Saturday, 19 May 2012

Uppingham-by-the-Sea – the narrative continues – 2nd Act

In the year 1876 ... when boy collected sticks ...
Pick up sticks

... remember the setting – a whole school uprooted from middle England to west Wales – to be temporarily posted to a shore where once again it became an asylum for other outcasts, as those recorded in the poetry of Taliesen – the late 6thcentury Welsh bard.

Borth submerged forest

That sandy shoreline, the ancient submerged forest visible at low tide along the beach, where stumps of oak, pine, birch, willow and hazel can be seen, the watery causeway below, that stretched out across the now flooded plain - where the waves come thundering in from the stormy Irish Sea.

The Headmaster addressed the morning roll-call ... they were making history – let them all share together, and make the experience a happy one for themselves.

Now began the experiment ... too much laundry – half was allocated to Aberystwith; insufficient linen – bales were brought in ... reallocation of boys to rooms in the village, rather than in one place –the hotel ...

Vulcanised Rubber Football 1800s

... that first week closed with the last of the football house-matches, which had been interrupted at Uppingham; it was a sight to behold – the school swarming into railway carriages, to be carried the four miles to that rolled ground.

All the World’s a Stage ... the supporting shouts of the English boys, blending with the excited but unintelligible cries of the Welsh rustic children, who were rapt spectators of the  beautiful game ... as football is known.

The Seven Ages of Man by
William Mulready, 1838, illustrating
"All The World's A Stage"

The boys have found that there will be dinner every day; the masters that no one will have to pitch his tent on a sand-dune, or spread a straw litter in a bathing machine.

In particular, one cheery well-furnished parlour, where a blazing hearth threw its light and warmth over the well-worn bindings of a select library brought with them from the Sixth-Form room, onto the contented faces of its two custodians – warm in their work.

On page 18 you will find a dialogue between Grumbler and Cheerful, two dramatic characters not unknown to readers of the School Magazine some years ago: on the subject of the Commissariat 

... that department charged with the provision of supplies, both food and forage, for the troops – in this case the invading boys.

Old Grumbler undermines the Commissariat (if you spell it with a big C – Old Grumbler queries!) ...  Cheerful (loftily) replies:

My good friend, it is easy for you to say this thing or the other was not to your fancy, but it was not quite so easy a matter for our landlord to provide a daily supply of meat, bread, and dairy stuff for some four hundred people; especially as it had to be organised for the occasion, without previous experience.

I take it if you knew how the farmers had to be coaxed to sell us their butter, how green things couldn’t be had in the markets for love or money, and if you knew how miles of railway those beeves travelled to and fro between pasture, slaughter-house, and kitchen, before their weary joints rested on our table, I say you would thank the commissariat that you hadn’t something worth grumbling about.  I am glad we never were on famine rations.  I asked to live, not to live well.

Our two interlocutors fairly exhaust the facts of the case between them, and the historian, who can serve no purpose by trying to think things better or worse than they were, will silence neither.

We give our honest praise to the organisers in their precarious task, the scale of which is beyond the knowing its true magnitude.

Welsh Mountain Sheep and Cattle
A verse from Milton’s “Areopagitica” is quoted, as too words from Longfellow:

O summer day, beside the joyous sea!
O summer day, so wonderful and white,
So full of gladness and so full of pain!
For ever and for ever shalt though be
To some the gravestone of a dead delight,
To some the landmark of a new domain!

Housed, fed, and taught; what more does the school need done for it?

Cricket bats through the ages
Well – a football field, a cricket pitch – previously mentioned; athletics were held on the straight reach of the road beyond Old Borth; the steeple-chases in the fields which border it.

Hare-hunting was experienced, fishing was learnt – trout for supper then; shooting for the masters in the wooded hills – providing a special dinner; sea-fowl were shot on the coastal shore-line – these to be stuffed to enrich the museum with a “Borth Collection”;

Unusual 4 wheeled roller skates 1860s
Parties were formed to experience the craze for roller skating at The Rink in Aberystwyth; the “links” were established ... but the game of golf was not popular on the rough coastal dune-land.

There were recreations of a more intellectual kind: archaeological visits to places of interest; scientific outings in search of rare shells and seaweeds, or the varieties of new flora;

An Adder

... bird-watching outings; rodents and snakes “venomous beasties”  caught for study in class; an aquarium was built to house the rock pool finds – this failed ... the pet octopus duly departed its life.

Outings were arranged for perhaps 200 souls at a time – despatched along the way in bands to climb the mountains – explore the valleys, picnic from hampers on the summit, or partake of their goodies along the river bank – the returning multitude and stragglers came back with tired limbs ready to tell their stories.

Cadair Idris - explored from both sides
Before the boys’ life settled down into some normality of school, the work continued to finish fabrication ... to ‘settle in’ ...

... the wooden school-room was finally completed on April 29th ... it epitomised the bleakness of burden: a poor-structure, just sufficient, but apt to the conditions of the colony, looking as it did like a log-house in a backwoods-clearing!

... it was a new burden on an embarrassed exchequer, but not a gratuitous one: a place of assembly, for roll-call, prayers, addresses, lectures, entertainments ... that could at least be had on those rude benches, or within the ruder walls of their makeshift great school-room.

Ø May 1st usually is the Uppingham Encaenia – Service of Dedication ... certain anniversary rites lapsed of necessity.  The new flagstaff and flag was run up; this would be used for signalling to ramblers that the dinner or roll-call hour approached.

Ø On the 19th the school’s colours were hoisted ... the ladies had worked on the banner.

Ø On 22nd May ------ the one and only concert was held in the wooden school hall – sounded dully in the timber walls .. that experiment was not repeated.

Ø In the middle of June the new Church at Borth, so opportunely built in time for their settlement, was declared ready.  The Bishop of St David’s held a Confirmation Service ... the parish fell within the Bishop’s auspices ...

... the Bishop, whose early connections (as a landowner) with this influx of immigrants into his neighbourhood, seemed to rejoice in sparing time for exigencies ... which, if not forthcoming, would otherwise have suffered a kind of mitigated excommunication.

Ø June 29th and 30th were the days of the “Old Boys’ Match” ... there seemed to be no reason why absence from their native soil should sever their ties with the Past. 

The Old Boys ‘felt glad to claim their heritage’.  Page 23 and 24 details the circumstances of an “Address from the Old Boys at Oxford, to the Headmaster and Masters of Uppingham School”.

Ø Early July – another fever outbreak: we knew what might be the significance of the news, and began to make our minds up for another term at Borth.

Ø July 5th – a public concert was held in the Assembly Room of the Queen’s Hotel, Aberystwith, a beautiful room with fine acoustics ... we cannot say as much for the Temperance Hall, in which the second concert was held.  Funds were raised for the new Church at Borth.

Ø July 14th ... the Trustees “Resolved -- ... that the school shall remain at Borth during the autumn term.”

This would be no mean feat either .. contract renewals, airy summer pavilions on a west Wales coast did not promise winter cosiness ... memories stirred of curtains and everything movable undulating in those earlier Spring winds ...

          Fluttered in the besieging wind’s uproar,
                   And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.

... we inferred that weather at Borth would be like weather in general: the outlook was not unclouded ... extra planked shelter of sorts would be variously required against the sou’-wester’s winds and driving rains.

Ø July 20th – the last day of term: the local landowner, who had been exceedingly generous to the school, invited the school to spend the day with him.

A barn was found for dining, a cricket match against Aberystwith was played on the land provided by Sir Pryse, speeches and thanks were given, a piano was run into the bow of an open window to accompany the choir with some hearty music.

Soon the evening train arrived to return them to school for more addresses and prize giving, the Headmaster then exhorting them to “come back with the soldier spirit” to face whatever remained!

Ø July 21st – the village overnight had been decorated with an array of flags, streamers, and devices, along the approach to the station, where “the special” train was waiting ....

... prominent among the devices was the motto “au revoir” ...
the train pulled out with the school, to a boy, on board, the
sound of a farewell cheer faded .... as the curtain fell on the first
act of the play.

Borth Beach
The renewal contract with the hotel was taken up without hesitation ... but the 30 other houses, large and small, needed to be reckoned with ... then too that promise of winter time in these windswept lands ...

... ensured that extra planking, shoring up of ‘gappy’ walls, new porches were to be built to give a concept of better windbreaks between the Irish sea gales and those shivering mites indoors.

The school train loaded with all aboard moved out of Borth for a full 8 weeks of holiday ....

I’m sorry this series is stretching out to 3 posts – quite long ones at that – but I think it is worth writing, especially as you have so kindly appeared to enjoy the first one.

Well if truth be told I’ve struggled to reduce the post – and I don’t want to lose the effect of this little narrative ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Jo said...

What a lot of work and lots of difficulties had to be faced. Cricket has to go on though LOL

Luanne G. Smith said...

I only drove briefly thru Aberystwyth, and of course did not know about the school, but find it all so interesting. I just fell in love with that whole area. And Borth Beach is the setting for a scene in my novel where my character meets a nasty piece of sea trash whose been raiding her seaside villages. She's ready to put an end to that! :)

D.G. Hudson said...

Don't worry about the length, Hilary, quality content takes more room if we are to get the feel of the subject. (Didn't you say that?)

I love reading about seashore places in England. Please keep it up. And, have a good weekend!

We stayed once in a boys school in Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, that had been converted to a small hotel.

MorningAJ said...

This is fascinating stuff.

Old Kitty said...

Sounded like these uprooted boys in their new school had a time of it! Football, cricket, archaeological digs...! Great stuff! Take care

Suze said...

Wales seems to be a point of origin. Not only for what lies in proximity but for myth and magic, itself.

Friko said...

This is an interesting series. What are your sources, did someone write a book about it?

Deniz Bevan said...

What an interesting history!
I've been to Cader Idris and would love to go back.

Nick Wilford said...

This is so impressive. I like the quirky details, such as the octopus dying. Great stuff!

That submerged forest looks really atmospheric. I'd like to see it.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Very interesting stuff, Hilary. I'm dumbfounded by how much I didn't know. Fascinating.

Juliet said...

I'm glad you are taking your time rolling this story out Hilary, as it's so fascinating. The 'soldier spirit' - what an apt phrase for leadership that will not be daunted, despite the huge logistics of moving and housing so many boys and teachers. All very character-forming no doubt, for the pupils.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo - can't drop our standards can we!

@ Luanne - at least you 'recognise' some of the area - and fascinating that you've set one of your scenes at Borth beach ... so the Harpy is out pestering your character and the village ... sounds so interesting!

@ DG - many thanks .. just glad you're getting a feel for the place and subject.

I've been to Qualicum Beach .. beautiful part of the world - I loved Vancouver Island.

@ Morning AJ - delighted you're enjoying it.

@ Old Kitty - I think the boys took to it, like ducks to water .. they must have had a fantastic time, despite the hardships

@ Suze - you're right - so much happened in Wales .. but there is that history of myth and legend too.

@ Friko - all will be revealed anon .. ?! Glad you're enjoying it.

@ Deniz - Cadair Idris stands proud .. but fascinating that the boys set out to climb it ..

@ Nick - many thanks .. so pleased you're enjoying the story line. Poor octopus - he tried to escape too I guess .. and hung himself?!

The submerged forest shows how much the shore line has changed - there's a causeway that can be seen running out into the flooded trees. I too would love to visit Borth now!

@ Joylene - just late 1800s history unfolding before our eyes - reflecting what was there, but what had yet to be invented ... I've been fascinated too.

@ Juliet - delighted that you're enjoying the extra detail I'm putting in ... I'm glad I didn't reduce it down to a brief summary.

"Soldier spirit" - it is a great phrase isn't it .. character-forming is a good phrase too .. I keep thinking about the story.

Thanks everyone - delighted you're enjoying this mini series ... it is certainly making me think about life only 135 years ago .. cheers Hilary

Denise Covey said...

Hi Hilary. This reminds me of Lord of the Flies with comfort. Thanks for a great post.


Talli Roland said...

Fascinating! I've never been to Aberystwyth - I've always wanted to go - so I've enjoyed learning about the school.

Susan Scheid said...

This is a remarkable narrative--beautifully told and illustrated. I'm so glad you've continued with it. I'm curious to know how you came to know about this, too, and hope you'll say (or did I miss note of that?).

It's particularly interesting for me to read, as well, having just come back from Wales with my own little narrative to tell! (PS--after the music posts, one more to come, there will be a post on Cardiff Castle!)

Susan Scheid said...

Oh, I see now, from your response to Friko, that all will be revealed! A cliff-hanger, the whole thing. Just great.

Diane said...

Just catching up and so much of interest you have done well.

Thanks so much for you kind thoughts and condolences, much appreciated. Diane

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Denise - definitely with comfort, but with no discord. Glad you're enjoying it.

@ Talli - it looks a fascinating area - I've been to Snowdonia and inland .. but not this far west. Good to hear you enjoyed it.

@ Susan - thanks it is lovingly told, I've just tried to convey the essence - and as you know all will be revealed.

I loved the post on Penarth - seeing the Church, and hearing about the various pieces .. I just need sometime to listen.

Delighted you're finding it 'amusing' .. there seemed to be lots of happenings during the school year - more so than usual perhaps.

Looking forward to your post on Cardiff Castle - sounded as though you loved it.

@ Diane - glad you're back safely .. this 'little' series is fascinating that it was recorded.

Just sorry for your loss .. I have one on Tuesday .. she was 95 though - and had had a very good life.

Cheers Denise, Talli, Susan, and Diane - many thanks for visiting and commenting .. Hilary

Theresa Milstein said...

Love these pictures of the shore lines. And look at that football!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Theresa - good to see you - and that you like the football picture .. it's interesting to see the differences of the intervening years.

Cheers Hilary