51–60: Stone

Stone: part 1

The poet Charles Hamilton Sorely (C1 1908-13) described Marlborough as a “wrinkled red-capped town”. Red brick and tiles tended to be the order of the day when it came to construction materials and most of the College buildings reflect this local tendency. When Edward Blore designed the first new buildings for the College, he used brick until he came to the Chapel and, for this building, funds were found for Sarsen stone. George Frederick Bodley recycled these when he rebuilt the Chapel between 1884 and 1886. The recently restored heraldic carvings on Bodley’s North block, recording figures associated with the site of the College, are also noteworthy.

Some important stone items in the College have already been mentioned in this series such as the Preshute font (object 4), the Wedgewood and 1204 Charter stones (objects 15 and 22), and the excavated walls of the medieval castle (object 12). Two more recent pieces of stonework are also to be noted. A grotesque portrait appeared mysteriously on one of the western buttresses of the Chapel during recent restoration work: thoughts of the Lincoln Imp spring to mind. In 2018 a stone was commissioned by Jonathan Leigh (Master 2012-18) to record the names of a leaving Sixth form boy and girl who have exemplified the spirit of Marlborough. The names are chosen as a result of a ballot by the outgoing Upper Sixth. The stone existed in its first site only briefly. With the construction of the Innovation Centre, it was moved to the Master’s Lodge gates.

There are, of course, many Marlborough associated stone memorials and gravestones further afield. Bishop St John Basil Wynne-Wilson, Master between 1911 and 1916, is commemorated inside Wells Cathedral, and Neville Gorton (C2 1902 – 07), the wartime Bishop of Coventry (1943-52) has a stone in the ruins of the bombed cathedral. In the churchyard at Burford there is a beautiful chest tomb marking the grave of the novelist John Meade Falkener (C1, 1873-77), author of Moonfleet. Siegfried Sassoon’s simple gravestone is in the lovely churchyard at Mells. A few more graves and memorials will be considered in the next section. The two included here have an interesting double connection with the College because they were made by distinguished OMs to commemorate two well-known OM figures.

51. The grave of Sir John Betjeman

The slate gravestone of the poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) can be found in the churchyard of St Enodoc in Trebetherick, North Cornwall. The church, with its lopsided steeple, is surrounded by a golf course and high sand dunes. Up until the 1850s, the church was almost buried in sand and was known by locals as Sinkininny church. The pastor had to be lowered in through a gap in the roof once a year to perform a service (to secure tithes). Betjeman loved Cornwall, having holidayed there as a boy, and eventually he settled in a house on a hill in Trebetherick.

Blessed be St Enodoc, blessed be the wave,
Blessed be the springy turf, we pray, we pray to thee,
Ask for our children all the happy days you gave,
To Ralph, Vasey, Alistair, Biddy, John and me.

– From the poem Trebetherick

The architectural historian Jonathan Glancey described Betjeman’s gravestone immediately inside the church gate as a joy, ‘all curly-whirly script, playfully elegant son-carved eye candy for asthetes.’

The stone was craved by Simon Verity (PR 1959 – 63), who received some of his training from his uncle, the extraordinary architect Oliver Hill.  He was also influenced by Professor Robert Baker at Wells Cathedral, who pioneered the revival of the tradition of repairing old buildings with lime mortar.  In the 1980s, Verity worked on the restoration of the grotto at the foot of the Marlborough Mound (object 11). He was responsible for leading the completion of the West Portals of the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York and he made a hand-carved map of the United Kingdom to form the paving of the British Memorial Garden in New York’s Hanover Square, commemorating the 67 British victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre.

52. The grave of William Morris

William Morris (Aa House 1848 – 51), artist, book designer, conservationist, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, furniture maker, pioneer of socialism, poet, stained glass maker and visionary, is buried at Kelmscott together with his wife Jane.  The grave is tucked away behind bushes to the east of the church. His friend the architect Philip Webb designed the gravestone but it was made by Laurence Turner (C1 1877- 81).  Turner was an influential figure in Arts and Crafts circles as a result of his work in the Art Workers’ Guild. He became Master of this important body in 1922. The writer of his obituary remarked that ‘countless churches and other buildings throughout the country bear witness to his craftsmanship on stone, wood and plaster’.

Turner was the seventh son of The Reverend J.R. Turner, Vicar of Wroughton. His brothers included the Arts and Crafts architect Hugh Thackeray Turner and the painter Hawes Harrison Turner, who was Keeper of the National Gallery.  Hugh did not go to Marlborough but Hawes was in C3 (1864-70).  Both brothers assisted Laurence early in his career.

On the tablet commemorating those who worked on the Memorial Hall, Turner is referred to simply as a ‘carver’.

53. The Bradleian fireplace

George Granville Bradley (Master 1858-70) has been mentioned in the context of Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Object 7) and Westminster Abbey. (Object 18 and 38). The Bradleian Library, now a theatre, was erected in his memory and to acknowledge his great contribution to the success of the College.  It was Bradley who transformed the academic life of the school and for generations Latin teachers used Bradley’s Arnold Latin Prose Composition to explain grammar and syntax. The original version by the theologian Thomas Kerchever Arnold was so thoroughly revised by Bradley that it became commonly known as ‘Bradley’s Arnold’.

There is a fireplace to the left of the entrance which records his contribution. Unfortunately, it was painted black in the late 1980s so that it would disappear into the walls of the theatre.  It is to be hoped that this monument to such an important figure will be restored in the not-too-distant future.

The Latin inscription reads as follows:

In honour of GG Bradley, MA, Ll D., Master of University College, Oxford, who as Master of this College so guided those who assisted him by his example, the boys with his rules and the whole community by his integrity that there was no college anywhere that for (those) thirteen years rejoiced in any happier reputation. The building of this hall was a care bestowed by his pupils, his colleagues and his friends.

54. The Hamersley Stone

Alfred St. George Hamersley. (C3 1862-66) was a nineteenth-century solicitor and entrepreneur of great renown, an English MP, and an English rugby union international who played in the first ever international match. He went on to captain the England team and later he was instrumental in establishing the sport in New Zealand and British Columbia.

The XV was moved downfield to its present position in 1989 after huge earthworks had been completed, and in 2015 the pitch was named after Hamersley. A stone commemorating him was placed at the top of the steps which lead up to the pitch.

In 1864 the young Hamersley would almost have certainly witnessed the first ever inter-school rugby match (Object 42).

55. The statues on the apse of the Chapel

The magnificent paintings of angels by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope in the Chapel, with their occasionally androgynous imagery, were not in tune with Victorian notions of Muscular Christianity.

The Master Frederick William Farrar (1871-76) had beautified the old chapel but his advanced artistic tastes did not win the approval of his successor as Master, George Bell (1876 – 1903), who initiated the rebuilding of the Chapel. Although Bell was happy that the figures on the new reredos surrounding the central scenes of the Adoration of the Magi and the Crucifixion should be angels, continuing the theme of the paintings, they should not be depicted with the instruments of the Passion. Instead, they should be angels of the Powers, Principalities and Virtues, and shown as warriors. According to Michael Hall, Bodley’s biographer, they appear ‘as exemplars with more masculine character than anything depicted by Stanhope.’ This emphasis was continued in the figures carved by John McCulloch on the exterior of the apse. There are three archangels with outspread wings and beneath them in niches are the four patron saints of the British Isles.

John McCulloch (1831-91) was a Scottish sculptor. His work was chosen to adorn the façade of Dora House on the Old Brompton Road in South Kensington, now the home of The Royal British Society of Sculptors. McCulloch’s work can also be seen at St John’s College, Oxford.

Stone: part 2

A place as rich in history as the College must not be complacent about its heritage.  In relatively recent times, during the refurbishment of B1, the magnificent stone floors were nearly carpeted during the course of the work, but the alarm was raised and the disaster was averted at the last minute. The extraordinary polished flagstones, worn by the footsteps of many thousands of boys since 1848, are an important part of the history of the College.  A terrible interior design whim nearly wrecked these marvellous stones.

Two stone memorials in the College’s grounds will be mentioned here, but it would be wrong not to mention the enormous number of stone memorials and gravestones which honour the fallen.  Many of these are discussed in Marlborough College and the Great War in 100 Stories (2018).

56. The grave of George Charles Bell

The Reverend George Charles Bell was Head of Christ’s Hospital between 1868 and 1876 before he arrived at Marlborough to become Master.  He stayed at the College for 27 years before becoming the rector of St Michael’s Cornhill: he chose to be buried in the Preshute churchyard.  His long reign is commemorated in the stained glass window in Chapel (object 20) and his grave, marked by a Celtic Cross which now tilts a little to the north, has been overlooked for too long, Bell died in 1913 and his wife Elizabeth died in 1920. She is also remembered in the stone above his tomb, as is their daughter Olive, who died the year before her father. She was buried at St Gervais-les-Bains in the Haute Savoie

57. The Memorial to Bursar Thomas

The bust of John Shearme Thomas, ‘Bursar Thomas’, has already been mentioned (Object 9). Having been a boy in C House (1848-55), arriving at the College in the same term as William Morris and 107 other boys, he later became a key figure in the history of the College. He looked after the College’s finances between 1860 and 1897, when he died in office. 

Thomas was so well thought of by the town that on 30th September, the day of his funeral, businesses expressed their grief by putting up shutters and pulling down blinds.  The service was attended by many who had College associations, including three successive Masters, Bradley, then Dean of Westminster, Farrar, then Dean of Canterbury and George Bell. After the service Bradley said that since the death of Thomas Arnold, the great reforming Head of Rugby, ‘no death has left such a gap in any school’. Twenty-four pages of memories filled The Marlburian and a friend recalled that ‘a thousand Marlburians stood beside his grave in the little Preshute churchyard, sorrowing that they should see his face no more.’ 

Not far from Bell’s grave, a very handsome Celtic Cross was commissioned by the College’s Council in his memory. The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement is clear.  At present it is not known who designed it, but Bursar Thomas was well connected in artistic circles and had developed an interest in architecture when he was at Trinity College, Cambridge.  At Marlborough, he worked with the great architects William White (who built his house – Barton Hill), George Edmund Street, Alfred Waterhouse, Arthur Blomfield and George Frederick Bodley.  He was also responsible for the financing of the Spencer Stanhope paintings in the Chapel and liaising with the artist, who lived and worked in Florence.

58. The Foundation Stone of St Mary’s Tottenham

The Master George Bell and Bursar Thomas were both involved in the establishment of the Parish of St Mary the Virgin in Tottenham in 1884, inspired by Bishop Walsham How, the Bishop of East London (with the title of the Bishop of Bedford) who wished to provide churches and clergy for the expanding population of the area.  St Mary’s was established as the Marlborough College Mission and the boys and staff of Marlborough undertook to fund this from their chapel collections for five years and provide a stipend for a missioner of £150 per annum.  The funds raised were considerable, and Old Marlburians also contributed significantly to the costs of building the fine church to designs by J. E. K .and J. P. Cutts and the associated Mission buildings. 

Initially the Mission Priest, E. F. Noel Smith, hired the newly-built board school (today Harris Primary Academy Coleraine Park) for services.  He went on to appoint two curates and, assisted by large numbers of lay workers, went on to build the church, and several Mission Halls, one being named after Marlborough. A stone commemorating the construction of the building at Tottenham was laid by George Bell. The association with Marlborough continued well into the 1930s. For most of this period there were sufficient donations to fund one of the clergymen in the parish. 

In 1985, Fr. Christopher Tuckwell, who had experience as a parish priest in the West Indies, was able to build on the work of his predecessor to welcome members of the West Indian community.  It was he who, in preparation for the Centenary celebrations, renewed the link with Marlborough.

59. Fox’s Bridge

Gerald Fox (CO 1952-57) started an unusual activity at the College.  Bridge building with his friends was given full support by the Master, Tommy Garnett.  In total five bridges were built across the various channels of the River Kennet.  One, built in brick, was designed by William Sommerville (LI 1953-57), who went on to become a bridge building engineer.  The most ambitious bridge was Fox’s double span stone bridge.  Before work began the scheme had to be passed by the Thames Water Authority, which was inclined to use steel beams in work of this kind, but the official was so impressed with Fox’s plans that permission was given.

Fox and his team obtained some material by asking farmers for stone from derelict buildings.  They used traditional building techniques and used fire and water to split the sarsen stones.  Fox had hoped that this bridge would be wide enough for a car to cross, but Garnett insisted it should not be used by such traffic.

Other ambitious projects were undertaken by boys in Garnett’s time, notably the ‘New’ Music School.  This was recently demolished to make way for the Innovation Centre, the construction of which was delayed by discovery of live ammunition which has been placed in the concrete foundation of the old building.  ‘Building, Demolition and Decorating’ remained a Wednesday Afternoon Activity until the 1980s.

60. Roundels at the top of the steps to the Chapel

The steps up to the West front of the Chapel were built in 1925 to emphasise the importance of attending to matters spiritual after assemblies in the Memorial Hall.  The ceremonial court outside the latter and the planting either side of the great sweep of steps were designed by the Hall’s architect, William Newton (see Object 3). Newton was also responsible for designing the nearby Rose Garden (named after Rose, the wife of the great benefactor Herbert Leaf).  Together these constitute a fine composition of spaces for remembrance and contemplation.  In the Architectural Review of June 1925, Darcey Bradell wrote: ‘Here in fact is a holy precinct. The chapel on its mound, the quiet garden, the empty space of the great brick forecourt, the memorial hall itself, all combine for one purpose. They are monuments to youth not death.’

Set in the ground at the top of the steps up to the Chapel, in front of the West door, was a plaque which had to be replaced in 1991.  Palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday used to be burned on this spot in preparation for Ash Wednesday, and gradually the plaque disintegrated.  One of the fine new roundels commemorates the old one, and the other is inscribed with the same words as the original plaque.

Let us make Earth a garden wherein the deeds of the valiant may blossom and bear fruit.