Those were the days
Yesterday’s blog showed how nearly half of the current Government’s Cabinet went to prominent Public Schools, such as Eton, Westminster, St Pauls, Radley, Robert Gordon’s, Wycombe Royal Grammar, Charterhouse, Highgate, Nottingham High School and Frances Holland.
Could this private education have skewed their perceptions of what kind of behaviour is acceptable when dealing with wildlife, such as Badgers?
I found an interesting piece from renowned social reformer Henry Salt, regarding the treatment of animals at Eton College in the 18th and 19th century.
“No work,” he says, “was done on Shrove Tuesday after 8 a.m., and at Eton, as elsewhere on this day, the practice prevailed of torturing some live bird. The college cook carried off a crow from its nest, and, fastening it to a pancake, hung it up on the school door, doubtless to serve as a target.”
I can actually visualise this, as having been at Westminster for my sixth form years. I witnessed (but did not take part in) the Greaze , a violent contest between boys, over a very large pancake, as to who could gather the heaviest weight of pancake. The crow would have been ripped to pieces, alive.
Eton also had a Ram Hunt.
“The college butcher had to provide a ram annually at election-tide, to be hunted and killed by the scholars,” the unfortunate animal being hamstrung and beaten to death in Weston’s Yard. Even in the nineteenth century such sports as bull-baiting, badger-baits, dog-fights, and cat and duck hunts, were “organised for the special edification of the Eton boys.”
Now of course these things have ceased to contribute to the education of the children of the Elite. But I wonder whether a memory of them lingers on in the background.
At Westminster, in the middle of London, opportunities were rare to maim or torture wild animals. Even the ancient right to drive a flock of sheep over Westminster Bridge, is rarely employed these days.
When I first learnt of Eton College at the age of about twelve I couldn’t believe a small number of boys of my age were going to have such an education. I did not want to believe and I just could not believe such a school was going to continue for my generation too. Just as it had done so for countless generations of boys before us. I simply couldn’t understand why all the parents and all the adults wanted it to continue. Couldn’t they see how unfair and unjust this was? Couldn’t they see how such schools were going to perpetuate inequality in society? Couldn’t they see that the class system was going to continue if you allow some boys to have such an advantage and privilege within education? It is difficult to explain, and as a teenager I never thought I would say this, but as you become older you slowly begin to see for yourself the important role a school like Eton plays in education. You begin to understand and also to acknowledge the invaluable and incalculable role such a school plays in educating each generation. Above all else you begin to see how special it would be if it continued. Not only for the next generation but also for the future generations of boys who will follow after them. In perpetuity. Put simply the boys who attend Eton are just very lucky and also very fortunate so to do.