Between the hours of nine and four, Boarders lived like Dayboys. That is, we went to classes and blended in as best we could. Eventually, Dayboy management shoved a flowing royal blue gown in my hand and told me I was now a prefect. I spent the next two terms camping it around the quad with all the other Dayboy prefects looking for stiff headwinds.
The CCF was very unfashionable amongst the Dayboy Hampstead intelligentsia. They muttered that the CCF Chiefs of Staff, TEC Carrington and Lofty Hickman, were frenzied warmongers who would lead the free world into a conflagration. This seemed a bit unlikely to most Boarders who, in any event, were keen to take advantage of the free trips to breezy spots like Salisbury Plain and North West Scotland.
The Dayboy intelligentsia often accused Boarders of living in an outdated anachronism. Binky Thyssen was the Boarder’s self-appointed spokesman who claimed to know exactly how to expose the Dayboy’s flawed reasoning. “Rot and Balderdash!” he said to the intelligentsia when he found them lurking in Calvert’s bogs. While they were still reeling from that, he finished them off with, “Stuff and Nonsense!”
I was not a member of anybody’s intelligentsia and struggled with some subjects. Then, as now, I believe that History is manipulative bunk and anything calling itself Social or Scientific is dangerously egocentric. The Empire was stuffed by the time I got anywhere near a Kennedy Latin Primer and the job market for budding Viceroys was a tad past its liveliest.
I regret not having worked harder at Maths, English, Modern Languages and Sports. These are honest pursuits that will always help a chap to earn a good living and impress the right kind of crumpet.
There aren’t many ex-Dayboys that would agree with that. All Haberdashers ever meant to most of them was their slavish devotion to the prescribed curriculum. I blame the parents. The kindest thing you can say about them is that they were a selfish, feckless mob.
One hundred years earlier, it had been the end of the beginning for Aldenham House when Victorian railway builders stood on the dome of St. Paul's and ambitiously surveyed the route north towards the line of small hills on the horizon that almost protected Hertfordshire from their avaricious gaze.
They built their line and opened up middle England. Aldenham House was connected to it by the carriage drive and a quaint new country railway station whose opening in 1868 encouraged Henry Hucks Gibbs to take up residence some 20 years after he had inherited the property from his mother.
Aldenham House is surrounded by three of Britain’s busiest motorways and two of its most heavily used railway lines. It is right next door to Hertfordshire’s largest body of water, Elstree Reservoir, which was built to feed the Grand Union Canal that runs alongside the nearby Euston to Birmingham railway line. It is within sight of a frantic aerodrome, is slap bang underneath the approach to the world’s third busiest airport and is within a couple of miles of the Bakerloo and Northern tube lines. You couldn’t shoehorn any more trains, planes and automobiles into the manor if you tried.
By the time Haberdashers took it over, Aldenham House had become Britain’s most accessible Country House. Although this virtue was lost on private owners seeking Arcadia, it was dead handy for anonymous government propaganda apparatchiks, TV producers peddling conspiracy yarns and the Beak who was on the lookout for somewhere to unleash his grand plan.
When all seemed lost for Aldenham House, Haberdashers and its Boarders restored a noisy integrity to its compromised role and neglected environment. Oblivious to the part that we played in this redemption, but perhaps in some subtle way united by it, we Boarders stood shoulder to shoulder at the barricades that we proudly erected between Aldenham House and the Dayboy’s prefabricated exam factory.
My main realisation in writing this is that Boarding in Aldenham House was championed solely by the Beak, Dr. Thomas Taylor.
Coghill built the House and Hucks improved it. Aske founded the school. Willis built the organ and Taylor led the school out of the deserts of North West London to the promised paradise that Gibbs had prepared for it.
Dr Taylor wished to recreate, share and perhaps also to relive the excellence of his own scholastic and academic experience. The Boarding House within Aldenham House was Dr Taylor’s closest daily witness to that wish.
It was in Aldenham House, not in Strouts or Meadows or the Chemistry Department or the Maths Department, that Dr Taylor assembled his dream team of Masters. David Davies went on to become Haberdashers, and possibly Britain’s, most successful ever Rugby coach, leading the school team to an unbroken run of 65 victories over 5 full seasons. Doug Yeabsley was the cricket team’s most successful ever coach. Peter Squire and Keith Dawson both went on to become Beaks of other important public schools and, sixteen years after he had left Haberdashers, Keith Dawson even returned to Haberdashers as the Beak.
In the face of opposition, Dr Taylor created Boarding in Aldenham House. He lasted a dozen years at Elstree and Boarding outlived him, but not by much.
Which is a pity because unlike the Dayboy’s ersatz drop down menu of virtual community-spirit options, Aldenham House had been the real thing – a whole community of people whose futures depended on each other’s futures. Flawed by its exclusivity and partiality, Boarding in Aldenham House had nevertheless been a valuable and irreplaceable examination in progressive communal co-operation.
In his last weeks and days as Headmaster, Spud isolated himself in his Study in Aldenham House refusing to see anyone. After umpteen years of boarding in Aldenham House, I considered that his Study was in my House rather than I was a Boarder in his School so I just walked into the inner sanctum, unannounced and uninvited. It was my last day at Haberdashers and the last day of his career. Startled by my entry, he rose to greet me and grinned that enigmatic smile of his. I looked this fearsome man in the eye and thanked him for intervening in my life and changing its course for the better. I meant it and I’m glad that I said it.
Spud didn’t have to do what he did for me; it wasn’t as if I was a star pupil or anything - I was an average sportsman, an even more average exam taker and I only served and obeyed when it suited me. Spud was sticking his neck out to help me and he did this not just once, but twice. That’s the kind of bloke that the Beak was.
It is understandable that Boarders now characterise their school experiences by personifying them in the form of eccentric anecdotes about the Housemasters who appeared to us to be the heart and soul of Aldenham House. But, affable as they could be, House Masters were not the cause of Haberdasher’s success – they were the result of Dr Taylor’s