of the Eltham boys evacuated to Taunton in 1940 interested themselves in hockey, though it was a new game to most of them. Their rugby expertise helped them to win the House Rugby Cup in 1941 but they did not, for all their keenness, get so far in the house hockey 153


Under Mr Harris, who was also responsible for the school grounds, the school team played much enjoyable hockey with largely encouraging results. In the 1950s this state of affairs continued, with Mr Stileman now in charge of the 1st XI: there was even an unbeaten season in 1952. A contemporary photograph shows the rather different kind of hockey stick used in those days: English style, with a long curved end! After Mr Stileman's departure for Bedford School in 1955, Bill Motley was responsible for the team, assisted with the 2nd XI by Roy Exton. Mixed fortunes prevailed during a series of bad winters which led to several matches being cancelled. The young John Jameson was a promising player and captain, though he achieved more fame on the cricket field. After his departure there was something of a hiatus. In 1960 the 1st XI lost five and drew one match; in 1961 they lost all seven matches they played, including humiliating defeats of 0-13 versus Kingswood and 0-8 versus Canford. The house hockey was abandoned as a lost cause. There had been doubts about the competition back in 1952 when it had been declared 'not conducive to good hockey', and certainly rough play was in evidence during this period, when houses had fewer skilful players and the competition consisted of a series of full-length matches rather than the successful six-a-side tournament of more recent years. Mr A A Mitchell had taken on the job of coaching the 1st XI through these years in the doldrums; he was himself an international player and there was a slight upturn in fortunes by 1962. There was also an art master in the 1950s named Slade - an appropriate name for an artist - upon whom hopes were pinned as a coach. He had claimed at his appointment that he was a Welsh international, but he was extraordinarily reluctant to turn out for Taunton Vale when invited. There are recollections that latterly he was claiming allegiance to Liechtenstein rather than Wales; in any case the mystery of his hockey pedigree was never solved, as he had to leave the School rather abruptly after some dubious financial transactions. In 1962 Mr Mitchell left to become Deputy Head of a Prep School, and Nigel Gilpin ran a tentative side in the frustrating season of 1963, which was one of the most severe winters this century. Taunton hockey was in an insecure state and desperately needed a practical and effective coach who was also an inspired leader. The guru arrived in 1963; his name was R B Jowett. Richard Jowett has unquestionably contributed more to school hockey than any other person. He transformed a hesitant team with limited skills into one which won Taunton a reputation as one of the leading hockey playing schools in England capable of taking on fixtures at international level, as shown by numerous overseas tours undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s. He also oversaw the improvement of the School's hockey facilities, first with the creation of an all-weather surface with the conversion of the Wills pitch in 1971 and later in 1988 with the construction of the sandfill astroturf pitch (with a grass athletics track surrounding it) on the site of the old cinder track beside the Lowers stream. When the astroturf pitch was formally opened in February 1989 by David Whitaker OBE, the British Olympic team coach, it was named The Jowett in recognition of Richard's services to hockey over 25 years. The first few of those years were devoted to diligent coaching and an attempt to raise the profile of the game. Until 1966 the 1st XI still lost more matches than it won, but a steady improvement in play was clearly in evidence. The younger Jameson brought talent and some continuity; he played for the 1st XI for four years (1963-7). Hockey became eligible for full colours awards in 1964. A house competition was revived in 154


1965. It was on an unofficial basis, with no cup awarded, owing to lingering concerns about the old problem of rough play. The hockey report makes it clear that though Wills East won the final, their standard of play did not merit any silverware! The status of hockey in the school was still secondary, with matches confined to the later period of the Spring term after the conclusion of the rugby house matches. Eric Wright and the rugby lobby were unwilling to see any erosion of rugby's priority, but the matter was clarified by Dr Rae in 1969 with an across-the-board decision to make hockey the official Spring term sport and to devote the school's main energies towards it for that period of the year. Rugby house matches were to switch to the end of the Autumn term and hockey six-a-sides would be played in late February or March. This has remained the pattern to this day. Other ways in which Richard Jowett promoted hockey were matches against sides such as Taunton Vale and the Hockey Association as well as the school's participation in national events such as the Oxford Hockey Festival. A major breakthrough in team performance came under the captaincy of Nick Cox in 1972, which was also the season in which the all-weather pitch came into use. Another good season in 1973 was ably led by Nigel Westgarth who captained Somerset for two years and played for Wales when in his Upper Sixth year. In 1977 the school first hosted the biennial Schools Hockey Tournament which has become an institution. Regular visits by well-known hockey schools such as Calday Grange and King William's, Isle of Man established many friendships and helped to put Taunton's name more firmly on the map. Though it did not win that first 1977 tournament, the Taunton 1st XI can look back on that season as their first moment of real glory, for they were undefeated in all 17 matches. And so 1977 was a turning point in school hockey history, as well as the start of an exciting period of travel and touring in connection with the game. In January of that year there was an enjoyable and useful visit to the Barcelona Festival. A tour of Canada in 1979, following another two good school seasons and a win at the Taunton Festival, was a wonderful experience: the 'Griffins', as they styled themselves, were impressed by the warm hospitality of a country which exuded unspoilt beauty, opportunity and a high standard of living - and of field hockey, where a tough series of matches left Taunton with a level record of wins and defeats. Two years later the Griffins went co-educational with a Caribbean tour. Though both boys and girls teams had mixed results - early wins against the Barbados Under 20s and the headline 'Taunton teams whip Bajans' encouraged the locals to strengthen their teams in later matches - the trip was a fascinating experience and an unqualified success. The whole of the West Indies seemed to be chanting the name of the girls' diminutive goalkeeper Kiki! Now there was no stopping Richard Jowett or John Oakshatt, who reconnoitred several of these tours meticulously and must take his share of credit for their success. (John was also responsible for organising successful Prep Schools Tournaments at Taunton each March. He coached the Foals team and county U14s, umpired at all levels and was a tremendous enthusiast. He even played hockey in the Common Room!) There were boys' tours to California in 1983, to Eastern Canada and New York in 1989 and back to Barcelona in 1991. The girls responded with a 1989 pre-Christmas tour to Belgium and Holland organised by 1st XI hockey coach Sandra Wickham, a Barcelona visit at New Year 1992, and a trip to Singapore and Australia in 1994, which was a joint initiative between hockey and netball and was tremendously successful. 155


Even more ambitious was the boys' World Tour in 1986 to celebrate 50 years of hockey at Taunton School. For the participants it was the trip of a life-time, a myriad of experiences spread across three continents: San Francisco; Melbourne and Sydney, with a taste both of fiercely competitive Australian sport and, when it snowed for the first time in 17 years and then rained for days, fiercely hostile Australian weather; Auckland and hot springs; Perth; and, finally, Hong Kong, that restless microcosm of the Orient which has also been home to a fair number of Taunton pupils over recent years. The tour party played hockey - in the most contrasting of locations, in the most varied conditions against the most unpredictable opposition. A very successful return visit was paid to Hong Kong and Macau in 1992 after attempts to arrange a South African tour came to nought. Such tours bear witness to the international attitudes prevalent in sport today and demonstrate the impressive progress which a game like hockey has made at Taunton since those early tentative knockabout games on Tuesdays in the 1930s. Of course touring is expensive, even allowing for the generous hospitality offered to our teams almost everywhere: we hope to reciprocate when visitors come to Taunton. Fundraising and obtaining sponsorship become an important issue when planning tours, as does careful organisation of the itinerary. Taunton owes much to the tireless work put in by Richard Jowett, John Oakshatt and Sandra Wickham in this connection. For the boys and girls who went on the tours the experience was infinitely more varied than anything that can be captured in words. They will have had the chance to test themselves against the most challenging opposition that the world can offer. But then they are no mean players themselves. To date more than 20 have reached international standard at one level or another: too many to list, but names like Nigel Stevenson, Ed Hyde, the Blake brothers, Sarah Duncton and Nicola Phelps will bring back memories to many. When Richard Jowett retired from running the 1st XI in 1994 after 31 years, 630 matches and 8 international tours he could look back well pleased with what he had achieved. Perhaps of all the sports, it is in cross country that the identification of sport and healthy exercise remains closest. Running is one of the most natural and primitive of sporting activities. It requires little in terms of equipment but much in terms of determination, effort and personal commitment. The mind is involved as well as the body. At house competition level, whereas all the team sports have developed new versions of their game, whether six-a-side, limited over or short league matches, the house cross country has retained much the same format as the one which emerged from the early 'hares and hounds' days. House teams of 8 runners with the places of the six best to count (these figures have varied slightly over the year, and according to age group) constitute a simple formula: the lowest total wins. At some periods junior houses demanded that every member of the house ran. This worked to the extent that it involved more people and generated more house spirit, but it tended to make the School Hospital rather busy on the morning of the race as certain desperate individuals whose build or whose inclination made them unsuited or hostile to cross country tried to 'get off ex' for the day! For cross country is not everybody's cup of tea. For those entering the race without having trained or been round the course, or who are selected by a house captain to whom it is difficult to say no, it can be a nightmare. Cross country may not be much of a spectator sport, but it is rather obvious if you come in last. Even in the account of 156


the very first inter-house race in March 1912 (won by House B)'" we read 'At the bottom of Rag Hill was a veritable Slough of Despond', a sentiment still shared by some modern runners, even if conceived in more secular terms. From 1960-63 the inter-house race was not held, perhaps because it was felt that teams were not being chosen or approaching the event in the proper spirit. When the race was revived it was made voluntary for some years: houses did not have to enter a team. School House did not enter in 1965 and 1966. For some reason Cross Country was never School House's favourite sport, though records actually show that the house won the cup on ten occasions during its 84-year life time. When it did win, this usually came as a complete surprise, and must have resulted from natural fitness, for School House boys rarely went round the course beforehand. In the seventies and eighties this was much to the chagrin of their housemaster, Richard Giles, who had himself been no mean cross country runner as a boy at Blundell's, where incidentally one of his sons, Robert, kept the family flag flying by winning the Russell in 1986. His house, however, did not share his enthusiasm and was laissez faire in its approach. One year there was the embarrassment of a non-running captain. Another time the Upper 6th were too lazy to take part and entered mostly Lower 6th boys who had little talent. The course that year was a double loop which meant that the runners re-appeared and ran past the spectators half-way through the race. Embarrassingly nearly all the School House runners were bringing up the rear. Chris Evans, whose own house Wills East were doing passably, bellowed out taunts such as 'Don't you know the course, Dilworth, or have you re-routed it via the tobacconist's?' - and later, when the other houses were home: 'If we wait for School House we'll have to ask Major Dixon for late teas!' Poor Richard Giles hid in the hedge, muttering 'Hell's bells' over and over again. He held a 6.45 pm assembly and blasted the House for lack of commitment and for causing a major embarrassment. The House listened meekly as boys who are being lectured usually do. Richard swept out. Never one to bear malice, he returned to the Common Room and bought everyone a drink, with the words 'I feel a lot better now I've said that'. After its spell in the doldrums in the sixties, cross country enjoyed a higher profile, and there have been noted successes at inter-school and even national level in more recent years. This upturn in fortune was due largely to the increased interest by certain members of staff in organising the sport on a more competitive basis. There had been no thought of inter-school competition until 1964; there was only the annual house race, held for many years near the end of the Autumn term, though transferred to the Spring after the 'hiatus' of 1960-3. But under the keen leadership of R V Edmunds (the only member of staff, incidentally, to become a Benedictine monk) the number of fixtures expanded from 2 in 1964 to 13 by 1968, when the school team took part in local and regional events such as the Quantock Relay and the South West Championships. 1969 was described as a 'scintillating season', helped partly by the relegation of the house rugby to autumn which allowed training to begin earlier. In 1971 there was almost an unbeaten season. In 1972 a Round the School Relay was held for the first time. The brainchild of M A Ostime, that year's cross country captain and a fine runner, this was a race of a fairly lighthearted nature involving various relay teams, including a staff one, negotiating a short course around the houses. Though it never became an annual fixture, it has been revived as a 'fun event' from time to time, with some teams in fancy dress: one year an elaborately attired Klu-Klux-Klan foursome 1째 The individual winner was A Mead (Studies B) and the Marshall brothers took 4th (Leslie) and 5th (Alan) places.

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from Fairwater stumbled round the course with very limited visibility! After the departure of Roger Edmunds for the contemplative life, cross country was run by Martin Ellis (administratively, I mean: Martin did not have the figure for the real thing!) His arrival co-incided with a particularly strong team in the mid-seventies which included gifted runners such as Michael Parker Pearson, later Somerset's representative at the National Championships. In 1974 and 1975 the cross country option was ambitious enough to organise a sponsored marathon. Half the runners completed the 26 miles on the first occasion, but in 1975 11 out of 15 finished, raising ÂŁ150 for the School Appeal which had recently been launched. David Wrench struggled on doggedly to complete 19 miles in one of these races. This was long before the days when marathons began to enjoy a boom of popularity and sprang up all over the place. They were still fairly rare, especially for schoolboys, and the strenuous nature of the exercise meant that all participants had to undergo a medical examination by Dr Penny beforehand. Cross country received a further boost with the arrival on the staff of Charles Monk in 1976. Charles took his own running very seriously and could be seen jogging around various parts of the School in his woolly hat at all sorts of unlikely times. He was worried by the fact that runs were used as punishments, as this encouraged a negative attitude to the sport, and campaigned against the practice - unsuccessfully, for tradition was too strong for him. He did, however, raise awareness of the sport. By the 1980s the school cross country team was of a more consistently high standard and therefore a force to be reckoned with in local competition. As Harry McFaul, now in charge, put it in 1983: 'We are no longer a floundering band but are becoming more confident and more ambitious'. In that year girls' houses entered the inter-house race for the first time. Gloucester were the first winners of the senior trophy, and Tessa Randles the first of a number of talented girl runners which the School has produced. Rachel Thomson was another, but the greatest has been Lucy Hasell, who as Somerset and Area Champion went on to win 6th place in the National Senior Girls' Championship in 1995. Memorable boy runners in recent years include James Gray and James McGregor (who each won the Senior House race in two consecutive years and established school records), the Topley-Bird twins and Eliot Haimes, a South-West runner and superb captain in the 1995 school season. All of these also did well in summer athletics. Over the years the afternoon of the house races has attracted more and more interest, unless the rain is pelting down - fortunately a rare occurrence, though one dreadful year when we huddled like drowned rats at the top corner of Uppers lives in the memory. The slick administration of the event has largely determined its success: we may miss the booming voice of Bill Stock calling out the times with clarity and precision second by second, as the runners came home, but Paul Gibson and Harry McFaul now organise the day in an act which will be hard to follow. Running may still be a straightforward, uncomplicated sport, but the aid of technology in checking on the runners - in the shape of mobile phones or radios - gives for easy communication between markers and referee and makes that old dodge of the unwilling Fairwater participant - hiding in the hedge - now virtually impossible. Even a complex Marshall ploy involving a pick-up car and substitute runners failed to deceive the judges in 1997! The same team of staff joined by Mark Chatterton have lent their skills to summer athletics and the organisation of Sports Day. As we saw earlier, the latter has a long 158


history and may have been the first competitive sporting event which was ever organised at the School back in the nineteenth century. And the gala Sports Days in the Aveling era with their musical accompaniment enthused the School and drew in the Old Boys. They were held either at the end of the Spring Term or at the very beginning of the Summer Term, presumably so that they should not interfere with the more serious sport of cricket. It may have been the difficulty of fitting it into the school calendar - or the other concerns of the 1890s - which caused Sports Day to lapse during Mr Ridges' headmastership, but no event was held from 1894 to 1898. When Sports Day was revived in 1899, it returned with a vengeance. 'May it never again become obsolete!' declared The Tauntonian, twice. The 1899 event was held as part of a grand garden party given by the Governors of the School and attended by many parents and friends. In fact these considerably outnumbered the boys, of whom there were only 79 in the school at that date. There is a list of 65 named guests, but this did not include the Governors and 'a host of others'. Present at the gathering were the outgoing Headmaster, Mr Ridges and his successor, Mr Whittaker, as he then was, and the occasion was used as an opportunity to welcome the latter and express confidence in him at what was, of course, an important turning-point in the school's history. There was much speechifying during an interval in the Sports: Mr G B Sully, the President, bade farewell to Mr Ridges and welcomed Mr Whittaker very cordially, though hinting fairly strongly at the immediate need to raise pupil numbers. In fact he indulged in outright bribery, Sports Day on the old cinder track (top) and on the new track (below) offering an extra day's holiday for every five additional boys recruited up to a hundred! As for the Sports themselves, there were more events than ever before: hurdles, sack and three-legged races and a tug of war, besides the more usual track and field events of that era. For the first time special championship shields were presented to the boys, senior and junior, who amassed the greatest number of points in individual events. The names of those first victores ludorum were S Goodland (Senior) and F H Saunders (Junior). The junior shield still hangs in Wills East today. 159


Dr Whittaker made his first school speech at those 1899 Sports. In it he referred to the need for harmony between work and games, and recounted how he had often helped with time-keeping on Sports Days at Bishop's Stortford, usually in a mackintosh, as he, rain and sports seemed to have developed an association! However, he stated his intention to encourage sports, whatever the weather. And thereafter Sports Day became an annual institution, regarded as indispensable until changed attitudes in the 1960s caused it to be abandoned (1961 and 1962) or reduced to a very limited house relay competition with a few individual events (1963-66). From 1912 until 1960 it was usually held at the end of the Spring term, partly perhaps on the initiative of pupils ('Fellows can't be in training after a long, hot Summer term!' - E D T 1911) but also probably as a result of reconsidering the layout of the school year and the increased number of internal competitions to fit into it after the advent of the house system. In 1967 Sports Day was revived in its traditional form, returning to the place at the end of the summer term where it had been in the 1900s. As for interference by the weather, the record is not a bad one. Apart from a few postponements where space has allowed, there have been cancellations due to weather on only four occasions this century: in 1904 (did they blame Dr Whittaker?), 1937, 1947 and 1982, when freak rain fell on the morning of the event, flooding the track and rendering competition impossible. Sports Day apart, there was very little by way of competitive athletics in the earlier history of the School. There was an annual summer match with the Town in the 1930s, but that lapsed with the war. In 1944 and 1945 a few local matches were held. In 1960 a small school athletics group was formed and competed quite successfully in the Somerset AAA Championships at Bath. School athletes also took part in the Somerset Police Sports and an athletic event at Norton Manor Camp which formed part of the CCF Centenary year celebrations. By 1962 the school could boast an official athletics team for the first time, but it did not as yet host any matches, and with the internal sports cancelled there was little on-site activity. In the following year, however, interest was rekindled and it could be claimed that the Phoenix had arisen from its own ashes as the school cinder track became popular again and Blundell's arrived to trounce us in a home-based match. But at least a start had been made, and for the next 30 years it was mostly onward and upward for the various school athletics teams. Better equipment gradually replaced the very basic contents of the athletics hut: new hurdles, javelins, tape measures and big, coloured high jump landing mats which exuded trampoline-like luxury after the poor specimens which had preceded them. As a result athletics was taken more seriously. At school level an Open and an Under 16 team were soon operating, and at internal level houses were beginning to choose their entries for Sports Day more carefully and to train their teams. In 1969 metric measurements were introduced. Perhaps it was innate conservatism which led Roger Edmunds to comment that 'We shrank from giving out field events in metres, but I hope we'll do this next year'; in any case, the competitors adapted quickly, and the change brought them into line with national and international practice. Results continued to be encouraging. In 1971 the athletics report even preceded the cricket report in The Tauntonian, but only for one year! Nevertheless, it is clear that athletics had established itself as a serious, full-time summer sport at last. A further boost was given to the sport by the creation of the new grass track in 1988 around the Jowett astroturf hockey pitch. Drainage problems delayed its use until the summer of 1990, but it was a distinct improvement on the old cinder track with its 160


tight, soft-surfaced bends, narrow lanes and old-fashioned 200 metre straight. That track had owed its existence to a Tuesday afternoon activity in 1939, when a squad of boys over many weeks made the surface from lorry loads of cinders delivered to the track area. The new grass track may not bear comparison with the more expensive, artificial surfaces such as the Yeovil track which Taunton athletes sample when they take part in AAA and county events, but its layout is ideal for the school Sports Day, when spectators can sit on the grass bank alongside the home straight and enjoy a grandstand view! Over the years the school has produced many outstanding athletes, and it is beyond the scope of this book to mention them all. In the earlier period their prowess was demonstrated mainly in team games owing to the somewhat haphazard arrangements for athletic sports at that time. Nowadays all pupils have the chance, if they are so talented, to excel on track and field at a really competitive level. Not surprisingly school athletics records rarely stand for more than a year or two. We are unlikely to see again a pupil holding a record for 23 years, as L P Marshall did with the Long Jump from 1912 to 1935, when R Riley jumped 21' 2 1 /2" (6.46 metres) to supersede him. The modern day record is actually only 6.10m (S Wallis, 1988)! For the spectator high jump is more dramatic to watch than long jump, and memories abide of Philip Lord, Daoud Aouane and recently Alex Stergiou attempting to clear impossibly high crossbars. Alex Stergiou jumped 1.90m in 1996 and he went on to the National Championships; his brilliant record will be hard to beat. Among talented athletes of an earlier generation who spring to mind is Michael Wheeler, who broke many school athletic records in 1952 and went on to win the bronze medal for the quarter mile in the 1956 Olympics. He returned to present the Sports Day prizes in 1994. Others were Edward Quist-Arcton, later both a rugby and an athletics blue at Oxford, Simon Lawton (also a fine swimmer), and two outstanding girls Clare Richards and Suzanne Pearson, both of whom were of national standard. And there have been many others. Perhaps the most vivid memory of all, and one of the most poignant, is that of Fidel Fahnbulleh storming to victory in all five of his events in 1994 and carrying off the victor ludorum award in what was to be his last summer. He was far from well at the time, and it was an act of supreme courage. At the 1995 Sports Day his mother presented the trophy to his successor in a moving ceremony. Racquet sports have been popular at Taunton School for as long as it has been possible to play them. We have already seen how the boys pressed for a fives court in the Wellington Road days and for better provision for the game on the new site. There are many references to the popularity of fives during the earlier part of this century. Two new courts had been built to the east of the swimming pool area in 1908, and inter-house and individual competitions were always keenly contested. The last recorded one was in 1942 when Eltham retained the cup after a tense final lasting 90 minutes. There was an attempt to revive interest in fives when the school court was resurfaced in 1964 and Tim Peake, an Oxford blue, joined the staff. This had some success in that one or two school matches were arranged, against Blundell's and Exeter University, for instance, but the problem was that promising players lacked time for practice as they were mostly involved in major games. A house competition was never resurrected, so it seems that Eltham College may still nominally hold a Taunton School trophy! Once the few talented players of the 1960s had left school, interest in fives again lapsed and the court itself fell victim to the bulldozers when the Sports Hall was 161


constructed in 1982. Interest had really begun to switch from fives to squash from 1939, the date of the opening of Taunton's two squash courts. They were the jubilee gift of the Old Boys to the school in the 50th year of the Association and cost ÂŁ1,200, the last few pounds being raised at the Reunion weekend immediately prior to the opening ceremony by selling cups of tea at exorbitant prices! The first inter-house squash competition was held in the Autumn term 1939 and was won by School House West without dropping a single game. House matches continued almost uninterrupted until 1985, the only years missed being one of the war years and 1967, when lack of interest led to cancellation. The most successful house was School House, with 16 wins, but the competition was usually taken seriously by all houses. Squash at school level was hampered by the war, but a few matches began to be played from 1946. In the first few seasons the only match was against the Wimbledon Club which the school team, lacking experience, lost heavily. The problem in the 1950s was finding time for matches, and the fixture list did not expand until, fortuitously, the weeks of snow in early 1963 made squash a popular sport when other games were impossible. During the next few years several school and club fixtures were established, and individual tournaments were arranged internally, with a cup presented by Gerry Hunter, to give the sport a further boost. The standard, however, was rarely high, and by the late sixties squash was described in The Tauntonian as 'the sport of apathy'. People were paying 2/6 (12p) a term to play and not bothering to turn up. 'One whole person' had been excused rugby to concentrate on squash! The bitterness of the writer is not much allayed by his awareness of a sporting malaise generally: heresies such as 'why should house notes be about sport?' and 'rugby and cricket, those minor sports' were appearing in house reports around this time. These laments may have had some effect, for squash was accepted as an 'official sport' in 1970. This meant that it no longer had to be played exclusively in a pupil's free time. The ironic response was that the squash courts were immediately besieged by boys trying to get out of rugby! Something positive was rescued from all this, however, as the long-suffering master-in-charge, Peter Murphy, was able to nurture a nucleus of talented players, and gradually the standard at school and house level rose. The squash courts were refurbished in 1974 and reopened with an exhibition match between N Thurger and Nick Drysdale, the Dorset No 1 who was a student master at TS for the term. By 1980 there were boys' 1st and Colts teams playing about ten fixtures a term. This was a further step forward, though the teams tended to lose more games than they won: Taunton's standard of play did not rate very highly in comparison with some other schools such as Millfield.. Girls' matches began in 1982, encouraged by Nicola Bower, and all seemed to be going well. In 1984 and 1985 the School had one of the best squash players in its history, Mark Chan. He held a weak team together. He helped to coach the juniors with dedication. His house, Foxcombe, easily won the cup. But when he left, as often happens with the demise of a gifted leader, things fell apart. Competition at all levels ceased, and Tim Peake who had devoted many years to organising the squash tendered his resignation. Since that time squash has sunk to being no more than an occasional casual pursuit and goes largely unreported. Perhaps it will rise again if an enthusiast can be found. The history of tennis at TS dates, as we saw, from 1883 when a newly-formed School Lawn Tennis Club had the use of a court alongside the old covered playground. This 162


club appears to have been a rather exclusive affair for the great and the good, mainly masters and prefects. It clearly had a primarily social function, but even Wimbledon was fairly relaxed in the 1880s. There are few further references to tennis until 1907 when the school played a match against King's College. The Taunton team, which won, consisted entirely of masters! A new court was laid out behind the Chapel for the following season, and in 1909 a mixed team of masters and boys played against the Woodstock Club. In 1911 a court was made for the use of the school prefects, and some sub-prefects, though these had to submit their names to a secretary for approval. It may well be that this prefects' court necessarily replaced the one behind the Chapel which was probably overrun by building work on the Wills hostels around this time. In any case, the first three weeks of the season were spent in rolling and watering. Dr Whittaker graciously donated the net, and Mr Wisson (who also had his own court at Thone) generously promised a cup for a singles tournament. C W G Britts (House A Prefect) was the first winner in the 1912 final which because of other commitments had to be postponed till the third day of the summer holidays. The match, played on Mr Wisson's court, went to 5 sets. And tennis continued in this rather elitist way for many years. The hoi polloi did not get a look in until the construction of the school hard courts in 1936. That summer of 1936 was a poor one, but interest in the new facility was nevertheless great. 130 boys put down their names to join the tennis club, and the courts beside the Uppers were opened by Mr Ben Clark at the beginning of term: a short display by the British Davis Cup players, J B Gilbert and L A Godfree followed. A house competition was started (won by Fairwater West)" and the individual singles tournament was now open to all comers. There were thoughts of arranging matches against other schools 'at some future date': the standard of play needed to improve somewhat, but the mood was buoyant. Progress was rapid, and in 1937 the School, now affiliated to the LTA, obtained the services of a tennis coach, Mr Burnett, who spent a fortnight at the school and did much to help and encourage promising players, particularly younger ones. The plan was to create the nucleus of a strong team able to compete against other schools in 1938. This was duly done, and the first outside fixture was against Bryanston, which Taunton won. By 1939 there were ten fixtures on the card. Though these were mostly lost, school tennis was greatly inspired in these early days by a fine player H A Clark, who having represented Somerset while at school, went on to play for Cambridge against Oxford. Activity was curbed during the war years owing to the difficulties of travel and the lack of tennis balls. From 1946 conditions regained a semblance of normality, and in that year - no doubt as a result of Ben Clark's influence - Taunton was one of 12 schools invited by the All England Club to take part in a series of matches at Wimbledon in August, and this became a regular fixture. Old Boys living near Wimbledon would put the team up for the week. In 1947 the School lost to Eton but beat Felsted. School matches also re-started in 1947, and once again outside coaching was arranged, this time by Mr Basil Lawrence of Cambridge University and Sussex, who for over 20 years gave invaluable help to aspiring school players. In the 1950s Messrs D P C Stileman and Jack Hampson did also much to help the team, and they were followed by Nigel Maggs in the sixties and Graham Reid in the seventies and eighties. In 1959 as the sun beat down and Jameson chalked up the runs on the Front, tennis also enjoyed a superb season, winning all 10 of its matches. Another probable 11 In fact Fairwater have an impressive tally of victories in the House Tennis, having wonthe cup 20 times in the 60 years from 1936 to 1996. In 1976 it was too hot to play.

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record is that four of the 1st VI were left-handers! Throughout this period interest in tennis was increasing, especially among juniors. Special coaching aimed at boys in junior houses was arranged in the 1970s. School 2nd and Colts teams had been started in the late sixties by Nigel Maggs. All this activity put pressure on courts. Three extra grass courts behind the School Hospital had helped to ease this for a number of years, but when the Clark Centre was built they had to be abandoned. However, the creation of the Wills hard hockey pitch in 1971 meant that part of that could be used for tennis in the summer term, and with the coming of the astroturf in 1989 facilities improved dramatically, as the Jowett provided 12 tennis courts for summer use. The original courts were later adopted for netball, remedying a lamentable deficiency in facilities for what had been steadily built up into a very successful sport. Now there are three further netball courts on Greenham. A full-sized indoor court in the Sports Hall has made winter tennis practice possible. The most informal playing area of all was for many years the parade ground, where two courts marked out for recreational games were popular at lunch times, pupils often playing in full school uniform! Regrettably this area has now been overrun by the motor car. In the last twenty years there have been highs and lows in both boys' and girls' teams. From the outset tennis was declared to be the first summer sport for the girls, though athletics is a very popular alternative. Of course girls' games took some time to develop but Sandra Wickham, in charge, lost no time in exploiting the talent that there was. In 1991 the girls had enough good tennis players for six senior teams: unfortunately few other schools could rival this, so only a limited number of these players could enjoy matches. One of the most outstanding players of the eighties was Ruth Joseph who was a member of the 1st VI for six successive years, first playing for the team in 1980 when she was still at Weirfield. She has returned to coach at Taunton Summer School on several occasions. For the boys, Daniel Foster performed a similar feat, playing in the 1st VI from 1988-93 and partnering an Upper 6th boy when still in TJS in 1988. Boys' tennis had enjoyed a hat-trick of unbeaten seasons from 1978 to 1980, with another in 1985. This was a period when talented players again took part in the Boys' Schools Championships at Wimbledon, and it bears witness to the charisma which Graham Reid, himself a fine player, has brought to school tennis since 1973. For the girls Sarah Walker has been an equally inspirational coach. And the pupils, whether of team standard or not, continue to enjoy a sport which is now well provided for, easy to arrange and a pleasant summer recreation. A whole host of other sports fulfil a similar function. Fencing, first requested by the boys in 1899, was taught informally by Sergeant Saunders in the 1930s but lapsed soon after. It was finally revived in 1961 and within a few years was well established, with a dozen fixtures a year and considerable success in matches against schools and universities. A recent achievement of note was fourth-former Alison Wylie's selection at international level in 1997. Archery was popular during the time Mark Coray (himself an OT) was on the staff (1990-96). Riding is enjoyed at a local farm, and pupils have taken part in gymkhanas and show-jumping events. Classes in judo and other martial arts have been arranged from time to time. Here much of the inspiration has come from D R Yorke, an Old Boy and 1st Dan of the British Judo Council. Golf, now booming in the Taunton area with the opening of several new courses, has attracted a growing interest and school players now enter a number of inter-school competitions." Donald Crichton-Miller had had plans in hand to lay out a small golf course round the edge of Lowers, but the scheme was shelved because of the war.

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The opening of the Sports Hall in 1983 brought further possibilities. Badminton, indoor hockey and basketball - first organised by David Hazell out of doors in 1963 and later in the old gym, but vastly improved by the Sports Hall facilities - all thrived and still do. Since 1969 sailing has enjoyed waves of popularity, if that is the phrase, with boys and girls heading off in minibuses for places like Lyme Regis, Hawkridge or Wimbleball; and over the last 20 years many pupils have enjoyed canoeing sessions on the River Tone, in the school swimming pool and even in prestigious and challenging events such as the Exe Descent. For the more esoteric, Mark Chatterton's recent organisation of snail racing takes some beating! In the last few years soccer has enjoyed a new boom. Always fairly popular as a knockabout pastime on summer evenings on Fairwater Green or the Front - School House's unofficial pitch! - it has recently gone a stage further, with pupils organising semi-official matches at some lunch breaks and on free days. As we saw, soccer continued as an official activity for junior house boys after the seniors switched to rugby in 1919. From 1938 juniors began to learn rugby in the Spring term so as to be better prepared for playing it in their senior houses. Soccer was, however, retained in the autumn, with outside fixtures against schools such as Huish's and Torquay Grammar Schools, though from 1950 all boys over 12 played rugby. The Under 12s retained soccer, but the last match against another school was played in 1954. Thereafter only an internal league operated until all official soccer ended in 1957, when the cup returned appropriately to the place of its origin, Foxcombe. Perhaps the present generation's fascination for the game will bring about a revival of school football as a competitive sport: we must wait and see. It is clear from all this that rugby and cricket no longer enjoy the monopoly which they once did. Joined by hockey in the spring, they remain, for boys", the 'first sports' of their respective terms and, as such, retain a certain prestige. This has much to do with the fact that the first team rugby and cricket matches are played on the Front with all its historical associations, and this can engender a tremendous sense of pride and achievement, even if the compulsory spectating and cheering of one's schoolfellows has long since gone. At one time it was customary for people to judge the schools' reputation on its current rugby or cricket record; perhaps some OTs of a certain way of thinking still do. At least one correspondent of The Tauntonian, a rather crusty colonel, wrote in 1970 that 'Sport is the only criterion by which a Public School can be judged', though on reflection he seems so crusty that he may well be a figment of editor Chris Evans's wicked imagination! But prominent though the main sports remain they are now only part of a much more diverse picture, and school sporting success comes from many and sometimes unexpected quarters. The girls have contributed no mean portion of this success over the last 20 years. More detail will be given in the chapter about co-education about how girls' games were built up following integration, but in general it can be said that the inevitable mixed fortunes of the first few years rapidly gave way to a period of stability and solid achievement. By 1981-2 the 1st XI could boast that it lost only 3 of the 20 matches played over two terms, and the netball team lost only to Millfield and Rossholme. The following year the hockey side beat Cheltenham Ladies' College for the first time, and 1983-4 was an unbeaten season, an impressive achievement in a two-term sport. Further success characterised the early nineties when few matches were conceded (none in 1991-2), and the team was led by brilliant players like the Under 18 13 Hockey

was originally the main game for girls in both winter terms, but now has equal status with netball.

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international Sarah Duncton. Once it gained a few courts netball soon became a major sport and has enjoyed a long run of success, part of which has been due to the enthusiasm and dedication of the game's coaches over the years - Maggie Winstanley, Margaret Dunk and Carol Manley. A joint hockey and netball tour to Singapore and Australia took place in the summer of 1994. The ambitious nature of such a venture testifies to the high standard which both these sports have reached. In 1995 Sandra Wickham received an award from the All England Women's Hockey Association in recognition of her services to school, county and regional hockey. And recently Carol Manley has been similarly honoured in netball. TS girls' sport has established an excellent reputation throughout the south west. Sandra Wickham put it well when she wrote in one of her hockey reports 'Our opposition always treat our matches with respect'. Success had made Taunton a force to be reckoned with. For many pupils who are not talented enough to be selected for school teams it is the house matches which afford them their moment of glory. One of the threads running through any history of school sport is the consistent seriousness with which these have been regarded. The psychology and traditions of house matches are discussed in other chapters of this book, and it could be argued that in a sense they are spiritual rather than physical encounters; contests where considerations of loyalty, honour and team spirit outweigh the quality of the sport. The matches can be physically demanding in spite of that. Rugby house matches were for years a series of full-length games spread over several weeks. Even to reach the final meant to achieve some sort of mythical status: the game would be played on the hallowed Front, with most of the School watching and a blow-by-blow report in the school magazine. If a match was drawn a complete replay was usually arranged, though in 1967 the cup was shared between School House and Wills West after extra time failed to resolve a draw. Farmar Cup cricket finals were full day, even two day matches until 1963; in some years a special programme was printed and sold at a penny. Limited over games have now entered all areas of school competition, as the time factor has become more important. Cricket is a time-consuming game and there are many other claims on pupils' time these days, not least the pressure of public examinations. The modern version of the house match which, in most cases", constitutes a tournament arranged on a single afternoon with a series of short matches with reduced-size teams at various age levels, on a league basis. Arrangements are similar for both boys and girls, with a complete programme of house matches for the latter and a full set of new trophies from 1979. The advantages of such a programme are that the proximity of a number of simultaneous or successive games makes for an exciting event both to participate in and to watch - fortunes can change rapidly and often depend on third-party results - and also that the agony of a very uneven encounter is not prolonged. As we saw, the abandonment of house hockey in certain years of the 1950s and 1960s was due to crass play and hacking by eleven-a-side teams of limited skill in long drawn out matches on grass. This would not happen today. The quickfire six-a-side games on astroturf are a highly successful house match formula. House matches make an immense impression upon many of those who take part. Such are the sensitivities of the occasion that a player in a key match is likely to be able to recall his or her every move. The slightest niggle, such as a questionable umpiring decision or bending of the competition rules can cause at best feelings of rancour and at worst a major furore, as when Fairwater played a boy of dubious eligibility in a 14

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The Farmar Cup is the exception


house rugby final against School House in the 1970s. The situation was unusual in that the player, Richard Grant, was too young rather than too old, and School House might have ignored this - did ignore it, for the game proceeded - but for the fact that Grant scored Fairwater's winning try in the last minute! Norman Roberts, to whom the matter was soon referred after much post-match argument, had to exercise the wisdom of Solomon, which in this case consisted of omitting all reference to the house rugby at his end-of-term assembly, despatching all for the Christmas holidays and hiding the purloined and unpresented cup in the Bursar's office. He might well have succeeded in this ruse if James Williams had not spotted the long missing cup under the Bursar's table about five months later and borrowed it quite brazenly for the house photograph. When the latter appeared in print with the cup displayed, all School House fury was let loose and probably simmered unresolved until December when the trophy was awarded to another house. House matches are indeed sensitive occasions. It is perhaps because feeling runs so high that houses are tempted to use the many statistics surrounding house matches to enhance their reputation. Thus Fairwater East may pride itself that it won the Tennis Cup in nine consecutive years (1953-61) and Wills West that the Brown Swimming Cup never left its shelves for seven years during a similar period (1956-62). Wills East retained the swimming standards trophy, once that was a separate award, for twelve out of thirteen years (1974-86) with David Miller's help. The longest tenure of any sports trophy was the senior athletics cup, held by School House East for a remarkable eleven year period from 1924 to 1934. When Wills East broke the spell in 1935, the cup only returned once to School House before the 1970s! This is paralleled by the retention of the rugby cup, also by House East on ten occasions out of eleven between 1925 and 1932. (There were two competitions, spring and autumn, in some years). The second great phase of School House rugby came in the 1970s, with six wins in seven years (1972-8). And even if it did not win it was rare for School House not to be in the final around this period. However, the soundest thrashing in a Farmar Cup final was when Fairwater East beat School House by 10 wickets in 1958: School House, batting first, suffered a complete collapse and were all out for 26 in the shortest final on record. A Cross Country record almost impossible to beat was set by Wills West in 1918, when each house had five runners with four places counting. Wills West had 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th places! Two impressive house contributions to school sport occurred in 1926 when School House supplied twelve members of the 1st XV, and in 1950 when nine of the 1st XI hockey came from Fairwater. In a minor sport, it is worth noting that four out of the five comprising the school squash team came from Wills East in 1965. Needless to say the houses concerned won the house matches of their respective sports rather easily! The School House annihilation of Fairwater East 62-0 in the 1926 rugby semi-final and Fairwater West 52-0 in the final probably constitutes yet another record! But enough of statistics: this is not the Guinness Book of Records. Do the results really matter anyway? Is it not, as house staff are constantly reminding their pupils, the taking part which is important, the outpouring of effort on behalf of the house, whatever the outcome? Dr Whittaker, who saw in games the essence of 'public school spirit', often stressed that winning was not everything. I can recall Neil Mason of all people saying as much to School House in the early 1990s. Attitudes to sport have changed profoundly in a hundred or more years, but this is one attitude which, in school at least, has survived the changes. Pupils are encouraged to believe that 167


participating is more important than winning, even if the competitive and professional dimensions which sport has assumed in the outside world tells them otherwise. But team spirit still counts for something and house team spirit something greater still, whatever may have happened to the motives behind sport in general. These are undeniably much altered in today's world. We have come a long way from the muscular Christianity of the Victorians, with their view of sport as a moral agent and the sage-like mutterings of men like Thring of Uppingham or the Headmaster of United Services College with his advocacy of daily games because they sent the boys to bed dead tired. Sport is still, of course, one way to a healthy body and a useful complement to academic work: the Latin motto is not quite obsolete. The health advantages tend to be clinically expressed these days, as advisers stand by in health clubs, gyms and even hotels to supply electronic analyses of one's state of fitness and solemn-faced experts recommend 30 minutes of sweat-inducing exercise three times a week. But modern sport is far, far more than that. It provides the basis for a whole world of interest, fostered to a large extent nowadays by television, and it far exceeds in its scope the wildest dreams of our ancestors. Sport is big business today: the need for ever bigger and better facilities, equipment and sponsorship commands a large market. Even those who indulge in sport purely for recreation - and there are many are not unaffected, as the urge to spend money on sportswear and the latest kit is a strong one. Many trainers cost more than formal shoes these days. Taunton pupils are as well equipped as any, and the school sports shop is well patronised. So also is the new Taunton School Sports Club, with its state-of-the-art facilities which are at the disposal both of pupils and an outside membership. Its popular fitness suite exemplifies as well as anything the technological concept of sport of the new age. Of course there are those who dislike games just as there always have been. But this has nearly always been a minority view: only in the notorious 1960s was the sporting hero in danger of becoming an anti-hero, and that phase passed as the natural interests of the young in physical endeavour and team performance reasserted themselves. The wide range of sporting options now available and the virtual absence of compulsion to play any particular game means that there are few pupils who can find nothing that they enjoy. And for the vast majority who do play team or recreational sport, that sport is school-based. For in Britain sport and education remain more closely linked than they do in many other countries, though to some extent recent cutbacks pose a threat to schools in the maintained sector. It is interesting that those countries which were once part of the British Empire and owe their development to British influence have tended to retain similar attitudes to sport in their schools. Perhaps it is part of the British character: we invented many of the games in question, after all, and at least one retains the name of the school of its origin. And it was through the schools, especially the public schools, that players learned to take games seriously and to see reflected in them a certain attitude to life. When a German teacher from Bremerhaven named Herr Labudde spent a fortnight at TS in 1954 he wrote a short article in which he expressed his admiration for the balance between academic and physical education which the School achieved. This contrasted with what he saw as an over-academic system in German schools, where one would hardly expect to hear sporting events discussed in the staff common room. Out of curiosity he had asked a member of the Taunton staff why games were played so much. The answer was simple: 'We believe in them'. 168


Chapter Seven

BREAKING THE MOULD or over 120 years Taunton School was an almost exclusively male society. And for much of that time the word monastic would not be inappropriate. There were no females involved in the running of the institution apart from the Matron and a few servants: the Governors and staff were all male, resident masters were nearly all unmarried and of course the pupils were all boys. The enclosed nature of boarding school life and lack of contact with the town - as we saw earlier, there were few day boys for many years - further enhanced the sense of isolation. Jack Leaman (1929-35) recalls the atmosphere: 'It was a complete monastery. One lived in a totally male society and treated that as the norm'. At school it was strictly forbidden even to speak to a girl. Opportunities were few in any case as pupils hardly left the premises. Unless boys had sisters they spent virtually their whole adolescence deprived of female company. This philosophy was unchallenged until, in the early 1970s, Taunton resolved to admit girls for the first time. It was a momentous decision from which sprang the greatest single change in the School's 150 year history. The difference which the coming of co-education has made has been immeasurable. Taunton was, of course, not unusual in being a single-sex foundation. Education for girls was extremely limited until well into the 19th century. Some well-to-do families employed governesses, and there were Ladies' Academies in places like Bath and Brighton which provided a superficial general education while concentrating on the imparting of social graces. These establishments were seen as a means of social climbing for girls, but they were often eccentric and badly run. Otherwise middle class girls looked for a husband and working-class girls went into service: neither was considered to require much education and, indeed, many men were suspicious of women who had too much. Around the time that Taunton was founded, women's education was beginning to take a few steps forward. The Queen's College for Women opened in Harley Street in 1848, and from it came those two great pioneering ladies Miss Beale and Miss Buss, whose vision and energy brought the foundation of Cheltenham Ladies' College and the North London Collegiate, two important models for many future girls' schools. An even earlier foundation was Walthamstow Hall (1838), which is of particular interest to Taunton as it was founded by Baptists specifically for the daughters of missionaries) As with boys' schools such as the West of England Proprietary School, there was a growing demand for girls' schools from a rising middle class. The question of co-education, however, was of little relevance because of the very different attitudes towards boys and girls entertained by Victorian society. One easily forgets, in the light of present-day fanaticism over equality, how repressed and unconsidered Victorian women were. There could be little parity in education when girls were not even allowed to take the same examinations as boys.

F

1 It

is one of the 'Six Schools': see Chapter 11

169


The Oxford board did not permit girls to take exams till 1870, and even the more openminded London University patronised by Taunton at this time only arranged its first special exam for girls in 1869. University degrees for women, of course, came much later. The rush to found girls' schools occurred several decades behind the boys' schools and so was a subsequent rather than a parallel development. It is interesting that the earliest public school for girls, Cheltenham Ladies, was established in 1854 with a resolution not unlike that of Taunton (religious considerations apart) and with the offer of 100 shares at ÂŁ10 each, shareholders having the right to nominate a pupil and vote at annual meetings. At no stage in the foundation of these schools did the question of co-education arise, even though the latter was common in America and in many European countries. In England the single-sex public school tradition continued far into the 20th century and proved an extraordinarily tough mould to break. There were schools, it is true, like Bedales which had admitted girls as early as 1898, but such schools were regarded as part of the progressive school movement and outside the mainstream of public school education. J H Badley, the founder of Bedales, was considered something of a crank. For the vast majority of Victorians it was perfectly natural that in a male-dominated society boys should be educated in schools which were exclusively male preserves. Surviving Taunton records reveal that only a few women had fringe roles in the School's early history. Dr Bewglass was married, though childless: his wife appears, however, to have distanced herself from school affairs. There was Mrs Gregory, the Matron, who was described by the Rev J B Knight (1848-9) as 'a universal favourite'. Her successor Mrs Cuff was employed with her husband, who became the first house steward. A pious and retiring couple, they gave long and faithful service on their joint salary; in fact so greatly were they appreciated that when Mr Cuff died suddenly in 1864, the Committee paid his funeral expenses and voted an ex gratia payment of ÂŁ50 to his widow. His character was glowingly portrayed by W D Wills, who praised 'his scrupulous uprightness in all transactions, and the unobtrusively consistent and devout influence of his Christian life'.2 There was actually a lady teacher on the School's original staff: Miss Jeboult, the drawing mistress, whom J B Knight described as a 'cultured, Christian lady'. After her departure there was a long gap until Dr Whittaker's time before any further ladies joined the teaching staff. Apart from the Lady Superintendent of the Junior School and a couple of peripatetic musicians, the first appears to have been Miss Beresford, who was appointed to teach English in the Junior School in 1903. Pa Bill's wife Bessie Williams (inevitably known as 'Ma Bill') joined the Senior staff in 1917 and taught English and French till 1948. Even in John Leathem's time there was just Dorothy Edwards, who taught the violin and appears as the only lady in a staff photograph of 1947. Staff meetings began with the timehonoured words 'Miss Edwards, gentlemen' until 1963 when the staff once again became all male. The first lady of the modern era to broach this male domain was Jill Lisk in 1971. She still describes the experience as 'going in where angels feared to tread'. Such concerns seem strange when viewed by the well balanced mix of men and women which constitutes today's staff and which is a body very much at ease with itself. There is evidence that the School's attitude to female influences on its early charges was an ambivalent one. In 1848 Dr Bewglass was uneasy about the fact that girls were employed to wait on the pupils at meal times and recommended to the Committee that 2

170

Memorandum to the Committee, 16 February 1864


boys or young men be hired instead. No doubt it was felt that the girls represented a distraction or a temptation. On the other hand, value was attached to the caring attitude of matrons, an attribute which both Mrs Gregory and Mrs Cuff appear to have been blessed with. The advertisement for Mrs Cuff's successor in 1880 stresses the need for the applicant to have 'a kindly and affectionate disposition'. When the Junior School was started in 1876 there was concern that the Lady Superintendent should be a motherly figure as her charges would be very young. The first appointment, Mrs Milne, had been a governess and was described as being 'attached to children'. Other ladies appointed later were nearly all spinsters and may have varied in their endowments of motherliness. One of them, Miss Rudd, who resigned after only a few years, was reported in her first term to have 'entered into her duties with zeal and method'. However Reg Besley remembers the long-serving Miss Thompson (1906-24) as a gentle and kind lady who tried to put him at his ease. At the time of Mr Ridges' appointment as Headmaster it was thought relevant to state that his wife was likely to exert a beneficial influence on the boys in the school and that her 'womanly tenderness and thoughtfulness' fitted her eminently to supplement the Headmaster's work. The Matron would, however, have more contact with the boys. Her duties included attending to their clothes, caring for the comfort and ventilation of the bedrooms and, before the building of the Hospital, looking after sick pupils. Another of her roles was to 'engage, dismiss and control' all female servants. The implication seems to be that a little female influence of the well-channelled, better-class variety was appropriate, but that any emanating from the lower orders was suspect. This accords perfectly with what we know of typical Victorian attitudes. Deprivation of female company did not mean that the boys did not entertain wistful longings. We noted in the last chapter how their sports day efforts were enhanced by bright-eyed young ladies among the spectators. Concerts organised by Mr Dudeney in the 1880s - often in aid of the Organ Fund - involved some lady soloists who greatly held the attention of the boys. A favourite was a certain Madam Winn who sang items typical of the period: Sullivan's immensely popular Lost Chord and extracts from The Woman of Samaria by W Sterndale Bennett. In June 1885 some Independent College boys were actually allowed to attend a concert 'given by the fair residents of Weirfield'. Weirfield School had been founded just a few years before, in 1879, by Mrs Loveday, and it is likely that sisters of Taunton boys were among its earliest pupils. In 1906 at an impromptu debating session the motion that 'all schools should be mixed' came up: it was carried by 21 votes to 15! Taunton was not to respond for well over half a century. A staff wedding in 1902 was rare enough for 'covert rumours' to find their way into The Tauntonian. Even after Mr Wade, the music master, was officially married, the editor was tentative: 'Monasticism is so rife among us, that the defection of one of our number is an awful thing; and it is under our breath, so to say, that we offer Mr Wade our heartiest congratulations'. It is as if Mr Wade were letting the side down by getting married, but is envied none the less for breaking out. It is not surprising that the boys of Taunton had a romanticised image of the girls they only saw at a distance. The ethos of the School, imbued as it was with the cult of manliness, caused too much female influence to be viewed with suspicion. Mr Samuel Figgis, chairing the Commemoration proceedings in 1913, expressed this view exactly when he said that mothers and aunts sometimes took too much interest in their boys and coddled them. 'You cannot bring up smart, keen-witted fellows if you coddle them. Coddling days 171


are over and out of date.' It is doubtful whether they ever were in fashion at Taunton. The School exemplified well the Victorian and Edwardian ideal of male friendship. Mr Aveling reaffirmed this when, speaking at an Old Boys' dinner in 1902, he said that the best friendships and those that last longest were those made at school. He added that he had even heard of the occasional friendship formed with members of the other sex - 'not, as a rule, very wise'. Virtually everyone who addressed the School or the Old Boys stressed the need for manliness. Dr Whittaker said his aim was to fill the School 'with manly Christian fellows, strong in God's strength'. The School President (G B Sully) said in 1894 that the College should make boys 'gentlemanly in every respect'. Mr Ridges, on his appointment, avowed to uphold 'manly conduct, a religious spirit and the willingness to work'. A visiting missionary giving a school lecture urged the boys to rejoice in their opportunities, and to be 'manly and pure'. And so it went on. Ironically the speaker at the Commemoration where women were accused of too much coddling was Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills, the benefactress of the newly opened Wills houses. She was the first woman to present the prizes, and she was certainly aware of the fact. Rather apologetically she said that on these occasions they usually had a distinguished man who made a distinguished speech. She could not do that. Quoting a scouting occasion she had recently attended she referred to Sir Charles Warren who was tough on his Scouts and made men of them'. Her speech, urging boys to be like motor cars with the energy within themselves and not like tramcars with the energy coming from without, was significantly a further bizarre example of the urge to manliness. Perhaps, surrounded by hundreds of males, she felt intimidated. Even in 1992 when Dr J M Peach of Somerville presented the prizes, there were murmurings about her being 'the first lady to do so'. Actually she was the fifth. Dr Peach did not preach on manliness, but old attitudes die hard. Though Weirfield School had an obvious link with Taunton through the Lovedays it was a quite separate institution from the management and financial point of view. There was not really much contact between the staffs and pupils of the two schools. For pupils this was, as we saw, strongly discouraged. Jack Leaman's memory was that you had to be 'a real daredevil' to approach any Weirfield girl, and Ian Ball (Fairwater 1928-30) used to recall that 'you got six of the best for even speaking to a girl'. This is, in fact, confirmed by a punishment book of Mr Nicholson's time when two boys were so punished in 1934. Two others with them, perhaps not daring enough to engage in conversation, escaped with four strokes! Chris Evans, in Fairwater in the 1950s, was bold enough to strike up a friendship with a Weirfield girl and was sent to his housemaster, Alan Marshall, when he was seen walking with her on a Sunday afternoon, though, curiously, he recalls more fuss being made of the fact that he was not wearing a cap. John Rae seems to have been right when he said' that people opposed the abolition of caps because they thought this would lead to immorality on the buses and elsewhere. Chris Evans does not remember being punished other than by being told severely that he must not see this girl again: this merely prompted greater caution and led to assignations over buttered toast in the old Fairwater boiler house, which was sited at a safe distance from the public gaze. The Weirfield staff, composed almost entirely of spinsters, were protective of their charges and no doubt fearful of a male invasion from up the road if too much contact were encouraged. Even in the 1970s, when it was thought right that Taunton boys should be able to visit their sisters at Weirfield occasionally, the rules were very defensive. Here are some extracts: 3

172

See The Tauntonian December 1913 issue

4 See Delusions of Grandeur p 49


1. Boys are not to take friends. 2. Boys may see their sisters out on the hockey field or in the hall but in no other part of Weirfield. 3. Boys must be off the premises by 4 pm and must not accept food from school tea. 4. Boys must not visit when their sisters are out for the day. This last betrays perhaps true female discernment of Taunton boys' likely intentions! After the Second World War a Dancing Club started at Taunton, and a regular termly dance was organised with Weirfield. In 1952 some senior boys also went to a dance at Bishop Fox's. In that year it is reported that so many boys wanted to learn dancing that classes had had to be restricted to boys in the 5th form and above. A lady by the name of Miss Peter used to come in to give instruction in ballroom dancing, which was very popular in the 1950s. Discotheques were still a thing of the future. Going to dances afforded the opportunity not only to meet girls but to get out of school. The Dancing Club secretary wrote in 1953, typically using sports terminology: 'Away fixtures seem to be very popular'. This reminds me of an amusing error in the Junior School calendar in the late 1980s when closer links were being forged between TJBS and Weirfield. A social evening in the Centenary Hall was billed as a 'Disco versus Weirfield': perhaps it was expected to be something of a scrummage! Weirfield girls were first invited to take female parts in school plays at Taunton in 1966. This was something John Rae, then in his first year as Headmaster, was keen to encourage after the misogynism of the Leathem era. Previously the women's parts had always been played by boys, often of necessity by younger boys who lacked the maturity and subtlety required for leading roles.' The chOice of plays was therefore rather limited. Journey's End and plays with predominantly male casts were popular, though some bolder productions were attempted. In 1955 the critic of Clive of India, where Clive's romance with Margaret is a major theme, remarked that the emotional scenes were handled with great skill, but this was probably rare. In 1966 three Weirfield girls contributed to the school production of A Man for All Seasons, and the following summer Chris Evans produced Twelfth Night informally on the Library lawn, involving the fifth formers of the two schools. His most vivid memory of the occasion, however, concerns neither the play nor the coeducational milestone, but the interruptions of a yobbish intruder from the town who prowled around the gathering brandishing a knife and whom John Rae bravely disarmed, happily without mishap. In more recent times the North Weirfield School from the air 5

Cf Chapter 8 for further comment on this and on John Wilkins' contribution to school drama.

173


London headmaster Philip Lawrence was not so fortunate when attempting a similar thing. The participation of girls in school drama quickly established itself as the norm. Christmas productions of Andorra and Charley's Aunt followed, and in 1969 a summer As You Like It was presented in the marquee at Taunton and al fresco at Weirfield on the following night. (Sixteen years later, before he left Taunton, Chris Evans produced another As You Like It with a rather different cast - the staff. This was more than a highbrow version of the old staff reviews, though equally hilarious, and Ben Walker not only played Malvolio but laid on a splendid Shakespearean feast afterwards in a dimly lit Dining Hall masquerading as the Forest of Arden.) In the academic year 19689 four girls, three from Weirfield and one from Bishop Fox's, attended sixth form courses at Taunton which were not available at their own schools. John Rae saw this as a step towards admitting full-time day girls into Taunton's sixth form. Meanwhile the Newsom Commission had in 1968 circulated a report to all Governing Bodies of public schools asking for their reaction to certain matters of principle, one of which was coeducation. The Council's response was that the latter was best left to individual schools as far as practical arrangements were concerned: enough schools were considering co-education, however, for it not to be rejected as a general policy and John Rae expected that number to increase. Taunton's position was that it was definitely moving in a co-educational direction. There were accommodation problems, but some of these would be solved when the new Sixth Form Centre was opened. Taking girl boarders would present a greater challenge, and the School was not ready for that yet. But by 1969 Taunton was definitely set upon a co-educational course. There was little if any further discussion on the subject by the School Council during Dr Rae's last year, but with the Clark Centre open and a new Headmaster the question was again raised. Norman Roberts was enthusiastic but requested some time to consider the matter. Co-educational sixth forms were springing up elsewhere. Marlborough first took girls in 1969 beating Taunton by two years.' Bryanston followed in 1972 and Gordonstoun also first admitted girls in 1972, an event attracting above-average press coverage, as there were reputed to be seven in Prince Andrew's class. In November 1970 a full discussion was held in Council regarding the admission of Sixth Form girls to Taunton. The matter was agreed in principle and Norman Roberts was asked to prepare a plan for implementing it. A tactful path had to be trodden: Miss Stych, the Headmistress of Weirfield, had already written to the President, not unnaturally concerned at the possible threat to her sixth form numbers. One girl had already been accepted for Taunton in September 1971. The President, Lionel Evans, asked Norman Roberts to liaise with Miss Stych, and a number of discussions took place late in 1970 and early in the New Year. The fruit of these discussions was the farsighted and exciting proposal which Norman Roberts brought before the School Council on 5 February 1971: full integration with Weirfield School, starting with the sixth form in the Autumn term 1971. The idea had first been aired over afternoon tea on the Sunday before Christmas, as Bea Roberts likes to recall. No Sunday tea has had more far-reaching effects. The immediate upshot of this decision of principle was a number of feasibility studies. The integration proposals were examined from a financial, educational and 6

174

Marlborough did not extend this to full co-education for 20 years.


social aspect. An important meeting to discuss the proposals and their implications took place at Pearsall's offices in Taunton (Reg Besley, the President-elect was Chairman of Pearsall's) on 4 May 1971. Present were the Headmistress of Weirfield, Miss M M Stych and the two ladies - already retired - who with her were joint proprietors of the school, Miss Andrews and Miss Bevan. There were also representatives of the Taunton School Finance and General Purposes Committee and solicitors for both parties. Taunton's proposal to purchase Weirfield for £25,000 with a view to integrating the two schools by stages was placed before the proprietors. The plan was that the Weirfield Lower Sixth should start at Taunton in September 1971, with the Upper Sixth remaining at Weirfield as they were half way through their A Level courses. By 1972-3 Taunton would have girls in both Lower and Upper Sixth, and it was proposed that full integration of the 3rd, 4th and 5th years should take place in 1973-4. (In the event this was delayed for three years) The figure of £25,000 was to include Weirholm, a house in Elm Grove which had been used for Weirfield boarders, and pensions (£750 in all) would be paid to the three proprietors during their respective lifetimes. The latter's reaction to the School's proposals was cautious acceptance. Miss Stych herself was anxious to retire in about three years in any case. However, all three ladies were anxious that the name of Weirfield School should go on, and sought assurances that the valuable school site should continue to be used for academic purposes. They wished to insert a clause into the deal decreeing that, should Taunton School ever decide to dispose of the site for a non-academic purpose such as housing, they should be entitled to a proportion of the higher price like to be obtained if 'development value' was taken into account. Their solicitors' report to Norman Roberts contained the statement: 'The intention would be to continue to use Weirfield and Weirholm for the purposes of a School, and it may be thought unlikely that they would ever be disposed of for other purposes.' That, of course, was Miss Stych's wish, but the report continued with a caveat that the 1970s were an unpredictable decade and that circumstances might change in the near or distant future, causing the land's development possibilities to present an attractive option. The School Council rejected any claim by the proprietors for compensation in such an eventuality. It was wise to do so. Twentyfive years later an exclusive private housing estate known as Weirfield Green marketed its first properties. Norman Roberts worked hard to persuade the Council of the social and educational advantages of integration. Most of its members were in favour (a few had reservations) but the overriding question for most of them was finance. The School was already committed to a development programme on its own site, and there were a number of bank loans outstanding. On the other hand the advent of sixth form girls would be likely to strengthen the School's financial position and represented a form of insurance against falling pupil numbers. it was agreed that Taunton could not afford to pay £25,000 for Weirfield outright: £18,000 would have to be left on mortgage with an annual reduction of this debt by £3,000 from 1976. There was also the question of altering the School's Trust Deed to allow for the admission of girls, but this formality was attended to without undue complications. From then on things moved fairly swiftly. The sale was agreed, more or less under the terms already discussed. In June 1971 parents were informed of the latest developments and in September the first girls - 17 of them - arrived at Taunton School. 175


The atmosphere at first, of course, was simply that of a boys' school' with a few girls in it. Naturally the girls excited some curiosity, but sixth formers at that time were more aloof from the rest of the school, and life for the junior and middle school was little altered. Apart from Jill Lisk and Pru Willcocks, who acted as the girls' housemistress, the staff remained all male. A scheme for co-education may plan the integration of pupils meticulously but it is more difficult to vouch for the staff. When Economics was added to the A Level curriculum, partly out of educational desirability and partly because it had been available at Weirfield, Norman Roberts reported the fact to Council, adding rather diffidently that, as a new teacher would be needed, 'there would be no objection to appointing a suitable lady!' The question of whether there should be a lady on the School Council was raised by Mr A D Wills in 1972, but when it was pointed out that this would require a further amendment to the Trust Deed (which had only just been altered to allow the admission of girls) the matter was shelved. In fact the first lady to be elected was Miss Audrey Rich of Bristol University, who was suggested by Norman Roberts. Formerly a Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge, Miss Rich happened to be Warden of one of the girls' hostels in Bristol. She was an eminently suitable person to join the Council in 1973. The problem posed by the lack of women on the Taunton staff was a major factor in the delaying of integration below the Sixth Form until 1976. Originally 1973, and then 1975 had been the preferred target dates, but these quickly proved to be too ambitious. Female members of staff would be needed as housemistresses, even if sex was an irrelevant consideration in academic matters. Most people accepted that the latter was the case, though it was clearly desirable in the longer term that the staff should be mixed to approximately the same degree as the pupils. The proportion envisaged in the planning stages was two boys to one girl, and this would mean the appointment of about 15 women to the staff to create the right 'balance'. This was easier said than done as Taunton had a staff with a particularly low turnover. Nor did Weirfield have many teachers who were suitable for positions as housemistresses in the Senior School. Many of them were elderly or part-time. Norman Roberts was determined that no-one should be made redundant; the matter would have to be resolved by some reorganisation, judicious appointments and the passing of time. It is greatly to Norman's credit that he did not panic but moved forward steadily, trusting to a degree to his Machiavellian instincts. His faith in the combination of tactics mentioned above proved entirely justified: by 1977 the staff list contained the names of 14 ladies, though it took several years more before a more equal balance was achieved. Other problems were finance and the lack of boarding accommodation for girls. Inflation was rife in the 1970s and there was already a school appeal running for other purposes; there was no question at this stage of considering purpose-built accommodation for girl boarders. The possibility of mixed houses was aired but rejected: was it inveterate monasticism or naivetĂŠ which prompted one member of a committee considering the matter to say that mixed houses would be likely to present one major problem - games organisation? It was decided to concentrate the girls in two or three places for the time being. The very first sixth-form boarders were looked after by Bea Roberts at The Gables, but in 1974 Babingley was acquired, and the boarders gained a house identity as well as more space and a housemistress in Mrs Gill Brown. The story of how the middle school girls were accommodated from 1976 at Weirholm and '109' is told in Chapter 3. It was a period of transition which was in many ways 176

7 There

were 722 boys on the roll in 1972


unsatisfactory but unavoidable. The girls felt they were neither one thing nor the other with their peripatetic status. The real step towards a fully co-educational school came with the opening of Murray and Gloucester in 1979. For the boys, too, the early years of co-education offered striking contrasts. There was a certain looseness in the structure of the daily organisation of the early sixth-form girls: their unique position and living arrangements lent them an air of independence, and their situation was strongly opposed to the tightly knit, hierarchical structure of the boys' houses as they then were. Being few in number the girls could only join in certain school activities, and the choice was largely theirs as to what they indulged in. They made their mark early on music and drama but the house sports competitions (where most of the boys' interests and rivalries were centred) mostly lay beyond them. When they offered to take part in the cross country they were given a shortened course, got the best time, but didn't really count! To many boys it seemed that the girls' special position in the School also conferred on them a special status. They were freer to come and go as they pleased; some members of staff spoiled them; they were not subject to endless house callovers; their uniform rules appeared to be less strict; and, of course, they were called by their first names and ran no risk of corporal punishment. Even when, from 1976, the School was more obviously co-educational in that virtually all lessons were mixed, there was still the strange phenomenon of a mixed school during the day reverting to being a boys' school in the evening after the day girls had gone home and the girl boarders had left the campus. The effect of all this was to slow the rate of change in the attitudes of what had been (and, in many ways, still was) a strongly male-dominated institution. Girls had to be content with being 'girls in a boys' school' for several years as the process of integration ran its artificially prolonged course. It would not, however, be fair to say that the boys hardly noticed the arrival of the first girls in 1971, although it is true that that autumn's Tauntonian only mentions the fact in a detached manner: 'In September 1971 girls in Weirfield Lower 6 will come to classes at TS; by September 1975 it is hoped to be in a position to integrate classes below the sixth form if thought desirable.' Even the Spring 1972 issue seemed more concerned with fielding comments about a provocative editorial by Paul Wickham on rules and protests from the previous issue and with details about food and the new cafeteria system. Girls could not yet hope to displace food from its place nearest a boy's heart! It is clear from their own comments how aware they were, in their selfconsciousness, of the monumental change which they represented. How nervously they went to Chapel for the first time - if they had known of the furore caused by Daphne Rae's arrival there five years earlier they might have been more nervous still! One girl wrote: 'We would have been happier if we had known that the boys and masters were just as bewildered'. Indeed, there was a famous staff meeting when Norman Roberts had been outlining proposals for the next phase of integration, and an older member of staff who was rather set in his ways came out with the exclamation: 'Does this mean, Headmaster, that we're all going to have to teach girls?' Gradually each side realised the other was human, though those first girls must have felt terribly outnumbered. 'Weirfield' house notes from the early seventies are full of the apologetic musings of a minority - 'our contribution to school life has been more social than sporting'; 'I suppose we've done some exercise going to and from Weirfield'; 'In none of the contests of physical skill can we boast of any meritable 177


successes by male standards.' - though there are also some self-assertive moments: 'A few girls joined the cricket nets to prove to the boys that even if they're not allowed to play rugby they are fully prepared to join in the boys' activities in the summer' and 'Out of a cast of nine, Hay Fever had five girls!' On the whole the girls were happy even if they had to put up with being objects of curiosity, a role which had its appealing side for some ('Little boys gawping at us is embarrassing; we don't mind the older ones!'). By the spring of 1976 the outnumbered girls, although they felt better accepted by this time and were now about 50 in number, were looking forward to the reinforcements which were due to arrive in the autumn. About a hundred girls were to transfer to Taunton in September, marking the beginning of integration's final phase. The more misogynistic males prepared for what they termed an 'invasion'. The trial period was almost over; soon co-education would be for real. That historic moment in September 1976 was very carefully prepared for. There were fortnightly 'integration committee' meetings throughout the preceding academic year, and Norman Roberts was always assiduous in updating staff fully at the periodic staff meetings. A number of problem areas were examined in detail. The middle-school girls were to be organised in year groups rather than houses to foster a closer sense of identity in strange and unfamiliar surroundings, though the down side of this arrangement turned out to be the isolation of girls from older pupils whose advice and example were beneficial - one of the classic strengths of the house system. It was planned that two mistresses would be attached to each year group. For games, however, it would be necessary to retain the Weirfield School house divisions if there were to be any internal competitions. This also extended to any other inter-house events which the girls were able to compete in, and boys (and some staff) were surprised to see entries from bodies such as York and Lancaster on the programme of the first House Singing Competition in 1977. The girls' year groups were based in the rooms formerly occupied by Evans and Neal. These two junior houses (whose demise was fast approaching) were accommodated for one year in the old Winterstoke prep room off the octagon and the eastern end of the top of the main building respectively. When the junior houses ended in the summer of 1977, Evans transferred to Neal's premises in the main school and became a senior house. There it has remained ever since. The antechamber to the junior Evans room off the octagon doubled from 19768 as a mixed common room where boys and girls below the sixth form could meet socially. Until the Guvvy was opened there was nowhere for such meetings to take place except the old tuckshop. Not enough thought was really given to providing such a facility. Norman Roberts rather took the view that this was not a very pressing problem as, because of the lack of boarding accommodation for girls at TS at that time, the girl boarders would resemble day girls living at Weirfield. This was partly true, but there was still an important need to promote social integration by providing a place where boys and girls could socialise naturally and where certain weekend functions could take place. The Mixed Common Room was never a great success. It was too small and had a certain artificiality about it. Loveday boys upstairs spied on it and circulated malicious rumours. Not surprisingly many boys and girls found the room a threatening place to frequent as they would be assumed to be pursuing a relationship or, at the very least, arranging a tryst by going there. Inevitably staff were expected to patrol the room fairly relentlessly; there is a note from 1978 expressing a need for a few 'hard' staff to police a social evening. Loveday boys had finally succeeded in making 178


their rumours believed! One disco dissolved into chaos when some boys turned all the lights out and pushed the furniture around. The already tense supervising staff, led by the intrepid Ursula Gray, stumbled around, hemmed in by armchairs, unable to find the light switches or even the door, which someone had also locked from the inside. All this was part of the teething troubles of co-education at a junior level. If the Mixed Common Room had not existed it probably would have been necessary to invent it. Careful consideration was given during 1975-6 to preparing parents, staff and the girls themselves for the changes that lay ahead. Weirfield parents were offered the chance to tour the School on two 'open house' evenings and one Saturday afternoon so that they could get the feel of the place. Taunton parents were addressed by the Headmaster in the Spring term at special meetings. Girls scheduled to join in September were escorted from Weirfield for a detailed preliminary visit, so that they would at least know where the important places were. These they saw, though they did not meet any boys, as the day chosen for the visit happened to be Field Day, and everybody was out. Perhaps the choice of day was deliberate for safety reasons! The Senior School staff were briefed at several meetings including one evening session where a discussion was led by a master from Bedales. Norman Roberts also announced that there would be a Co-education Day on the Friday before the Autumn term, at which lectures would be given and matters clarified before the School finally plunged into full integration the following Tuesday. He also envisaged that, after co-education had been running for a time, there would be a 'teach-in' to review its progress. I do not recall this ever taking place, unless Norman was merely using 1970s jargon to indicate an item on a later staff meeting agenda. What is certain is that we were all very aware that the School had reached a decisive point in its history. A certain over-reaction to such a historic happening was perhaps inevitable, and a staff meeting in June 1976 had us pondering a variety of minutiae to which not even Norman Roberts knew all the answers. Would girls have to watch the 1st XV as the boys did? (Someone had bothered to check that there were six home fixtures that autumn, so it was a serious point.) How would girls react to Saturday school? (The School actually lost only four girls - mostly with ponies - because of this.) One master asked if girls could be given lines. A lady member of staff retorted that this would not arise as girls at Weirfield did nothing wrong - a contention which was quickly disproved once term started! Weirfield had no detention session either: could girls be put in at Taunton? The question of names cropped up: presumably girls would be called by their Christian names - what about boys? Would they demand equality? At this point Norman declared firmly that members of staff were free to choose, but his policy would be to call boys by their surnames and girls by their Christian names. A more difficult point concerned the way in which girls would address masters. There was some doubt about whether they could use 'sir' like the boys or whether they ought to say `Mr X'. And of course they would need maps. A master asked if games would be mixed. The answer was an enigmatic one: it would depend on the sport itself. Societies were to welcome girls, but to evening meetings only if they were chaperoned. At the eleventh hour the staff realised the novelty of the experience upon which they were about to embark, and they were panicking. They need not have worried. On the day, despite the feelings of strangeness, everything went smoothly, TV cameras and all. A major element of continuity for the girls was the presence of Ruth Hodgson, Headmistress of Weirfield since 1973 and now 179


also holder of the title of Headmistress of Taunton School at least as far as the girls were concerned. It had been agreed during the negotiations about integration that Taunton would effectively own Weirfield from 1973, the year of Miss Stych's retirement, and that thenceforth all appointments would be ratified by the Senior School. Miss Hodgson, who had been a deputy head in Birmingham, was appointed from a strong field of applicants to succeed Miss Stych. She quickly established herself and did much to create a greater sense of community at Weirfield and stability at a time of change. Her strong personal interest in the girls' achievements and concerns meant that in 1976, after three years in the job, she was ideally placed to represent a vital link for those girls as they coped with the uncertainties of coRuth Hodgson educational life at Taunton. For several years she retained an office at the far end of the School House corridor and was a regular at-tender at Tuesday assemblies. She was also popular as an occasional preacher in the School Chapel, and I recall a sermon she preached on 'epitaphs' which struck an amusing and memorable note. Ruth Hodgson kept her 'courtesy title' of Headmistress of the Senior School, with Ursula Alderson (now Gray) as her deputy, until 1981. By then five years of integration had taken place, and the new third formers of 1976 were leaving school. All the girls' houses were fully established and coeducation had been accepted as the norm. Ruth Hodgson could hand over the ultimate position of female responsibility to Ursula Gray, who assumed the title of Senior Mistress. Both ladies had made an outstanding contribution to the success of the venture. Norman Roberts was determined to handle the social aspects of integration with extreme care. Some of the measures he adopted may, with hindsight, seem overcautious, but it must be remembered that the School was treading new ground. Other public schools had introduced co-educational sixth forms (and continued to do so throughout the 1970s and 1980s) but Taunton was leading the field by adopting coeducation across the board. We were being watched with great interest - especially by other HMC schools. The 1970s were still also reaping the results of the rebellions of the late sixties, and permissiveness had established itself as the norm. News from those progressive schools which had always been co-educational sounded a warning. At Dartington pupils were reputed to be 'swinging to the point of world weariness' and the management had had to tighten the rules about room visiting in order to reduce possible sexual contact. The Headmaster of Bedales, addressing the Taunton staff on Co-education Day (10 September 1976), extolled the advantages of co-education and 180


his own relaxed system, but pointed to one area where he was not at all relaxed: alcohol, drugs, and visiting the quarters of the opposite sex were absolutely forbidden. Things were not helped at Taunton by one or two unfortunate incidents which had occurred that summer. A master had been found in a compromising position with regard to a sixth-form girl and had had to leave. Some parents had complained about pupils being offered drink in the Common Room bar. And the groundsman had been appropriating petrol for his own use which should have gone into the school mowers for grass cutting. (In 1976 there wasn't much grass to cut!). Norman was therefore in the mood to clamp down; having placed his hopes and ideals in the creation of a family school, he could not afford for the scheme to go awry. Parental trust was a vital element in that scheme, and Norman stressed the importance of maintaining a thoroughly professional attitude. Guidelines were established for the protection and well-being of staff. No girl was to be seen alone by a master in a private place or, if a confidential matter necessitated this, then Miss Hodgson or another member of staff should be alerted beforehand and be prepared to interrupt the private conversation in an obvious way. Similarly no girls were to be offered alcoholic drink in a private room. The equivalent rules did not apply to female staff and boys. Fewer girls than boys were allowed to drink at home and, with regard to private conversations, Norman was diplomatic enough to say that it was the greater emotional nature of girls which made the rule necessary and not any distrust of his male colleagues. Among the pupils there was an inevitable sense of strangeness at first, and the younger pupils clung together in groups of friends. In class boys would sit on one side of the class and girls on the other, and there was little if any communication between the two groups. After a few years when the School had become more used to coeducation, the embarrassment disappeared. Even today single-sex groupings are common in more junior classes. Less harsh than the obvious demarcation of the early days, these groups say more about the natural tendencies of adolescents at certain stages of growing up than they do about Taunton School. In practice friendships quickly develop, and nowadays the new year group is soon at ease with itself. Since 1994 when Taunton Preparatory School has also been co-educational the is transition smoother still. But even in 1971 there had been 75 sisters of Taunton boys at Weirfield; brothers knew sisters' friends and girls knew 4 brothers' friends, so those entering the An early co educat onal class 181


new mixed school usually did not encounter a completely unknown quantity. Even the Weirfield Kindergarten, mixed between the ages of 4 and 7 before pupils joined the two junior schools prior to Taunton, was responsible for laying the foundation of some future teenage friendships. From 1976 it was possible to organise games and activities for the girls more or less in line with what was an offer for the boys. Prior to full co-education, the arrangements had been somewhat haphazard, the girls being too few in number to participate on a very organised basis. The early girls returned to Weirfield for most games which, besides involving a lot of trekking back and forth, led to a confusion of loyalties between the two schools. Most girls were anxious to be part of the Taunton scene: music, drama and debating provided the obvious outlets, though in one public speaking competition in 1972 there was again an unfortunate clash when three sixthformers representing Weirfield beat Taunton by one place. As far as TS games were concerned, the first girls felt isolated in what seemed an endless world of rugby. However, those that were keen did what they could: they scored for the 1st XI cricket team, manned the first aid posts during the boys' marathon, joined in the Sponsored Walk and the Round the School relay race and entered teams in the 2nds of the boys' house hockey and the Under 14 basketball. In 1976 the tireless John Oakshatt took them in hand with evening sessions in the cricket nets. A team even entered the boys' weekly 3rd and 4th form league, though without much success. As Paul Wickham tactfully put it: 'They were popular opposition even if they did not win a match'. The urge to participate was part of the search for an identity, the desire to make a mark and feel needed. One girl, referring to the 1976 summer production, put it well: 'Where would HMS Pinafore have been without the sisters, the cousins, and the aunts?' With the advent of the full age-range from the autumn of 1976, girls' games could be organised on a basis which dispensed with the assorted opposition which the sixth form minority had had to contend with. They began rather tentatively and had to be content with slow but steady progress at first. There was a need to provide for the coaching of basic skills and, in the various sports, to gather a nucleus of potential talent to build on for future years. In the first season of 1976-7 the fixture list could only be a modest one. Results in the limited number of matches against other schools or clubs showed a fairly even tally of wins and defeats, which was a fair start. The second tennis team, tongue in cheek, claimed an unbeaten season: they won one match and drew the other! The swimmers trained hard for their two fixtures, and there were girls' races in the house swimming gala for the first time. Some solid foundations were laid during that first year for future success. Coaching the girls' games was more difficult to organise than for the boys. There were fewer ladies on the staff in the first place, and many of those that there were lacked the interest or the confidence to coach teams or even direct non-team games. The result was that a heavy burden fell on the shoulders of Sandra Wickham, who was at that time Head of girls' PE and games at Weirfield. Some help was offered by male colleagues, though many of these were already committed to boys' teams. Richard Jowett and Graham Reid gave valuable assistance with hockey and tennis, and Sandra's husband Paul helped with umpiring. Pam Mullins from Weirfield also assisted Sandra on a part-time basis, though she found the Taunton devotion to Saturday matches something of a culture shock after the five day week at Weirfield. For some strange reason known only to Norman Roberts, Sandra Wickham was herself 182


excluded from the official staff list at Taunton during those early years of full coeducation, being mentioned only in association with Weirfield. Not until 1982-3 was she officially recognised as a member of the Taunton staff. This was a bizarre omission in view of Sandra's indispensable position as the key figure in the whole girls' games operation. In 1977 girls' games received their first mention in The Tauntonian. The paragraph was a minuscule one in comparison to the vast coverage of boys' games, but it was a start. It was difficult for the girls to avoid being classed as second-rate in an area such as sport which was very male dominated. It was up to them to prove that they were worthy of equal status, and over the next few years this was what they proceeded to do. In 1978 two new lady members of staff (who, coincidentally, had exactly the same initials - LJH) helped to expand the girls' repertoire: Linda Hooper ('LJHo', now Mrs Lawrence) introduced them to her own sporting love, athletics, and Lesley Hill MHO started rounders. Linda Hooper also rallied the netball team and raised its standards considerably during her two years at Taunton. The theme of all these early years was that of optimism about the girls' sporting potential; of building on present strengths to create more effective performances in future. By 1981 this had largely happened. An exceptional season by the girls' 1st XI hockey in 1980-1 did much to prove that the girls could be just as serious and successful in games as the boys. Other sports (such as swimming, unbeaten in 1990) had also established convincing reputations. The newly won equality showed itself in many ways. Girls had joined the Taunton School Hockey Festival in 1979 and were now invited to tour the Caribbean with the boys. Pitches were allocated more fairly, especially the all-weather shale pitch, until 1988 the School's No 1 pitch for inter-school hockey matches. Girls were no longer fobbed off with the worst tennis courts or the most inconvenient playing times. And an important leap in status came when they were allowed to wear colours blazers on a par with the boys. The opening of the Sports Hall in 1983 increased the range of minor sports and activities, such as the climbing wall, which are open equally to boys and girls. Marion Savill, writing as Head of Bevan in 1981 not only about sport but generally, was able to say: 'Five years after the amalgamation, girls have few reasons to feel hard done by'. The achievement of parallel opportunities and attainments in sport was not the only domain in which coeducation had to establish its successful operation, but it was an important one, especially in the eyes of many boys. The opening of the girls' boarding houses in 1979 brought all Taunton's pupils together on one campus, but with this change came also a tightening of the rules about visiting other houses and leave out of houses generally. Norman Roberts was playing safe, and the fruit of his caution was the notorious lock-up chit. This was a piece of paper to be signed by duty house staff for any pupil wishing to leave his or her house after 6.45 pm (the beginning of prep) for any reason. Sixth formers visiting the Clark Centre in the prep break were exempt, but other pupils were strongly discouraged, from Monday to Friday at least, from seeking permission to be out of their houses. Visiting other houses (same sex only) required the permission of both housemasters and a chit. Asking to work in the library or art room was seen as a loophole which could be exploited - and it is true that there were pairs of friends of the opposite sex who just 'happened' to need to look up the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the same evening! - and it was clamped down upon. Lock-up chits were generally disliked by 183


pupils and staff. Pupils had the bother of finding the duty member of staff, who might not be around at just the right moment, or else, at weekends, when absolutely everybody needed a chit to go anywhere, they had to queue up to obtain them. Staff disliked the waste of time involved in filling in and signing the chits, although I amused myself by designing special School House ones which required the minimum of effort through a system of ticked boxes. Richard Giles had usually run out of the standard issue anyway. James Williams demanded that boys filled in 'every silly little detail' except his signature to save time. Trevor Snow was caught signing blank chits in advance for Foxcombe prefects to issue and was made to toe the line. One year his suggestion of verbal lock-up chits for sixth formers cut no ice with Norman. In fact the latter tightened up the weekend system by requiring that not more than two places be mentioned on the chit. People were listing just about everywhere in the school from the Guvvy to the pavilion and using the chit as carte blanche for being anywhere if challenged. Tone-deaf pupils were going to the music school and games haters to the sports hall! And the greatest catch-all was the school film, because duty staff peering at the spectators through the darkness with their checklists could never really see who was there anyway! No doubt the chit system had its uses: there may be some merit in the theory that making people ask permission for something trivial gives the impression that they are being checked on and so may deter them from indulging in something worse. And it was easier to identify pupils thought to be acting suspiciously as they had - or were supposed to have - a 'passport' saying who they were. But chits were an attempt at universal policing which only partially worked and caused a lot of tension. The system did well to last nearly ten years. The 1987 prefects lost little time in persuading Barry Sutton of its iniquities; he expressed surprise and admiration at such an elaborate system of control; decided after watching it in operation for a year that it was no longer needed and promptly abolished it in 1988. So ended a discipline which all pupils of the 1980s will remember as an intrinsic part of their daily lives. Chits were easily recognised as a precaution against undesirable liaisons between the sexes. It was also decided early on that the new girls' houses should be alarmed after the final lock-up time of 9.30 pm. The main reason for this was the greater vulnerability of girls to the prying attentions of intruders from outside the school. The alarms, set off if any door or ground floor window was opened, were designed to keep unwelcome visitors out, though, as with the Berlin wall argument, Murray and Gloucester girls were more of the persuasion that their purpose was to keep them in! While accepting the need for safety they always envied the boys' greater freedom of movement in the late evening when sixth formers might obtain permission for a quick visit to friends in another house. A further restraint was placed on amorous expression by the ruling that pupils must not be seen in 'embarrassing' postures such as embracing or walking hand in hand; secret meetings behind the science block or by the tennis courts on Uppers (favourite places of tryst on milder evenings) were equally frowned upon. Rumours of a 'six inch' rule - that boys and girls must always be at least six inches apart - were rife, and largely promulgated by the pupils themselves. Though never official, this rule became a kind of byword throughout those early years of coeducation; such was its 'common law' impact that Norman Roberts, holding forth in the Memorial Hall after one particular incident, addressed the School with the sentence: 'If thinking of a six-inch rule helps you to avoid a repetition of situations like this, then so be it!' 184


Keeping the brakes on in this way was largely successful as there were few serious incidents. Inevitably relationships developed it would have been strange if they had not but most pupils learned to steer a moderately sensible path between the warring forces of desire and restraint. School discos were regarded by the pupils - naturally - as an opportunity, by the staff as a risk, though often because of the illegal importation of alcohol rather than expressions of unbridled passion. Sometimes Norman Roberts (between a couple of rubbers of bridge in the Common Room to while away the evening) would drive his car round the Front, headlights at full beam, hoping to pick out a few miscreants. On one occasion when things were going a little too far in the disco he dramatically mounted the platform, stopped the music in mid-song and railed at the company for its disgusting behaviour. Another time at a Leavers' Ball in the 1970s (an event which finally got itself cancelled through notoriety - ironically the sixth formers now organise civilised black-tie parties at night clubs at the end of term!) he angrily closed the bar for an hour without warning. On that occasion he was too late as the damage had already been done. David Parry (Art Master 1974-82) had, earlier in the year when organising the ball, obtained a bargain consignment of wine 'off the back of a lorry': he thought he was doing everyone a That's not what Mr Sow e tt. meant favour by selling it at E1 a bottle, but his close rror ki thoughtful gesture misfired, particularly when someone was sick on the Headmaster's shoes after indulging to excess! Another embarrassing moment I recall was when David Wrench and I accompanied the Bishop of Taunton over to the Clark Centre to look for some lost property which he thought his daughter might have left there. The missing item was nowhere to be seen, but an unfortunate incursion into the TV room brought us before a couple of sixth formers sprawled in deep embrace. I coughed meaningfully, the couple rolled apart, and we beat a hasty retreat exchanging trivial remarks about the difficulties of recovering lost property. Before we parted David Wrench obviously felt he ought to make some passing reference to what we had witnessed, so he turned to the Bishop and said in an off-hand manner: 'Sorry about the how's yer father, Bishop. Could have been worse, you know ...' Fortunately he did not elaborate! All the new challenges and problems which co-education brought - and they were mostly minor ones - constituted learning situations for both pupils and staff. 185


Sometimes there were unsuitable relationships - for example between a sixth-form boy and a much younger girl - where sound advice needed to be given and perhaps intervention by a senior member of staff such as Ursula Gray was called for. Pupils needed to learn how to balance working time against time spent with boyfriends or girlfriends. Some found they had quickly spent all their money on phone calls between the boarding houses at times when they could not meet. The principle of single-sex houses has remained, and it has proved a sound one. There are times when both boys and girls need to be with their own sex, and the house identity provides that alternative. This identity has not been diminished by co-education; if anything, it has been enhanced by it. All the houses of each sex have respect for one another, and nearly all pupils accept the wisdom of having a place where they can relax, share common interests without feeling the need to impress, and perhaps escape from a pressurised relationship. For, although boys and girls are undoubtedly less different from one another than the cautious all-male staff of 1971 imagined, differences of emphasis and interest remain. Early house notes from Babingley, for example, describe 'the' excitement of the term as the day when Sally-dog had pups, and another entry referred to the delight which the acquisition of a full-length mirror had brought to the girls. Few boys are likely to regard this as a momentous event: most of them, in my School House experience at least, spent only about one tenth of the time the girls took preparing for school discos. And so boys had to learn girls' ways and vice versa: mistakes are still sometimes made, but the school is a stronger place for the experience. For the effects of co-education have been beneficial to many varied spheres of school life. It is too easy, when looking back from 1997, to take for granted many of the changes which have taken place. In academic matters the girls have helped to raise standards all round and their performance in public examinations has improved the School's national standing considerably. In class the tendency of most girls to be more conscientious and attentive than some boys created a more studious and positive atmosphere from the beginning. Gone were the days of Chris Evans's youth when boys 'did the odd bit of work with masters who interested them and spent the remainder of the time ragging the rest who didn't'. Apart from the demand for better qualifications from an ever more competitive world, the boys now sought less to impress their friends with silly pranks which the girls were likely to think immature. There was more incentive to work so that the boys did not yield all the top places to the girls, a phenomenon to which our attention The Guvvy (photo by Harold Bennett) has also been drawn 186


nationally. At one stage Norman Roberts thought all the School's entrance scholarships were going to be won by girls, but a fairly even balance has been maintained in fact. Social and psychological effects have also been positive. There is less bullying, and boys, in learning to cope with the more emotional and subjective natures of girls, have become more gentle and tolerant among themselves also. Girls are often better listeners than boys and can provide an emotional outlet for boys who would hesitate to go to a teacher with a problem. And from the boys the girls have perhaps learned to be more positive and self-assertive, less petty and sensitive to criticism and perhaps more ready to accept misfortune or punishment with a good grace. The girls' houses also sought, with considerable success, to acquire that common bond of loyalty in activities shared which shone so brightly in many of the boys' houses with a history behind them. In school activities such as music, drama and debating the advantages of coeducation have been immense. The scope of the Chapel choir widened considerably with the addition of female voices, and it was possible for Michael Brown (Director of Music 1971-85) to start a Choral Society which performed oratorios and other choral works once or twice a year. It now has more female members than male, as have most of the orchestral and instrumental groups in the School. In debating, one of the activities where both sexes can compete on precisely equal terms with no innate advantages, some fine public speakers have emerged from among the boys and the girls. In sport, in the CCF and in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme girls have shown themselves capable of achievements as outstanding as those of any boys, as all boys now accept. Getting the boys to acknowledge this was perhaps the girls' real battle. Marion Savill wrote in 1981: 'Male chauvinism, although ever present and showing no signs of decline, is at least not so dominant as it was, and can be overcome with a little determination and charm.' At that stage the battle was perhaps half won. By the 1990s the victory was complete and true equality acknowledged. No-one at Taunton School would now wish to turn the clock back. Since 1983 both a Head Boy and a Head Girl have been appointed as the School's most senior pupils, and they are of equal status. Until then there had been only one Head of School, always a boy, though the point had been aired that one day a girl might prove to be the most able candidate for this post. Some boys declared that she would never be able to control them! The last outright Head of School was Tim Willcox in 1981-2. He is better remembered in TS lore for his brilliant prank on the last night of the summer term when he re-arranged some signs from minor roadworks in Staplegrove Road and diverted all the traffic through Taunton School. This earned him the embarrassment of being asked to leave several hours earlier than expected on Commemoration Day - the only head prefect, to my knowledge, ever to be so suspended - but in retrospect this stunt has won him so much wistful admiration among devotees of illicit novelty (who still exist) that he may well not regret it. It resembles just the sort of 'filler in' item on 'News at Ten' which he might now find himself reporting as an ITN journalist! Following Tim Willcox there arose a situation, as already predicted, where many considered a girl to be the best candidate for Head of School. Others disagreed. After much deliberation, it was decided to appoint joint Heads of School for that year: Katie Squibbs, first named on the list, and Ian Smith. In 1983 the post became a permanently dual one with the perhaps obvious titles of Head Boy and Head 'Girl being officially adopted. The first head pupils of the 'modern era' 187


were Robert Hayes and Alexandra Whittall. Not for the first time, by adopting what some might call a Machiavellian solution, Norman Roberts managed to avoid anything approaching the furore which erupted at Rugby some years later when a girl was appointed Head of School for the first time. The real reason, however, ran deeper. The time was now ripe for co-education to be accepted in all its logical possibilities. It was now the natural way of doing things at Taunton; it had proved its worth. Norman's real wisdom had been not to move too fast. The School had, since 1976, been steadily extending the concept of equal opportunities for both sexes, to which changes relating to subject choices, discipline, the CCF and games colours all bear witness. Tim Willcox, writing in 1981, said that in his experience co-education was better 'left favourably acknowledged than critically analysed'. And there has been considerable progress since then, as we have seen. The logical conclusion of it all has been the adoption of co-education throughout the full age-range by the re-sale of Weirfield and the establishment of TPS on the main campus, a move which may be regarded as Barry Sutton's major contribution to the coeducation issue. At staff level Ursula Gray ceased to be Senior Mistress in 1989 and became Second Deputy, with management responsibility for men and women. The abolition of the post of Senior Mistress was a conscious policy statement, an indication that the School had come of age on co-education. Now when people stop and think what TS might be like without girls, many of them find it extremely difficult to do so. Of course there will always be room for the cry of Vive la difference! Perhaps some people can imagine only a boy re-directing traffic through the School, and never a girl, though on reflection one cannot be too sure: two years ago two girls performed a citizen's arrest in the school grounds on a thief carrying off a school video recorder, for which they won a police commendation. The School's pupils themselves would confirm the general absence of sexual prejudice at Taunton and few would deny the existence in the 1990s of equal opportunities for all. In January 1980 Norman Roberts delivered a speech to the Boarding Schools Association in Oxford entitled 'Two Sexes please, we're British'. The title was a parody on a long-running Whitehall farce featuring Ray Cooney, a comedian, incidentally, whom Norman admired. However, there was nothing farcical about the way in which Taunton had handled co-education: careful planning and cautious progress had been the watchword of success. The speech was widely acclaimed at a time of intense national interest in the possibilities of co-education which were also relevant in Oxford itself as the men's colleges shed their male exclusivity one by one. In it Norman outlined some of its effects, its problems and - some emphasis here - its advantages. In his concluding paragraph he added: 'I said we were a family school and we are. No family lives in harmony all the time - there are arguments, discussions, problems, laughter and we have it all. A family grows, whether it wants to or not, and a school must grow. I think our growth is less stunted, more enjoyable, more positive since we became a two sex school.' The 1980s and 1990s have seen further evidence of this positive growth and have fully justified Norman Roberts's confidence in the future. There can be no doubt that he was the true architect of co-education at Taunton School and its resounding success.

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Chapter Eight

WITHIN THESE WALLS

he official history of the houses is told elsewhere in this book, and there is a 1 fascination in tracing the rise and fall of those units with which the pupils' lives are so intimately bound up and which command their closest loyalty. The best stories, however, are those recollections of events and incidents which have coloured what would otherwise be a humdrum existence. Some of them find a more natural home under the title 'Crime undiscovered', but there are countless other memories, impressions and recorded events which have broken into everyday life and contribute to the overall picture of school life as it has evolved through 150 years. Everyone associated with the School will have different memories. The indelible effect of a daily routine is one thing, but other recollections will depend on the interests and sensitivities of the individual. Many of them will be connected with games played or activities shared, with particular people, with amusing or memorable incidents in house or school. Some will arise from the impact of internal crises or historical events or even weather. For some it may be sense-related impressions, pleasant or unpleasant, which dominate: the joys of over-indulging at a house supper, perhaps, or the less appealing whiffs of overcooked cabbage in the kitchens or of socks in the dormitory, the warm glow of a hot bath after games or the indignity of bare bulbs and bare backsides in the changing room. Memory is a faculty lacking in logic, a musician whose tune cannot be called, and the story of boarding life and its many activities resembles a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. The historian cannot fill in all of them, and the personal nature of memory would make it wrong for him to try. As we saw in Chapter 5 the boys had few recreations in the Wellington Road days. Memories surviving from that period concentrate on the daily routines which rarely varied and the characters who dominated the pupils' lives. These were the Headmaster and his staff, the college servants and the gentlemen of the Committee who were such regular visitors. The Rev T B Knight remembered in particular a general factotum nicknamed Brawny Bodger, who acted as sweeper, shoeblack, bellringer, postman and gardener. Gardening was an activity also available to the boys when they were not playing their rudimentary games in the gravel playground. As early as 1849 Dr Bewglass was asked to set aside some ground for the boys to cultivate, and there is a reference in 1854 to an inspection of the 'young gentlemen's gardens' by a member of the Committee. What was grown in them is not recorded. The activity probably ceased when games began to develop and occupy more time; of course it was revived in another setting and for different reasons after the outbreak of the Second World War. The original reason for the gardens was no doubt the need to provide an outlet for youthful energy. Some of the indiscipline of the Bewglass era must certainly have 189


stemmed from the fact that the boys did not have enough opportunity to let off steam. We know from complaints by the Visitors about broken and scratched windows, cut desk tops and other wilful damage that some behaviour verged on the riotous. There was much carving of names and ill-treatment of walls and furniture during the exuberant celebrations which followed the announcement of the School's affiliation to London University. And the school steward reported that a workman employed on a tiling job was 'so pelted with stones that he would not work there again for ÂŁ1 a day'! In 1848 there was a memorandum from a Committee member (Thomas Coker) about the importance of 'a master being more frequently present during the play hours'. The school doctor, Mr Cornish, had recommended more outdoor exercise for the boys, but supervision was essential if accidents and horseplay were to be prevented. In 1852 a carpenter's bench was acquired for 38 shillings (ÂŁ1.90) for the pupils' use, perhaps to channel some of their destructive tendencies more positively. Cultural diversions of any kind were few in those days. Apart from the odd singsong on the occasion of a day's holiday, there was little exposure to music or art. A slight advance was made in 1851 when Mr John Comer, the music master, requested that a small room be created in an angle of the dining room for music lessons and practice. Music was not part of the curriculum then, but an optional extra, and many parents were too poor to afford it or too puritanical to approve. The music in the church services the boys attended would have been limited in scope and, especially at the 'severely Puritan' Paul's Meeting, mainly restricted to metrical psalms. Drama was out of the question. After pupils had put on some sort of play in 1865, the Headmaster was called to account by the Committee and left in no doubt where they stood regarding theatrical performances: 'The Committee deeply regret that such an entertainment should have been held in the Institution, believing it alike unfitting to the character of the School and its pupils.'' It was another 18 years before any further drama took place. Then, in a new location, with a new Headmaster, it was thought possible to include a few extracts from Moliere's L'Avare in a Commemoration concert at the end of the summer term. Even by this time, some attitudes were still entrenched. The Commemoration preacher in 1884 included the following remark in his sermon: 'Let it be known that a man spent his evenings at the theatre and his afternoons on the race-course, and all the habits of business and profession are closed against him.' The links between New Puritanism and respectability in the work place were close. The same anti-cultural aspect of the Protestant work ethic is a major theme in the turn-ofthe-century novels of Thomas Mann. As for L'Avare, Moliere would have been flattered: he too had known the censor's ban, and was outlawed by the Church of his day. And so the early members of the Dissenters' School had a monotonous if not intolerable existence. As we have seen elsewhere, committee members fussed over the minutest detail of daily life and pupils were unlikely to suffer serious neglect, even if conditions were hard and basic by modern standards. There was a definite concern to treat all equally and avoid favouritism. In 1850 it came to the Committee's notice that a few pupils were being allowed to wash in their bedrooms 'whereby extra towels are used, trouble given and jealousy created'. The reproof is swift: 'The Visitors are clearly of the opinion that no such distinctions should be allowed'. This contrasts strongly with the lot of many boarding school pupils of the time, some of whom lived in atrocious conditions about which no-one seemed to care. (The notorious rat-infested I

190

Committee meeting, 18 April 1865


Long Chamber at Eton, where no master ever went, was only closed down in 1844.) The meddling of the Committee in domestic and disciplinary matters of a relatively trivial nature must have irritated the early Headmasters, but it did have the effect of ensuring that the pupils were fairly treated and supplied with the necessities of life. However it would be naive to assume that the boys lived in harmony all the time. If they were violent in their treatment of the fabric of the building, it is also likely that there was fighting and bullying. Sir Herbert Ashman, in a retrospective at the School's jubilee in 1897, remembers having to stand up for himself in the odd physical encounter. Among boys this is not necessarily unusual, though the closer supervision at Taunton would have prevented fights assuming the proportions described in a book like Tom Brown's Schooldays. The Committee would not have turned a blind eye to such unsuitable behaviour. On the other hand, Mr Benjamin Clarke, chairing a London dinner in 1890, said that he remembered only one boy who was not happy at Wellington Road and he was 'of a peculiar disposition'. As always it is the oddball who finds it most difficult to adapt to boarding life. There would almost certainly have been some unhappiness in the form of homesickness among the younger boys. There were few motherly figures for the new eight and nine years old to turn to. The ploy of the desperate was to run away. Such an act was treated as a serious breach of discipline rather than a cry for help in those far-off days. W C Hine remembers one boy walking 40 miles home to avoid recapture, a precaution largely wasted as his parents showed little sympathy: His parents immediately sent him back by coach to the school, where he was received with rejoicing by the Headmaster and duly thrashed in a most unmerciful manner before the assembled boys'. There is another report of a Master Harris absconding on a Friday afternoon in 1868, with nothing being heard of him till Monday, when a telegram alerted Mr Griffith and the boy's worried father, who had been summoned to the School, that he had been found in Exeter, and should be collected at once. It is not recorded whether the same gruesome fate awaited him on his return to school. Most schools in the mid nineteenth century still had public beatings by the Headmaster (usually preceded by a denunciation of immorality) but these were fairly rare and kept as a last resort before the disgrace of expulsion. Otherwise the main concern of communal life was to avoid disease. We have already seen how a scarlatina epidemic gave the School something of a bad start in 1848. In the early 1850s there was cholera and then smallpox, which required the removal of a number of servants in 1855 and the 'thorough cleansing of the Institution'. During the summer of 1867 a virulent unknown fever raged through the town of Taunton, and Mr Griffith wrote to parents to assure them that the boys had been in good health before departing for the holidays. However the situation was tense enough to prompt the appointment of a sanitary committee to investigate possible sources of disease at the School as well as the postponement of the start of the Autumn term. The greater number of pupils at the new College in the 1870s posed a potentially higher risk of the spread of disease; in 1874 the Committee went out of its way in its annual report, to record its deep gratitude to 'an overruling Providence for blessings bestowed, and especially for preservation from disease'. It could be said that it spoke too soon, for the late 1870s and early 1880s were dogged by a number of epidemics. There were two outbreaks of scarlatina, a thankfully mild one in 1876, and a more serious one in 1880, with 20 cases in the College of which two were fatal. It is likely that it was this outbreak which led the authorities to consider the advisability of 191


building a School Hospital, or sanatorium, in the school grounds. The latter (the western end of the present medical centre complex) was erected in 1881 on what was then an open field. This hospital was better able to deal with infectious ailments and serious accidents, and it had the full support of the medical authorities of the day. The report describing the new facility hastened to assure shareholders that 'It is quite empty; and it is hoped it will remain so'. In 1882 Mr Aveling lost his young daughter to diphtheria, though fortunately the disease did not spread to the College. Parents were reassured that there was little risk to their sons; also that 'Taunton is much more free from sickness than other towns in England'. However, the whole School was again disinfected, and it was decided to build a laundry so that all washing could be done on the premises as an added protection against imported infections. This proved to be a wise move. The on-site laundry was convenient and cost-effective, and in late 1884 the town was struck by a serious smallpox outbreak. This did not reach the School, though it caused much anxiety and also had an adverse effect on school finances as a large number of newly registered pupils did not arrive because of the scare. It was not until the spring of 1885, after the disease had receded, that numbers began to pick up again. These health emergencies served to isolate the School even more from the town, and day boys were often quarantined. By being a mile from the town centre Independent College gained added protection from current infections, though for the boarders this must have added to a sense of isolation and of immersion in their own little world. From the 1890s we find that the constant obsession with health had receded; the subject no longer called for other than exceptional comment on speech days and in annual reports. The advent of vaccination and improved health care meant that good or at least reasonable health could be regarded as the norm. If there was talk of illness it was of flu epidemics (as in Spring 1890) rather than of smallpox and cholera. Of course there was still the occasional tragedy, such as two boys who, having just left school, died at 19 of 'blood poisoning and decline'. In 1891 a day boy, Haswell Towell, died in the School Hospital of heart disease, and another in 1906 was struck by rheumatic fever. Appendicitis, always a risk with young people, claimed the occasional victim: one such was Harry Gray who was operated upon in 1910 and hovered between life and death for two weeks before he passed away. Although by this time health was much less threatened than in the nineteenth century, the lack of modern drugs and antibiotics available to us today posed much higher risks of postoperative infection and lengthened the recovery period from all illnesses. The death of a fellow pupil has a profound and numbing effect on those whose school life is so closely bound together. Fortunately such deaths have been rare, especially in the second half of the School's history. Accidents are a more likely cause than illness in more modern times. In 1936 a boy, Maurice Wheeler, was killed when he fell from the staircase in the Main Building. Though it is not known exactly how this accident occurred, it is thought that he may have been sliding down the banister on the upper flight of stairs when he slipped. The iron mesh, screen and banister studs still in place were installed to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy. In 1941 0 S White of Fairwater was killed in a cycling accident close to the school gates; his parents placed the pavement in front of the Chapel entrance in his memory. In 1970 there was a fatality during a school sailing session at Lyme Regis, when another Fairwater boy, Christopher Andrew, was drowned despite all efforts to save him. Though the School 192


was exonerated at the Coroner's inquest from any blame in the tragedy, it was decided that in future proficiency training would take place on an inland reservoir before boys were allowed to sail in open waters. Then in 1972 Simon Jeffreys of the Wills East Lower 6th died after suffering terrible burns in a car crash when he and two other boys went out without permission with a senior Weirfield girl. Another sad loss in 1977, to leukaemia this time, was the popular Dominic Bowers. The second of three brothers, he was a boy who radiated a quiet courage which impressed all who knew him, not least the staff in Taunton's hospitals where he so frequently went for treatment. Although his schooling was often disrupted, he chose to remain at Taunton and live as normal a life as possible, first in Loveday (where I was Assistant Housemaster at the time) and later in Foxcombe, where he remained until shortly before his death. I shall never forget his calmness and his courage. More recently the diagnosis of the same illness in Fidel Fahnbulleh in 1993 was also borne with great courage, and Fidel's death in 1995 ten months after he left school shocked and grieved us all. Two of his friends, James Shute and Rory Batho, spoke most movingly at his funeral. Such are the tragedies that bind together a community which, because of its youthfulness and natural optimism, finds it hard to come to terms with the reality of death. Happily such sad events are uncommon, though the story of school life would be incomplete without them. For most of the time schoolboys and girls take health for granted. There is the inconvenience of the occasional sports injury, of course, and sometimes an outbreak of a virus infection, though epidemics are much rarer since 'flu jabs' were first introduced in 1968. There has not been an overflow from the School Hospital for many years, as happened in 1940, 1958 and 1978, when record numbers enough to tempt Westward TV to film a near-empty classroom! - fell victim to the mild but highly infectious 'Red Flu'. On those occasions when boarding houses had to be converted into temporary hospital wards, some pupils even confessed to enjoying the disruption to their normal routine. It provided an antidote to the boredom of a repetitive regime, and exceptions imprint themselves on the memory. Extreme or unusual weather conditions can have the same effect. The great frost of 1893 meant that the 'bathing place' was frozen over for weeks and used for skating. In March a great blizzard hit the West Country and there were snowdrifts six feet high at the school gates. A contemporary remembers: 'The first half-holiday was seized on as an opportunity for a grand snow-fight, and a lot of superfluous energy was worked off in endeavouring to send a satisfactory amount of snow down one's opponents' backs ....' Mr Aveling and his 13 year old son were stranded at Williton, the roads blocked with drifts over ten feet high. After waiting a day and a half with no sign of any change in the weather, they determined to walk the thirteen or so miles to Taunton. Scrambling along the hedge tops they managed to do so, but it took them ten hours and they arrived at school exhausted. In February 1978, when one of the great blizzards of this century occurred (Taunton was cut off for three days), Trevor Snow adopted the same method to reach the School from West Monkton when he had to come in to interview a candidate for a Modern Language post (Eira Jones) who had somehow made it to Taunton. On other days during that blizzard people stayed at home. There were just nine day pupils in Chapel on the first morning! Various other individuals and groups were stranded all over the place. Boarders who had gone on exeat were, of course, not too worried that they could not get back to school: one boy who had gone to see his father for a couple of hours at Norton Manor Camp was 193


unable to cover even that short distance for three days. Chris Pollard had driven a minibus load of sixth formers to a Saturday evening party at a day pupil's house: cooped up there till Wednesday, the snowbound group were close to testing Sartre's famous assertion 'L'enfer, c'est les autres' . And Tony Wood unwittingly gave his deputy the chance to run the Junior School for five days when he had the good idea of taking his family for an afternoon's tobogganing from their house at Blagdon Hill: they did not get back till Thursday! Other severe winters were 1947, when the snow lasted from 29 January to 9 March and was also accompanied by numerous power cuts, and 1963, when weeks of frost and snow again meant that official games were impossible and any outdoor exercise was mostly related to sledges and snowballs. Hot summers are perhaps more timeless than cold winters, though the 1890s are remembered for the lack of water in the swimming pool and 1976 for the lack of grass and restrictions on lavatory flushing and the depth of bath water owing to the drought. 1983 was also a hot summer, memorable at Taunton School for the distribution of prizes by Lord Denning in his braces! Flooding has been a problem on occasions, notably in 1962 when the River Tone burst its banks and the whole of Taunton town centre was flooded. Ernest Neal remembers one of his sixth formers canoeing down Station Road, and also how the stream from Lowers which passes under the school playing fields (formerly known as the 'College Stream') flooded the Wills pitch and surrounded the Science Block with water.' A similar emergency happened shortly after the opening of the Sports Hall; had not the energetic John Oakshatt been on hand to dam up and divert the rising tide, serious damage would have been caused. During the blizzard of 1978 John became (self-appointed?) master in charge of snow clearing. His gang not only opened up essential access routes around the School but 'dug out' a number of local residents who were extremely grateful. I think Norman hesitated when he began to talk of needing a budget, but fortunately the snow was melting by then! John was one of those people who see adverse weather as a challenge rather than an inconvenience. After the School's move to the Fairwater site in 1870 there was more space available in which to develop hobbies and activities for the boarders. In 1872 Mr Griffith requested the re-modelling and extension of the Library, and a Reading Room was provided where a number of magazines and newspapers were available for the pupils. Later a committee was set up to order the affairs of the Reading Room, which became the centre of non-sporting activities in the School. There was a treasurer (a master), a secretary and a number of other officials known, curiously, as 'curators': perhaps their brief extended to supervising the new museum created by Mr Aveling in the 1880s.3 Among the publications taken by the Reading Room were Punch, Christian World, Exchange and Mart, The Illustrated London News and Tit Bits, together with magazines from other schools such as Mill Hill, the Wesleyan -(Queen's) College and the Leys, Cambridge. Additions to the Library in 1883 included some predictable titles: The Life of Dr Arnold, Empire in Asia and The Life of W E Gladstone. That the fashion for school stories was well established by the 1890s is suggested by the Reading Room's subscription to the Boys' Own Paper and The Magnet during those years. A serialised school story entitled West Country Boys also appeared as an original contribution in early issues of The Tauntonian. It ran to 16 chapters!' As the Reading Room was selffinancing - a membership fee was charged - the long list of newspapers and periodicals subscribed to (35 in the mid 1880s) implies that intellectual pleasures were more 2

194

See The Badger Man, p.192

3 See Chapter 4


popular than is sometimes imagined. Most of this intellectual activity seems to have begun to blossom a few years into Mr Aveling's headship. The 1882 poem about the sports quoted in Chapter 6 is actually a full length epic on 'The Events of the Year', though, interestingly, it mentions only work, games and the school outing to St Audries. Intellectual and musical interests are not yet prominent, though in places the poem itself is strongly reminiscent of a W S Gilbert patter song: 'I first will call attention to our coat of arms emblemic Ora et labora make up our motto academic.' The changes in the air from around 1883-4 were reflected in a number of positive moves such as the acquisition of the organ and the development of music and concerts, the establishment of the Reading Room, the birth of debating and the introduction of a series of lectures mainly on academic subjects. The School was broadening its outlook and considerably more opportunities for cultural pursuits emerged during this period. Debating is one such activity which dates from this time. We read that prior to 1883 there had been attempts to start a Debating Society, but things had never got very far. Now a serious attempt was made to found a permanent society. Prospective members were required to read an essay to the elected Committee before being accepted. The society met on alternate Friday evenings (a tradition which has endured) and the first motion, debated on 1 June 1883 was 'That the cow is a more useful animal to man than the horse'. It was defeated by two votes. Other early subjects included the Channel Tunnel - even then an issue of political importance - and compulsory games. However in the autumn of 1883 the society was transformed into the Independent House of Parliament, with an elected Prime Minister (Monsieur Corneille, the 'Foreign Master' was, ironically, the first holder of the office) and various Secretaries of State. MPs were elected at the rate of one for each seven boys in the School, and the Junior School had

Winterstoke Reading Room around 1918

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four representatives. There was a Speaker (always a Master, a Serjeant-at-Arms and even an Honorary Organist. (The government and opposition benches were the 'organ side' and 'non-organ side' of the schoolroom.) Needless to say, the Headmaster occupied the Throne. Judging from the various bills introduced and voted upon nearly all concerned domestic issues of school organisation and discipline - this parliament appears to have resembled an early version of a staff-student council. If it had any executive power (which is not clear - the Throne is likely to have had a veto!) then it was a truly remarkable example of democracy in an autocratic era. Here is an extract from the school equivalent of Hansard for November 1883: 'P B Allen made affirmation as Member for York. The Member for Lancaster's Bill on the Reading Room and Curator's was carried unanimously. An Amendment, moved by the Member for London, to the effect that detention should be the punishment for infringing the Reading Room Rules, was lost by twelve votes. The Member for Lincoln (E J Buckpitt) brought in a Bill defining the Duties of the Speaker, which the Home Secretary supported in a speech of some length, in which he clearly showed the necessity for such a Bill. The Secretary of State for the Curators brought in two Bills, the first of which for the improvement of the College Grounds, was opposed by the Throne and lost. The second, for the better regulation of the Washing Rooms, received the sanction of the Home Secretary, and was carried unanimously. The Secretary of State for the Monitors next delivered his inaugural address, which was commented on most favourably by the Throne and Prime Minister. The Home Secretary apologised for not delivering his inaugural address on the ground that he had already spoken three times in his new capacity, and the pressure of public business. The Member for Taunton (W B Maynard) introduced a Bill giving the force of law to all measures passed in the House, which was carried unanimously.' Perhaps this Parliament was too esoteric, for it only lasted two years. In 1885 there was a return to debating, and the relative merits of classics and modern studies and of cricket and lawn tennis were discussed. Tennis, perhaps with its novelty value, was preferred by two votes. Thereafter interest in debating seems to have declined, as there are no further reports until 1894, when the Debating Society was refounded 'under the Presidency of the Principal'. Again it foundered, but in 1899 Dr Whittaker lent his immediate support to the formation of a new Literary and Debating Society which would hold literary readings as well as formal debates. These encompassed both school matters and political issues. Two of the motions in 1904 were 'England is on the decline' and 'The British parent is inefficient'. Impromptu debates were also held from time to time: in 1906 subjects for instant debate ranged from 'We eat too much' to the politically topical 'MPs should be paid'. In 1907, unsurprisingly perhaps, a motion for the disestablishment of the Church of England was carried strongly, while female suffrage was rejected. Mr F W Wisson, who ran the society during these years, presided over the first debate between Old Boys and the School in 1910. The motion was 'That examinations are of assistance to education' and was carried 41-12. The war caused the society again to lapse, but in 1922 Mr Nicholson was elected President and activities resumed in the two winter terms. Mr Nicholson showed a strong interest and often took the chair himself. By 1927 it was not unusual for over 100 to attend debates. Play readings were a popular feature of the literary side of the society in the 1920s. An innovation in 1928 was a mock election, in which Conservative, Liberal and Socialist candidates all stood. The Conservative was elected, though a reference to 196


'confused polling' in the report may imply that the result was rigged. An annual supper was first held in 1932, for which the cost was one shilling (5p) and the qualification attendance at two meetings. That same year the proposal was brought forward that the name of the Literary and Debating Society should be changed to 'The Burke'. Literary activity had virtually ceased, and it was thought fitting to take the name of Britain's greatest orator. The proposal was carried unanimously and marked the beginning of a well documented and unbroken tradition. The Burke can rightfully claim to be Taunton's oldest and most distinguished society. Many of the motions of the 1930s reflected the political questions of the day. The suppression of militarism in the School, the rights of the Jews, the 1936 Olympics and the conquest of Abyssinia were all considered. The King and Country debate is mentioned in Chapter 10. There were lighter moments, such as the annual dinner, by now firmly established, and, in 1934, the first Balloon Debate. The survivor on that occasion was the schoolmaster, played by Merlin Thomas (later Fellow of New College, Oxford). Except in Balloon Debates the Burke has always adhered to the principles of formal debate, with speakers being referred to formally and all remarks addressed to the Chair. In the early days those attending on the floor of the House (as opposed to elected members of the Burke) were described as the Strangers' Gallery. Formal dress is still required by all. The Burke's fine traditions were enhanced in 1946 by the gift of a mace of carved oak from the Headmaster, John Leathern, who was himself a keen debater and had been President of the Cambridge Union. It is inscribed with the society's motto - Edmund Burke's words 'The Purpose of oratory is not truth alone, but persuasion'. To this day the familiar words 'Pray be silent and upstanding for the mace' herald the start of every formal meeting of the Burke. More recently two beautiful despatch boxes, finely crafted by Mark Coray, and given in memory of Freddie Dowell by his daughter Joan Williams, have also graced those meetings. In the late forties the master in charge of the Burke was Dr P G Smith, and he was succeeded in 1950 by Mr G W S Smith who was later Housemaster of Wills West. The title Provost seems to date from about this time. A year later Gerry Hunter took over the Burke, drawing in the crowds with a first motion born of the Cold War - 'This house believes that Communism is preferable to a third world war'. Democracy was adjudged more precious than peace, and the motion was defeated by 90 votes to 8. Another interesting debate occurred in 1953 when R P Wickham, then a sixth former, proposed the motion that suicide is never justifiable, basing his argument on moral principles. The opposer was a member of staff, John Dewdney, who based his on practical necessity. Four years later John Dewdney (Head of Classics) proved himself an open-minded debater by proposing the abolition of Latin in schools. He was defeated! Gerry Hunter ran the Burke successfully for 27 years until Roger Priest took over in 1978. During these years school debaters began to take part in many local, national and international competitions, notably those organised by the English Speaking Union and also the prestigious Observer Mace, whose final Taunton speakers have reached twice - in 1991 and 1996. The School has hosted the World Debating and Public Speaking Championships on three occasions, the most recent being this year, and our speakers travel annually to a world event in Canada, where the standard is extremely high. Many other speaking events have taken place within the School itself. A mock trial (P G Smith in the dock), mock elections (an interesting victory for the Labour candidate in 1944 anticipated the result in the country a year later), the revival of the Went 197


Memorial Prize for public reading in Chapel, and in 1994 and 1995 a 'speakathon' with a whole day's varied programme have all taken place. The annual inter-house debating competitions for seniors and juniors generate much enthusiasm and are good occasions for spotting new talent. Making a speech before a large audience composed of one's own schoolfellows and the staff can be a daunting prospect, but Taunton's debating tradition is now such that speakers can expect a fair hearing. The quality of the speeches has come a considerable distance since the early 1980s when, for example, a Goodland speech rather near the knuckle was coldly dismissed by that incisive Chairman and splendid actor Hugh Bazley ('I don't like your analogies, Mr Waugh. Please sit down'), or when all that a School House team proposing a motion of patriotism could think of was to play the National Anthem three times! Since 1992 John Carrington has been an excellent Chairman of the Burke, precise in speech and business-like in manner, and Barry Sutton has been a regular and enthusiastic attender besides chairing the annual Presidential Debate. Such staff support has always been important to the society. At present it can be said that public speaking, that most useful of life skills, is in extremely good health at Taunton. Music has given much pleasure to many within the walls of Taunton School since it was first 'discovered', as it were, in the 1880s under the inspired leadership of Thomas Dudeney. Regular concerts consisting of a mixture of vocal and instrumental items often held at Commemoration or before Christmas - date from this period. Mr Loveday was a popular contributor of robust songs like Simon the Cellarer or Widdecombe Fair. The establishment of a school choir gradually allowed for more ambitious choral works to be attempted. Christmas 1890 saw a performance of extracts from Handel's Messiah, and in 1910 Mendelssohn's Saint Paul was sung in its entirety. At a more popular level Mr F S Deering started sing-songs on Saturday evenings in the 1900s and also became the first conductor of the School Orchestra, founded in 1910 with 15 violins and described as 'quite a new departure'. There were better facilities for music practice when some special cubicles were incorporated into the new classroom block opened in 1906 (site of the present New Library) and the following amusing comment appeared in The Tauntonian: 'The performers are their own and only victims in the excellent cells designed for their incarceration'. The installation of the organ in the newly completed Chapel gave a further boost to the choir. It had been necessary to spend £600 refurbishing the organ at this time, but £100 of this was raised by the boys themselves. Further major reconstructions took place in 1933 (£1,250)4 and 1976 (£13,100). On the latter occasion the inaugural recital on the restored instrument was given by the late Sir George Thalben-Ball, then aged 80. Martin Ellis, himself a pupil of Thalben-Ball, arranged a number of celebrity organ recitals during his time at Taunton. Simon Preston, Francis Jackson and Martin Neary have all demonstrated their versatility on the school instrument. The most talented organist the School has produced was William Whitehead (Marshall 1983-88) who became Assistant Organist at Westminster Abbey and should have a bright future. The promotion of music by Harold Nicholson in the twenties and thirties has already been mentioned. Regular concerts and recitals, some by outside groups such as Dr Frossard's orchestra or the Taunton Madrigal Society became a feature of school life, and there were organ recitals in the Chapel after Sunday evening service. Thursdays were often devoted to Gilbert and Sullivan or opera. In 1914 Mr W J Wade (Music 198

4 The cost was defrayed by Mrs Yda Richardson, sister of Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills, in memory of Dame Janet and of Lord Winterstoke.


Master 1898-1932) started a Choral Society in order to 'discover the very considerable quantity of vocal musical talent that, in a school of our size, must exist'5 Michael Brown had a similar aim in mind when he refounded the society in 1975. All were encouraged to join, and there were to be no auditions. This was a gamble which paid off, and the Choral Society still flourishes. It has an impressive range of performances to its credit. Mr Nicholson also introduced the Christmas carol service, which was first held in 1923, and an outdoor promenade concert was a popular summer event. On St David's Day (1 March) a concert was put on by the Welsh contingent; at one of these Mr J Morgan (Housemaster of School House 1923-29) even delivered an address in Welsh. So Terry Curnow, with his Welsh assembly notices, was not first after all! The Principality was strongly represented at Taunton in earlier days. In the 1890s, when Taunton's numbers dropped generally, it was felt that the School could not again hope to draw as many boys from Wales, as 'Wales was now educating itself!' However, by 1916 we find Taunton again claiming a higher percentage of Welsh boys on its books than any other school in England. In that year was held the first of the St David's Day concerts which were revived with such gusto in the Nicholson era. It was a time when music flourished as never before. With Mr Nicholson's retirement in 1936 and the arrival of Donald Crichton-Miller there were some who expected music to be sidelined by more physical pursuits. Certainly the latter did achieve greater prominence in the average pupil's daily life, but this was not at the expense of musical activities which remained strong. One of Mr Crichton-Miller's first moves was, in fact, to double the size of the Chapel Choir and make it compulsory for those whose voices would enhance its performance. He and his wife also supported the recently formed Music Club from the beginning, and the tradition of visiting musicians giving recitals at the School continued. A Gramophone Club was formed in 1938, and there are contemporary references to 'the increasing interest in music at the School'. This was the era of the 'gramophone recital', and both pupils and various members of staff presented their selections. Mr A E 'Spike' Temple, the Director of Music (1932-61), gave frequent organ recitals, and lighter evenings consisting of song miscellanies and music quizzes were also arranged. Inevitably the war meant that there was less time for music, but some in-house concerts were held, and the Chapel Choir, strengthened by the addition of Eltham and Rochester boys (a few of whom had been members of the Rochester Cathedral Choir), was actually able to expand its repertoire. Typical anthems of this period - some of which, of course, reflected the sombre wartime mood - were Holst's Turn Back, 0 man and pieces by Bairstow (Save us, 0 Lord) and Mendelssohn (Thou, Lord, our refuge and I waited for the Lord). After the war junior and senior orchestras prospered under the able direction of Dorothy Edwards, who had joined the staff as violin teacher in 1944. A full performance of Handel's Messiah was held in 1946, with the school choir and orchestra supplemented by soloists of the BBC West Country Singers. Further performances of this most popular of choral works took place in 1961, 1976, 1985 and 1995. For the School's centenary in 1947 there were two special performances of Elijah, and the Festival of Britain in 1951 was marked with Judas Maccabeus. The presentation of an oratorio or major choral work on the Friday and Saturday before Commemoration was a summer tradition for most of John Leathem's headship. In the early 1950s the Music 5

Editorial, The Taunton an, April 1914

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Club doubled its membership, and the Sunday evening concerts which were to become something of a tradition over the next 25 years owed much to the untiring efforts of Mr Temple. In 1955 the Orchestra performed his own Symphony for Small Orchestra at its annual concert in February which he also conducted. It was a proud moment which won him a resounding ovation. Taunton was indeed fortunate to have had such a gifted and inspiring man as its Director of Music for so long. When he retired in 1961 after 30 years on the staff Mr Temple was able to hand on a fine tradition of school orchestral playing to his successor Mr Geoffrey Thomson. The pattern of the School's musical year changed little in the 1950s and 1960s. The carol service at Christmas, an orchestral concert in the Spring term and the Commemoration concert in the summer all came round with relentless regularity. There was a swing away from oratorio in the sixties to secular concerts composed of miscellaneous items. Plans to present Bach's B minor Mass in Mr Thomson's last year in 1967 had to be abandoned because the trebles and altos were simply not good enough. Peter Jacobs, his successor, did much to boost interest in music. He encouraged some joint ventures with Huish's Grammar School and St Joseph's Convent, and also instituted a Staff Concert which attracted an audience of 250 in 1968. A wealth of hidden staff talent was revealed in a memorable rendition of Haydn's Toy Symphony, a work which the Staff had another go at (I speak from experience) in a Commemoration concert in 1993! It was also in 1968 that a guitar group formed by Angela O'Beirne-Ryan began to give concerts, some outside the School, and often at unpredictable times. Angela O'Beirne-Ryan was an enthusiastic if somewhat eccentric teacher (Martin Ellis, who did not see eye to eye with her, referred to her less kindly as 'Mad Angela') and she was quite likely to haul a boy out of prep without warning to play at some concert or rehearsal. Times of return were suitably vague, and this may have increased the popular following she enjoyed from her budding guitarists. Angela's other predilection was for organising highly dangerous games of lacrosse on Fairwater Green - the only time the School has dabbled in this game. Pop music hit Taunton in a big way in the late sixties, even if it only grazed the surface of official school music. A survey conducted by Chris Evans in 1968 revealed that approximately half the pupils owned a radio and a third had a record player. Peter Jacobs wrote: 'There seems to be no limit to the number of boys able to cram into one of the Music School cells for a 'pop' session.' One of the earliest Marshall house socials was a musical 'freke out' (sic) in the Hangar. The 'alternative' Commemoration concert in 1968 was a 'Folk and Blues' concert held in the Memorial Hall. Groups by the name of 'Tomato Soup' and 'Made in Fairwater' performed, and folk singer Paul Cowlan was proclaimed 'a veritable Dylan'. Two years later the school folk group gaslight included a song by Cowlan as well as numbers from the repertoires of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon in a home concert and on an LP which they made. John Rae tended to encourage these forays into pop music, which shocked some senior staff. An earlier group calling itself 'Dozy and the Sleepwalkers' which had surfaced shortly before John Leathem's retirement had been kept firmly in the background. Meanwhile the refurbishment of the Music School and official opening of the Gwyn Williams Room in 19696 provided an attractive venue for the Sunday concerts which enjoyed something of a renaissance. The changes in the chancel area of the Chapel' allowed the orchestra to perform there as well as in the Memorial Hall and the gym. Peter Jacobs himself was a fine pianist if somewhat effete as a person. He helped to 6

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The money was given by Gwyn Williams OT, a former Director of Music at Repton. Chapter 2

' See


Chapel Choir at St George's Chapel, Windsor

build up the different sections of the orchestra, improved the standard of the choir and involved the School's musicians in the Taunton Festival. The legacy he left to his successor Michael Brown was a strong one. The latter's first term at Taunton in 1971 coincided with the arrival of the sixth-form girls. The benefits of a mixed choir and orchestra were soon apparent. Mike Brown was a tremendous enthusiast who could rally even reluctant and unmusical participants at congregational hymn practices. Various school music groups owe their origin to his vision and imagination. As well as the Choral Society, a wind band was started in 1974 under Cyril Chapman (remembered for his games of chess in the Common Room at break) and later under Terry Ravenor. Madrigal and barbershop groups (the latter known as the 'Barberstrops') were other innovations. Martin Ellis took the Chapel Choir in hand and even carried out voice tests on all newcomers to the School so that no-one should slip through the net. A few were classified as no go areas! Over the next 20 years the choir enjoyed a rich variety of success under its three successive directors Martin Ellis, Russell Burton and David Bridges. It has sung in many cathedrals of the south west as well as in Westminster Abbey and St George's Chapel, Windsor, where it took over from the regular choir for a whole weekend in 1991. It has also made a number of recordings of carols and anthems and taken part in broadcast services. The Choral Society has performed nearly all the well known oratorios and sacred works in recent years: Solomon, The Creation, Bach's Christmas Oratorio and St John Passion, The Dream of Gerontius and Mozart's Requiem have all been successfully tackled. In 1981 a concert version of Verdi's Nabucco was performed in the Brewhouse Theatre. Mike Brown was an actor as well as a singer, and with the arrival in 1973 of Chris Pollard, whose versatility also boasted those two talents (besides gastronomy, oenology, hockey and hispanology), the stage was set for a wonderful period in the school's musical and dramatic history. For 15 years a series of brilliant summer productions were the highlight of the school year. Often they were put together in 201


haste because the cast's involvement in examinations made rehearsals difficult to arrange and there was many a last-minute crisis.. In one sense, though, that was Chris Pollard's style: as long as the chorus had been soundly rehearsed throughout the term and the Principals had learned their individual parts, the production could be put together in the last few days with a freshness and an immediacy which owed everything to the brilliance of the producer. Gilbert and Sullivan operas were firm favourites in the 1970s, starting with Iolanthe and HMS Pinafore, Chris Pollard playing the Lord Chancellor in the first and Sir Joseph Porter in the second. It quickly became a tradition that Brian Hastilow, Chris's friend and colleague in Fairwater but not an actor, should put in an unscripted appearance on the last night. In HMS Pinafore he was a rather white-faced admiral after being lowered from the ship's rigging! Sometimes other musicals or operettas were chosen. In 1977 there were two. Oliver at Easter involved every member of Loveday House, which was closing, in some capacity, many of them as workhouse boys or proteges of Pollard's magnificently played Fagin. The play was skilfully cast - even down to Bill Sikes's dog, played by Linda Penrose's bull terrier - and the large numbers involved meant that the Memorial Hall stage had to be extended. In the summer Orpheus in the Underworld brought to the stage two members of staff of rather differing personalities: Jill Lisk as Venus - she could not resist the offer of such a part - and David Wrench as King of the Beotians. In the 1980s Chris Pollard forsook the limitations of the Memorial Hall for the gym, where a larger stage could be constructed to make a grander scale of production possible. Guys and Dolls (Hugh Hysell's vigorous lead in 'Sit down you're rockin' the

Chris Pollard (as Fagin) with some of the 1977 cast of 'Oliver'

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boat' will be long remembered), Fiddler on the Roof (with Kerrell Garner, as the fiddler, nervously in place half an hour before curtain up) and Kiss Me Kate were among the most memorable. The most ambitious was undoubtedly his production of Carmen on the Brewhouse stage in 1983: not many schools can aspire to grand opera. There were countless other straight plays which Chris Pollard either produced or appeared in; he also founded the Strollers Company and was involved in many productions in the town. It can be safely said that the present healthy state of school drama owes not a little to his inspiration. Since 1986 Philip Tyack has maintained the best traditions of school music. Regular concerts - both of the 'set piece' variety and more informal gatherings (often on Thursday evenings) attended by only a few - have afforded a glimpse of the sheer range of what is on offer. Orchestral evenings, choral music, chamber concerts, madrigals, barbershop and, more recently, a swing band have demonstrated the versatility of the School's musicians and the imaginative approach of the man who inspires them. Philip Tyack has shown a particular aptitude for bringing out the best in his musicians. Other successful groups have been Tanner's Band, directed by Mark Tanner, and a singing group for female voices entitled Bel Canto, which Miranda Lisk trained and conducted until she left the School in 1996. Both staff and pupils have worked hard behind the scenes to maintain an impressive standard of musical performance and a sense of enjoyment among the performers. Drama, as we saw, had a late start at Taunton owing to religious prejudice. Even in the early part of this century there were concerts, lectures, house socials but not plays. In the 1920s Mr Nicholson's musical evenings did not appeal to everyone, and the Saturday lectures were often 'judged by their titles and condemned beforehand', as the editor of The Tauntonian put it in 1925. Certainly the titles for the Spring term of that year were not exactly scintillating: 'Architecture' by the Headmaster of Bristol Grammar School, 'Medieval England', 'The Modern Post Office', and Major Cartwright on 'Athletic Poise'. The School had only moved on a little from the religious subjects chosen for Saturday evening 'entertainments' at the turn of the century, of which 'Free Church Camps' and 'The Work of the Religious Tract Society in North India' were but two. That same 1925 editorial suggested that pupils needed to be more positive in their attitude to intellectual pastimes. 'The team has done well and we are fast obtaining a reputation as a 'rugger' school. It is the duty of the School to see that not only the team but all other activities are well backed.' Games were not everything. There was something of an intellectual vacuum, and in the 1920s drama was discovered as a new way to fill it. The man who was largely responsible for bringing that discovery to the pupils was an OT who had joined the English staff in 1920, John Wilkins. A remarkable man, John Wilkins moved straight from Prefects' Room to Common Room at Taunton. He was one of the few pupils to obtain an external London BA degree while still at school. Head of Dayboys from 1916-19 and thereafter a sort of elder citizen, he did some teaching while still being taught, officially becoming a member of staff on completion of his degree course. His time at Taunton was an unbroken span of 51 years, second only to Mr Loveday. Described by Paul Wickham as 'a truly inspiring man' and by P G Smith as 'not just a good, but a great teacher of English', John Wilkins had the born teacher's gift of knowing how to stimulate and hold the interest of his pupils in such a way that his enthusiasms became their 203


enthusiasms, and the most unlikely of pupils were able through him to develop a love of literature. His own greatest love was drama - he was a founder member of the Taunton Thespians and later of the Brewhouse Theatre - and it was not surprising that he was soon pioneering the development of theatre at Taunton School. By 1923 he had introduced play readings, and it was not long before this led to the real thing. The earliest school production recorded was Loyalties by John Galsworthy in March 1928. It was well received, though it is interesting that the review writer should comment that 'boys never play girls' parts with John Wilkins complete satisfaction ... what mere male can hope to understand the psychological intricacies or imitate the graces of the opposite sex?' This was followed in 1929 by The Professor's Love Story, which the critic enjoyed but decried as J M Barrie's worst play. Other pre-war productions included Sheridan's The Rivals and Tobias and the Angel by James Bridie. The School was also permitted to attend John Wilkins' Thespians productions at the Lyceum in the town, and these were much enjoyed. The Classical Sixth also attended the Antigone of Sophocles in the Greek theatre at Bradfield in 1931. Play readings in school attracted large audiences and there were visits to the Memorial Hall by travelling companies such as the English Players, Chanticleer Opera, and the Troupe Francaise, who performed Moliere. The first of the legendary Stratford trips began another tradition in 1933. Taunton was plunging into drama with all the enthusiasm of the convert for an adopted cause, and the passion proved to be an enduring one. The idea of a house drama competition started in 1938 with a festival of short plays put on by house members within the Drama Club. The winners on that occasion were School House with that one-act favourite The Monkey's Paw. During the war play readings and productions continued, though resources and rehearsal time were limited. John Wilkins nevertheless managed to produce Richard of Bordeaux, The Devil's Disciple and the war thriller Cottage to Let, the last in under a month. The House Drama Festival, now involving Eltham and Rochester, was revived in 1941. In 1943 and 1944 came the School's first attempts at Gilbert and Sullivan with Trial by Jury and Pirates of Penzance (the latter on an improvised stage in the covered playground) - a genre rarely taken up again8 until Chris Pollard returned to it so successfully in the 1970s. After the war regular dramatised readings before a school audience remained popular, and the formal production of a 'school play' at Christmas had by now become traditional. Curiously no Shakespeare play was presented at Taunton until Macbeth featured as the Christmas production in 1950. Drama for juniors took off in 1954 when John Dewdney produced Toad of Toad Hall. The following year he went one better and wrote a play for juniors himself 4D or Spacemen All - a propaganda play examining the state of the 204

8 There

was a version of Princess Ida in 1951


teaching profession. Later on the junior houses became involved with an annual revue known as the Junior Entertainment, a miscellany of sketches and musical items. It was run for a number of years by Martin Ellis, whose own brand of humour was detectable in some of the offerings. After John Wilkins retired in 1961 school plays were produced by Mr Parslew and Mr West until John Carrington took over in 1970. The latter was a fine producer with many successes to his credit: 0 What a Lovely War and The Caucasian Chalk Circle spring to mind. John is also an excellent actor who appeared regularly in Taunton with the Thespians and Strollers until he had to curtail his dramatic activities on assuming the mantle of Second Master in 1985. There was also the occasional student production: in 1968 a group of boys put on Little Malcolm in the post-A Level period on a budget of ÂŁ10 and with no help from staff. A Sixth Form revue in 1972 had a more cutting edge than the junior version. This was the Monty Python era and, predictably, the humour was 'cool and slightly off-beat'. One sketch, described as containing 'some neat side-swipes at our over-protected Royal Family', may have been ahead of its time. In 1973 Nic Pride, a Wills East sixth former, wrote and produced his own play After Genesis. This treated the theme of survival from the nuclear holocaust in a meaningless, Kafkaesque world where truth was unidentifiable. Bizarre to the core (the programme was a computer print out, with the cast a series of blanks), the play reflected the concerns of its age. It was, in spite of its weirdness, a notable achievement. The only other occasion on which a pupil has written and produced a play was in 1996 when Nick Hill (Marshall 1991-6) made his mark on the new theatre with A Fine Art. This play - a clever thriller in an aristocratic setting - could not have been more different from After Genesis. It was hailed by all who saw it as an exceptional achievement. The 1970s saw the establishment of the Fairwater play as Chris Pollard's annual spring offering to Taunton School drama. In the earliest productions (Black Comedy in 1974 was the first) all the performers were from Fairwater except the ladies, but as the years went by other talented actors were invited to join the cast as guests. The reputation of the productions was such that to be asked was a privilege and an honour. Society comedy was often the favoured genre, and Hay Fever, The Importance of Being Earnest and A Woman of No Importance were among Chris's early choices. In 1978, in addition to producing Ruddigore for Fairwater - a switch to comic opera for a change he inveigled a number of staff into taking part in a Common Room production of N F Simpson's comedy of the absurd, One Way Pendulum'. It may be nearly 20 years ago, but memories abound - of Roger Priest prompting Barbara Thomas in the wings every time she came off stage (she somehow carried her portrayal of the aimless Mrs Groomkirby into real life and found it impossible to remember her lines!); of a 'demented' Bea Roberts on a wheelchair to nowhere; of Mike Brown flapping his arms inanely as he tried to teach weighing machines to sing; and of that wonderful line 'You can't knock down a doctor with an ambulance - it's a contradiction in terms!'. So, in a sense, was the Staff's participation in such a play, but we (and the School) enjoyed it immensely. After Chris Pollard's departure in 1989 for the world of upmarket tourism, school drama could have been forgiven for lying fallow for a while. Not a bit of it: the 1990s have seen an array of talent and an impressive range of productions worthy of the headiest days of the Pollard era. Chris Coles, who had already produced the occasional school play in the eighties, came into his own with thought-provoking 9

An earlier Staff play was 'Grouse in June', produced by John Wilkins as a wartime event in 1942.

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plays such as Doctor Faustus, Whose Life is it Anyway? and The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings (starring Edward Griffith) and the cricket comedy Outside Edge were lighter offerings, and there were plays and musicals for juniors such as Sweeney Todd and The Boy Friend. Chris Coles and Philip Tyack carried on the summer tradition with Cabaret and Little Shop of Horrors. Particularly striking were, in the former, the brilliant performances of James Priory and Lucy Powell and, in the latter, the lunatic rantings of Grant Parker, who came into his own as a deranged dentist. Freda Storey, drama teacher and experienced thespian, also brought her expertise to productions like the brilliant Cole Porter musical Anything Goes - most memorable for Karin Tyack's scintillating interpretation of Reno and Fizzy Meads's tour de force as an elderly curmudgeon - and a delightful open-air version of Under Milk Wood. Student-directed productions have seen a steady increase in recent years, and Plaza Suite, Spider's Web, A Midsummer's Night's Dream and The Wyrd Sisters have all featured. The last two had large casts and were notable achievements by respective producers Patrick Chatterton and Edward Byne. Most memorable perhaps was Medea, performed in the Chapel in 1995. Produced by Jenny Davidson and Susannah Noble, this masterpiece of Euripides was handled with consummate skill, the haunting atmosphere of the chorus and an outstanding performance by Katie Read in the title role creating an authentic sense of Greek tragedy. The opening of the new theatre in 1995 and the elevation of drama to an A Level subject, with a full-time teacher Meryl Smart, has added further impetus to school drama. At Christmas 1994 an elaborate music hall named Victorian Verisimilitudes was staged by Declan Rogers to bid farewell in appropriate style to the old Memorial Hall. Once again the staff were persuaded to contribute by treading the boards in the short melodrama Murder in the Old Red Barn. Since autumn 1995 there have already been eight full-scale productions in the new theatre, including a joint production of Oliver with TPS by Declan Rogers and Philip Tyack last Christmas. The theatre is proving a tremendous asset, and there is much talent and interest in drama among the pupils. A school which produces four plays a year can look to the future with considerable confidence. One annual in-house event combining music and drama of a kind has enjoyed great popularity over the years: the House Singing Competition. There had been a house music competition of a more highbrow nature in the 1950s when houses competed for the Record Cup (given by Northern Branch OTs in memory of S P Record) in an evening of choral and instrumental items. The style of the event was formal and the standard high enough to merit the presence of a musician of repute as adjudicator: in 1953, for example, Dr Herbert Sumsion of Gloucester Cathedral was invited to judge the evening. By 1964 both this and the House Drama Competition were defunct, and in 1975 the enthusiastic Mike Brown designed a lighter inter-house event, perhaps with the then popular Eurovision Song Contest in mind. Each house would present two songs, the first of which involved the whole house in an item from a prescribed selection, and the second could demonstrate the versatility of a smaller group in a piece of their own choosing. From the start House Singing was a success. Wills East were the first winners. Houses with musical talent organised their own rehearsals and those without could obtain help from the music staff, who had a frenetic fortnight before the event rushing from house to house. Day houses had to squeeze rehearsals in where possible, while boarding houses could use the evenings, often continuing late into the night as details of the second song in particular were worked out. It was 206


always a time of feverish activity which enhanced the sense of anticipation as the competition day approached. In the early days the contest was uncomplicated, with serried ranks of uniformed pupils singing their hearts out from the stage of the Memorial Hall. Boys' houses lacking talent particularly dreaded the purgatory of performing, and listening to them could be an equally taxing experience. The school audience was not always kind. However, after a few years the temptation to tamper with the material (especially the second song) to create a more entertaining scenario led to some original and amusing performances like Fairwater's winning 'Come to the Chapel Day' which was a brilliant parody on the theme song to Cabaret. Not all the experiments were in good taste, and the competition risked its future in the 1980s by the tendency for some houses to go 'over the top', such as when Evans sang an uncensored Lumberjack Song to shock Roger Priest or when Peter Roberts featured in a Marshall group smoking on stage, to Norman's eternal embarrassment. One year School House under the leadership of Henry Oliver (an able musician with a rebellious streak) was rumoured to be preparing a 'rude' second song, and Richard Giles, whose annual plea 'This, gentlemen, is the year when we're going to play it straight' fell increasingly on deaf ears, was worried. He knew he was unable to attend the competition that year because of a prior engagement, and he feared that if his proposed absence was known it would be a case of 'no holds barred'. He therefore laid a brilliant scheme to give the impression he was around when he was not, making appointments to see people and even announcing that he would be issuing house ties (traditional wear for the event) at 7 pm, half an hour before the start of the competition. I was deputed to arrive at 7.05, apologize that Mr Giles had been held up in the Common Room and hand out the ties: no-one suspected that he was already in London! On stage the singers (after warnings from me) sang the first line of the controversial song and stopped; two juniors ran across with a board proclaiming 'censored' and the performers transferred to a more acceptable version. It was a suitable schoolboy compromise. If some pupils used the early years of the House Singing to shock people, the emphasis is now on entertaining them. Houses now have complete freedom to organise everything themselves; there are no rules about costumes and the choice of songs is open. This has made for a more enjoyable evening all round, as those who cannot sing can concentrate on amusing the audience. The cups (one for the winning house and one for the best house of the opposite sex) are still, however, awarded primarily on the basis of musical expertise incorporated into a slick performance. The most successful houses over 22 years have been Foxcombe Boys and Gloucester, with 4 wins each, though nearly every house has won at least once. On the night victory means much and emotions run high. Neither Foxcombe boys nor School House were winners in the years their houses closed, though an audience vote would have left a victory in no doubt. School House, with their top hats doffed in the finale to illuminate the house's name in the darkened hall - a brilliantly conceived operation which owed much to Ben Cook and literally hours of preparation - really did have hopes (not to be realised) of persuading the judge that, on this occasion, real and poetic justice were the same. Neil Mason told him quite plainly afterwards what a mistake he had made! The house's disappointment was greater than in any sporting defeat. In the House Singing Competition house spirit can reach an apogee not attained elsewhere, perhaps because it is the only school event which involves every single member of the house. 207


House Singing; the Staff song

There have been innumerable clubs and societies in the course of Taunton's history, though few of them pre-date the First World War. Debating, as we saw, goes back to 1883, and there is a record of a Chess and Draughts club being established in 1889. It must have lapsed fairly quickly, as we read that in 1892 the Reading Room was 'our only society'. Its function has already been described. In 1910 the Chess Club was revived and Mr E V Watkins, Housemaster of School House West, started a Photographic Club - which immediately attracted 60 members, such was the interest in this rapidly advancing art form - and a Natural History Society. Mr Watkins was a strong motivating force behind many school activities. In 1912 House chess and debating competitions were organised to complement the various inter-house sports encounters, and School House and Fairwater both had their own house debating societies around this time. The war interrupted all these activities, and it was not until the 1920s and the Nicholson era that clubs and societies were again established. Chess and debating were the first to resurface, and soon to follow were the new ventures of a Radio Society째 and a Life Saving Group. Interest in the Photographic Society was rekindled in 1923 by a special competition offering prizes of 7s 6d (37p) for the best pictures of the walnut tree falling. Vivian Evans (1919-25) still has the photograph he took on that day. Two Scout troops were formed under Mr A D Ward in 1923. Freddie Dowell was Assistant Scoutmaster of the Top Corridor troop; the other was based at Foxcombe. Camps were held at St Audries, Milverton and later at Cothelstone, and in 1937 nine scouts represented the troop at an International Jamboree in Holland. Mr V F Davey started the Scientific Society in 1925", and we have already seen how music and drama were expanding during these years. The opportunities for extra-curricular activities were now considerable. Since then school clubs and societies have tended to come and go as interests have waxed and waned. An Indoor Games Club, which added puzzles and oriental games like mah-jongg and halma to the by now well established chess and draughts owed its 208

lu See

Chapter 5

11 See Chapter 4


origins to 'a casual suggestion at the breakfast table'. This club lasted only two years but may have enjoyed reincarnation (with more emphasis on the puzzles) in the famous 'Mindbenders' which Nigel Maggs ran in the 1970s. The end-of-term 'fun' meetings entitled 'Christmas Crackers' and 'Easter Eggsercises' were eagerly awaited. A Literary Society founded in 1944, became the Literary and Historical Society a few years later. Familiarly known as the 'Lit and Hist' it long flourished as one of the School's leading intellectual meeting points. In 1932 a newly formed Architectural Society, no doubt envious of the Burke, thought of calling itself 'The Wren' or 'The Lutyens' but concentrated instead on making rather pompous comments on buildings around the School. Here is an example from 1933: 'The pseudo-Gothic - or as one member put it, Gothick - nature of the main block was noted ... The Winterstoke Library excited some approval, though the unresolved duality of the Memorial Buildings was adversely commented on.' The society commanded support in the thirties but died, perhaps of pretentiousness, eight years later. So often the vitality of a club depends on the enthusiasm of particular teachers. One can almost chart the comings and goings of the latter by tracing the rise and fall of certain societies. Thus a Naturalist Society founded by Ernest Neal in 1946 specialised in interesting field trips and actually joined the Association of School Natural History Societies which aimed to stimulate natural history observation in schools nationwide. Boys went bird-watching and scoured the local countryside for interesting flora and fauna as well as spiders, butterflies and, not surprisingly with Ernest Neal in charge, badgers. Later there were more ambitious extended trips to Lundy Island and a number of Field Centres around the country. Dr Neal's son Keith was Secretary of the society in 1956. The Natural History Society also prospered during John Oakshatt's time on the staff (1976-86) but died a swift death after his departure. Nigel Maggs's arrival in 1960 heralded the formation of a Bellringers' Society, and mysterious mentions of 'bob doubles' and 'grandsire doubles' filled the termly reports. A quarter peal was rung at Staplegrove Church in 1966 to mark John Leathem's retirement. Interest fell away after 1970 though even in the 1990s we knew that the Taunton School Ringers still existed, because their efforts at school services at St Mary's Church received official credit on the service sheet cover. Dr John Tolliday revitalised the Photographic Club with his interest and expertise during his time as School Doctor (1992-5). The Modern Language Society was the brainchild of Dr Glyn Court, Head of Modern Languages from 1968-74. It was developed by his successor, the dynamic Peter Jones, who took groups to Calais for the day fortified by numerous 'swift stellas' en route. It met on Monday nights and attracted a number of outside speakers including the manager of Taunton's County Hotel who introduced us to the Estonian national anthem. Trevor Snow continued the society with enthusiasm over the next 20 years, using it latterly as an extension to teaching sixth formers some of the invaluable cultural aspects of language study relevant to their coursework. Missing Modern Language Society became 'the' great crime in Trevor Snow's eyes: absent sixth formers had to explain themselves personally to him, a meeting at which he became, in the words of one pupil 'all stern and serious'. The Philatelic Society was run by John Dearden for all of his 40 years on the staff (1928-68) - surely a record for one individual's contribution to a school club. Sadly the society ceased shortly after his retirement. The interests of an age are perhaps as relevant as the passions of individuals. Stamp collecting as a hobby is considered passe by schoolchildren today. 209


Similarly an aeroplane spotters' club in the 1940s, born in wartime, was sustained for a few years by interest in an expanding aircraft industry. An Esperanto Group in the 1950s and a Wargames Club in the 1970s reflected passing fascinations of two other generations. Life, as A S Neill said, is full of fragments of interests. The 1950s, as one might expect, were the heyday of the school society. Taunton still consisted predominantly of boarders, exeats were few and transport possibilities more limited than today. What better way to spend long winter evenings and Sunday afternoons than meeting to share hobbies with like-minded people? The orderliness of this period made it the natural ally of the well-structured school club with its AGM, list of officers, regular meetings and comprehensive if rather dull annual reports in the school magazine. In 1956 one issue contained 15 society reports. New foundations had mushroomed since 1950. In that year a Venturers' Society was formed - Mike Willacy was the first Chairman - with broadly scouting ideals; its aim was to attract boys who had left the Scouts to join the CCF but who were still interested in the outdoor life. It was, in a way, a predecessor of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme started by Prince Philip in 1956, which has enjoyed much popularity and success in the School since a branch was formed in 1967. In 1951 a Printing Club was founded' with the aim of producing programmes for school plays and the like. By 1954 it was responsible for printing over 3000 articles for the School generally. There followed a Scottish Country Dancing Club, which only lasted a year (1954-5), a Badminton Club (1955), playing in the Covered Playground, a Jazz Club (1956), a Geological Society (1957) and yet another 'Arts Society' combining music and drama in 1959. We saw elsewhere how popular ballroom dancing was during this period, and chess continued to enjoy a substantial following. There was, as yet, no bridge: John Leathem did not approve of cards. Paul Wickham remembers playing bridge well out of sight in the CCF but to escape detection and punishment. He had to wait until after John Leathem's retirement - by which time Paul had returned to Taunton as a master before he could introduce bridge as a school activity. This he did with considerable success from 1967, though the rebellious attitudes dating from around that time ruffled the waters of most school societies and were the death of many. A new society had replaced them, as Chris Pollard once told a Tuesday Assembly with uncharacteristic severity when culture was at a particularly low ebb. It was an ominous one: the Apathy Society. The passive nature of television culture as well as the taste for things shocking and unpredictable promoted by pop culture were responsible for this. Television had not impinged on the School in the 1950s, and senior pupils still identified strongly with the establishment. Popular music existed, but it was kept in its place. The picture of the ideal sixth former as a respectable, industrious senior who set a responsible example to juniors by committing himself to school societies was firmly rejected in the late sixties. In fact the sixth form editor of The Tauntonian declared in 1968 that if he met such a person he would strangle him in the nearest dark alley. Apathy was preferable. All things formal were under attack, and even - perhaps inevitably - the venerable Burke was a target: 'Who can truthfully say that he is not bored with the interminable, toothless mumblings of the School's oldest society?' wrote Tony Bradly, a School Prefect. Such cracks in the establishment could not fail to have a deleterious effect. Even in an apathetic society one looks to one's elders, and it was really the failure of senior pupils to support the idea of school societies which caused their collapse. 12

210

There may have been an earlier one as some OTs recall printing activities in the 1930s.


The Burke and the Scientific Society survived: classics usually do. There were also Alec Knight's discussion groups, Clark Centre committees and lots of English Festival presentations. It was good to talk, if differently from before. The 'Lit and Hist' disappeared and was replaced in the 1980s by the John Wilkins Society which combined literary and musical interests. There was also an English Society which met occasionally in the civilised surroundings of the Carringtons' sitting-room at Lightcliffe. A few new societies surfaced after the dust of the early seventies had settled. There was Mindbenders, and Roger Priest started Antiquitas for a group of young classical enthusiasts in 1976. Icthus, dealing with religious questions, was run by Terry Curnow. A Film Club to promote a serious interest in good cinema was superintended by Chris Pollard, assisted on occasions by Martin Ellis, whose keyboard accompaniments to silent classics like Battleship Potemkin were evocative and memorable. Chess enjoyed a new lease of life following the lead of the Hick brothers who between them won nearly every county and regional tournament in the midseventies. Bridge enjoyed a growing popularity as in society generally. The Colmer family presented a trophy for the house competition which, appropriately", was often won by School House. However the 1990s have seen a dearth of school bridge players and efforts are being made by Bridget Goldsmith and others to revive interest in the game. Apart from the evergreen Burke, school societies no longer fill much of the spare time of present-day pupils. The change is due partly, as we have seen, to changes in society itself, but also to the existence now of a greater number of activities which take pupils out of school and claim their time. Many of these are outdoor pursuits like the Duke of Edinburgh's Award which organises a wide range of camps as well as shorter excursions on some training afternoons. The annual Ten Tors expedition on Dartmoor (for which the School first entered teams in 1968) is a tremendous challenge which now attracts national interest. Training for this event, organised for some years at Taunton by Sue Rodway, is more comprehensive than before and occupies a considerable part of the spring and early summer terms. Fieldwork for subjects like Geography and Biology involves seniors in several consecutive days of outings and fact-finding, and juniors are taken on farm visits to illustrate the practical side of their geography syllabus. Several service activities have involved trips out of school: pupils did community service at Tone Vale, a conservation group run by Dr John Lewis did valuable work at Fyne Court for many years, and a task force under Stephen Pugh helped to tidy up country churchyards in a series of outings in 1988. Interested pupils devoted time, under the guidance of James Williams, to monitoring barn owls as part of the School's contribution to a national survey in 1985 on an endangered species; an otter group fulfilled a similar role in the early nineties, with weekly trips into the countryside to investigate the behaviour patterns of otters on the River Tone. Other undertakings have had a charitable or fund-raising purpose. The School was a strong supporter of ActionAid and its Burundi Forestry programme for a number of years. In 1980 Terry Curnow mounted an onslaught with gangs of pupils on large areas of Taunton to persuade householders to give one item of non-perishable food towards Christmas hampers for the needy. It was a huge operation concentrated in one week in November and the vast pile of nearly 7,000 tins and packets stacked in the Chapel chancel was material evidence of its success. This was also the era of the sponsored event, not just walks for potteries and pianos, but other hard drives to raise money for 13 Robert

(1981-90) and Geoffrey (1982-91) Colmer were both in School House

211


equipment. much-needed There was, for example, a sponsored 24-hour drum marathon in 1987 organised by Aidan Hansell to provide ÂŁ500 of the cost of new timpani, and abseiling from the School Tower in aid of something has become a regular happening. Even Barry Sutton has made the descent, very professionally in Scout uniform in aid of Comic Relief in 1989. There have also been numerous raffles, social events and cake stalls into which pupils, staff and parents have put much hard work in the drive to raise money for foreign sports tours. Various Comic Relief days have sparked a plethora of ingenious fundraising ideas, one of the most original being a sponsored baked bean eating contest organised by Foxcombe boys in 1988. Some bizarre crossdressing also featured on that occasion, and one boy wore his uniform inside-out. The staff lead was taken by Mike Cook who tried to look fetching in a red mini-skirt for the day. The School has also participated in charitable events in the region such as Operation Moonraker and an annual sponsored swim at the St James's pool in Taunton. The activities towards which present-day pupils direct their energies are increasingly diverse. Much of the emphasis is on getting out and about: theatre trips (first organised by Paul Wickham in the 1960s despite initial opposition from housemasters); involvement in county-level sports, often on Sundays; activities like orienteering, canoeing and rock-climbing; excursions with the CCF; visits to universities for Open Days; language exchanges and other educational visits lasting a day or a week. The opportunities are endless, and the variety of modern school life is impressive. The key to this major change of focus is ease of transport. Without the minibuses which the School now possesses many of the activities described above would be impossible. The ease with which a small group can be moved around has opened up many opportunities which before the 1970s were neither practical nor affordable. Nigel Maggs's bellringers could only get to churches because Bill Stock had a car and drove them there. Minibuses now serve every transport need from taking a few fencers to Wellington for a match to escorting an exchange group to France. For Field Days and expeditions the vehicles are in great demand and a strictly operated booking system is 212


necessary. Without the minibuses the School would be a much more limited place. And so the contrast with the School's early years is a marked one. Little more than 100 years ago the only outing of any distance which most pupils could expect was the annual school picnic. In 1885 the chosen destination was Minehead, 'a little known seaside village on the Bristol Channel'. The extreme distance (23 miles!) meant rising at 5.45 am and setting off on a five-hour journey with stops at Crowcombe and Williton to rest the horses. The following description captures well the atmosphere of a vanished world: 'Breakfast commenced at 6.30 am, and came to an abrupt termination a few moments later on the arrival of the brakes - everyone being in a great hurry to select desirable locations in these vehicles. The upper desks, sure in the possession of the four-horse brake, watched with dignified indifference the surging mass of the lower school squabbling for places in this much desired vehicle; and then the intruders having been turned out, settled down themselves; the roll having been called after a few minutes waiting, a start was made: the Principal's brake going ahead amid the lusty cheers (or rather yells) of the school and the joyous blare of Pompom's cornet. We reached our destination at noon, just in time to see the 'Lorna Doone', the Coach from Lynton come in. Almost everyone now rushed off to bathe, whilst a few hired boats. .... After dinner, which was at one, the great attraction was the whortleberries (not quite ripe) on the lofty bracken-covered hill on the west side of the village. The view from the top across to Wales is by no means despicable. .... After tea, a few rash youths, regardless of the shortness of the time, again refreshed themselves with a dip; and then preparations were made for a start homewards. The roll was called, and Pompom's notes rang out clearly on the evening air, astonishing and delighting the elite of Minehead, who had done us the honour of coming out to stare at us. ... The drive home in the cool of a lovely summer's evening was most delightful: we stopped at the same halting places, and were welcomed by even larger crowds of the inhabitants. ... The singing this year was extremely feeble compared with last; the Welshmen being we believe more scattered. We arrived home at 11.15 pm, and took supper at 12 by gas-light. After which all indulged in slumbers sweet, having spent a most enjoyable day, thanks to the admirable arrangements of those responsible.' In 1886 the School journeyed by train on its annual picnic for the first time. The chosen destination was Teignmouth, and this resort remained a favourite till around the turn of the century. A change was made in 1896 when the School had instead a whole holiday to watch Somerset play Gloucestershire at the County Cricket Ground. The highlight of the day was watching Mr W G Grace make 186. In 1908 the School spared no expense and organised a truly grand expedition by hiring a special train to London to see the Orient Exhibition. The only other occasion on which the School has travelled by private train was when John Dewdney hired one to take everyone to the acclaimed Pompeii Exhibition in 1976. The day was a great success, the only irony being that on the return journey John Dewdney missed his own train and had to travel back to Taunton on a scheduled service! Local outings to the Quantocks or Blackdowns were still by horse brake in the 1900s. There are records of picnics in the hills in 1903 and 1907, and from 1895 field parties of botany students were also going out occasionally. In 1911 a Past and Present cricket tour travelled to its Friday match at Holford by four-horse brake via Kingston and Buncombe Hill; on Saturday the players took the train to Minehead; but on Monday came the exciting announcement 213


that 'the Doctor had ordered three motor cars at 9 o'clock to take us to Sidmouth'. This is the earliest occasion on which motor transport was used. In one weekend those cricketers had linked past and future. Today they would travel by minibus. In transport terms the railway did for the late 19th century what the motor coach and minibus did for the twentieth, and new freedom of movement brought new possibilities to each generation. No account of out-of-school activities can fully do justice to the complexity of boarding life at Taunton. Besides all the games, expeditions, societies and cultural pursuits there are the house parties and socials which feature in the annual round of school events. Over the years these have been as diverse as they have been numerous. From the 'jollifications' of Dr Bewglass's days to modern discos, Christmas dinners or parties in the Fairwater cellars, boarders have sought a lighter side to life. Sometimes special gatherings have been held to mark a particular event, such as a School House supper in 1924 to celebrate the winning of all four rugby cups (1st, 2nd, Colts and noncolours), or Evans House's formal dinner in 1996 to mark the retirement of housemaster Trevor Snow. Shrove Tuesday is enjoyed by amateur pancake makers in several houses, and others organise birthday parties or prefects' skittles outings. At school level the Christmas Lunch, with large helpings and the kitchen staff in party hats, is an appropriately festive occasion. Guy Fawkes Day was much enjoyed in the School's earlier days. 5th November was still a day of considerable licence in nineteenth-century England (even in the 1960s Oxford colleges still posted notices warning undergraduates of the inadvisability of venturing into the town), and Independent College marked the occasion with fireworks or a turkey supper. At the bonfire of 1884 it was reported that the guy bore an uncanny resemblance to the Foreign Master, Monsieur Corneille! In 1910 a Montgolfier 'fire balloon' was part of the celebrations. There were summer fireworks to mark the Coronation of George V in 1911. Otherwise outside events, apart from war, have impinged little on the school's relatively enclosed world. There is an interesting passing reference in The Tauntonian of March 1883 to the death of Wagner, and Gladstone's passing was deeply mourned in 1898. Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887 when the Committee voted against plans to plant a commemorative row of trees, was marked only with a special summer concert; her diamond jubilee ten years later coincided with the School's own 50th anniversary, and the latter was considered the more important event. The Queen's passing in 1901 was, however, noted with grief, and the School helped to swell the Taunton crowd on Edward VII's proclamation day. At the OT dinner of that year the company felt strange responding to the toast 'The King' for the first time in the School's history. In 1936 Donald Crichton-Miller strode into a Fairwater West dormitory with a portable radio and told the boys to listen to King Edward VIII's abdication speech. Also in 1936, Harold Bennett remembers J B Evans declaring as he did his dormitory round that 'the Crystal Palace is burning down right now', and blowing sparks from his pipe as if to prove it. On four occasions the School has enjoyed the excitement of a royal visit, the most recent being that of HRH the Duchess of Gloucester in 1981. Most of the time, however, internal events have more immediacy for pupils than external ones. Even in our media-infested age the self-sufficiency of the school community proves extraordinarily resilient. Much of what happens within it finds its way into people's memories but not into the official chronicles. For school life is an absorbing thing.

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Chapter Nine

CRIME DISCOVERED & UNDISCOVERED

A

writer in The Tauntonian in 1889, reminiscing about his own schooldays, o) ,erves that 'all schoolboy recollections are mainly of the truant order'. Escapades, pranks, misdemeanours and their consequences never fail to fascinate each succeeding generation. All the best stories concern those who broke the rules or bucked the system; among OTs interviewed for this book they were certainly the memories most vividly and pleasurably recalled. There is a strong feeling that such escapades demonstrate character and positive endeavour, and hence excite admiration. Rules are made to be broken, as the old clichĂŠ says. Pupils desisting are labelled dull or too timid to risk the punishment, which, according to another 'rule', the culprit must accept stoically if he is caught and it is deserved. All this may have something to do with the ideals set forth in the public school novels which enjoyed such popularity in the late nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, and the cult of manliness is no doubt relevant to some of those prevailing attitudes to school crime and punishment. However, misbehaviour in school did not start or finish with the Victorians, and a natural love of mischief among the young more likely constitutes the unchanging ingredient. Victorian schoolteachers (and, in the case of Taunton, Committee members), with their religious zeal and moral uprightness, were determined to meet the challenge of the manifestations of original sin. The age in which Taunton School was founded was one of fierce discipline in schools. We saw in Chapter 8 the treatment meted out to boys who ran away, and it is not much more compassionate than what we read in accounts from the end of the eighteenth century. Charles Lamb's horrifying description of an auto da fe at Christ's Hospital springs to mind'. There were countless other examples of uncompromising discipline, with punishments sometimes given for quite trivial offences. When Thring of Uppingham thrashed some boys who missed the school train and so returned late after the Easter holidays, Punch commented, 'If he did not train their minds, he taught them to mind their trains'. At the Dissenters' Proprietary School W C Hine remembers boys being drawn aside by Dr Bewglass at bedtime 'for a serious talk, followed by a taste of the cane, of which the Doctor was an adept.' He recalls one particular occasion when a nearby farmer came to the school to complain that boys had been stealing his apples, and Dr Bewglass questioned each boy as to his involvement, extracting a number of confessions. By a lucky error Hine was not asked, and so evaded any moral pressure to tell the truth. He was less fortunate in another incident which led to his removal from the School in 1854. He was given a severe beating by the French master for ridiculing him in class, and his screams brought the intervention of the Headmaster who was in the adjoining room. Dr Bewglass stopped the thrashing and sent Hine and two other boys who had commented on his treatment to a room upstairs, where all Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago in Essays of Elia 1823

215


three were kept in bed on a diet of bread and water for a week, though the kindly Mrs Cuff, the Matron, secretly provided them with something better. When Hine's adult elder brother arrived at the School and learned the circumstances he demanded an explanation of the severity of the punishment from Dr Bewglass. This incident led not only to Hine's withdrawal but also to staff resignations and a special committee meeting. It was one of a number of disciplinary incidents which indirectly brought about the Principal's resignation. As for solitary confinement on bread and water, there is evidence that this punishment was used at some schools, notably Mill Hill in 1850, but the crisis it provoked at Taunton is likely to have caused it to be abandoned. It appears to resemble suspension of a rather more penal nature than the kind later resorted to. Some of the wild behaviour which boys got up to in the School's early days are recaptured in the reminiscences in which Old Boys loved to indulge in speeches, letters and on return visits to the School. Such, in fact, was their fondness for so doing that in 1897 a frustrated present pupil wrote to The Tauntonian urging them not to give away all their secrets: 'There is no chance of bunking a bathe or hiding a tuck in the dormitories or humbugging in any way, if they will persist in giving everything away. I should have thought they would have had more sense.' Samuel Figgis (1850-56 and later President of the School 1911-20) wrote in 1899 about some of the antics of the Wellington Road days: 'We'd damaged old Waxy's fences and the School was fined ÂŁ10. We collected this ÂŁ10 in halfpence and paid it down on the nail, that is, on the floor with a bang in the old bare schoolroom. The inevitable caning followed. We roasted sparrows, and other things in our desks, and with pepper and butter surreptitiously provided, made a meal of far intenser delight and taste than yours now. All this is out of date now. Up-to-date boys scorn these delights, but we had our fun - our earth dwellings, our secret passages through hedges, our bedroom fights and even descents from the windows by night. These things are banished nowadays from civilised academies ...' In such reminiscences there is always the feeling that boys of an older generation were more inventive and more daring than their successors. This is merely age asserting itself over youth, for the truth would seem to be otherwise. Godfrey Pullen, in Harvest of Years, recounts an experience of 1909 when he was secretly keeping a crow with a damaged wing in his desk in the schoolroom: 'Dr Whittaker's vast gowned figure dominated the platform. I think we awaited some shattering announcement for there was what might be referred to as a breathless hush. This was broken by my crow - a somewhat muffled 'Caw'! Dr Whittaker's head jerked up - 'Who was that?' The silence was even more pronounced. 'Stand up the boy who made that noise!' He struggled to his feet and gnawed the back of his hand and flicked his fingers, customary when agitated - his nickname was Flip. His face was flushed. 'The whole School will miss ...' I rose on uncertain legs. 'Please, sir, it was a crow'. 'Nonsense'! he barked from somewhere deep in his chest. There was nothing for it - I held my crow aloft.' Another perennial in the history of school 'crime' is the dormitory prank. Here the accent is on fun rather than wickedness, and whether the occasion is a raid, a feast or a pillow fight, the challenge is not to be found out. The so-called School House motto 'Crime undiscovered is not crime at all' (which intrigued Richard Giles and which he often quoted in light-hearted speeches at house dinners) inspired the title of this chapter. While thoroughly unsound as a moral principle, the phrase captures well the 216


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090

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