Every Day’s a School Day

For this week’s #MyLocalMuseum theme of ‘Every Day’s a School Day’, we thought we would take a look at the correspondence in the Stramongate School Magazine, dating back to the first quarter of the twentieth century. Stramongate was a Quaker school between 1698 and 1932 and today its name belongs to one of Kendal’s primary schools

Commercial Correspondence

The Stramongate School Magazine, September 1913

Commercial correspondence was apparently specifically taught at the school. The schoolmaster directing the boys’ efforts drily remarks, ‘just what the postman thinks of the results cannot be mentioned here’ which give an indication as to the mixed outcomes achieved. The January 1916 issue of the magazine includes an article with some entertaining examples of the boys’ attempts:

‘To Basset Locke

Dear Sir,

I would be very pleased if you would send me a catalogue of some steam engines, where the fuel used is methylated spirit I have urgent use for the same.

Yours truly,’

Another, verging on the comical, writes:

 ‘Dear Mr Gamage, 

Do you remember sending that big catalogue to . . . . and me. (sic) Well, now he won’t let me look at it. I do like your firm, and please send me one.

Yours faithfully,

P.S. – Excuse there being no stamp on this. I cannot wait till next Sunday to write. Will you pay the excess, and to make even send the catalogue without a stamp. You see it does not matter here, as it goes on the bill.’

These entertainingly clumsy attempts mark the beginning of a process of refinement that led to the eloquent letters from ‘Old Boys’ (school alumni), reporting back to the magazine on everything from life at the front to trips down the Amazon.

Detail of John Bellers at his writing desk, from the Quaker Tapestry

Letters to the Editor

The letters to the editor could also be used as a sort of bulletin board to reach all the magazine’s readers. An example of this is the practical request by an ‘Old Boy’ (an alumnus of the school) looking to acquire an old photograph. He writes in January 1916:

‘Dear Sir, I am exceedingly anxious to complete the set of team photographs which hang in the big schoolroom and find there is one missing, which apparently cannot be replaced owing to a mishap to the negative. I wonder if any O.B. would oblige us by letting us purchase a copy of “Cricket Team 1909” so that the set may be complete again.’

One rather wonders what ‘mishap’ occurred with the negative. Perhaps an absent-minded photographer left it in solution for too long.

Aged Parent’s Letter

The letters to the editor often reveal some colourful personalities behind the pen. In a particularly amusing account, entitled ‘Aged Parent’s Letter’, the parent of a current student hyperbolically bemoans the loss of standards since his own schooldays. 

He initiates his letter with the claim that he ‘regard[s] the care of the youthful mind as a matter of primary importance ‘, which ‘necessitates careful parental investigation’. He goes on to exclaim in comical horror at the suggestion that the lowest member of the class should receive a cushioned seat, which should be reserved for the boys at the top as an incentive to work hard, ‘though I trust that any such reward will long be unnecessary in Stramongate School’.

Our opinionated parent then goes on at add, ‘I remember in my schooldays, many years ago – but I must not prevaricate. As for Chemistry, there was none of that new fangled (sic) nonsense when I was a boy, and I heartily disapprove of it. Teach the three R’s, Mr. Schoolmaster, is my motto.’

The obligatory comparison with his own youth ensues: ‘When I was a young lad we thought nothing of rising at 5-30 a.m. every day, summer and winter, to work. The present generation I fear are of a much less hardy type. I am quite sure they would benefit from this delightful training, just as we did; all that is required is for the dear boys to be taught that it is a virtue to arise early, and surely they will joyfully respond to the appeal to their better nature.’

On the youth of today

Cartoon depicting a detail of Waldow William from the Nantucket and Milford Haven panel of the Quaker Tapestry

Our correspondent also takes exception to a previous article in the magazine, which questions the quality of the Scottish poet Robert Burns:

‘Your young correspondent, owing doubtless to his lack of years, casts aspersions on the songs of the great Scottish poet Burns. Let me inform him, from an age which justifies my assumption of authority, that much of this modern music is worthless. I always maintain that there are no songs quite like the Scotch songs, and when he has attained my age he will agree with me.’ 

This is not his only pronouncement on youth culture: ‘The influence of picture halls is, I imagine, far from elevating. I have never been myself, you understand,’ he hastens to add, ‘but still if an old man’s word counts for anything I would not recommend you headmaster to act on the suggestion about the gymnasium. Let it be used as it is at present for hardening the laddies’ muscles.’ 

He elaborates on his dislike of ‘modern music’ later on: ‘…there is a reference to what is called ‘Ragtime’. I do not know who this “Hitchy Koo” is; I cannot find his name in the list of Club Members, but I would advise him to cultivate serious thoughts when young, and he will not regret having done so, when he reaches years of discretion.’

Such entertaining accounts have a ring of familiarity and remind us that the ‘battle of the generations’ has always been an ongoing theme.

A culture of penmanship and curiosity

Stramongate School had a multi-generational culture of penmanship and encouraged the pupils and alumni to take literary risks and engage in their curiosity about the world. Some strong opinions and colourful characters take centre stage in the accounts found in the magazine and lively debates often played out over successive issues (the magazine was published three times a year – in January, May and September). The correspondence in the magazine was a key method through which alumni were able to continue participating in the life of the school and allowed them to proffer nuggets of wisdom and life experience to current students. 

Further Information

Check out these blog posts to find out more about:

Our magazine digitisation project

Stramongate School in the war years

Sports at the school during the war period

Gardening, land work and the war effort

Supporting the Quaker Tapestry

We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and gained an insight into Stramongate School during WWI. There will be more insights into the war years as we continue to digitise the Stramongate School Magazine.

We couldn’t accept and care for these wonderful artefacts without our dedicated Care and Conservation team. However we need your help to…

– Create an improved database of the extensive Quaker Tapestry collection of supplementary items

– Develop best practice of the Care and Conservation volunteers through further training

Your donation will help us achieve our goals and ensure the longevity of the exhibition and collection. Please consider making a donation

Quaker Tapestry Facts

The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cm x 53.3cm and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. Embroiderers around the world now use the ‘Quaker Stitch’.

World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.

The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.

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