King’s College School miscellanea

July 16, 2016

A month ago I picked a slim volume, R.J. Henderson’s 1981 History of King’s College Choir School, Cambridge, off a library bookshelf, hoping it might provide some entertaining anecdotes. It did.

A History of King's College Choir School

The school was founded alongside King’s College in 1441 to provide somewhere for the choristers to be educated, and has grown into a co-educational prep school on West Road, a place I used to walk past in student days to get to the Music Faculty. The book’s fun, full of details from dusty archives and the unpublished memoirs and diaries of its members, and features plenty of people called e.g. Scrope, which is reassuring.

Two eccentrics spring off the page, the first being Charles R. Jelf, Headmaster from 1912 to 1927:

It might be thought that a headmaster who had accepted the post of Master over the Choristers at King’s College might well believe in the spiritual value of choral services and that the school existed primarily for the benefit of the choristers. On the contrary, Jelf’s extraordinary mixture of Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism produced an attitude of derision towards the chapel services, which he openly decried as being nothing more than a concert of sacred music. He himself was a vicar-warden of St Giles, which he attended regularly with his family but, although he attended all chapel services, he derived little inspiration from them.

A similar contradiction was his extraordinary attitude that Oxford was superior to Cambridge in every respect. He refused to pay King’s College the compliment of incorporating as an MA of Cambridge University, wore an Oxford hood in chapel and never dined in College, although entitled to do so.

The other is his successor, the scatterbrained Cedric Moulton Fiddian:

Having sent a boy to his study to be disciplined at 9.30 in the morning Fiddian then forgot about him until, on returning to his study at four o’clock in the afternoon, he asked him why he was waiting there. The boy did not know, nor for that matter did Fiddian, who sent him back into school. On another occasion the headmaster instructed [senior matron] Miss Aikin to prepare a bed for a new boarder, a brother of one Bayliss, already at the school. The new boy was to arrive that evening. A brief remonstration from the matron that Bayliss was an only child was quickly waved aside. An hour later a shame-faced headmaster was forced to apologise and explain that he had only just that day opened the letter advertising the arrival of the ‘real’ Bayliss, who in fact had entered the school three years earlier. Like a good deal of Fiddian’s correspondence, it had disappeared under a sea of books and papers.


Some time ago I found a 1979 copy of the school magazine Fleur-de-Lys, from which I excerpt the following story, a magnificent tribute to a young girl’s imagination:


I was madly in love with my pony, Misty, and I said to my dad, “Could I marry Misty?” and he said, “Of course you can’t,” and I said, “Why not?” and in the end he said, “Oh, all right,” and we married. The next day we got married. Only my sister came to the wedding. The next day I was grooming Misty and I looked in his water trough and realised I was a horse. The previous day dad had been told that there was a pony coming that I had to look after and he mistook me for that pony and he gave me some oats which I thought was the most disgusting stuff I had ever had and I spat it all over my dad and he was furious. Misty said that was delicious and kept on teasing me so a divorcement was made.

K.H., aged 10


If this sort of thing piques your interest, see also the brilliant King’s College Choir Book edited by Jonathan Rippon and Penny Cleobury, published in 1997. Full of delightful details, including this letter home from a 1950s choirboy that anticipates The Very Hungry Caterpillar:

Dear Mummy + Daddy,

I hope you received the Travel Form. Please return it as soon as possible

Last night was Founders Feast I ate.

1 Tongue sandwich
1 cheese     ”     (Dutch cheese)
2 chocolate biscuits
1 sausage roll
1 Orange
1 Ice
1 Banana
1 Apple
6 Dates
1 Candy sweets
3 glasses orangeade

BUT it was spoilt by Poor Nicholas (Steinitz) who turned white and fainted at the end He wasn’t drunk but I think he ate something which does not agree with him. I don’t know how he is but I expect he is better now.

Yesterday was the Fellowes match. A dog joined in and it kept running after the ball and worrying. In Mr Gaskell’s speech last night he said, “With the aid of some 3-year young research fellowes and a dog we managed to withstand the savage onslaugt put up by the choir school and beat them 2-0.” All clap except us who B-O-O-O-O! and then some chaps go S-S-S-S-S at the other end of the Hall!

Don’t forget Travel Form please

Much love


(XXX) 1000,000.

Diary excerpts 4

June 11, 2016

28 August
A man dropped his programme in the Albert Hall urinal before tonight’s Prom. Just about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

31 August
Woman sitting next to me at last night’s Prom: ‘Richard doesn’t think Barry’s good enough. But that’s Richard – a total sleazebag … I’m dreading Sunday’s party. I’m just an unsociable old bitch. I hate making small talk with people I’ll never see again or want to.’

1 September
When a news story about the death of a soldier ends with ‘Next of kin have been informed’, it is to set the minds of other families at rest. I always find that a rather sobering thought.

4 September
Me: Is that the steak and mushroom pie?
Cafeteria lady: No, just normal pie, love. Steak and mushroom.

5 September
Shop assistant, gesturing towards baby: Someone’s very quiet.
Mother: Yes, he’s quite … high.

6 September
Suave thing to say to a bastard at a cocktail party: ‘Punch? I think you deserve one.’

17 September
Dream that I was writing in a communal birthday card for someone from school and I did a lot of patterns and shading with various ballpoint pens and was so energetic that the pens caught fire and the card was spoiled.

27 September
Mother: Mark Watson was talking about his novel on the radio.
Me: The one about incest?
Mother: I thought it sounded your kind of thing.
Me: Well, I’ve often wondered about it.


The journal of Emily Pepys

May 9, 2016

Monday, 26th August
I was looking in Mama’s trunk for something the other day and the first thing I saw was, at the top of a great many Journal books or something of that sort a piece of paper on which was written “If I die, let these be burnt”, and something else which I did not see! I am sure I should like to see them very much, and I do not see why they should be burnt.

This is an excerpt from the journal of Emily Pepys (1833-1877), which I read yesterday. Happily, unlike her mother’s, Emily’s journal saw the light of day. Written over a period of nearly seven months beginning in July 1844, at which time Emily was about to turn eleven, it was discovered in the late twentieth century and published in 1984.

Emily Pepys

I bought it after reading Marjory Fleming’s diary last year. which I wrote about here. In her excellent introduction, Gillian Avery compares the two diarists:

Ten years old is a good age to begin a diary. You have a reasonable ability with words, and you are not yet afflicted with the tedious self-consciousness and literary aspirations of adolescence … [Emily] is three years older than Marjory, therefore the way she writes is less remarkable. On the other hand those extra years have given her the stamina to persist and provide us with the continuous narrative that Marjory’s small, weary hand had not the energy to set down. Nor could Marjory, aged seven, observe personalities so knowingly. Here are a family’s jokes, quarrels, hopes and disappointments – all the matters that are usually forgotten by the time the mature adult comes to write memoirs.

Though related to the Samuel Pepyses, Emily’s branch of the family pronounced their surname ‘Peppis’. Her father was Bishop of Worcester, and she was the youngest of four children, devoted to her mother and her 14-year-old brother Herbert. Her concerns are those of most children in well-to-do families of that time, I presume. There is much playing of games (including archery), dancing, socialising with other children who come to stay, writing of letters.

Though not a bookworm, Emily reads Dickens, but her ideas about love feel like something out of Austen. There’s a boy called Teddy Tyler she’s very fond of, but she doesn’t meet him during the period chronicled by the diary, only his sisters. It’s hard to see people you want to when you don’t live very near and you’re only eleven and there’s no internet.

Wednesday, 7th August
I should very much like to have a little private letter from Teddy to show me his heart, and also I should like to see him again to revive my love.

Actually, there was another boy, but it didn’t last.

Saturday, 24th August
The only time I ever really lost my heart was to Villiers Lister, a very handsome boy about 11 years old, with long curls, but though I have ever since, and I daresay shall for ever like him very much, yet the actual love only lasted 1 night.

Emily’s schooling arrangements aren’t clear. She’s horrified by the threat of a French governess. Sometimes she goes to a ‘School’ with Mama, the precise nature of which is unclear. She writes very little about her lessons. I’d have liked more lessons and less dancing, to be frank, but there are lovely moments.

Thursday, 25th July
I had the oddest dream last night that I ever dreamt; even the remembrance of it is very extraordinary. There was a very nice pretty young lady, who I (a girl) was going to be married to! (the very idea!). I loved her and even now love her very much. It was quite a settled thing and we were to be married very soon. All of a sudden I thought of Teddy and asked Mama several times if I might be let off and after a little time I woke. I remember it all perfectly.

Wednesday, 21st August
There was one amusing anecdote, viz: The servant came up and said “Your plate please sir”. Mr. Talbot was talking so I just took his plate and gave it to the servant. He turned round and said “Thank you ma’am”, and afterwards I found out he had not finished. It was a capital joke at the time!

Tuesday, 12th November
Miss Lea was married today to a Mr. Heming. She is the daughter of a retired Carpet manufacturer, and he is a needle manufacturer.

Tuesday, 26th November
We had a nice conversation at dinner about the worlds, and whether there were worlds before this, and whether there will be one after this.

Wednesday, 8th January
Herbert and I were left alone, and looked at several nice things in the Encyclopoedia, such as Anatomy, Midwifery etc. etc. etc. but Mama told me to go to bed 10 minutes before 9 so we had not much time. Herbert and I always go together let one another into all our secrets that we would not tell anybody else for worlds.

I see so much of myself in that one, the curiosity of children about the human body unchanged from then to now. When she rejoices that the music-master is too ill to come or complains that her New Year present is likely to be one she will have to share with Herbert, Emily could be a child of this century.

Early in the book a young mother dies of scarlet fever within days of giving birth. It makes one grateful for modern medicine. I’ve got an ear infection at the moment, and I hereby give thanks to antibiotics. I wouldn’t fancy pouring some of the ‘Jalop’ (jollop, presumably) that Emily takes every month or so into my ear. Emily herself only lived to the age of 44, but did at least fulfil her childhood dream of marrying a clergyman, William Henry Lyttelton, Canon of Gloucester.

Diary excerpts 3

May 2, 2016

13 April
Tonight at Alan Bennett double bill, the woman next to me showed her smartphone to an elderly companion. Him: ‘Can you get hard porn on it?’

19 April
Someone in this library’s got a sneeze that sounds like Michael Jackson going ‘hoo-hoo’.

20 April
Idea: Italian lute music to be broadcast in all public swimming pools worldwide for 5 minutes at 4.00pm every day. Result: Happy people.

24 April
There’s honey in my shampoo and tea in my conditioner. I imagine they will make my hair look like Rupert Brooke’s.

5 May
I can feel another children’s literature dissertation coming on: ‘Gay subtexts in Frog and Toad.’ Reading the books as an adult, it’s clear that Frog is flamboyantly queer, while Toad is drably straight but may be turnable.

6 May
When I had the gastroscopy, Dr M said think of something else. My brain was singing ‘Oliver’, so I just concentrated on that instead, sang it very loud in my head. Next time, sedation.

9 May
Little children bickering at Victoria Road traffic lights: ‘I’m the red man!’ ‘No, you’re the green man!’

13 May
On the lawn outside King’s this afternoon: a duck, a blackbird and a fat pigeon hopping about together.


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