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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 75 - Bash Street's Back Alright! (Errant Youth Week)

Tom's Notes; Private School Rebellions

Arse-hole youth or youths what are holes of the arse

I was well prepared for this one, being that I accidentally thought it was the topic for last week.

I’m talking about English private school rebellions! Yes, posh Bash Street Kids stuff; where all the kids are like Cuthbert Cringeworthy.

Let’s take a moment to enthral and captivate our audience with an aside on the topic of the Beano.

The Beano is Britain’s longest running children’s comic and has been publishing weekly since 1938 (although not during the Second World War due to ink shortages)! I say British, it was actually created by a Scottish publisher from Aberdeen. It’s not superhero nonsense, it’s good old fashioned silliness with the recurring characters being mischievous.

Alongside the Dandy, a similar comic book by the same publisher, the Beano is a huge part of British culture. The Dandy was actually started a year before (the same year as DC comics in the US) but ended in 2012 after sales had fallen from a high of almost 2 million per week in the early 1950s to around 8000.

The main recurring Beano character since 1950 has been Dennis the Menace, who’s comic strip always gets the front cover. Our American listeners might be familiar with the American Dennis the Menace which I remember from a television cartoon series from my youth. It has also spawned 3 rather shite films. Bizarrely, the two are totally unrelated, and coincidentally, both started at about the exact same time; around 1950. The two Dennis’s have always respected each other and marketed themselves slightly differently in the other’s country.

Here’s a great fact for our British listeners, the name Beano is a shortening of Bean-Feast, which is a basically a celebratory meal with lots of fun and laughter.

The Bash Street Kids has been part of the Beano since 1956 and it just involves a class of misbehaving kids and a hapless teacher.

Okay, back on track; Private school rebellions!

There were lots of private school rebellions during the 18th and 19th centuries. The reason for this we will get on to shortly. For those who don’t know, there are a number of exceptionally old and elitist private schools in the UK. If you look at a list of British Prime Ministers and their educations, you’ll see that places like Harrow, Eton and Winchester and Westminster figure prominently. But let’s discuss the rebellions!

Winchester College had 6 rebellions during the period mentioned. One rebellion was over beer rations. Another rebellion ended with the headmaster being held hostage by boys wielding axes. There were also 6 rebellions at Eton and 5 at Rugby School (we’ll come on to one of these in a moment). In 1690 students at Manchester Grammar School fought their teachers with firearms supplied by locals over the length of the Christmas holidays. This lasted 2 weeks! The students managed to lock themselves into the school and the teachers out.

In 1818, students at Sandhurst Military Academy stood-off against their teachers in military formation and a particularly noteworthy rebellion occurred in 1851 at Marlborough College when students rebelled as a result of an annoyingly punctilious member of staff constantly picking them up for misdemeanours. The students rebelled on fireworks night, blowing up a barrel of gunpowder and releasing fireworks. Classrooms were ransacked, bonfires built and chaos reigned. After three days, 5 boys were captured and expelled, but as they were carted off-site, they were followed by the other boys cheering loudly. They were soon joined by local villagers who had nothing better to do and the mob returned to the school, beat up the staff member who was recording all of the petty offenses of the students and burnt the headmasters office to get rid of his records of the misdemeanours.

Another particularly good rebellion was at Rugby in 1797. This rebellion started when a pupil was caught shooting cork bullets at his house master’s study window. The student was caught and interrogated by being water-boarded with cold and lumpy canteen custard. He confessed that he’d bought gunpowder from a local shop. The local shop was approached and it denied all knowledge of this purchase. The boy was flogged for lying and his friends took revenge on the shop by smashing its windows. The headmaster then demanded that the all of the boys from the rest of the year groups pay for the damage. The boy refused and let off a bomb in the school. The following day a full scale rebellion broke out. Amongst all of the destruction, the boys created an enormous bomb fire of all the school’s furniture and expensive books. The headmaster was locked in his quarters but he managed to send word to the local town. The local justice of the peace came arrived at the school shortly after with some soldiers and local horse-dealers with whips. The boys then retreated to Bronze Age burial mound in the school grounds that is surrounded with a moat. They pulled up the drawbridge but their final stand didn’t last long and the local soldiers eventually took control of the situation.

There was good reason for all of these rebellions. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the standard of education at these schools had dropped; redundant topics were still being taught simply out of tradition and not need, i.e. classics rather than things like engineering. During the Industrial Revolution, of the most celebrated figures in society weren’t educated in the most prestigious establishments; think the George and Robert Stephensons. Schools were wilfully mismanaged by headmasters keen to make as much money as possible for as little effort. A chap called Joseph Drury was headmaster at Harrow school for 20 years and earned the equivalent of about 9 million pounds. Meanwhile, his students lived in squalid conditions with far less structure and supervision than they deserved. This seems to have been widespread. Students were bored, and turned to scrapping and on the odd occasion, organised rebellion. It’s also worth pointing out that these kids were also spoilt brats who looked down on their plebeian teachers.

Alan Turing’s parents were told that they would be wasting their time at a private school if their son wanted to focus on sciences. NORTHERN ACCENT; Alan Turing, wasn’t he the queer mathematics bloke? Good at Sudoku’s? Darwin said that his private school was shit, although they could well have helped him formulate the idea of the survival of fittest, because these private schools were like Lord of the Flies. The strong loved it. The weaker got bullied and hated it.

Pitt the Elder, Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1766 to 1768, disliked Eton so much that he had his son, Pitt the Younger, educated at home. I couldn’t find out what happened to his other sons; Pitt the Arm, Pitt the Cess and Pitt the Bull Terrier. These private schools eventually overcame this mediocrity and regained their credibility and esteem.

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