Granfather’s Journal (16 years old): Chapter 5

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Soon afterwards I commenced to go to Queen Elisabeth Grammar School in High Barnet. It was not a real boarding school but the headmaster took in a few boys and I was duly installed as one of the few.

The school was founded by Queen Elizabeth at the instigation of the Earl of Leichester, in 1573 and the old charter still exists. It is now a very valuable document and is kept in a safety vault in the bank.

When about to enter the assembly hall one cannot fail to notice the huge wisteria vine which encompasses three sides of the building.  This vine disputes with the one at Hampton Court, the distinction of being the largest wisteria vine in England.  In spring when the big purple flowers are in bloom, showing up against the background of old Elizabethan brick, people come from long distances to view them.  The scent fills the air for several hundred feet round about.

The stone-work about the door is carved and above, the date, 1573, appears. The Tudor rose is easily discernible on the left- hand side, surrounded by the crown.

The ancient whipping post still stands in the middle of the hall but is not used now.  The old fireplaces, big enough to roast an ox in, have the Tudor rose carved on both sides.

The school forms a very pretty picture and the towers with the grated windows give it a touch of mystery.  On many a summer day I used to go and lie on the grass, and, while gazing at the ancient towers, be transported to the land of Romance.  One day, having nothing better to do decided to get the keys and explore one of the towers.  The porter couldn’t understand what I wanted to go up there for and tried to dissuade me.  He explained that it would be all cobwebs as nobody had been up there for years but when he found he could not shake my resolve he handed over a large rusty key and I started off.  The lock turned with a complaining creak, the oak door swang back and I found myself at the foot  of a flight of the steps, warn smooth by the footsteps of those long since passed away.  Several times I slipped in the darkness but was saved from a nasty fall by the aid of a rusty chain running along the side.  There was a small room at the top, very dimly lighted by four windows, well guarded by thick iron bars.  The dust lay thickly everywhere and one could well imagine a skeleton, or ghost, or both, in any one of the dark corners.  At one side of the room there was a rubbish heap of books and dirt and hung around on the walls were several rapiers and some curious looking things, which when I had removed some of the dust I found to be heavy, unwieldy head guards.  Among the books I discovered a copy of rules of the school in vogue over three hundred years ago.  It contained such extracts as this “ All ye senior boys shall speak in ye Latine.” They must have been better Latin scholars then than they are nowdays for I doubt if there is a boy in the school who can express himself freely in Latin.

The head master’s house is just across from the hall and so we only had to step across the way to be in school.  The first night I was there I was informed that I was to share a room with Kennedy and Moulton who were both older than I.  As soon as we got our pajamas on we lit the gas stove (of course this was forbidden, but little we cared for rules) and roasted chestnuts, made toast, and polished off a large plum cake which Kennedy had brought from home.  After that we decided we would have a game of cards but it was time for “lights out,” so I arranged a system (by means of tying a dozen or so shoelaces together and passing them over a hook for a pulley) by which we could pull the gas low when we heard anyone coming and pull it up again when all was safe.  From this time on we three were friends.

Note: I found grandfather’s journal and the picture separately. What an amazing happenstance!

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