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Book 10 2006 Cardinal Wolsey’s Boys

The boys from Kings have just squeezed through the Common Entrance to commence the first of five years at a famous school. 'Stay unknown,' says Mother. 'No-one knows you there. You can make a fresh start.' But it is already too late.


In a nostalgic retrospective look at 5 years at a British Public School called discreetly ‘Cardinal Wolsey’ Michael plots the adventures of his contemporaries from 1949 to 1954. Why did certain boys achieve prominence as prefects and others not. The answer is simple. Boys who can run fast in athletics or on the rugby field do well.


The car, alarmed, screeches by
June and summer, this is Rye
Flick, and a tiny spider falls
Upon my little finger, whence?
Dollars, sterling, pounds and pence,
French schoolchildren by the fence

Boy is shouting, buses hoot,
Seagulls scream and roar and laugh
Jack Cade’s ghost says welcome home
Rattles the window above the bath
‘Richard do as you are told,’
Calls Mrs Plantagenet in a scold

Another itch upon my neck –
A money spider, another cheque?
English strawberries in our room
Red and sweet; the flowers bloom
Bridesmaid’s bouquet - whites and pinks,
Lovely garden scents and tints

‘Once we were Sixth Form’ in a rush
Of self expression, now I blush,
Mackinnon, Cox and me – brave souls
Sported blazered buttonholes –
Lovely pinks which I supplied,
While our Housemaster smiled and sighed.

And we with confidence replied
‘if we can’t be House Prefects, Sir,
at least we can be Debonair.’


See, sons, what things you are
How quickly nature falls into revolt
When gold becomes her object!
For this the over-careful fathers
Have broke their sleep with thoughts,
Their brains with care, their bones with industry;
For this they have engrossed and pilled up
The cankered heaps of strange achieved gold;
For this they have been thoughtful to invest
Their sons with arts and martial exercises;
When like the bee tolling from every flower,
Our thighs packed with wax, our mouths with honey,
We bring it to the hive; and like bees
Are murdered for our pains.

King Henry in Henry IV Part Two

Cardinal Wolsey School was set in 65 acres of manicured grounds. The new boys already knew about the stricter discipline, their house, form and the Headmaster. The cane could come from any one of three directions. As a boy on the receiving end of a springy gym shoe seven times at Prep School, Hodgetts did not relish the prospect of the cane. His mother had said - try and remain invisible for as long as you possibly can. No-one knows you there.

They had black house ties with a coloured stripe to distinguish their house from the other seven. They would sit in houses at lunch and in forms at morning prayers. School was every day except Sunday. A two course meal was served in the cavernous dining hall every day. It echoed with the ghosts of schoolboys past and was a pulsing hive of noise and laughter at lunchtime. School lunch was an integral part of their education. At the front of the dining hall was a small stage. Here the Headmaster entertained visitors, the Monitor on Duty and a sixth former from each house who lunched with the Head for a week. On the Monday before school started, about one hundred new boys in new school uniforms were shown around the school. As Mr Grundy filed his boys through the Great Hall coming towards them was a similar group of boys from Hilles House led by a large walrus of a man called Mr Hodgetts.

- Here’s a boy you should meet, Bill, said Mr Grundy. - This is Michael Hodgetts.

Mr Hodgetts looked down at the small boy. - Is your grandfather called William Hodgetts?                     
- Yes Sir. - I too am William Hodgetts. I know your grandfather in the Freemasons. I shall watch your progress in the school with interest.

Michael got home and explained to his mother that sadly he hadn’t even started school, yet already he was potentially identifiable, there was a Master called Mr Hodgetts! What a swiz.


This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands …
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

John of Gaunt in Richard II

Mr Hunter was Form Master for Upper IV B. He was a Poet and Head of English.

He would introduce his class to AE Housman and ‘A Shropshire Lad’. Next door was Upper IV A, a form of studious boys under the supervision of Mr Davis who as Major Davis was Commandant of the School Cadet Force. Outside each form was a large bank of lockers. Each boy had a key and locker. In this locker he kept his books and football things, files of loose paper, gym clothes and sometimes food. Rugger clothes were taken home to be washed regularly, gym clothes went home at the end of term to cries of horror.

The School was like a City, the playing fields and out buildings a world apart. A fortress built (not by nature but a philanthropic City of London Livery Company) against infection.

Masters would appear largely to be a happy breed of men. But then the Masters were there to teach. School discipline was ordered by the senior boys themselves, with some guidance from the top. The new boys had three weeks to learn their way around. And they had gone from being prefects and big boys in the top form at Junior School to being mice again.

Except for the special form of eleven year old scholarship boys who went into the Third Form, they were older than 12 and younger than 14 when they sat the exam. The Third Form included five bright boys from Hertfordshire and ten from Middlesex. It did not occur to Hodgetts that many who had played rugby at junior school were more than a year older.  No wonder they were better at everything and taller and had girl friends already.

Dupre was Head Monitor. Other godlike monitors included EBO Sherlock, Mike’s House Captain who was exceedingly tall and JGK Ingram who seemed even taller.

On the first day of term the small group of boys from Kings going to Cardinal Wolsey met at the junction of Sandy Lane and the private road to the school. It was 8 am. Confident in numbers they approached the school, free wheeled past the Porter’s house, the Boarding House and the Headmaster’s House to the Junior Cycle Sheds. A few boys were locking up their bikes. Others straggled along the mile long drive from the railway station. Every boy had a piece of paper in his hand. It was the Health Certificate. At the arched doorway to the School stood a General or Field Marshall in full uniform and peaked cap. He was the school porter. The boys handed over their certificates. Oh God. Hodgetts had been so keen to meet the gang he had left his envelope on the kitchen table.

- Could I bring it tomorrow, Sir?

-  No, lad. Without your Health Certificate you can’t come in. We had Polio in the School last term. First day of adult life at a Famous British School and Mike had failed the simplest test: to remember to bring his Health Certificate. Leaving the others, he raced back to the cycle sheds, threw himself into the saddle and standing on the pedals all the way back to Sandy Lane, past the Boarding House and the Porter’s house up past the Golf Course, down past Hampermill where his Grandfather had lived, home the two miles in record time. Mike turned into the gate, zoomed up the concrete driveway, through the wicket gate. He grabbed the handle of the back door. Mother was sitting having a cup of coffee with an Abdullah cigarette in her hand. Without a word she handed Mike his envelope. He grinned stupidly, was back into the street again and at School in no time. He must have set the world record for the 12 year old cycle race to school on the first day, over 2 miles. It was twenty to nine when he handed his certificate to the Porter who looked at him impassively.

– Hodgetts, he said, as he crossed off Michael’s name. - In you go, lad.

Every Saturday afternoon the top rugger match was played on the Flagpole Pitch, the home ground of the First Fifteen who played all in white with tri-coloured horizontal striped socks for those who had won their School Colours. When the First XV played at home on the Seat of Mars all boys in the Junior School were supposed to stay and cheer. Dupre was scrum half and picked the ball beautifully out of the back row, throwing himself like a human dart to the fly half or stand off. At that moment his body was actually horizontal and by half time he had a brown stain all down one side of his shirt and shorts. Even though he was Head Monitor his mother must have been pretty riled at the consistently dirty state of his sports clothes. At Speech Day in June, Dupre drove to school with his parents in a new Rolls Royce. Hodgetts guessed, thinking back, that probably Mrs Dupre didn’t do her son’s washing if they had a Rolls Royce.

One Saturday afternoon in October, in the First XV match against Harrow School, Crowe the winger broke his leg. Everybody heard the crack and the boys waited in morbid curiosity to see the ambulance come up the School Drive to take him away if he didn’t die of pain. Boys will be boys.

In Upper IV B there were 18 boys. While they were assessed for future specialisation they were kept busy wandering round the school. Boys went to the Master not the other way round. Outside their base classroom each boy had a locker with a key. He kept his books and files in that locker.
If you had two lessons on the other side of the school you had to take two lots of books with you so you could go from one class to another. If you were late you were in trouble. It was a good lesson to learn at 13 and 14. In later life very few Cardinal Wolsey boys were late for appointments or missed aeroplanes.

Getting into trouble at Cardinal Wolsey was serious business. As well as lines and 2 hour detentions on Saturday afternoons, there were three lots of people who could punish you, Masters, School Prefects and House Prefects.

They arrived at School somewhere between 8 and 8.30 congregating in their classrooms, chatting, finishing Prep, copying other boys’ work, getting help. The Middlesex boys mostly came by train and walked the mile up the School Drive. They knew each other better, much as at Kings where the Stanmore and Bushey boys had come by bus each day and gone home together each evening. From the station, through two copses, along a muddy footpath, then in through the brick archway and the open wrought iron gates, a straggle of boys, like a column of uniformed ants or Great War refugees, winding up the Drive, overtaken by local boys on bikes and the occasional master in a car. The boys from Rickmansworth came under the railway bridge to school. The Watford boys cycled from Sandy Lane in a constant convoy. Public transport from that side was practically non existent and no boys could come by bus. Some masters actually lived in the school. Not just the Boarding House which had a residential Tutor and Housemaster. There were also bed sitters for junior masters above the school offices and tuck shop.

The Headmaster was a tall dour Scotsman from Edinburgh University and Oxford. His impressive three storey residence fitted his august station in this fortress where he was king.  Nearby in another corridor he had his Study, a place to be avoided. Adjacent were the School doctor’s room and the Headmaster’s secretary. The Headmaster had two red setters that ran the whole bounds of the playing fields. One day when Michael was somebody he promised himself he would have a couple of dogs like that.

There was a school choir. When each group of new boys was paraded in the Great Hall in front of Mr Tomblings, the Head of Music, Hodgetts was taut with anticipation. This was his chance. Those who couldn’t sing or who didn’t want to join the choir were excused. He was an instinctive singer. Mother had told him he must be picked for the choir, because he had a good voice. – And if you are asked to sing a solo, Michael, always say yes. Never say no. You may think it frightening, but you will be pleased later when you have done it. There had been little music at Kings. Mike’s mother who had played the piano and sang hoped for better things. And Mike had been denied the local church choir. Grandfather’s brother Uncle Henry sang there. But Father had said it would interfere with school work.

Twelve and thirteen years old stood in a line singing scales. Each sang a scale and then followed the piano up a note to another scale to demonstrate their range and pitch. For Mike it would be the most important part of his life at School and open many doors to some amazing experiences. Choir practice was after lunch on Mondays and Thursdays.

Mike had a desk by the windows overlooking the Headmaster’s garden and the side playing fields. And each morning he reflected how lucky he was to be here, how absolutely unbelievable it all really was. Mother had spelt it out until it was ingrained in his brain.

- You have a wonderful chance that will set you up for life. Your father wanted you to go to the Grammar School but I said you would never pass the exam. This is your chance. I just hope you are going to be what is called a late developer. Winston Churchill was not good at school and he is now our Prime Minster. But remember it is costing a lot of money to send you and against your father’s wishes. We are going without for you. No car for your father, no summer holidays and I will have to make my own clothes. It was a big obligation for a twelve year old but one Michael could and would accept and repay his parents all his life.

In September Hodgetts and his friends would cycle back to school, refreshed by an eight week holiday, no longer new boys, taking their places in a form above, a scholastic layer logically called The Divisions as the selection and specialisation between Classics, Science and the Modern Side began. Michael and many of his friends were entering the Modern Side, starting German, continuing French, and loving Geography.

Four years later in 1953/4 a number of contemporaries or near contemporaries would be among the elite group of school prefects. All were good at rugby or could run fast.

The extremely clever boys who were by then studying for university scholarships also became prefects but on average one year later

In later life, Michael wondered, would it be better to be clever or to run fast.