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The Old BoysThe Decline and Rise of the Public School$

David Turner

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780300189926

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300189926.001.0001

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Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts 1902–1945

Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts 1902–1945

(p.164) Chapter Six Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts 1902–1945
The Old Boys

David Turner

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the British public school system from 1902 to 1945. Topics covered include the passage of the Education Act of 1902, which marked the beginning of a massive expansion of secondary state education in England and Wales over the next thirty years; the huge casualties suffered by the public schools during the First World War; growth of boarding schools in the years after the end of the First World War; the impact of the Great Depression on the British economy; the role of public schools in the acquisition of empire; and proposals to turn public schools into semi-state, semi-public schools, which many of the day schools had become by taking the king's shilling and accepting government grants.

Keywords:   British public schools, public school system, public school education, Education Act 1902, secondary state education, education policy, boarding schools, day schools, semi-public schools

DEFECTIVE systems are capable of surviving for long periods of time if the competition is equally addled; in many cases the flaws prove fatal only when a challenger becomes strong enough to deal a mortal blow. The public schools had been able to rise from their trough from the mid-nineteenth century, and to embark on reform at a rather stately, though steady, pace for the rest of the Victorian era, only because of the weakness of potential rivals; at this stage the rival grammar schools were prey to many of the same faults, and state funding of secondary education was in its infancy. From 1902, however, the environment was less forgiving. The Education Act of that year, passed by a Conservative government, marked the beginning of a massive expansion of secondary state education in England and Wales over the next thirty years. From this point onwards the public schools were to have a complex relationship with the state. Their existence would be threatened by competition from the parallel state system, but there were also to be times when a huge chunk of the public school system owed its survival to state assistance. By the end of the century, moreover, the Nietzchean principle that what does not kill you only makes you stronger had proved true: responding to the minatory presence of the state, the public schools were forced to raise their game.

(p.165) The 1902 Act encouraged local government to increase the provision of secondary education, though without forcing it to do so. The councils of counties and county boroughs were required to ‘take such steps as seem to them desirable … to supply or aid the supply of education other than elementary’. Moreover, local authorities were to be held responsible for maintaining the existing voluntary schools, including the payment of teachers – a change which rescued the grammar schools from financial precariousness. Local government responded with unbridled enthusiasm: the number of secondary schools supported by state funding doubled from under 500 in 1904–5 to over 1,000 in 1913–14. Meanwhile pupil numbers almost tripled from under 64,000 to 188,000.1 By 1937 there were 409,033 pupils between the ages of eleven and seventeen in state-funded secondaries – 10 per cent of the age group – though the vast bulk of children of this age who were still at school were in the less academically ambitious elementaries.2 Total state spending on secondary education was boosted by the 1902 Act, and again increased towards the middle of the century – up 37 per cent between 1921 and 1944.3 The grammar schools began to produce a steady stream of leading public figures, such as the future prime ministers Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, who were all educated during this period.

Much of this largesse was lavished on grammar schools, which were dominated by the middle classes. By 1944, 41 per cent of the money went to grammars – a higher proportion than two decades previously. The ‘free-place’ system, instituted by a Liberal government in 1907, made recognition for a government grant dependent on the school concerned taking a certain proportion of children for free from state-funded elementary schools. However, this left the leading grammar schools, accustomed for most of their history to charging fees for some of their wealthier pupils, free to continue doing so.4 The school rolls were skewed even further towards the bourgeoisie by the fact that poorer families often rejected even free places as unaffordable, given the cost of books and uniform, as well (p.166) as of an adolescent’s wage forgone for the sake of continuing education; it was reported in 1926 that in Bradford about 60 per cent of free place winners turned down their scholarships.5

Some of the older state-aided grammar schools were reassuringly similar to the public schools, for parents seeking a cheaper alternative. John Lewis Paton, high master of Manchester Grammar School from 1903, was an Old Salopian and former headmaster of University College School. His public school background shone through in the style of education he imposed at Manchester Grammar School. ‘A strong body is your servant, a weak body is your master’, he declared to the boys on his first speech day. A biography of Paton written by his son concludes that ‘he saw that in the great public schools the moral tone was fostered by the corporate life, the organized team-games, the personal influence of masters, the continued attachment of scholars after they had left’. At King Edward’s School, Birmingham, another leading grammar school, boys’ initials were placed before their surname in school lists only if they were a member of the football First XI or rugby First XV.6

Officials in local and national government also agreed to give grants to an increasing number of public schools in return for free places. Without doubt, for some public day schools already holed in the water long before the 1902 Act, this was a life-saver. In 1912 King’s College School, London, was placed on the grant list by Surrey County Council, in return for taking up to 10 per cent of its new pupils from elementaries. King’s had wanted the higher grant that was eligible for schools which offered to take at least 25 per cent, but it is a measure of how far the institution had sunk that Surrey was not prepared to take the risk of spending so much money on an institution which might not, in the council’s opinion, survive.7 It is also hard to see how North London Collegiate, already running a deficit before the Act and afflicted by the steady deterioration of its Camden neighbourhood, could have struggled on indefinitely without state subvention. After initially turning down a grant, the governors were forced by the parlous state of the school’s finances to change their mind in (p.167) 1907. By the end of 1914 nearly one-third of the pupils were free scholars sent there by London County Council.8

A considerably larger number of public day schools were stable before the Act, only to be cast into crisis by the arrival of new state schools with striking new science and art facilities which they could not match. Their solution was to feed from the mouth that bit them. The governing council of the Girls’ Public Day School Trust (the new name for the Girls’ Public Day School Company from 1905) protested to the Board of Education against the establishment of new state-funded secondaries near its Dulwich, Streatham Hill and Shrewsbury High Schools, prompting the Board of Education to reply disingenuously ‘that the interests of the Trust [would] not be prejudicially affected to any degree’. The trust came to rely progressively more on state aid, however, as its finances worsened. ‘Every feature of the business is dark’, the Finance Committee moaned in 1914, at a point when the trust had accumulated a debt of £106,000 (£10 million) by mortgaging its property. The inability of the trust’s schools to keep up with their state-funded rivals was revealed in inspections made by the Board of Education, a body which took on a steadily more powerful supervisory role in return for financial support. At East Putney High School (now simply Putney High School), it decreed that a basement room fitted up for science teaching ‘cannot be regarded as really adequate for the purpose, as there is insufficient room for more than a few girls to do practical work, and the benches at which they sit are far too narrow’.9

The financial position of many public day schools worsened still further after the School Teachers Superannuation Act of 1918, which introduced pensions for teachers at state-aided schools, and the first report of the Burnham Committee on teachers’ pay in 1918, which ramped up their salaries by establishing minimum rates. Public schools were forced to emulate both these gestures of largesse to keep staff.10 In 1921 the headmaster of Arnold School in Blackpool told parents that he had been forced to raise fees to match the Burnham recommendations for state-funded schools, as ‘only in this way is it (p.168) possible for me to retain the services of fully qualified and experienced assistants’.11

Faced with such steadily rising pressure from government policy, a huge range of schools were obliged to accept grant status, becoming state-funded secondaries at least in part, in the period before the Second World War broke out in 1939. The list included, in addition to the schools mentioned above, University College School (1919), Robert Gordon’s in Edinburgh (1920), and Arnold School (1937). Grant status created a fairly broad social mix. A quarter of the new boys at University College School in 1921 were from working or lower middle-class backgrounds, including the sons of railway workers, market porters, joiners, postmen and clerks.12 ‘I am grateful to University College School for teaching me to understand the lives of those who were poorer than myself’, wrote the poet Sir Stephen Spender, who attended the school in the 1920s. ‘When I was a child I was never allowed to play with poor children because my mother regarded them as not only rough, but also as perpetual carriers of infectious diseases.’ However, ‘some of the boys I most liked were of working-class parents and lived in very poor districts’.13

The effect of more and better state schooling on the finances of the public day schools was bad enough, but the arrival of state funding sounded the death knell for many of the private schools – small and transient establishments owned and run by a single individual. Some of the private schools had enjoyed high reputations in earlier centuries, but by the early twentieth century the bulk of them were mediocre at best. In an era of sparse state education they had at least served some purpose, but this purpose disappeared in the early twentieth century. ‘In the majority of the schools … the provision for playgrounds, classrooms, assembly halls, the teaching of physical exercises and practical subjects, sanitary accommodation, furniture, heating and lighting, ventilation, cloakrooms, etc, falls much below the standards of the grant-aided school’, found the National Association of Inspectors of Schools and Educational Organisers in the early 1930s when examining the private schools. ‘This is hardly to be wondered at (p.169) for economic conditions, and the competition with grant aided schools [that is, state-funded schools] on the one hand and with one another on the other, operate to reduce fees to such a level that the schools are unable to provide the accommodation and equipment which are indispensable if the work is to proceed satisfactorily.’14

The boarding schools were not in direct competition with the state-funded schools, which were primarily for day pupils. However, the rise in state school salaries recommended by the Burnham Committee, and even more than that the new pensions system ushered in by the School Teachers Superannuation Act, also caused them financial headaches. The poor pay and lack of provision for old age for many masters had long been a weakness of the boarding schools. At successful schools – those with large numbers of pupils – headmasters and housemasters, at least, had done well financially. Many of the smaller schools, however, had long survived by paying staff meagre wages. Higher pay at the state schools now presented them with an alternative, and much better, way of earning a living. The prospect of higher financial reward was particularly enticing for the increasing number of boarding school masters who, like Ronald Gurner, the Marlborough teacher, were keen to end the monastic life and start a family.

Responding to their fears over the effect of shouldering these onerous demands for pay and pensions, the boarding and public day schools alike made a potentially epoch-making decision: they showed themselves ready to strike a deal with the government. In his memoirs Frank Fletcher, the influential and well-connected head of Charterhouse, recalled the public schools’ response. In the aftermath of the School Teachers Superannuation Act, the leading public schools for boys agreed to make a proposal to the Board of Education: they would all offer places to free scholars from state elementary schools in return for state funding of the new pensions and other items. Crucially, the deal included schools which could afford to pay the pensions without assistance – a bid to ensure continuing parity of status among the different public schools by tarring them all (p.170) with the same state brush. The board turned down the offer, at a meeting at which Fletcher was accompanied by the heads of Eton and Marlborough: ‘We were told there was no demand for places in our schools for ex-elementary schoolboys.’15

The question of what would have happened to Britain’s public schools had the board instead accepted the offer – and had both sides managed to agree the precise details of state supervision – is one of the great ‘what ifs’ of public school history. Public schools that have accepted large amounts of state aid – given in widely varying forms over the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries – have generally ceased to be true public schools at all, because they have, in practice, lost their independence. The official historians of King’s College School have written that from the time it accepted state-funded places to the time it exited the system in 1944, ‘the school ceased to control its own financial destiny’, an apt description for all schools that took government money. At King’s College, ‘the Board’s authority had always to be sought, local councils’ goodwill and support gained, before any activity could be undertaken’.16 In commenting on the new offers of state assistance, the writer and ex-public schoolmaster John Hay Beith demonstrated the worth of the Classics in elucidating the present by quoting from Virgil. The larger and better endowed schools ‘merely winked their rheumy eyes and shook their heavy heads. “Timeo Danos,” they growled, “et dona ferentes [beware Greeks bearing gifts].” ’17

If Fletcher’s proposals had borne fruit, the leading boys’ public schools would have ceased to be so, and the public school system would have been headless. It is going too far to say that the public schools would have become extinct: some of the public schools which became shadow public schools by accepting state aid in the early part of the century reinvented themselves as true public schools again in the 1940s, including King’s. Others did so in the 1970s. This suggests that the public school movement could have roused itself from its self-imposed dormancy, rather than eventually dying in its sleep. However, it is also possible that, once virtually the whole movement (p.171) had accepted a degree of state control, this would have come to be seen as a normal, sensible and permanent state of affairs. Looking outside the field of education and at British society in general, until the Thatcher era there was almost a consensus, even shared by many Conservatives, that the age of powerful and wholly private institutions, independent of the state, was inevitably coming to an end. A final possibility is that Fletcher and other headmasters agreed on the joint proposal to the board in ignorance of the large degree of control which the board would have demanded in return, and that once they had been disabused of this ignorance they would have abandoned all co-operation.

‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’, wrote Horace in an ode studied by many a public school boy who went, from 1914, to die on Flanders fields: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’. We in the twenty-first century know only of Wilfred Owen’s ironic kidnapping of the phrase to describe death by gassing, neither sweet nor fitting, on behalf of a mother country whose armies were run by incompetent idiots. Many public school boys of the age would, however, have agreed more with the Roman poet’s original heartfelt sentiment.

The huge casualties suffered by the public schools made the First World War too sad a conflict to be called a good war, even by the most gung-ho of commentators. Death rates were 27 per cent among old boys from Harrow and Loretto, 20 per cent for several of the more famous boarding schools, and around 16 or 17 per cent for many of the public day schools, all above the national average of a little over one in ten. This can partly be credited to the schools’ disproportionate share of the officer class – disproportionately likely to die – and partly to their well-organized Officer Training Corps at the war’s outbreak. The OTC boys tended to join up quickly – cursing them with more years in which to be killed.18

Admiration for the readiness of old boys to die bravely muted criticism of the public schools in the First World War. Remembering Richard Levett, an Old Etonian lieutenant killed in the war, a rifleman (p.172) wrote: ‘No one will ever be able to say that the upper classes haven’t given their all in this just cause. The best and bravest have given their lives freely.’ He was one of hundreds of Etonians killed in the conflict. In Flanders’ Ypres salient alone – scene of some of the bitterest fighting of the war – 324 Old Etonians died. In response, old boys of the school funded the Ypres Memorial School, which educated the children of those who tended the local war graves until the area was overrun by the Germans in 1940.19 Another Old Etonian killed during the war was American-born Henry Simpson. Returning to England to take part in the war, he became a British citizen with his mother’s consent, ‘freely given as soon as she realised his conviction that duty to England, which for him meant Eton, left him no choice’. Simpson became a member of the Royal Flying Corps, and died while testing new planes in 1916.20

If bravery is measured by medals, Eton led the public school field with thirteen Victoria Crosses, part of its total tally in British history of thirty-seven, which was more than any other school.21 Eton is also, tellingly, the school whose old boys have contributed the most to the canon of patriotic songs, including ‘Rule Britannia’, composed by Thomas Arne, ‘Jerusalem’, set to music by Sir Hubert Parry, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, whose lyrics were penned by Arthur Benson. Another ex-public school boy, Rupert Brooke of Rugby School, composed a poem that would, by some, be regarded as a spoken anthem describing what Britain was fighting for. ‘The Soldier’ begins:

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.22

A cynic might argue that it stands to reason that boys from the grandest schools should fight so bravely and sing so well; they had the most to fight and sing for. Just as Vietnam has often been described as a white man’s war – fought for the white man’s interests – the First World War could be seen as a public school boys’ war, fought to (p.173) preserve an imperial system which had been good for public school boys but not for the working classes.23 Brooke’s poem was about England; however, in Benson’s final version of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, written in 1914, the lyrics are largely a celebration of the British Empire, including the lines: ‘By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained, / Thine Empire shall be strong.’24

Cynics might also argue that courage does not, by itself, win wars. The Etonian Redvers Buller, whipping-boy of the press for his poor handling of troops in the Boer War, had won a Victoria Cross in the Zulu War. One of the most famous public school heroes of the First World War, John Vereker (vc, Harrow), had a dire record in the Second: he was in command of the British force that barely made it back to Britain after the 1940 defeat of the Allied forces in France.25

Industrial materials do, however, indubitably play a key role – often the deciding role – in winning wars. Britain’s inability to produce enough of certain crucial resources, including optical glass and smelted tungsten, used to make steel, prompted disquiet about the role of the public schools and other parts of the education system in producing both enough specialist scientists and enough rulers with a scientific mindset. Thirty-six eminent scientists wrote to The Times in 1916 asserting that Britain’s failures in the war were due to ‘a lack of knowledge on the part of our legislators and administrative officials of what is called “science” or “physical science” ’.26 The growing discontent about the fitness of Britain’s education system to enable victory in both war and peace gave birth to twin committees, on science and modern languages. Appointed by Herbert Asquith, the prime minister, they presented their conclusions in 1918.

The report on science, chaired by Joseph John Thomson, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, acknowledged the progress made by the boys’ public schools in the past half-century. Its survey of fifteen schools found an average of 192 boys on the modern side, where ‘the time given to Science is reasonable’, for every hundred on the classical. However, it criticized both the quality of education on the modern side, including the lack of ‘strenuous work’, and the neglect of science among many of (p.174) the brightest boys. The report pointed out that scholarships to the public schools were largely Classics-based. As a result, ‘the curricula of many Preparatory Schools are unnaturally distorted’ – pushing the sharpest minds from an early age on to a Classics track through prep school, public school and university. ‘It is impossible to avoid the conclusion’, the report found, ‘that the effect of existing entrance scholarship examinations at the public schools’ – which were focused largely on classical knowledge – ‘is to divert to specialised literary and linguistic studies a particular kind of boy who might have been successful in other fields’. The inevitable end result, it pointed out, was a heavy bias towards Classics rather than science scholarships at university. In a survey of Cambridge colleges covering the previous ten years, it discovered that among the seven schools offering boarding which were covered by the Clarendon report – Eton, Winchester, Westminster, Shrewsbury, Charterhouse, Harrow and Rugby – 117 boys had won classical scholarships, with only 19 in science. It found, moreover, that at some schools ‘the teaching of Science on the classical side is confined to the lower forms’. As a result, ‘a clever boy who is placed on entry high up on the classical side may altogether miss instruction in Science’, thus making total ignorance of science a badge of status among academically brilliant public school-educated men.27

This contrasted with state-funded schools, including grammars, where ‘the provision of science teaching, which must include practical work, is not a matter of choice but of regulation’, with each school submitting its curriculum to the Board of Education. It found that among sixth-formers, advanced teaching in science and maths was more common than in Classics. The result was a brilliant flowering of scientific achievement. Taking the same group of Cambridge colleges, of 113 scholarships won by boys in state-aided schools, 88 were in science. No longer could the public schools be defended for their scientific backwardness, as in the nineteenth century, on the grounds that the other schools were little better. The public school boys were the classically trained thinkers, while the grammar and state school boys were the boffins.28

(p.175) The report on modern languages, chaired by Stanley Leathes, a senior civil servant and Old Etonian King’s Scholar, covered similar ground. It found little to praise in the teaching, lamenting that the old tradition of Classics dominance ‘has directly and injuriously affected modern studies. For a long time after French and German were introduced into the Public Schools they were taught like the dead languages and the results were very poor.’ Even in 1918, ‘though better methods of teaching are generally followed, the examinations in modern languages are modelled too closely on Classical tradition’, which placed no importance on conversational ability.29

The low priority given to non-classical subjects in the early years of the twentieth century is apparent from many a tale. Fettes’s casual approach to scientific scholarship reached comical heights when William Heard, the headmaster, appointed a mathematician in 1902 with the request, ‘it would be an advantage if you could teach some chemistry’. After spending the summer working on it, the master was informed by the head, as term began, that he had meant to say ‘physics’. Heard was a scholar of Latin and Greek, and chemistry and physics were all science to him. Heard’s attitude to science was, in fact, more than merely indifferent: he referred to the boys in the sixth form’s modern side as ‘the barbarians’. As barbarians they were not, of course, allowed to sit at the sixth form table of classicists at lunch.30 One would not have expected a Roman centurion to break bread with a Hun. At many schools one would not, either, expect a classicist to know much about history other than Roman centurions and their legions. On arriving at Wellington as a schoolmaster in 1929, T. C. Worsley was asked to teach history, English and divinity as well as Latin. ‘This arrangement, however admirable it was in theory, had for me an alarming disadvantage’, he recalled with horror. ‘Marlborough’, his old school, ‘had taught me neither history nor English.’31

Neither report dealt with girls’ public schools specifically, but other evidence from individual schools shows that their science teaching was often limited. As late as 1930 the Girls’ School Year (p.176) Book entry for St Margaret’s School, Bushey boasted that ‘girls are trained in habits of nature study’, but did not mention physics.32

More generally in the early twentieth century, girls’ schools remained afflicted by the lack of a clear answer to the key question of the time: what was girls’ education for?

In their annual Girls’ School Year Book entries, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, St Leonard’s and Wycombe Abbey boasted of places won and exam honours attained at Oxbridge’s women’s colleges. Headmistresses at the Girls’ Public Day School Trust attacked government attempts to make the feminine art of cookery a core part of the curriculum at state-aided schools, including their own; a 1907 memo by five of them argued that it ‘cannot be justified on educational grounds. By it we can awaken or train no power not already reached by other means.’ Since the trust schools were ‘first and foremost, Literary Schools’, ‘to replace the subjects of a wide and comprehensive literary curriculum to an undue extent by the introduction of “Practical Housewifery” would be a retrograde step, and one which we should deplore’.33 Trust schools also specialized in the decidedly unfeminine (in the standard view of the time) subject of mathematics; seven of its twenty-four headmistresses in 1914 were maths graduates from Cambridge.34

By contrast, Derby High School’s list of ‘successes’ in the 1930 year book began first with the very feminine achievements of awards by the Royal Drawing Society and Operatic Association. The City of London School for Girls placed itself, like many schools, somewhere in the middle, mentioning in its 1930 entry an exhibition to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, as well as its classes in hygiene and needlework.35 St Paul’s Girls’ School, founded by the Mercers in 1904 as a sister school to St Paul’s, would, over the following century, produce perhaps the longest list of eminent women of any school in the country. However, Frances Gray, its first high mistress (until 1927), declared: ‘Every woman that is born into the world is given by God the duty of being a home maker … Those of you who are doing the adventurous things, as far as in you lies be home makers because in (p.177) doing that you are doing the very best and highest and greatest thing that can be given to woman.’36

It would be wrong, however, to presume that headmistresses uniformly imposed conservative views of a woman’s role on more modern pupils of a younger generation during this era. In 1914 Cheltenham Ladies’ College issued a pamphlet on careers for women; in the same year a motion, put forward in a school debate, that paid work was more valuable to the community than unpaid work, was thrown out by a thumping majority.37 The pupils could be more conservative than the teachers.

The thundering condemnation made by the Thomson and Leathes reports certainly gave further impetus to changes in the curriculum at the boys’ public schools away from the primacy of the Classics. The process had begun in the previous century, and continued slowly but surely after the arrival of the new one. Several school entries in the 1902 Public Schools Year Book show an unabashed Classics bias: at Shrewsbury ‘the work of the School is chiefly Classical’, at Charterhouse ‘the main teaching of the School is Classical’, and at Winchester ‘the course of study is principally Classical’. By 1938, however, the last year of peace before the Second World War threw curricula into chaos, emphatic statements that Classics dominated had been expunged from the three schools’ entries.38

However, several schools conveyed subtle intimations that Classics still held the edge. Charterhouse specified that of its minimum of ten scholarships a year, a mere ‘one or more’ will be awarded ‘without taking into account the marks for Greek’, in line with the Thomson report’s complaint about bright boys being put on a Classics track. In the 1920s the parents of Alan Turing, the Second World War codebreaker and computer scientist, were told by the headmaster of Sherborne that ‘if he is to stay at a Public School, he must aim at becoming educated. If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a Public School.’39 There is no such bald statement of classical dominance at Sherborne in any Public Schools Year Book of the era; however, the 1938 entry included a detailed, year-by-year (p.178) description of the classical syllabus which was not accorded to other subjects. Moreover, even in 1938 the public schools’ entries still lacked the enthusiastic embrace of modern curricula to be found in some of the grammar school entries: Bedford Modern School’s stated baldly that ‘the curriculum has a strong bias in favour of modern studies’.40

Modern languages masters, meanwhile, were generally treated by the other teachers as second-class members of staff, and were often on lower pay. Their lower status percolated through the walls of the common room into the classroom. ‘Pillingshot’s views on behaviour and deportment during French lessons did not coincide with those of M. Gerard’, writes P. G. Wodehouse observantly in Tales of St Austin’s, a 1903 collection of public school stories. ‘Pillingshot’s idea of a French lesson was something between a pantomime rally and a scrum at football.’41 Leathes was to make a similar point fifteen years later, albeit in a more scholarly way.

Classics did not quite rule at the public schools any more, but the subject was, as Turing’s headmaster might approvingly have said, still sometimes primus inter pares (first among equals). It did not matter that it was not directly useful for a life in science or commerce. That was beside the point. ‘I know … that you boys are so fond of saying – that Latin Prose is “no use” ’, booms Jolty, the Classics master, in From a Pedagogue’s Sketch-Book, a series of fictional sketches from public school life written by Francis R. G. Duckworth a few years before Turing’s time at Sherborne. ‘That is shopkeepers’ talk. We ought, indeed, to be glad if it could be shown that Latin prose is “no use” in the ordinary sense.’42

The boarding schools thrived in the years after the end of the First World War, despite the caustic comments of government reports – doing so well that the post-war period saw a mini-boom in foundations, including Canford and Stowe in 1923, and Bryanston in 1928. The numbers at existing schools also rose: by 1930 Durham School’s roll was, at 265, two-and-a-half times its level of two decades (p.179) previously. At the other end of the country, at Lancing in Sussex, numbers doubled from 195 to 385 over the same period.43 ‘The boarding-schools of the country, both of the first and the second rank, are at the present time enjoying a period of unexampled prosperity’, wrote Cyril Norwood, headmaster of Harrow, in 1929. ‘Applicants crowd to their doors, and parents sue humbly for the admission of their sons. They house themselves in buildings of increasing convenience and splendour, and lay out playing-fields with an elaboration which would astonish even our immediate forerunners.’44

Norwood’s explanation for the 1920s prosperity of the boarding schools was that ‘they “deliver the goods”. They impart a character which is consistent, and can be trusted.’45 This claim made for public schools’ special character-building qualities may sound like mere empty cant to a sceptic, but the ideal counted for something among many parents, even parents patronizing the less grand schools whose children would have to make their own way in the world without any family connections. ‘In these and future times, which are full of interesting and unknown possibilities it is my opinion that provided you can play the game and be fair, academic qualifications are not of prime importance’, a businessman and old boy of Ellesmere College in Shropshire told the head when entering his son for the school in the 1940s. ‘If Ellesmere can … guide him to stand on his own feet … and teach him to be true and to look after others first and himself last, I shall be satisfied.’46 This was echoed by Duckworth, the public school master: ‘A boy when he leaves a Public School at the age of eighteen will very likely imagine that Michelangelo was a musician, or that Handel wrote comic verse. He will be unable to tell you the difference between rates and taxes.’ Yet Duckworth said he would still send his son to such a school: ‘He can get in a Public School what he could not get anywhere else in any country … He will learn self-reliance, and will acquire certain other moral qualities, a sense of duty and fellowship, a knowledge of how to command and to obey.’47

The public school emphasis on character-building through the house system, governed by prefects, was increasingly picked up by (p.180) Catholic boarding schools, which had initially resisted it. Ampleforth switched to the house system in the 1920s. Father Paul, the headmaster who introduced it, argued in justification: ‘Catholics are no longer regarded as pariahs by their fellow countrymen … they now find their way as a matter of course to the universities, into the army and the civil services, and are daily called upon to take up important positions and fill important posts.’48

Norwood also identified another, more modern and sinister reason for boarding schools’ popularity: since the introduction of the free place system, ‘there has been from the day-schools a steady transfer of a good type of boy, whose parents forty years ago would have been quite content to send him to the local school’. Norwood explained: ‘When the day-schools were quite rightly opened to the “free-placer” and “ex-elementary” scholar, parents were quite determined that their own children should not “pick up an accent”.’ For a public school boy to pick up the ‘wrong’ accent would be disastrous: it would destroy the set of outer trappings which marked a boy as coming from the higher classes. Norwood noted, darkly: ‘Less praiseworthy reasons for the success of these schools are that they confer a social badge, and they give easy rights to entry to circles which people do as a matter of fact very much desire to enter.’49 Public schools sometimes vaunted their snob value, seeing it as a virtue. ‘Even the flies at Stowe are snobs’, J. F. Roxburgh, Stowe’s first headmaster, used to explain to visitors, when justifying why he carried an elegant silver-handled fly swatter around the grounds of what must surely be the most beautiful public school in the country.50

The free place boys themselves sometimes had a hard time in the public schools, since pupils and even masters were often less than welcoming. They were, generally speaking, ‘good pupils’, the master of Dulwich College, George Smith, admitted in 1926. ‘But when they come they have, again generally speaking, much to learn in the way of corporate spirit and they are unfamiliar with the idea of subordinating their individual interests (often selfish) to the interest of the school and the tradition of school discipline.’ On balance, the number (p.181) of free place boys ‘is rather too large’, he concluded.51 Some schoolmasters retained a fine sense of the social distinctions even among the fee-paying boys. In The Hill, H. A. Vachell’s best-selling 1905 novel about Harrow School, the boy-hero, John Verney, notices that the housemaster, toadying to a visiting duchess with a son in his house, introduces the boys in order of prestige: son of a guardsman first, son of a judge second, and son of an obscure parson third: ‘These … are Egerton, Lovell, and-er-Duff.’52

Norwood’s ‘social badge’ theory explains the bizarre and otherwise incomprehensible tale of Brendan Bracken. As a teenager Bracken was sent to a Jesuit boarding school in Ireland, though he soon ran away. Having made enough money as a teacher, he paid, as a venerable nineteen-year-old, for a term’s education at Sedbergh School in 1920, posing as a fifteen-year-old Australian orphan. This act marked the beginning of Bracken’s reinvention. Using his new-found public school persona to win transient teaching posts at prep schools, and telling tall stories about friends in high places, he gradually climbed the social ladder, finishing up as Winston Churchill’s minister for information and, in 1951, chairman of the board of governors of Sedbergh, the beneficiary of huge donations from Bracken.53 ‘There’s a blessed equity in the English social system … that ensures the public school man against starvation’, a roguish master at a godforsaken Welsh public school explains in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (1928) when describing his uncanny ability to find another job despite every disgrace. ‘One goes through four or five years of perfect hell at an age when life is bound to be hell anyway, and after that the social system never lets one down.’54 Public school may have been hellish for Bracken too – the cruel fagging regime led to the suicide of a boy at Sedbergh in 1930 – but people inside and outside the system believed that it conferred advantages.55

The lifetime achievements of boarding school old boys cannot be explained merely by scholastic achievement. An analysis of the number of 1961 entries in Who’s Who put Eton at the top of the list among all schools.56 After allowing for size, the next-highest placed (p.182) were, in order, Winchester, Wellington, Rugby and Harrow – all public boarding schools rather than grammars. Compare this with Cambridge scholarships from 1929 to 1933, the rough point at which people at the peak of their careers in 1961 might have been expected to begin university. The list is very different, with Manchester Grammar second, King Edward’s, Birmingham, seventh, and Bradford Grammar ninth.57 The list measuring career success is dominated by the public schools; the list measuring academic success is more balanced.

When looking at the Who’s Who figures, one must allow for the fact that hereditary lords were habitually included in the book, regardless of whether or not they had achieved anything. This boosts the number of Old Etonians, though not the old boy numbers for other schools to a great degree.

Even for ex-public school boys who did achieve something of note, this success can, of course, be explained partly by families rather than schools. Winston Churchill, scion of a powerful political dynasty, would probably have gone into politics had he never attended Harrow. Lord Grey of Fallodon, foreign secretary on the outbreak of the First World War, came from a similarly distinguished political family, whose ancestors had included a prime minister. Though intellectually brilliant at Winchester, he was extremely idle at Oxford, where he achieved a mere Third.58 Nevertheless, he soon entered public service, as a junior civil servant, through the assistance of the squire of an estate neighbouring the Grey family’s, Lord Northbrook, who happened to be the First Lord of the Admiralty. By the age of twenty-three Grey had made the most of his name and connections to become the youngest MP in the House. There are similar examples of political careers founded on family background for men of at least the generation that followed, and to a lesser degree the generation after that.

Churchill and Grey were, however, born into a remarkably narrow political class – narrower, even, than the client base of Harrow, Winchester and the other leading boarding schools. The question of what the schools did for the broad mass of less exalted classmates is more crucial.

(p.183) Wykehamists born between 1880 and 1909 leave a reassuringly meritocratic message. Those with a First at university were the most likely to reach the elite levels of their profession afterwards – more so than those with lower degrees or with no degree at all. However, a striking figure also points to the power of the non-academic side of a Winchester education in generating success in later life. The senior commoner prefect, the leading boy among the non-scholars, was twice as likely as other commoners to reach elite positions, such as Queen’s Counsel within the legal profession, or bishop or dean within the established Church – with a 65 per cent chance compared with 32 per cent for the rest. To an extent, this reflects the fact that boys who had already shown leadership potential were more likely to be chosen for an elite role. However, the boost in self-confidence from becoming a master over others at the impressionable age of eighteen, and the training for leadership which the role of the prefect brings, were valuable assets for these boy-men.59

When it came to the power of the vaunted Old School Tie, Attlee, too, was at the very least highly aware of men of promise from his old school. ‘My Haileyburians are an able lot’, he wrote to his brother Tom, who had been at the same school, before listing three who had been selected for various posts below cabinet level, including his new parliamentary private secretary Geoffrey de Freitas. Some MPs, at least, believed that a Haileybury education did confer an advantage. When Hugh Dalton, one of Attlee’s cabinet colleagues, asked one of them about the general opinion on Attlee’s 1947 ministerial reshuffle, he was told ‘that it seemed that, to get on in this Government, you must have been at Eton, or Haileybury, or in the Guards, or in the Railway Clerks Association’ – an interestingly eclectic mix of old boy networks.60

Old boy networks sometimes even existed on a semi-formal basis. In a section on ‘Employment of Boys Leaving School’, the Dulwich College Governors’ Minutes for 1932 refer to the ‘disappointingly small’ number of notifications of vacancies, when compared with previous years, ‘from O.A. [short for ‘Old Alleynian’, the term for a (p.184) Dulwich old boy] friends and others’.61 Disappointing this may have been, but the complaint shows the high degree of expectation placed on former pupils to help with careers. The ties among contemporaries who had shared schooldays would have been stronger still, often creating bonds between families, involving mutual career favours, which would last more than one generation. Seven per cent of married Wykehamists born between 1910 and 1919 lived in wedded bliss – or, at least, as much bliss as the famously reticent tribe of Wykehamists were pleased to show – with the sisters or daughters of other Wykehamists. The proportion was, moreover, the highest in at least ninety years, showing an even more rather than less close-knit world.62 Wykehamists even tended to name other Wykehamists as co-respondents in their divorces: Wykehamist wives chose Wykehamist bedfellows.63

A final career benefit of a public school education was the inculcation of a public school patina. The benefits of this rested partly on the snobbery about accents which Norwood had criticized. The son of a Lancashire businessman who had done well out of the Second World War was sent to Ellesmere College soon after the conflict, but proved unable to refine his working-class speech. After a term’s merciless ribbing by his classmates he left, but many more in the same situation doubtless learnt the ‘right’ (in heavily inverted commas) way to speak.64 M’Turk, one of the heroes of Rudyard Kipling’s 1899 public school novel Stalky and Co., was a linguistic chameleon: capable of speaking in his native Irish accent outside the school, but then switching to an English accent when back in the school grounds, where his original way of speaking had been ‘carefully kicked’ out of him by his friends.65

Leaving aside outright snobbery, ex-public schoolboys benefited simply from the fact that other ex-public schoolboys in positions of power understood them and felt at ease in their presence. Lord Grey once wished aloud that all foreign statesmen could have gone to public school, where they would have learned a common set of ground rules. How much simpler it would have been to negotiate the (p.185) fate of nations with other Wykehamists, Harrovians and Etonians – the sort of chaps with whom Lord Grey mixed in London.66

The early twentieth century may well have been the time when the public schools reached their most dominant point, in terms of the proportion of people at the top of their fields educated at public schools. On the one hand, the virtual monopoly of the public schools in the prime minister’s cabinet was diminishing, partly because of the arrival of powerful working-class politicians. On the other hand, it was becoming much more standard for the sons of industrialists and financiers, who were often the top industrialists and financiers of the future, to go to public school (though many, such as Robert Peel, had attended in previous ages). Largely for this reason, by 1939 61 per cent of the directors of clearing banks had been to one of twenty-six well-known public schools. This was also a time when public schoolboys still predominated in the civil service and the Church – 46 per cent of under secretaries and above, and 57 per cent of assistant bishops and above in the Church of England, had been to one of these schools. William of Wykeham, who had straddled both these worlds, would have been pleased. One might think that even God was a public school old boy. In later decades, however, the public school dominance of these two fields would weaken, while public school dominance of business and finance would remain strong.67 Public schoolboys became more prone to worship Mammon than God.

Norwood’s 1929 comments about the ‘unexampled prosperity’ of the boarding schools proved wrong almost as soon as he uttered them. In 1929 the Great Depression crossed the Atlantic to reach Britain. The economy descended to its nadir in 1932, the year when the jobless rate peaked, but the depression did not really disappear until the outbreak of war in 1939 returned the country to full employment.

The effect of the depression on the economy was uneven, with the industrial north suffering particularly badly. It was a pattern of pain inflicted, in due course, on public schools. Numbers at St Bees, a boarding school in Northumberland, slumped from 310 in 1919 to a (p.186) mere 120 in 1938, though after the possibility of closure was raised the school was saved largely by loyal old boys.68 A slump in the local shipbuilding industry sent numbers at Sunderland High, a day school run by the Church Schools Company, plunging by 40 per cent in the final four years of peace, though it too survived.69 Even St Peter’s School, York, founded in 627 AD before Winchester College, parliament or England existed, came close to extinction: it is believed that the headmaster was fired for recommending its closure, though this particular incident is shrouded in mystery.70

Many schools in the wealthy public school heartlands of the south were hit too, though the suffering was less uniform than in the north. Norwood’s Harrow was forced to close a boarding house, and a Harrow master wrote during the final months of peace in 1939 that ‘the existence of Harrow is not assured’.71 Dulwich High, a girls’ school run by the Church Schools Company, put up its shutters in 1938. Tunbridge Wells High School, run by the Girls’ Public Day School Trust, limped along until 1945, though talk of closing it had already begun in the 1930s.72

Depression was not the only cause of the public schools’ travails. The sector was also suffering from a reversal of the ‘winner takes all’ concentration of income which had worked to its advantage in the nineteenth century. The share of national income held by the top 10 per cent – the main potential client base for public schools – had already dropped to half or just below by 1913; by 1949 it had fallen further, to one-third.73 Another burden for Eton, Shrewsbury and other older schools endowed with rural land was the Tithe Act of 1936, which abolished the ecclesiastical tax they had collected.74 Public schools were also damaged by demography: the number of live births had dropped sharply during the First World War, reaching its lowest point for children born in 1918 – the group which, had they gone to public school, would usually have started in 1931 or thereabouts. Aside from a brief surge in the aftermath of the war, the number of babies born – always above a million a year in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras – would drop below a million in 1922 (p.187) and stay there permanently, forever shrinking the theoretical potential client base. Moreover, the time bomb set ticking by the depression-era dip in births was primed to hit the schools during the dark days of the Second World War, putting them under further pressure.75

Another source of financial pain was the existing debt which schools had incurred in improving facilities before the depression hit. This ranged from Harrow’s purchase of local land and housing to University College School’s move from its cramped central London quarters to a more spacious estate in Hampstead, chosen partly because of the lack of competitor schools in the area.76 It is all too easy to criticize the schools for rashly spending too much before the depression hit; in fact they had little choice. The growth of state-funded education forced the public day schools to improve their own facilities, either to compete or simply to meet the standards required for them to receive state aid themselves, though in many cases a lack of funds kept some facilities astoundingly primitive. The two chemistry labs which had existed since University College School’s pre-Victorian foundation remained essentially unchanged as late as the 1960s.77 Meanwhile the boarding schools were under pressure from parents, whose concept of minimum acceptable standards for their offspring had risen considerably. While headmaster of Eton in the 1930s, Claude Elliott was confronted with a memo from twenty-five parents complaining about the condition of boarding houses. Responding to this and other gripes, including the discovery that in parts of the school there were more than ten boys to each bathroom or shower, Elliott spent money on improvements. Eton’s finances remained secure in this period, making such amelioration more or less affordable; other schools, however, were less fortunate.78

For day schools, already straining under the weight of competition now that the state had decisively entered secondary education, the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 made a pretty parlous situation still worse – though the boarding schools, often in secluded rural areas less disrupted by the war, tended to fare better. The First World War had thrown into disorder the operations of some (p.188) schools by prompting evacuations from coastal areas, but the overall effect had been fairly mild; such was not the case the second time around. The nation quickly descended into a state of officially sanctioned panic: seduced by the mistaken interwar orthodoxy that mass bombing campaigns waged on urban centres by the enemy would inevitably cause huge casualties, government planners had assumed 300,000 civilian deaths in the first fortnight of war.79 Evacuations of inner-city public schools began. Many an urban school shared facilities with a rural one. The City of London School moved to Marlborough College – which was saved from peril by fierce lobbying from Old Marlburians, including R. A. Butler, president of the Board of Education. Because of the efforts of these friends in high places, the Ministry of Aircraft Production cancelled plans to commandeer the buildings.80 It was a chaotic time, with public school children as well as grown-ups shifted from one location to another, in the name of safety and of victory. This generated all manner of anomalies and curiosities. A Roedean Old Boys Association still exists, peopled by naval officers planted there by the navy, which took over the school during the war. The officers were greatly amused by the sign by a bell push that said ‘If you require a mistress, please ring’ – a promise not, to the men’s chagrin, backed up by reality.81

Whereas some schools not in officially sanctioned evacuation areas gained – the same number of children still had to be educated, after all – the mass migration of pupils immersed a large proportion of the schools in deep trouble. In 1941 the governors of Mill Hill debated the school’s ‘chance of survival after the war’ under the heading ‘Mending or Ending’; the governors of Liverpool College, faced with dwindling numbers and bomb damage, discussed whether the school should be closed down; the head of Westminster, evacuated to Hertfordshire, was found in his study, head in hands, saying to himself in despair, ‘if we go below a hundred, we’re finished’.82 By the end of 1940 the Girls’ Public Day School Trust was close to collapse; the council gave every member of staff provisional notice of termination, on the grounds that the overdraft had already reached the permitted limit.83

(p.189) To the prospect of financial insolvency was added the accusation of moral bankruptcy. ‘If the public schools are national assets because of their leadership training qualities, what are we to think of those qualities when we survey the mess into which their leadership has brought us?’ fretted T. C. Worsley, the former Wellington master, in the year that John Vereker, the Harrovian war hero who had by this time succeeded to the peerage as Viscount Gort, narrowly escaped losing the British Expeditionary Force in France.84 Worse was to come; in February 1942 an Old Rugbeian presided over the biggest capitulation in British history, when Lieutenant-General Percival surrendered Singapore. ‘Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’, Orwell had written the previous year, ‘but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there’.85 The barbs of Worsley, Orwell and others constituted a serious, potentially fatal, charge against the boys’ public schools: the role of the schools in creating leaders capable of defending and governing empires had, in the speeches and memoirs of hundreds of headmasters up and down the land, been one of the chief justifications for their existence.

Public school boys presided over many of the war’s greatest failures. Percival was not very ably assisted by Air Chief Marshal Robert Brooke-Popham, the Haileybury-educated Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the Far East. A few months after the fall of Singapore General Archibald Wavell, an Old Wykehamist, was relieved of command in North Africa after failing to defeat Field-Marshal Rommel.

However, many of the greatest heroes of the war were also public school men, including Field-Marshal Montgomery (St Paul’s) and Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding (Winchester), who won the Battle of Britain. As well as providing some of the best senior military leaders, the public schools also educated some of the best theoreticians, such as Sir Basil Liddell-Hart (another Pauline) and John Fuller (Malvern), who held pioneering views on the use of the tank, a machine conceived and developed in the First World War largely by Sir Ernest Swinton (University College School, Rugby and Cheltenham). Moreover, the hard numbers show there was no clearing out of inadequate public (p.190) school generals during the war. In 1939, 54 per cent of major-generals and above had attended one of twenty-six well-known public schools; by 1950, a few years after the war’s end, this had fallen only to 49 per cent.86 In wartime, in a reasonably well-run system, poor military leaders are gradually dispensed with in favour of better men. The numbers show that this process of discarding the incompetent did not really disfavour the public schools, however. It was largely public school men who lost the first half of the land war; it was largely public school men who won the second half.

Nevertheless, while Britain’s top generals have, at least for the past two centuries, often taken the limelight, the service which played the most crucial role in defending the homeland and empire remained the less glamorous navy. The top ranks of the navy have, throughout history, been filled by a remarkably small number of public school boys compared with almost every other section of the British elite. Back in the seventeenth century, John King, a pupil at Charterhouse, had been press ganged after illegally going to the Lady Fair in Southwark, and put aboard a ship for Tangier. The school’s master persuaded the monarch to act, and Samuel Pepys was dispatched to obtain his release. Since King’s time, most public school boys have been scarcely less reluctant to agree to a life on the ocean wave.87 In 1939 only 7 per cent of rear-admirals and above had attended one of the twenty-six public schools used in the research. The figure dropped even further, to 5 per cent, eleven years later.88

The public schools have played a role in the acquisition of empire, by men such as Clive of India (Merchant Taylors’). As civilians, they have often taken charge, with varying degrees of competence, of the governance of empire; nine of the twenty-two nineteenth-century viceroys of India were educated at Eton alone, with another three from Harrow.89 However, the men who kept the convoys free in the Atlantic during the Second World War, starved Germany in the First, and kept the empire’s maritime trading routes open for more than two centuries, were rarely public schoolboys. The low public-school contribution to the navy’s higher ranks suggests that, despite (p.191) the belated preoccupation among some headmasters of the newer public schools founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with providing imperial servants, the sector’s contribution to the preservation of empire has been exaggerated.90

The public schools’ darkest hour had, in fact, already passed before the 1942 fall of Singapore, as the initial chaos caused by the outbreak of war dissipated. Schools which had been transferred for safety’s sake to new areas started picking up more local pupils; some schools returned to their peacetime sites, as fears eased that Armageddon was set to rain from the skies. By 1941 numbers at the evacuated schools owned by the Church Schools Company were on the increase; by the end of the war all of its schools were full, and most had a waiting list, as pupils returned to their former homes.91 Numbers at Girls’ Public Day School Trust establishments began to rise from their trough in 1942–3.92

Just as their fortunes were recovering, another proposal was made to turn the rest of the public schools into the semi-state, semi-public schools which many of the day schools had become by taking the king’s shilling and accepting government grants. In contrast to the proposal championed by Fletcher after the First World War, this time the move was made not by the public schools but by the state. The trigger was the attempt by R. A. Butler to create a post-war education system which matched growing wartime expectations among the populace, an attempt which was to culminate in the Education Act of 1944, considered in the following chapter. In 1942 Butler appointed Lord Fleming, a Scottish judge, to head a committee ‘to consider means whereby the association between the Public Schools … and the general educational system of the country could be developed and extended’. In July 1944 the Fleming Report recommended that local education authorities form agreements with willing public schools to pay for places.

Had such agreements been made, the government would have gained considerable control over the schools involved: the report stipulated that the state would nominate one-third of the governing body. To give a flavour of the high and detailed degree of government (p.192) control envisaged, one of the two proposed schemes recommended ‘that reasonable variations shall be allowed in staffing ratios’ by local education authorities, ‘with due consideration for the character of the curriculum, the amount and variety of sixth form work, the necessity of a larger staff because of boarders, and other relevant factors’. The state would peruse virtually everything about the schools to ensure its money was spent as it saw fit.93

A few years earlier many of the public schools might have accepted this partial abdication of their independence. However, by this point most were not as desperate for a lifeline as previously. For its part, the wartime coalition government showed little interest in the proposals. Blame lies largely with Lord Fleming for his leisurely approach to the report, which was not published until two months after the Education Bill had received its third and final reading – making it difficult to slot the proposals for public schools into the new national framework set out by the eventual Act. As Butler was to put it in his memoirs, with a note of irritation, ‘the first class carriage had been shunted into an immense siding’.94 The Labour government which came to power in July 1945 showed no more interest in exercising control over the public schools than the coalition government had. The Labour Party as a whole would not adopt an actively aggressive anti-public school agenda until the 1960s.95

The public schools had survived a prolonged period of adversity in both peace and war. To ensure their survival, in the previous four decades they had made marked progress in broadening their curriculum and improving pupils’ conditions. The majority had withstood the most severe economic depression in modern British history. Their old boys had won, or helped to win, the Battle of Britain and the Battle of Normandy, though not the Battle of the Atlantic. Most important of all, they had survived the onset of much greater competition from the state; indeed, they had emerged stronger from it. The following decades would prove the notion that what does not kill you only makes you stronger, and amplify it to an extreme degree.


(1.) John Lawson and Harold Silver, A Social History of Education in England, London: Methuen, 1973, p. 367ff.

(2.) Michael Sanderson, Educational Opportunity and Social Change in England, London: Faber and Faber, 1987, p. 29.

(3.) John Vaizey, The Costs of Education, London: Allen & Unwin, 1958, p. 98.

(5.) Sanderson, Educational Opportunity, p. 32. See also Sanderson’s footnote.

(6.) Anthony Trott, No Place for Fop or Idler: The Story of King Edward’s School,Birmingham, London: James & James, 1992, p. 94.

(7.) Frank Miles and Graeme Cranch, King’s College School: The First 150 Years, London: King’s College School, 1979, p. 240.

(8.) Nigel Watson, And Their Works Do Follow Them: The Story of North London Collegiate School, London: James & James, 2000, p. 57ff.

(9.) Josephine Kamm, Indicative Past: A Hundred Years of The Girls’ Public Day School Trust, London: Allen & Unwin, 1971, pp. 119, 103.

(10.) Geoffrey Sherington, English Education, Social Change and War, 1911–20, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1981, p. 146.

(11.) Martin W. Holdgate, Arnold: The Story of a Blackpool School, Kirkby Stephen: Hayloft Publishing, 2009, p. 55.

(13.) Graham Greene (ed.), The Old School, London: Jonathan Cape, 1934, p. 190.

(14.) Board of Education, Private Schools, and Other Schools Not in Receipt of Grants from Public Funds, London, 1932, p. 27.

(15.) Frank Fletcher, After Many Days. A Schoolmaster’s Memories, London: Robert Hale & Co., 1937, p. 272.

(17.) Ian Hay, The Lighter Side of School Life, London, Edinburgh, Boston: T.N. Foulis, 1924. Strictly speaking, the translation is ‘I beware Greeks even when they bring gifts’.

(18.) A. H. H. Maclean, Public Schools and the Great War, 1914–19, London: Edward Stanford, 1923.

(19.) Edward Mack, Public Schools and British Opinion Since 1860, New York: Columbia University Press, 1941, p. 307; Tim Card, Eton Renewed: A History from 1860 to the Present Day, London: John Murray, 1994, pp. 143–4.

(20.) Eton College Chronicle, 8 February 1917, p. 168.

(28.) Ibid., Spans 10, 11.

(30.) Robert Philp, A Keen Wind Blows: The Story of Fettes College, London: James & James, 1998, pp. 36, 43, 41.

(31.) T. C. Worsley, Flannelled Fool, London: Hogarth Press, 1985, p. 20.

(32.) Girls’ School Year Book, London: A&C Black, 1930.

(33.) Girls’ Day School Trust archives: GDS/17/7/2.

(34.) GDS/17/7/2 Memo by heads of GDST schools regarding their objection to Board of Education regulations for compulsory courses in feminine arts; DC/GDS13/11/7 Kensington High School 1914 prospectus.

(36.) Howard Bailes, St Paul’s Girls’ School, London: James & James, 2000, p. 72.

(37.) Gillian Avery, Cheltenham Ladies: A History of the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, London: James & James, 2003, p. 139.

(38.) See individual school entries in Public Schools Year Book, London, for the appropriate years.

(39.) Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma, London: Vintage, 1992, p. 26.

(40.) Entries in Public Schools Year Book, 1938.

(41.) P. G. Wodehouse, Tales of St Austin’s, Harmondsworth: Puffin Books, 1972, p. 15.

(42.) Francis R. G. Duckworth, From a Pedagogue’s Sketch-Book, London and Leipzig: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912, pp. 156–7.

(43.) Figures taken from Public Schools Year Book, 1938.

(44.) Cyril Norwood, The English Tradition of Education, London: John Murray, 1931, p. 129.

(45.) Ibid., p. 130.

(46.) Christine Heward, Making a Man of Him: Parents and Their Sons’ Education at an English Public School 1929–50, London: Routledge, 1988, p. 60.

(48.) Anthony Marett-Crosby, A School of the Lord’s Service: A History of Ampleforth, London, James & James, 2002, pp. 52–3.

(50.) Brian Rees, Stowe: The History of a Public School 1923–1989, London, 2008, p. 57.

(51.) Jan Piggott, Dulwich College: A History, 1616–2008, Dulwich: Dulwich College Enterprises Ltd, 2008, p. 242.

(52.) H. A. Vachell, The Hill, London: George Newnes, 1905, p. 16.

(53.) Jason Tomes, entry for Bracken in ODNB, Vol. 7, pp. 145–6; email communication with Sedbergh School archivist, 20 June 2013. C. E. Lysaght, Brendan Bracken, London: Allen Lane, 1979, pp. 306–7.

(54.) Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall, London: Chapman & Hall, 1935, p. 29.

(56.) T. W. Bamford, The Rise of the Public Schools, London: Nelson, 1967, p. 321.

(57.) Fred Clarke, ‘Recruitment of the Nation’s Leaders’, Sociological Review, 1936, p. 343.

(58.) Keith Robbins, entry for Grey in ODNB, Vol. 23, p. 826.

(59.) T. J. H. Bishop and Rupert Wilkinson, Winchester and the Public School Elite, London: Faber and Faber, 1967, pp. 164–71.

(60.) Kenneth Harris, Attlee, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982, pp. 406, 33.

(61.) Dulwich College Governors’ minutes, October 1932, p. 40.

(63.) J. R. de S. Honey, Tom Brown’s Universe: The Development of the Victorian Public School, London: Millington, 1977, p. 161.

(65.) Rudyard Kipling, Stalky and Co., London: Macmillan, 1929, pp. 10–13.

(66.) Rupert Wilkinson, The Prefects. British Leadership and the Public School Tradition. A Comparative Study in the Making of Rulers, London: Oxford University Press, 1964, pp. 3, 49.

(67.) David Boyd, Elites and their Education, Windsor: National Foundation for Educational Research, 1973, pp. 80, 83, 84.

(68.) Brian Simon, Education and the Social Order 1940–1990, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2010 edition, p. 38.

(69.) Moberly Bell, A History of the Church Schools Company, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1958, p. 71.

(70.) Richard Drysdale (ed.), Over Ancient Ways: A Portrait of St Peter’s School,York, London: Third Millennium Publishing, 2007, p. 33.

(71.) Public Schools Year Book, 1919, 1930 and 1938.

(73.) C. H. Lee, The British Economy Since 1700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 29, 147.

(74.) James Basil Oldham, A History of Shrewsbury School, 1552–1952, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952, p. 279; Card, Eton Renewed, p. 191.

(76.) Nigel Watson, A Tradition for Freedom: The Story of University College School, London: James & James, 2007, pp. 45–57; Christopher Tyerman, A History of Harrow School, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 410.

(79.) Andrew Thorpe, ‘Essay on Britain’, in Jeremy Noakes (ed.), The Civilian in War, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997, p. 21.

(80.) Thomas Hinde, Carpenter’s Children: The Story of the City of London School, London: James & James, 1995, p. 99.

(82.) Roderick Braithwaite, Strikingly Alive: The History of the Mill Hill School Foundation, 1807–2007, Chichester: Published for the Mill Hill School Foundation by Phillimore, 2006, p. 228; David Henry Edward Wainwright, Liverpool Gentlemen: A History of Liverpool College, An Independent Day School from 1840, London: Faber and Faber, 1960, p. 248; John Field, The King’s Nurseries, London: James & James, 1987, p. 96.

(85.) George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, London: Secker & Warburg, 1941, Part IV.

(87.) Anthony Quick, Charterhouse: A History of the School, London: James & James, 1990, p. 27.

(88.) Ibid., p. 82. The definition of public schools excludes, in this case, Dartmouth Naval College. Until 1941, although parents paid fees for boys at Dartmouth, as they did for public schools, Dartmouth was always a vocational training college rather than a true public school.

(90.) The task of preparing men for colonial and imperial life was a major concern of some of the heads of the new public schools set up at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century (though it is harder to find reference to this at many of the older schools). Badley, the founder of Bedales, declared that a young man able to perform the various manual tasks performed at his school, including the ability to ‘handle an axe as well as a bat’, and to ‘mend his own clothes like a sailor’, was ‘obviously the ideal colonist’ ( Roy Wake and Pennie Denton, Bedales School: The First Hundred Years, London: Haggerston Press, 1993, p. 28).

(92.) Girls’ Day School Trust archives: DC/GDS/5/1.

(94.) R. A. Butler, The Art of the Possible, London: Hamilton, 1971, p. 120.

(95.) Fleming Report, pp. 100–5.