Marlborough in a Hundred Objects

In recent years I have undertaken many journeys on the Great Northern line travelling from King’s Cross Station, and before boarding the train I like to buy a cup of coffee at the café by the statue of Sir Nigel Gresley (B1 1890–93), the great engineer who designed the Flying Scotsman. He spent his schooldays as a boy in B1. If I arrive early enough, I go to the Booking Office Bar & Restaurant (formerly the Ticket Office Café) in the great hotel designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott at the neighbouring St Pancras Station, a building that came close to destruction in the 1960s, but was saved as a result of a vigorous campaign supported by Sir John Betjeman (B2 1920–25). A statue of him commemorates his heroic efforts to preserve this masterpiece. That two boys from B House should be remembered in these two adjoining stations is remarkable.

Objects and memorials associated with Marlborough can be found far and wide, and at the College itself there are many artefacts which speak of important episodes in its history. However, in the busy life of a school it can be all too easy to take them for granted and forget their importance. Neil McGregor’s brilliant History of the World in a Hundred Objects, chosen from the British Museum’s collection, has inspired other institutions to look at their heritage and it is time that Marlborough did this too. With a site that has 4,000 years of history and such a rich and varied past it is important that we treasure what has been left to us. The periods of national lockdown in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic forced us away from campus, and the prolonged absence and uncertainty made us all the more appreciative of what we have.

My interest in Marlborough began in 1982 when I visited the College during the course of researches for my doctoral thesis on school architecture. I visited hundreds of schools but none impressed me more. The beauty of the buildings, the haunting nature of the site and the lunchtime banter in the Norwood Hall made the visit memorable, and I wrote in my diary that it must be a good place to work in. Little did I realise that three years later I would return for a rather longer stint. My first impressions were accurate and the College has been a source of great interest and amusement ever since.

The ‘Marlborough in a Hundred Objects’ collection will build on this webpage and objects and their stories will be added over the coming months. The intention is to produce a published book in due course.

There may well be places, monuments and items associated with Marlborough which have not yet been appreciated and any thoughts would be welcome, particularly regarding ‘Marlburiana’ situated outside the College.

Niall Hamilton
CR 1985 –, HM (B1 1999–2008)