Christmas Bells

Term has finished, with all the Christmas events the end of term brings, this year’s ‘Bootham’ magazine has just been posted, and the school is quiet. From my office I can hear the Minster clock chime. So it seems appropriate to end this Christmas series with a drawing of ‘The Christmas Bells’ from the ‘Extra Christmas Number’ of The Observer from 1873.

bells cropped

The editor finishes his introduction to the issue by “wishing Contributors, Artists, Poets and Readers

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

20 Bootham, December 11th 1873”

140 years later, I would like to send the same wishes to everyone reading this.

  1. The Observer, Vol XII, p735. The image is signed SPT, almost certainly Silvanus Philips Thompson, who was a pupil at Bootham School between 1858 and 1867, and taught at the school between 1870 and 1875. He went on to become a well known physicist and there is a blue plaque with his name on Bootham.
  2. 20 Bootham was later renumbered as 51 Bootham.

The Robin

robin cropped


“Is not the robin always brought with pleasant recollections to our minds when we think about the legend of the little children who lost themselves in the wood, I think I am justified in saying that he is.”

So Bernard B. Alexander starts his essay about robins in the 1866 edition of The Observer. Thanks to Jenny Bailey, the past Head of English and Senior Mistress, for identifying the legend as ‘Babes in the Wood’, where a robin covers the two children with leaves.

After the brief reference to legend, Bernard’s essay goes on to describe the robin in enormous detail, including their behaviour, where they live and so on. There is more than a page about their “pugnacity”, and Bernard talks about experiments that he’d heard of involving a robin’s reaction to a toy robin in the window.

Natural History has a strong tradition at Bootham, and the Natural History Society was established in 1834. The essays in The Observer, the Natural History Journal (which was made up of contributions from all the Quaker schools in England and Ireland) and the other records of the society show that an enormous amount of time, energy and care went into observing and recording the world around them.


  1. Vol. VII, p153-65. The essay was written by Bernard B. Alexander, who was at Bootham School between 1862 and 1866.
  2. For more on Bootham School’s Natural History Society, see or the book Natural History at Bootham: the early years (contact me if you would like more details).