A Schoolboy’s Diary, 1866


Included in the muniments of the Blundells of Crosby Hall is the diary of William Blundell for the year 1866 (DDBL 53/60). William’s father, Nicholas, was a Deputy Lieutenant of the county, a J.P. and a Colonel in the Militia. William himself was born in 1851. He succeeded his father in 1894 and died in 1909.

The diary covers the period from January to July 1866, with some gaps, particularly at the beginning. Each entry has at least one sentence devoted to the weather, while occasionally this subject takes up as much as half of the entry. Unlike some diaries, Blundell did not use many abbreviations and his handwriting is fairly easy to follow despite the occasional idiosyncracy.

Blundell was a pupil at Beaumont School, which naturally enough figures prominently in the diary. This school, situated near Windsor, was founded by the Jesuits in 1861. Blundell provides a list of his fellow pupils and masters. In addition to the ordinary entries, he gives a monthly summary at the end of the diary. Unfortunately, he discontinues this useful source of information after February.

The diary opens on a happy note with William back home at Crosby enjoying the festivities. On 2 January he attended the servants dance at neighbouring Ince Blundell, home of the Weld-Blundells. The days that follow are concisely described in the monthly summary which is worth quoting:

“On the 4th and 6th we acted ‘Damon & Pythias’ a drama, and also a panto-mime called ‘The 3 Bears’, it all went off capitally…I went to Crooke with Papa & Mama and went to the Wrightington ball which I enjoyed very much…I knew a good many people there. We did not get home till between 6 & 7 A.M. We returned to Crosby next day. In Liverpool we met Francis, Minnie (his brother and sister) & the Viditzs & stayed to do a little shopping there. Mama had to attend a meeting in Preston about the cattle plague & only got home just in time for dinner. A few days after I took the Viditzs to the Prince of Wales Theatre (in Liverpool) & another night we all went to the Circus after which Colonel Bennett gave a grand cold supper in the Adelphi. Mr Dicconson was there. Francis and I had a day with the hounds but no sport although we turned out two hares, one was killed immediately & the other was not found at all. At the end of the month we returned to this horrid hole…”

This gives some idea of William’s pleasures in life. “This horrid hole”, however, refers to Beaumont and it is this that is to dominate the rest of the diary.

For the reader, it is only gradually that the pattern of life at school is revealed. Being a Jesuit foundation, religion plays as important part, although it is by no means all pervasive. Good Friday is far from being given over entirely to religious activities:

“…We had long sleep. Breakfast & morning studies as usual. Service at 10 A.M. Father Seagrave preached, all over by 11.30 A.M. Sowed a good many flower seeds in our garden. Of course we did not go out for a walk. It did not seem a bit like Good Friday”.

William gives little evidence as to his religious briefs. He merely notes facts like “Served the rector’s mass at 7.30 A.M.” (18 March). He does occasionally mention that he particularly enjoys a service or is looking forward to confession.

His academic subjects are as might be expected – English, Latin, Green and so on. He makes occasional self-deprecatory remarks about his abilities and on 26 July, after the examination season he writes, “I wish I could get a prize, it would please Papa & Mama so much”. Included in his course of studies are elocution and the preparing of speeches for the Academics or Speech Days. On Tuesday mornings he tries his hand at drawing. An important development occurs on 27th March: “Mr Duval said I might learn painting”. He appears to make a success of this for on 1 May he writes: “Finished my first painting. Mr Knight & Mr. Duval said I did it well for a first attempt.

At one might suspect, sport seems to play an even more important part in school life than religious and academic pursuits and, although this includes boating, bathing and athletics, the dominant sport is cricket. This is unfortunate for William, who makes no secret of the fact that it is a sport he detests. On 2 April he writes: “…suppose that horrid cricket will begin to-morrow”. His fears are justified for on 22 April he writes: “Played first match of cricket…How I do hate it!!!” Try as he might he cannot escape it though he often appears as umpire.

He looks forward to other sports, however, in particular boating and bathing. Another important event in Sports Day on Easter Monday which, he notes, goes off very well. This is the background against which William passes his days. When it comes to more personal details he is more reticent. Nevertheless, a certain pattern can be detected. There is particularly long gap between 21 January and 20 February inclusive. However, the monthly summary shows that there were pleasures to help alleviate the miseries of “this horrid hole”.

“At Shrovetide there were plays as usual. ‘Guy Mannering’ in which I took the part of Meg Merrilies. The farces were ‘To Paris & back for five pounds’ and ‘The fast Train! High Pressure!! Express !!!.’…They all went off very well. Had a grand cold supper after last night the 13th. A short time after the play we both got bad colds (the other is presumably Francis who attended the same school) & were kept in for nearly a week”.

Colds and headaches are to plague him for the rest of his time at school. These prevent in him from taking part in many of the more interesting school activities. The entry for 22 February reads in part:
“…In morning 3 schools went out for paper hunt. They went all the way round by Ascot, as I could not go out had to stay in horrid of school life. In horrid gravel play-ground all day”. The playground one of the miseries of school life, appears again and again.

His main pleasure, however, is any contact with home. On 28 February he travels to London to see his father. Once again, the monthly summary gives a good travels to London to see his father. Once again, the monthly summary gives a good account of events:

“…& and stayed there three nights. Papa came down about a Chancery suite (sle) with the Local Board who wanted to run their drain down the middle of Burbo Bank Road, he gained his suite. On the 28th we went to Drury Lane with Papa and aunt Beady, the Pantomime was ‘Fortunate or King Pippin’s court!! In once scene there were about 300 children and they had a very good like King Pippin, a boy about nine years old. And the transformation scene was beautiful. The day we went to London it snowed for an hour or two”.
All too soon it is back to school and normality. The entry for 7 March shows the limitations of the diary as source material:

“…In evening I went up to rector about Greek but could make no good out of him. I did not like to ask about my room”.

This is all we hear about these matters. In the ensuing weeks life seems fairly uneventful. There are a few unpleasantnesses such as ”…The rector was too stingy to give us even a half holiday…” (17 March). The occasional day stands out as being particularly pleasant, however, 15 March for example.

“Fine day but very windy, the provincial came in the morning & we were let out from schools at 12 P.M. In the afternoon Mr. Brown took us out for a walk in the forest. W. Munster bought me a photo album in Windsor”.

At the end of March however, we get the first hint of feelings lying beneath the surface. On 20 March he notes that he wrote to his father asking that he be sent to a private tutor. Unfortunately he writes no more on the subject, but it obviously comes to nothing. As the weeks go by, however, he becomes more explicit in his detestation of the school while his thoughts become more and more centered on his family. On 1 April he writes”…Looking forward anxiously to to-morrow” when his mother is due to arrive. There are further brief visits to London. On 5 April he visits Wombwell’s Menagerie in the Crystal Palace. His mother was “quite frightened” while watching a balancing act.

 Far from cheering him up his 15th birthday on 16 April only depresses him further:
“…Dear Mama was the only person that wrote to me for my birthday, sent me two very pretty pictures, one of them from Papa…How different from my last birthday and I sincerely hope it may be the last I ever spend at school. Very disappointed not to hear from Minnie”.

His headaches become so bad that he has to go to see a doctor in London who recommends a shower bath but, from the evidence of later entries, this seems to have little effect. All this time he is longing for 1 August, the start of the holidays. The entry for 22 June sums up his feelings:
“…When will 1st of August come!!! How I long to see Crosby again”. Already, on 5 May, he had begun to note down each day the number of days left.

 At last the great day arrives and he writes:
“Academy Day. We could not go home till to-morrow. Thank Heaven the holiday have (sic) at length arrived”.

With that the diary ends with the exception of about half a dozen scattered entries. Two of these, however, are very important. On 29 September he writes:

Poor Francis and Minnie went to school with Mama. Thank heaven I am not going back”. He has achieved his aim. Life, however, does not seem to have the book, reads: “Crosby is so dull without Mama, Minnie & Fansey (Francis). Poor little Piggie died during mass, lamented by us all. Suppose I am off to Malvern to-morrow”.

The Office holds a large number of other Blundell diaries including one for the same year as William’s kept by his father. Taken together they help to build up a picture of the activities of a prominent family as well as providing useful insights into life in England in the 19th century.

Notes: The text of this article first appeared in the Annual Report for Lancashire Record Office, 1973. Find out more about Beaumont College.

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