Len 2


Old Sedberghian Paddy Taylor (E 53-58) recently got in touch to offer an incredible insight into Sedbergh life in the early twentieth century. Paddy’s father, Len, was a Master at Sedbergh from 1924 until the 1970s. Towards the end of his career Len wrote an account of Sedbergh School boy’s experiences in his first year teaching here.

Sedbergh 1924

In September 1924 there were 384 boys in the school, 16 of them day boys. Winder House consisted of 33 boys in Highfield Villas; the other houses were all slightly smaller than their present size. The teaching staff (including one whole-time and one part-time music master) numbered 26. Twelve of them were married, and there were about 8 small children about the place. The administrative staff consisted of the Bursar and his clerk, who had what is now Room 26 as their office. The Headmaster was housemaster of School House, and he had his office there.


All boys were supposed to start the day with a cold bath. Prep. in houses, supervised by Housemaster or House Tutor, was from 7.15 to 8.00. Prayers in Powell Hall were at 9.00, and morning school went on till 1.15. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this consisted of four ¾ hour periods and a ¾ hour ‘long break’, used by boys concerned for various compulsory fringe activities. Afternoon school consisted of four periods of about an hour, with a 20 minute break at 11 o’clock. Every half-holiday there was a call-over of the whole school at 4.30 on the cloisters. A ‘leave-off’ had to be signed by a boy’s formmaster and housemaster. There was no school uniform. Boys wore more or less what they liked, but collar and tie were de rigueur.


Black clothes were worn all day, and a straw hat out-of-doors. Junior boys wore Eton collars until they got permission from their housemaster to wear what were known as ‘charities’ instead. There were two compulsory chapel services, with a sermon in the evening; also morning and evening bouts of divinity prep. No games of any sort were allowed, but it was customary for practically the whole school to go up Winder after evening chapel in the summer term.


There were three Upper Sixth – Classical, Modern and Clio. Mathematics and the sciences were very much ‘Cinderella’ subjects, and a clever boy who wanted to go on the modern side was liable to encounter a certain amount of official objection. Nevertheless, some managed it. No biology was taught, and very few boys below the modern sixth could handle a log book, let alone a slide rule, both of which seemed to be regarded by the authorities as being vaguely a form of cheating. Modern languages and geography had yet to be taken seriously as sixth form subjects. In the fourths and fifths, where there was a choice between Greek, German and Spanish, 65 boys took Greek, 60 German and 49 Spanish. Art was ignored except as a means of filling up the lower school’s time table. There was no orchestra, but there was a healthy enough musical society. The only intellectual qualifications required for Oxbridge entrance was a School Certificate (approximately O Level) in a slightly selective number of subjects, one of which was Latin. In 1924 6 Sedberghians went up to Oxbridge having won open awards of some sort.


All boys were members of the OTC (forerunner of the CCF) throughout their entire time at school. There was a weekly uniform parade, involving the time-consuming task of winding puttees tidily and polishing brass buttons.

There was a rather less professional attitude towards games. The only inter-school matches were v. Loretto, Ampleforth and Durham at football, and v. Durham and Stonyhurst at Cricket. The sports were held at the end of the Lent Term. Standard points had not been introduced.

In some ways life was more formal than it is now, and it may well seem to present Sedberghians that the education offered was limited in its scope compared to with what it is now. True, no doubt, but it would be a mistake to make too much of that. Life in Sedbergh in 1924 was a full and happy one.