61-65: Graffiti

Noticeboards, signs and graffiti abound in schools, and of course Marlborough has its fair share of these, but some of the Latin and Greek inscriptions are perhaps overlooked unless you have studied these languages. Two will be described here. A signpost loved by one of the College’s war poets situated a mile from the school will also be included.

Ruins of ancient Roman cities possess graffiti which was probably produced by students, reflecting the learning of authors such as Virgil, Ovid, and Homer. Schoolboys, in particular, have always been inclined to leave their mark. The coronation throne bears the names of Westminster pupils, and the Fourth Form Room at Harrow is covered with carved names. At Marlborough one of the most outrageous displays of graffiti was displayed on the old Victorian laundry chimney which used to rise-up through and above the Mound. Fortunately, this was demolished in recent years during restoration work, although perhaps it is unfortunate it was not recorded in photographs given the scurrilous and amusing observations recorded on it.

A more noble single piece of graffiti is carved by the side of one the windows in the C1 basement, ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.’ The words taken from Ecclesiastes 12:1. It is not known when this was carved, although it seems likely that it would have been done in the early days of the school, to remind Marlburians walking along the path in front of C House that their school was a place of ‘godliness and good learning’. Elsewhere, coin indentations, ground into brickwork by idle hands, can be seen by the Master’s noticeboard on the Museum Block and by the entrance to the Old Gym, where pupils had to wait before being admitted to exams. High up on the walls of the east side of B House, three generations of the Moore family inscribed their names, the eldest being Sir William Moore (B2 1877–82), Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. There is little doubt that future generations of pupils will contribute to the palimpsest which school buildings present.

61. Adderley Graffiti

Carved into the marble fireplace at the western end of the Adderley in C1 it is just possible to distinguish a faint inscription of the name of an eighteenth-century French aristocrat, the Marquis de Guibert 1696 re 1787. Presumably this was carved by somebody else, given that what appears to be the date of his death is given. The man appears to have lived a very long life.  What, if any, was his connection with The Castle Inn, the building which is now occupied by C1 House? Genealogist Ianthe Blake has researched this large family, but she has not been able to find any marquis whose life fits within these dates. The inscription raises many questions. Are the spelling and the dates of his life correct? Who could have carved the name? Perhaps a friend or relative heard about the death of the Marquis while staying at The Castle Inn and in his or her cups carved the name as a sentimental gesture? Philip Guibert (c1653 – 1728), a well-connected Huguenot cabinet maker and upholsterer to the nobility of England, is a long shot. He could have worked for the Seymour family at Marlborough, but he was not a marquis. Perhaps the Marquis was a distant ancestor of the much younger Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte, Comte Guibert (1743 – 90), a French general and military writer who in 1770, published an influential essay on military tactics. The questions raised make this piece of graffiti even more fascinating. The inscription may be the work of a naughty Marlborough pupil who indulged in a little historical fantasy, and if this is the case full marks to him for presenting us with this teasing mystery.

The inscription is very faint, and so a tracing of this accompanies the photograph.

62. Sani trays

Before the creation of Turner House in 1967 the whole building was a sanitorium. It was common for boarding schools to build structures which could, if necessary, accommodate large numbers of invalids.  In the event of a pandemic wide-ranging serious problems could be presented, and in one remarkable instance at Uppingham total evacuation was undertaken, and the school relocated to Borth in Wales. In the 1860s, Marlborough experienced severe difficulties with scarlet fever and even though the school was enjoying great academic success the numbers fluctuated.  More spacious accommodation was needed urgently, and this prompted the building of Cotton and Littlefield.

For those Marlburians who were ill and confined to life in ‘Sani’, life might have been more comfortable than it was in the hurly burly of normal school, but for many it was dull. Boys would pass some of the time carving the trays which their food was presented on.  Some of these graffitied relics survive in the archives.

63. Sorley’s Signpost

Charles Hamilton Sorley (C1 1908- 13), the First World War poet, was an enthusiastic cross country runner who loved the countryside around the College. This love was reflected in his poem I have not brought my Odyssey, which he sent from the trenches in July 1915 to one of his beaks, John Bain, a classicist who was in-charge of the Army Class.  Sorley used to refer to him as the ‘Marlborough Laureate’. This poem, which refers to Marlborough as ‘our old wrinkled red-capped town’, describes his joy of being ‘high up among the sheep and the sky and the views of Liddington and Barbury’, the ‘Ogbourne twins’ and ‘lovely Aldbourne Downs’. One of his favourite landmarks, a signpost on the Poulton Downs above Rabley Wood is mentioned: ‘well I knew that crazy signpost, arms askew, old mother of the four grass ways’. The Sorely signpost is situated between the Ogbournes and Mildenhall. It appears in several of his works.

In recent times a Study Hub was created in the Memorial Library which involved the removal of some shelves. Panelling was revealed on which Sorley’s name was found along with the signatures of a number of other boys.

64. The Greek inscription above the entrance to the former Mathematical Schools

Above what was the entrance to the old Mathematical Schools there is an inscription – Let nobody unlearned in geometry enter here. Tradition has it that this phrase was engraved at the door of Plato’s Academy.

In 1854 the Master, George Cotton, realised that a curriculum dominated by Greek and Latin was not appropriate for all boys and he established a Modern School in the former Lower School, now occupied by New Court. Here, the curriculum embraced ‘Religious Knowledge, Latin, French, History, Geography (with Physical Geography and the elements of Geology), Euclid, Arithmetic, Algebra and English composition. Besides these – German, Natural Science and Military Drawing will be added as extra subjects, of which every boy must select one.’

Marlborough was one of the first schools to establish a separate Modern Side. The tradition of innovative education began in the school’s early years, and the sign reflects Cotton’s pioneering spirit in those challenging times.

65. Pavilion at the entrance to the Rose Garden: the Greek Instruction

We lie all over the world, but in this garden we walk again as fellow pupils with those who remember the fallen.

Fred Kottler (C2 2016-21), a recent Senior Prefect, wrote an essay on the ‘reception’ of Classics in the thought and literature of World War 1. He wrote to an Oxford don who specialises in lyric poetry asking his opinion about this inscription on the pavilion by the Rose Garden, a structure which constitutes a form of propylaia, which is a building that marks the transition from a secular to a religious area. He felt the inscription was not by Pindar or any Classical Greek writer, but he believed it may have been the work of a beak. Colin Fraser, Fred Kottler’s grandfather, suggests John Bain is the prime suspect (see object 63) and he has described how the inscription was intended to give consolation to those who lost friends and family in the First War.  The impossibility of recovering bodies from the battlefields is, to a degree, assuaged by the thought that they are still present with the living ‘in this garden’ and with their school friends who had survived; they relive their life at Marlborough once again. Of particular note is the word ΣΥΜΦΟΙΤΩΜΕΝ, which means we walk together as pupils. There is a sense of walking side-by-side in learning, conversation, and companionship. ΚΕΙΜΕΘΑ, ‘we lie’ evokes precisely the language of fallen heroes in the Iliad; great, noble men who have nobly fallen.

The memorial garden, designed by William Newton, was enhanced by Herbert Leaf in memory of his wife, Rose and renamed the Rose Garden. The pavilion and the garden were designed to be read as an extension of the architect’s Memorial Hall and in turn the Chapel above it, reached by Newton’s steps. These places, each different in character, all underline the importance of service, sacrifice, duty, love and remembrance.