Wednesday, 17 October 2007

On-the-Way-to-the-Gig-a-Blog™ (featuring the Christ's Hospital Band and other fascinating phenomena)

Friday, 21 September 2007, on the way to the Eidolon trio at St Anne & St Agnes.

It was rather fun coming to this lunchtime concert. Just as I was getting close to the church, still a few metres off the Gresham Street junction, a good deal of noise, people and police motorcycles announced that something interesting was afoot. The police bikes stopped the traffic (which I bet was thrilled to bits) and into view hove a marching band. Not just any band, but the band of Christ's Hospital: what was afoot, it seemed, was something along the lines of some ancient right to process through the City of London. Pending looking it up, I'm guessing they do this once a year on Founders' Day, or something, perhaps before or after a service at St Paul's or some other pleasant and impressive venue. On a yet wilder guess, it looked like maybe the whole school was marching: if not, it must certainly have been a goodly proportion thereof (see update below).

Ah yes, I should have said, for readers unfamiliar with the terminology: Christ's Hospital is not a hospital in the general, current sense of the word, but a school. It's a bluecoat school, like the one in Bristol to which I went: indeed the latter, Queen Elizabeth's Hospital, was modelled on Christ's Hospital. So I felt some interest, or sympathy, or something, as they marched past.

One thing by which I was completely gobsmacked as the march passed us was the presence of girls. GURLZ! Girls in bluecoat uniform!! Talk about having your world shaken. And while I had naively assumed at first that this was a new(ish) initiative it is clear from a little reading that it isn’t: the sentence “The first boys and girls entered the School in Newgate in 1552” is perhaps a bit of a pointer in this direction. Ha! – they may have modelled QEH on Christ's Hospital when they opened it in 1590 but they seem to have forgotten the bit about girls, or at least they certainly had by the 20th century, chiz! QEH could’ve been a load more fun, I feel. Sigh, and a very muted arooooo on behalf of the Vogel of ~35 years ago! (Not, I hasten to add, that there was anything wrong with our “Special Relationship” with Red Maids; nor yet with my Special Relationships with Red Maids, La Retraite, Colston Girls, Redland High et al. Indeedy not. But even so …)

Before I leave this troubling yet oddly fascinating topic I should add that the bluecoat uniform for the girls I saw in the march is slightly adapted and it’s an interesting idea. If you haven't already followed a link to see what a bluecoat student looks like, you might want to, but essentially they look a bit like an insane Renaissance lay clerk on day release from the Laughing Academy. Since it already looks like you're wearing a rather fetching long dress one might wonder what girlie adaptations you could possibly do but it turns out it's just at the neck. Traditionally the bluecoat "hi, I'm bonkers - or possibly a time traveller" look is topped off exquisitely with broad, plain, white linen "bands" which are stuck in at the neck and which dangle a bit down your front in an inverted-V shape for a touch of C16 clerical chic.

(Whenever I think about this item of kit I'm seized by a strange urge to chant "I am the judge, I am the judge, everybody knows that I am the judge." Exactly why this is, or indeed whether there are tablets that might help, is data which, I'm sorry Dave, is not accessible at this time. But I digress, yes by Heaven I do digress! I am, like, DigressoMan!! Woo! And now back to your Core Module.)

Well, the girlification of the uniform I saw consists of replacing the linen bands with little lace ruffle things so that - on a brief glance anyway - it looks like they're wearing a little white lacy flower at the neck. I can't quite make up my mind whether this is quite a cute touch or a bit naff, though I think I'm leaning more towards cute at the moment. It would be interesting to know how the historical or traditional precedent works and whether that’s a 1552 touch, or what. Of course I may have totally (as usual) got it wrong and it will turn out that what I saw is actually the special Senior Prefect Ruffles, or it was the Captain of Hockey's Community Award, or the Lacemakers’ Scholarship winner's badge or something. If you know, do write and enlighten me.

The other thing that made me go "uh?" a bit was the sight of a marching or military or wind or something band - a rather good band, actually - leading the parade in bluecoat uniform. Again it might just be that I've bounced into a hitherto-unexplored zone of conservatism in my mind, but this was quite a surprise – QEH just never did this. They did process occasionally down to, I don't know, St George's or the Lord Mayor's Chapel or wherever, but music on the hoof wasn't part of this as far as I recall. The only times I've performed music dressed like that - mercifully few times, I should add - it's been classical and/or religious: sit-down stuff, or maybe stand-up. But not walkabout!

I can't really isolate why this seemed so odd, other than the novelty. I suppose some little voice in me is yelling that they should've at least been marching with crumhorns and racketts and playing something catchy (aha) by Dowland, rather than with saxes and doing Star Wars or whatever. But this doesn't stand up to close examination. In fact it doesn't really stand up much at all ... oh well. I think what really finished me off was that the band had at least one bass drummer, and, being the bass drummer in a military-type band, he naturally had on one of those colourful (mock leopardskin?) apron things that go miles down your front. On top of a bluecoat uniform!! Whatever other problems my elderly perceptions might be having with this whole thing, please don't try telling me that that's anything other than just weird, however you slice it and dice it. Imagine someone wearing, say, a bishop's mitre and a wetsuit, or maybe a police uniform together with ballet pumps and a trilby. Yes, roughly that weird. Ah yes, I've just (as noted before) found it on the school's website - this photo gallery of the event does indeed depict such drummers, along with drum-major-type people with maces, and saluting, and stuff. Definitely weird for an ex-QEH person to see.

As you can no doubt tell I was intrigued by this whole display, so seemingly familiar and yet so different from what I thought I knew. Of course, it made a wonderful spectacle anyway and like lots of other people I stood and watched the procession pass and indeed ate my sandwich crunch yum. With a nice chap who was standing beside me I carried out the Ritual of all the Traditional Statements which it is Customary for Passersby to make to Each Other on such Occasions viz:

  • Well that's not something you see every day
  • Makes a change from the usual lunchtime
  • My word, that van driver seems displeased (or some paraphrase thereof)
  • Well, must be getting back/on/etc (to reword as required)
  • And a very good afternoon to you, sir or madam.

And so saying, went peaceably on my way to the delights of SS A&A's fabulous concert. What a great lunchtime diversion!


I have briefly overcome my essential laziness and looked it up a bit. Sadly I am not de-lazyfied sufficiently to edit this all in, so here's a quote from the school's news page about St Matthew's Day, which is what it turns out it was:

"The tradition of the School's St Matthew's Day (21 September) celebration which stretches back to Christ's Hospital's foundation in 1552, was marked by a thanksgiving service in the Church of St Andrew, lunch at Mansion House and a parade through the City of 300 pupils accompanied by the Band."

- so there we go. A bit more useful than my guesses. The engraving at the top shows the school on its former London site in 1770. Nowadays it lives in Horsham, West Sussex.

And a note:

One day I probably ought to write something about my school days and QEH - but the above is not it, and it would be a mistake to try to discern anything very significant about my secondary education, and my attitude to it, from the ramblings above. Really they are just my reaction to an interesting event, not a treatise on selective education, fee-paying education, charitable education or anything much else really. Caveat lector! :)


Lottie said...

So why did you go to such a posh school then?

Strawberryyog said...

Arf! Hush child. The blogentity which will discuss these delicate matters is but a twinkle in Daddy's eye at the present time...

Anonymous said...

Just a quickie. The girls and boys did not share premises until 1985. For the first couple of hundred years they were in the same place but with a high wall between, then for most of the 20th Century the (800 or so) boys were at Horsham and the (280) girls at Hertford (yah, boo, hiss!!)then social mores and business sense moved the girls to Horsham where from this (2007)year there is a complete equality in the numbers.
The band is well known in marching band circles and has played before internationals at Twickenham and Lords (or was it the Oval?) and also at the New Years Day Rose Bowl Parade in the USA. Also as a City of London Foundation it has often marched in the Lord Mayor's Parade.

Strawberryyog said...

Ah! Thank you very much, Anonymous, for those interesting comments which have filled in important gaps. I thought the band was great as a band: I was just flabbergasted by the concept, having not seen it before. I am going to make sure I am there to see/hear them next time and it will not cause me the same surprise 2nd time round! :)

Caron said...

My daughter was one of those sax players in the band and she would tell you that although the St Matthews Day parade is a wonderful tradition, it's awfully hard on the feet!

The girls, until they amalgamated with the boys in Horsham, wore a modern uniform - shapeless grey sack and grey/brown socks linger like a bad smell in my memory (Yup! I am an Old Blue!) I believe that on amalgamation a vote was held among the pupils and it was overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the tudor style uniform. The frilly bands you saw are ceremonial ... Ordinarily they wear the same bands as the boys.

If you want to see the band again, you can do so every day when they play for the school to march into lunch. Or at Lords, or Twickenham where thay are regular features!

Strawberryyog said...

Wow - thank you very much for that, Caron. Very interesting indeed. I hope (apart from the sore feet) that your daughter enjoyed it as much as I did. I will certainly try to be there next St Matthew's Day as I very much appreciated both the music and the spectacle.

Thanks also re the bands and the frilly bits.

As for playing them in for lunch, goodness me! At QEH we had to make do with a pianist and a sung grace. I now feel like the poor relation! (I guess this is probably standard for QEH people vis-a-vis CH!)

Caron said...

No problem at all! You may be interested to know, by the way, that this blog has been discussed at length on the unofficial CH web site ... with some very complimentary comments!

Strawberryyog said...

Gosh! How nice - I am terribly flattered! :) Thank you.