Memories of the 1860s

[W.B.M., May 1909]

     O mihi praeteritos referat si Jupiter annos ! Aen. viii, 560 In looking over some old papers I came across a set of reports on a boy's progress through the school during the years 1863 to 1869, when, now nearly forty years ago, the present writer passed, a puny boy, from the strenuous work of the sixth form of the Loughborough Grammar School to the more reposeful life of the commercial world. This is not ironical, as may be supposed, but faithfully presents the impressions received at the time. In those days school discipline was strict and work not optional but compulsory.

     On my entrance to the school I was placed under Mr. Clarke, a Loughborough man, engaged temporarily to take charge of the first form, which then contained seventeen boys. The head-master during the whole of my stay was the Rev. James Wallace, a man of imposing stature and dignified bearing, a strict disciplinarian, an able teacher, and, if we may rely upon the opinion of his pupils, a good classical scholar. He was an ardent churchman and a devout Christian. No boy could be in the presence of Mr. Wallace, day after day and year after year without acquiring a feeling of high regard for the head-master, and many old boys will ever entertain an affectionate respect for his memory. His sudden passing away from his labours on earth painfully brought home to me the meaning of death, for he was the first friend I so lost.

     The other masters in 1863 were Mr. Kitchin, the second master ; Mr. Spanton, whose gentleness and forbearance were appreciated but ill-requited by his thoughtless and boisterous pupils ; M. Frederick, the French master ; and Mr. Scott. Mr. Kitchin was succeeded by Mr. Genge, who seemed to us to revel in the working out of mathematical problems and endeavoured to infuse into boys a like enthusiasm. He was perhaps the best liked of the masters, and I well remember the anxious wishes of the school for his recovery from a long and serious illness. Mr. Genge left Loughborough in 1872, and a few years ago was appointed to the rectory of Lilley near Luton. The Rev. James Mountain, now rector of Wymondham, came as an assistant master in 1866. Loughborough being the centre of an agricultural district, the school curriculum for a time included agricultural chemistry, lessons in which were given by Mr. Scott, but advantage was not taken by the neighbouring farmers of this opportunity for their sons to acquire a smattering of useful science, and the teaching of this subject was consequently soon discontinued. The natural and physical sciences were henceforward entirely banished from the school. In the sixth form the only English subjects [apart from mathematics] for examination were the Holy Scriptures and the histories of Greece and Rome. The home lessons on Wednesdays and Saturdays included the making of a number of Latin verses, set, we were told, on those days so that we might devote, if necessary, our half holidays to their painful exercise. To make hexameters that would scan was our highest ambition ; poetical language and fervour were to most of us hidden mysteries, and I fear none of the verses which with severe labour we brought forth could be mistaken for the offspring of Virgil or of Ovid. I believe most modern schoolboys are spared these painful strivings after the impossible. Much of our time was devoted to the study of the "deathless bards of Greece and Rome." The Menaechmi of Plautus was read in class before certainly some of us had even heard of our own countryman's "Comedy of Errors" and now En pudet, et fateor, jam desuetudine longa Vix subeunt ipsi verba Latina mihi. Our master, however, had a store of old jokes with which to break the  monotony, and the construing of "sectaque intexunt abiete costas" seldom failed to bring a reference to Delos and Samos.

     The modest school library then occupied a few shelves in the north schoolroom. The chemical laboratory, far different from the equipments of modern Board Schools, was housed in he portion partitioned off in the south room.

     Each year during the fortnight immediately preceding the close of the Michaelmas quarter a room in the tower was devoted to the making of the young orators who were to declaim the words of Virgil and Shakespeare to the admiring and wondering parents and friends on the annual Speech Day.

     The games did not then form such an important part of school-life as they have since become. Cricket was by far the favourite ; football was nothing accounted of in those days.

     Reference to old boys must not be entirely omitted ; but I can only say here that several who were trained during the sixties at the LGS now occupy important and prominent positions in the city in which most of my life has been passed.

     During a period of forty years the memories of one's school-days grow dim, and the trifles rather than important incidents are the most vividly remembered. I am still impressed by the awful silence that supervened the explosion of a cracker during the reading of the prayers by the head-master in the deepening gloom of a dark December afternoon in the unlighted schoolroom. What the consequences to the culprit were cannot be remembered, but we may rest assured that the punishment was made to fit the crime. I am painfully conscious of the truth both then and now of the undeviating report to my father at the end of each quarter that his son's English composition was "weak"