Badly Behaved Children

Today’s blog entry relates to John Paul Rylands’ schooldays. You may remember in an earlier blog entry I told you about the prank he played on Mr Burnell, his teacher, and the caning he received for this attempt at comedy.

That former entry came form John Paul’s memoirs of his school days, written later in life. Today’s entry comes from one of his childhood diaries, the diary for the year 1861. Bound in vellum, with a brass clasp, it is quite an expensive tome for a young child in the 1860s.

To the front of the volume are his three addresses for the year, Warrington, Winwick and Llandudno. Warrington being his home, Winwick the small grammar school he boards at, and Llandudno the family’s favourite holiday destination (John Paul’s father, Thomas Glazebrook Rylands, visits Llandudno almost every year for more than 40 years, the family usually spending a month there during the summer).

I have chosen to show you the week of the 1st of December. I chose this particular week because it shows the mischief and the annoyances of a middle class Victorian schoolboy encapsulated onto a couple of pages.

On Saturday he is counting down to the Christmas holidays.

On Sunday he has to attend church twice.

On Monday he records that his friend Pachees has shot a brown and grey owl (the boy gets into trouble for this the next week when the Headmaster finds out). John Paul also records that “Burnell kept us in from 6 to 7 because we left the table when Mrs Burnell did without his leave!!!” Three exclamation marks I think adequately show his disgust at this detention.

On Tuesday he records that the Headmaster had gone to a ‘Clergy Dinner’ at Warrington and that Mr. Schlosser, the German and music teacher, had let them out early at 3.30. With this extra free time, John Paul records that “we chased a drunken man up the hill and pelted him with mud”. His last entry for Tuesday records that the hated teacher Mr. Thomas had come back from a visit to Devonshire, John Paul adds “I wish he had stayed there for ever!”

On Wednesday he states that he and some friends have been to Earlstown to buy provisions for the “spree on the last night”, exactly what John Paul’s contribution to these provisions is, is not made clear as that part of the sentence is written in code, another schoolboy classic.

I have copied it a little larger below for you to have a go at, it looks a little like Greek to me, but not enough so to make sense.



On the Friday another visit is made, this time to Middleton, so all in all I think not much work was being done in the run up to Christmas, something we can perhaps all remember from our own schooldays, but which I didn’t quite imagine went back to the 1860s.

So, we have a week in the life of a Winwick schoolboy in the run up to Christmas of 1861. And, whilst certain things may seem quite alien to us, all boys at Winwick Grammar school were allowed to carry a pistol for example, hence Pachees taking a shot a passing owl, still, other things seem very familiar, such as students taking advantage of the absence of a strict teacher or planning a party without the knowledge of the adults in charge.

Perhaps the last thing worth considering in relation to this document is that John Paul went on to be a respected barrister. Pelting tramps with mud, playing tricks on teachers, and sneaking alchohol into school, do not immediately shout barrister to me, but perhaps he got all of the rebelliousness out of his system at an early age (though I like to think that he may still have had an odd chuckle when some youngster, thinking himself clever and ending up in court for it, crossed his path).

This article was originally posted on Friday, December 12th, 2014.