memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘talbot house’

A catholic boyhood


St. Edmund’s College, Ware, is the oldest post-Reformation Catholic school in England, being a continuation on English soil of the English College founded by Cardinal William Allen at Douay in Flanders in 1568. It is an independent school in the British public school tradition set in 440 acres near Ware in Hertfordshire.

I followed my brother into Talbot house; the other two houses were Challoner (sporty) and Douglas (church boys). Instead of calling the forms 2nd 3rd 4th 5th and 6th like any  normal school, we had to be different, defining them by the stages of classical education – Rudiments, Grammar, Syntax, Poetry and Rhetoric; (presumably the next step would be Logic followed by Philosophy).

I went into Syntax where I languished in adolescent inertia, trading on and using up my academic credit, (I’d gained a minor scholarship in the Common Entrance exam), until, by the end of Poetry, it was all spent. My school reports reflected this decline: Thomas is a bright boy but he must be careful to maintain his concentration and later Thomas’ results were not as good as they could have been or simply could do better … could do better; once, to vary the style, one the teachers wrote is fond of reading of novels in class … I did ok in my O Levels but I only got about seven of them.

During my last two years at the school in Rhetoric I felt more at ease with the place (and with myself). Still fond of reading novels I gravitated towards like-minded friends who were interested in music, art and literature. I discovered T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and Gainsborough and Van Dyke and Utrillo and Sisley and Beethoven and Bach and Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. My life-long journey through the world of language, ideas, images, music and the senses had begun.


The world was young and there was the smell of cut grass as we sauntered along the far boundary of the sacred turf of the first-eleven cricket ground –  I remember it well, over there under the trees. There was a match in progress and every now and then came the proverbial sound of bat against leather, the clip of a late cut, the crack of a hook to the boundary or the faint click of the ball being edged into the waiting hands of the third slip – the white-clad figures leisurely enacting the day-long ritual, drama in slow motion. We were discussing The Duchess of Malfi and the composition we were to write about the Elizabethan playwright John Webster. Occasionally we would study the game and clap ironically whenever there was any action – oh well played that man, jolly good off-drive.

It occurred to me that then, that at the age of seventeen I was as clear-headed and bursting with ideas as I ever would be. I felt I could live forever. (I was wrong).  Ah, the confidence of youth (yoof) si la jeunesse savait.

A few weeks later I emerged from that enclosed hot-house into the confusing, messy but more realistic outside-world.


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