If there is one thing that I have learned since my arrival to the archives is that very often you can follow the reasoning of people from the past. You see who they were and what they did and why it was important to them. Take Kay-Shuttleworth. He was a doctor-> he saw what poverty did to people-> he didn’t like it-> he had an idea how to fix it. It’s logical. You can follow the process.
Not so with Fawnthorpe. Fawnthorpe was a student of St. John’s and later he became the principal of Whitelands College. This college was a school dedicated to training of female teachers. Hmm, a guy trained to teach boys is a head of school training girls. Well I suppose they couldn’t make a woman headmistress back then, the monocles in all the England would be in peril if they did. Ok, what else is Fawnthorpe known for? A little book called Household Science: readings in necessary knowledge for girls and young women. So the guy who trained women to be teachers also wanted them to be domestic goddesses?
But the oddest thing in all this is the Whitelands College May Queen Festival. It all started with Ruskin. Yes, THAT Ruskin. Among many great things that he was, Ruskin was weird. He held very bizarre view concerning feminine purity and innocence. I suspect that the world still suffers because of these ideas. Faunthorpe was Ruskins friend and admirer and following these strange perceptions, he organized the May Queen Festival, where a girl would be crowned as a May Queen. It was a celebration consisting of pageants, dances, processions, fun and games. An enormous amount of preparations go into these. There were elaborate dresses made especially for the girls and each one would be presented a golden cross, to tie this festival’s pagan origins to the traditions of Christianity. This festival is celebrated to this day, even that since 1985 it is allowed to choose a King instead of a Queen. It all looks pretty and fun, a venerable tradition if I ever seen one. But I can’t help being weirded out by the roots of it all- one man’s inability to see women as they are and creating an elaborate ceremony based upon it. So, what was with you Faunthorpe? How did Ruskin roped you into it all?
So how do you interpret Fawnthorpe? An enlightened educator or a relic of outmoded thinking? A co-conspirator to other man fantasies or just a guy that wanted to use the occasion to do something nice for young women under his care? I admit that I don’t know.
Pictures are from Whitelands College May Queen Festival by Malcolm Cole
A private record made at Marjon
What would you donate to archives? Documents? Letters? Publications? Sure, that’s what we usually get. Unlkie other archives we also accept objects, like uniforms, badges, plaques. Stuff that is more likely to be found in museums. Also on ebay, if the original owner was famous, with a price tag to give Blill Gates a heart attack.:-)
Some things arrived that used to belong to John Atkinson, who was Marjon student in the years 1959-1962. And for the most part, those are typical things, a small tower of year books, a really long group photo, some copies of his letters. He wasn’t a celebrity, just a music teacher doing his best to inspire his students. His only chance at fame was shot down when BBC (which he used to fondly refer to as ‘Berlin Broadcasting Company’) wouldn’t put him on the box.
But there is one thing that is unique among his things. You open an envelope and there is this vinyl record inside. The label says: Ascension Day 1959, Sung Eucharist. A private recording of him singing. Not only were his words given to us, or the likeness in the old picture, but also his voice. Hey Mister Atkinson, aren’t you glad? ‘Non omnis moriar…’
So, as I mentioned before, William Finch’s The Sea In My Blood is a story from his youth about his life among the smack-sailing fishermen of Lowesoft.
He went for his first fishing trip at age nine, having finally convinced his father to take him. He tells about that certain ‘something’ that made him do it, the same thing that binds lives to it. And I myself can attest that there is truth to it, being a daughter and grand-daughter to seamen.
It might seem strange to us that a child of nine would be taken along the fishing trip, but back then a boy as young as twelve would be ready to take on job on a smack. Starting from a position of a cook he would learn the trade from the adults. And he had to learn fast, avoiding the mistakes that might cost them their lives.
What I love about the book the most is the sea stories. The stories of ships and how they have whims and personalities of their own. Of storms and narrow escapes. Of good times and bad times for the fishing folk. There are stories of skeletons found in the fishing nets bad accidents and mysterious circumstances. And the best part is they are all true.
And I cannot omit the smack-men’s humour: ‘Cooky served corn beef, the first I have ever seen or tasted. ‘’Look out f’r bits a fur. They make it fr’m cats’’.:-)
The book is not only full of salty stories, but also of beautiful drawings he made himself. He illustrated the technical aspects of smack-sailing, such as equipment, sails, manoeuvring but also captured scenes from daily life, and what’s the most important, the likeness of people who lead this kind of life and the times when the sea was even more dangerous than it is today.
Previously I said I found something while filing, but that’s not exactly true. I found two things. First is a book by William Finch, The Sea in My Blood. It is his account of life of smack fishermen. But before I start talking about the book and why I found it interesting, I want to talk about the other thing I found. And it is a letter from Finch to Principal Anderson, who fulfilled this role when Finch was at Marjon. The book was a gift to Anderson when it was published.
Suddenly I felt like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that took place in the past. Between two men that never met. And they never will as both are no longer among the living. That is the experience that only the archives are able to provide.
Finch was not only a Marjon. He was an original Marjon, the first year that graduated after the colleges merged. I n his letter he recollects the move: ‘…after a year at Battersea into the luxury of Marks Chelsea (by the 20’s standards)’. And the rules: ‘…and woe betide this miscreant caught stubbing his fag on the school gate post.’ Both of these sentiments I have found before in the memories of other students, and now I feel like I am in on a joke.
After Marjon, Finch went on to become a great teacher, educator artist and writer. He was an inspiration to many and somebody I would love to have known. But at this point, I am contented to listen to him speaking from the past.
One of my favourite things to do in the archives it digging through our book collection. Maybe because there is such a wide range of material there, from fiction to resource books, from published dissertations to poetry. During my last foray among the pages, I found Interesting English by Tony Wright. Tony was at one point working on teacher education programmes in Marjon and is currently retired.
There is something very interesting in the approach of Tony’s book. What the book does is making people stop and think about the language. It is not just simply resource for teachers on how. It also asks why and in what way. It shows influences persons capability and relationship with language.
Apart from tasks that exercise the understanding and mastery of the language, Tony sets ‘thinking’ questions. One of them was especially standing out to me.
‘Is English your friend or foe? Can you explain why?’
I think that this is a profound question that any learner should ask themselves.
I remember when I first started to learn, English was my foe. It was something that my parents forced upon me. Something I saw no point doing, something that had to be endured. And even now, so many years later, I observe adults that treat English as something to be conquered, or as a necessary evil to be accepted. How can anyone learn under those circumstances? Can anyone learn under those circumstances? I think not. Yet the questions about the language are so rarely asked, so rarely taken under the considerations.
Tony’s book can make the reader aware not only of technicalities of English, but also of the human side of the language. He proves, that the separation of the language from the feelings people have towards it, is impossible. The language is not a construct, but a landscape to be explored.
And you? Have you ever asked yourself about your feelings towards the language you speak?
Short one this week- still quite busy.
Speaking of maids, I thought I’ll introduce you to a very special person among the early St.Mark’s staff- Mrs.Harvey. She was the head of the servants in St.Mark College and a long-time employee of the Coleridge family. Coleridge’s daughter, Cristabel, mentions her in Memorials of St Marks College. She was a vigorous person, somewhat of a substitute mother to the young men of the College. It is said that once there was a rumour of burglars in the school and she, being a lady of eighty at the time, would walk the corridors with a fire poker in her hand checking under beds just in case. When asked about a ghost that supposedly was haunting the College halls, she would respond that ‘me and master never allowed nothing of the sort’. She must have been a fearless person, with her feet firmly on the ground.
The old lady in this picture is her; this image is also one of the oldest in our collection. She was a kind lady, but she knew her stuff and ran the household and the servants well. Funny, how we know nothing of the kitchen maid, but we know who Mrs Harvey was, what she was like and what she looked like. History is a fickle element, remembers some and forgets the others. And how about you? Will it remember you or drop you into the sea of oblivion?
Tolstoy is the writer that I have a complicated relationship with. On the one hand I can’t deny his importance and influence; his books survived the test of time and are still being read after all that time. On the other hand, he was the only man that put me to sleep with his book (okay, that sounded better in my head:-).
In 1861, Tolstoy came to visit Marjon. This visit went almost completely forgotten and undocumented. At that time he was still completely unknown, so we could assumed that for the teachers and students of Marjon he was just another random visitor, a foreigner at that, wishing to see the college and the Practising School attached. Ten years later and we would have a couple accounts and maybe even a photo from the day the famous Russian writer came around. But that was before he gained his fame. At the time, Tolstoy was on a mission to reform education in Russia and, like Shuttleworth, he went around the Europe visiting schools to see how things can be (or should not be) done.
There is one thing I still don’t understand. Apparently, at each school he visited he would request pupils to write short essay for him. You can read the essays the students of the Practising School wrote for him in the book ‘Tolstoy in London’ by Victor Lucas. The essays are full of the simplicity of a young boys’ life- who hit who and who won at marbles. But for some reason Tolstoy needed those as he would collect and take them away with him. Why would he need those? What would he use the essays for? Wouldn’t be more useful to him to make notes and grill the teachers about their methods? This is the Tolstoy secret. If you dear reader, see a method to this madness, please tell me. I really would like to know.