Chapter 6. Into the Twentieth Century

One former pupil, or ‘old boy’, tells of life in the school at the turn of the century:

“The children were given numbers and were addressed by them.” The Head was taken to task about this; his reasoning was that it was the practice in public schools and, apart from that, there were 20 children called Smith in the school. So how otherwise could one distinguish between them?

“The lighting in the school was by means of plain gas jets, some of which were arranged on large iron chandeliers which the more adventurous children were ready to convert to gymnastic equipment from time to time.” Incandescent lighting was added, in 1894, but only to the committee room.

“The boys’ uniform changed, from black Eton jackets and trousers with white Eton collars and a mortar board, to a grey suit with cap”.

It is amusing to note that the cry of “Crow” was used, then as now, for approaching staff. This cry seems to originate from the black gowns worn by staff.

“The children rose at 7am (6am in summer). They spent a total of 6 and a half hrs in the classroom, nowadays, just 5hrs.

The subjects taught were scripture, arithmetic, algebra, history, geography, grammar, singing and French, taught by a genuine Frenchman!

“Boys and girls were still completely separate, and children could attend the school from 7 to 15 years of age. If the weather was fine the children were often taken for a walk, in strict crocodile of course, either down by the river to Battersea Park or to The Tate Gallery.

When boys left the school at 15, they were given a “bible, a prayer book, two suits, two sets of underwear, one hat, one pair of boots, an umbrella, a tin trunk to put them in and a sum of money.” This was not the end, however, as help was often given with night school and examination fees. The girls received the equivalent.

In 1898 the inspector of schools for the army remarked on visiting the school that: “In no schools have I seen better work than I find at the LVS.”

Such was the standard of education received that one boy called Hewitt was 3rd of 2044 candidates in the College of Precentors examination.

In 1898 the Old Students’ Association was formed.

To celebrate the Coronation of Edward VII in 1903, the School was illuminated and the division of the sexes was relaxed so that boys and girls were allowed to mix for perhaps the only time in their life at the school.

In 1903, 30 boys were taken to see the Royal Installation of the South London Electric Trams, which were brought in to replace those drawn by horses.

A major breakthrough took place in 1904 when typewriting and shorthand lessons were given to mixed classes.

In 1909 the headmaster Mr Wallis resigned after 24 years’ service. He was replaced by Mr Appleton, a certificate trained teacher, who gained a science degree while employed at the school.

In 1910 George V became the Royal Patron of the school.

A pupil named Tom Farrants hit the national headlines when he rescued a boy drowning while on holiday. This was held up as a shining example of the benefits of having a school swimming baths and teaching swimming to the young pupils.

Mr Coleman was appointed headmaster in 1911 at a salary of £150. National Insurance was introduced and a list of staff salaries drawn up. It serves to illustrate the very large staff and the expense involved in running the LVS.

Masters:                 Head £150                        Mistresses:   Head £140

1st      £100                                                       1st      £60
2nd      £65                                                       2nd      £45
3rd      £55                                                       3rd      £40
4th      £45

Part time teaching staff:
Shorthand and typing                 £55
Two swimming teachers            £26 each
Cookery                                          £21
Drill                                                £30
French                                           £52
Domestic Staff:
Cook                                              £40
Two kitchen maids                    £17 each
Parlour maid                              £20
Four housemaids                      £17 each
Three laundry maids               £26, £20 & £17
Engineer                                     £85
Two porters                               £68 & £41
Needlewoman                           £46
Matron’s asst.                            £40
Nurse                                          £32
Girl’s attendant                         £21

The first school magazines were published in 1912. The reason for the publication was not to publicise the school, nor to improve the children’s English, but simply to raise funds for the prevision of football equipment, since a football field had been procured the previous year. The price was 2/6d (25p) for two copies per year.

In the first edition of the magazine are details of the swimming pool and of the competitive events held in it. As well as the usual swimming races there were such exotic events as plunging, bobbing for corks, tub racing, chariot racing and diving for plates. The pool was 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, sloping from 3ft6ins (1m) to 6 feet (2m) deep.

Christmas parties were always held after the turn of the year, sometimes even as late as February. The Governor, then as now, played Santa Claus, and the children had a moving-picture show and a sing-song to Mr Hans’ Quadrille Band. (Mr Hans also taught the brass band.)

The second edition of the magazine tells of the school sports at High Beech in Epping Forest. They were held there at the King’s Oak in those days, and until well after the school had moved to Slough.

Later magazines tell much of life in the school seen from the children’s viewpoint. One such event was a cricket match at the Oval, between Jockeys and Athletes, in which well-known personalities such as Bombardier “Billy” Wells and Steve Donoghue took part. Wells was a heavyweight boxer and Donoghue a jockey who was a legend in his lifetime. The ex-king of Portugal, Dom Manuel, umpired the match for a time.

The school had one of the first scout troops to be formed. The school also had a very fine band, which played at many notable functions. It consisted, remarked one old boy, of “brass, woodwind and concussion“. The band was recognised as one of the best in the district and played at the christening of the daughter of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the Chief Scout, and later at a recruiting rally for the army.

In 1914, when war was on the minds of all the children, they visited Balham Palladium to see the “Great British Army” film. They were filmed in procession to the theatre and returned there after a meal to see the film in which they appeared?

Arrangements were made for possible air raids. Every basin and bath was filled with water when not in use and respirators were bought for the children. The basement was used as an air-raid shelter and the staff and senior boys fire-watched from the roof.

The magazine of 1915 tells of “Our Zeppelin Raid” and of life in wartime London; the recruiting rosters; the parks used as parade grounds and camps. The Crystal Palace was full of sailors when the children paid their annual visit. Ambulances full of wounded were a common sight in the streets of London and the streets and bridges were occupied by guns. The funeral processions of children killed in Zeppelin raids, and internment camps such as that at Alexandra Palace, all helped to convey to the children the horror and reality of war.

In the Old Students notes, a Mormon writes in praise of Salt Lake City, Utah, and of his conversion to the faith. Letters were also received from Old Boys at “the front” and several of their names and decorations appear on the war shrine in Kennington Church.

In 1917 the Headmaster married and his wife became Headmistress.

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