Memories from the Archives – Part 2

In January I did a talk as part of the Thursday lunchtime recital room series. It was entitled ‘Memories from the Archives’ and I talked about a number of memories from Old Scholars. I’ll share the photographs and text from the talk in several parts on the blog. Read Part 1 here.

George Scarr Watson

George Scarr Watson (1842-1929; Bootham 1853-58)

Photograph from 1866 John Ford Memorial

George Scarr Watson wrote some reminiscences for the Sheffield branch of the Old Scholars Association, which were then reprinted in Bootham magazine in 1908, fifty years after he left school.

In the article he remembers music (or lack of it), sleep, and columns.

“The bare rooms of my day, cold, and destitute of sinful ornament, knew only the voice and the restrictions of the plain Friend. No music soothed our savage breasts save the siren strains of the Jews’ harp, and that was only tolerated for its Biblical associations. Now, I am told, string bands call up the ghosts of protesting broad brims and coal-scuttle bonnets, or would do if the sacrificial fire of a few years ago had not exorcised them and initiated a new era. Laughter and shouts are perennial, and we could do as well as our successors; we could sing too, in a way, but surreptitiously. Our choral song at 10pm one night was loud and without the refinement of a trained chorus, but the teacher who heard us need not have said he thought at first it was a party of drunken revellers returning home from their carouse.” It wasn’t until 1882 that the Committee gave the Headmaster permission to hire a piano, to be used only for practice during leisure time.

He goes on to outline his day, starting with the “wakening sound of the horrid startling bell – they always, as the little boy said, send you to bed when you are not sleepy, and make you get up when you are.” Staying in bed too late earned you columns. He says “Ten minutes’ work at twelve words per minute equals one hundred and twenty words: three syllable words extracted from Butter’s spelling book, beginning with ‘ abrogate, absolute, adamant, admiral, affable, aggravate’ (I know them still), and written on a slate.” Apparently one of the other boys at school at the time got into trouble so many times that he became very proficient, so was given a section of Virgil to be learnt instead.

Often those writing about their education expressed views about how good (or not) their style of education was, and what they thought a good education should look like. These are George’s suggested seven principles of education (his alternative to the seven arts and sciences of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music).

1.The formation of character
2.The formation of character
3.The formation of character
4.The training of the mind to think
5.The training of the mind to think
6.The training of the mind to think
7.The acquisition of a few facts.


John Firth Fryer 1840-1914

John Firth Fryer

Today (28th February) marks the 100th anniversary of the death of John Firth Fryer, Bootham’s headmaster between 1875 and 1899. He started as a pupil at the school in 1854, and apart from a year at the Flounders Institute at Ackworth training to become a teacher, he remained at the school until his retirement in 1899. During his headship, he oversaw changes including teaching becoming departmentalised, permission being granted by the committee for the hire of a piano for practice during leisure time (which rapidly became the purchase of two pianos, hymn singing on Sunday evenings and the introduction of concerts), and the end of earlier customs such as no plates at breakfast or tea. Unfortunately his headship finished with the fire in 1899 which destroyed much of the school.

He seems to have been a keen footballer for a while, according to his obituary (in ‘Bootham’ magazine, May 1914): “When, however, the game [football] was sanctioned and John Ford himself gave the initial kick…in September 1862, no one proved a more enthusiastic player than J. F. Fryer, until an unlucky kick under the knee temporarily incapacitated him and made it undesirable for him to keep it on.”

His poem about football, ‘A Lay of Modern York’ was reprinted with his obituary in 1914, and its ending is particularly poignant considering what would follow later in 1914. Here are the last two verses:

“Thus onward speeds the conflict,

With various fortune blest;

First one side – then the other –

The poor ball gets no rest!

First to left and then to right,

Now here, now there, the ball is sped.

Anon one side the victory sees

An then its hopes are all but fled.

In short, so various is the scene

In this so happy, playful strife

As not remiss to represent

The strange vicissitudes of life.


Would that all strife as harmless were as this,

Would that all sanguinary war would cease,

All kingdoms of the happy earth rejoice

Beneath the reign of universal Peace.

The man of war his sword to ploughshare beat,

His deadly spear to pruning hook would turn;

Nations in battle fierce no more would meet,

No more with rage against each other burn;

And thus no longer war, but Peace delight to learn.”

J. F. Fryer

4th November 1862, 20, Bootham, York