Sunday, December 03, 2017


Part One | 1870-1920

'Fagging was a traditional practice in British boarding private schools (nearly all "public schools" in the English sense) and also many other boarding schools, whereby younger pupils were required to act as personal servants to the most senior boys...

Under school rules, fagging might entail harsh discipline and corporal punishment when those were standard practices. Fagging was sometimes associated with sexual abuse by those older boys....'

'Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (born 6 May 1953) is a British politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and the Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...'

'To perpetuate the memory of his only son William, who had predeceased him in 1815, Sir William Fettes, a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh and wealthy city merchant, bequeathed the then very large sum of £166,000 to be set aside for the education of poor children and orphans.

After his death the bequest was effected and invested and the accumulated sum was then used to acquire the 350 acres land, to build the main building and found the school in 1870. Fettes College thus opened with 53 pupils (40 were Foundation Scholars with 11 others boarding and 2 day pupils)....'

[Quotes from Wikipedia]

One inmate of Fettes College during its late-19th century existence, went on to become the father of a girl who would become a very successful film, TV and stage actress - Ann Todd.

Ann Todd was born on January 24th 1909. In 1981, her autobiography 'The Eighth Veil' was published, from which these brief excerpts are taken:

'I didn't see my mother very much for the first few months of my life. She was ill... I was looked after by an unmarried aunt who adored me... it was she, and only she, who made life endurable...

My father was rather an old father, and I never got to know him very well. He was a strange mixture really - a dreamer who knew a lot about art and by contrast, also a great sportsman. He went to Fettes College in Scotland, and later played rugger for Scotland and Cambridge University and rowed for Clare College. But he was never a success in his life and hopeless at business....'

In the Autumn of 1918, at least two young teenage boys started boarding at Fettes College, who were destined for public prominence and success. One of these was Selwyn Lloyd:

'John Selwyn Brooke Lloyd, Baron Selwyn-Lloyd.. known for most of his career as Selwyn Lloyd, was a British Conservative Party politician who served as Foreign Secretary from 1955 to 1960, then as Chancellor of the Exchequer until 1962. He was elected speaker of the House of Commons in 1971, serving until his retirement in 1976....'


Some quite revealing information about life in the Fettes encampment can be found in D.R.Thorpe's substantial biography of Selwyn Lloyd, published 1989:

'On 17 July 1918 Dr Heard, the headmaster of Fettes, wrote to the Lloyds offering their son a scholarship of £40 a year... In September 1918, as the First World War entered its final phase, Selwyn travelled to Edinburgh with his father to take up his place at Fettes. As an open scholar he was... placed in Glencorse, the house of K.P.Wilson...

...Fettes had always had a spartan reputation (potato bread and oatcakes with margarine was the staple diet on many days in the rationing of war) and there were those... who sent their sons to the school because of its "manliness". This spartan atmosphere left many by the wayside. "This school will either make you or break you," said one boy, "and it's broken me." But it was all part of the accepted toughening process....'


'I do not believe that I have ever explained to you the different roles at Fettes. First and foremost there are the school prefects (commonly known as Schoolies) who have the power of life and death over you, in other words can cane you without asking permission from Dr Heard (commonly known as Gussy or the Bulge)....'

[Selwyn Lloyd, letter to eldest sister, Dorice, 19.11.1918]

'..the most menial level of house prefects ('the prefs').. not only indulged in ritual beatings of new men but also had the power of 'rabbiting'....'


'To be rabbited, is to be chased round the study area by the prefs, with hockey sticks etc. You can be rabbited for leaving your clothes about and those sort of things...'

[Selwyn Lloyd, letter 19.11.1918]

'Bullying was rife and the general toughening process was intensified by the unofficial system whereby second year men bullied new men and so on up the scale to the Olympian heights of the head of house who had total autonomy... Morals too were at a low ebb. Selwyn was a good-looking boy and, together with others in his year, soon attracted the attentions of a group of senior boys, three of whom were subsequently expelled....'


Dr. Heard  was succeeded as headmaster of Fettes in the Autumn of 1919, by A.H. Ashcroft. According to D.R.Thorpe, '..the upturn in Selwyn's Fettes fortunes' can be dated to this man's arrival at the school:

'His industry, his brusqueness.. and the underlying sense of insecurity can all be traced back to this period at Fettes. Yet the resilience he showed in adversity and his ability to cope with setbacks also stemmed from this time... He was already one of the survivors of life. If he could survive as a new man in the Fettes of 1918 then Aneurin Bevan in full cry in the Suez debates of 1956 was manageable....'

Selwyn Lloyd is quoted (somewhat in contradiction, perhaps) by his biographer, summarising his earlier years at the school:

'I learned to love Fettes, but that was not my feeling at all for the first two years. I loathed it. The saving grace was my housemaster K.R.Wilson, one of the outstanding schoolmasters of his generation. When it was discovered in my third year that I could play Rugby football, my life became much easier.'

There are at least several sources of published information disclosing the troubled times that Michael Tippett * spent at Fettes College. One of these - a book by Meirion Bowen - refers to 'his stay there' as having been 'nasty, brutish and short', and states that Tippett experienced the school's 'bullying and.. emphasis on cold baths in winter' as 'quite intolerable.'

* 'Sir Michael Kemp Tippett.. was an English composer who rose to prominence during and immediately after the Second World War. In his lifetime he was sometimes ranked with his contemporary Benjamin Britten as one of the leading British composers of the 20th century...' 


A second book about the composer - Ian Kemp's 'TIPPETT: the composer and his music' (published in 1984) - provides significantly more relevant information:

'..his father.. considered engaging a private tutor. His mother however preferred him to go to a tough "manly" school and her view prevailed. On the advice of an uncle.. Tippett was entered for a foundation scholarship at Fettes College. He won a scholarship and went to Fettes in September 1918.. But his interest in music and scholastic subjects were overshadowed by the spartan and forbidding atmosphere. Fettes at that time was a characteristic, if extreme example of the British public school. Bullying and sadism were commonplace and tacitly regarded as necessary stages in the tempering of young gentlemen. The ageing headmaster, a distant and awesome figure, left the running of the school to the prefects and housemasters, who zealously upheld the principle that the younger boys were the property of the older....'

In his autobiography 'Those Twentieth Century Blues', Michael Tippett gives his own account of what he had experienced at Fettes:

'I won a classics scholarship to Fettes College in Edinburgh.

Fettes had its strong points. I was able to pursue my love of classics, and my piano lessons were resumed. But there were many disagreeable aspects of traditional public school life. I hated the system whereby the boys in each year bullied those in the year below, so I decided to persuade my fellow pupils not to observe this ritual - and succeeded. I hated wearing a kilt, which was necessary for the cadet corps. It was a typically Scottish spartan existence in general, which I found most demanding.

Most alarming was the sexual side of things. My naïve confessions on the subject in a letter to my mother brought my parents immediately over from France: they threatened to publicise the goings-on unless the headmaster was removed. A new headmaster arrived, who persuaded my parents I should stay on. I was then pressurised by my housemaster into standing before the entire school and accounting for the sexual behaviour of every boy I knew. This was particularly difficult as I was myself "involved" with a boy. I couldn't remain at Fettes much longer and decided the only way out was to reveal all to my parents. I geared myself up to tell her I was no longer a virgin. It was the first time I stood up openly to her, and it resulted in my being taken away from Fettes - which indeed I desperately wanted. For decades afterwards I had such amnesia about the whole experience that I hardly acknowledged the existence of Fettes in any account of my early life....'     


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