Boarding School, Daft Lessons and Big Bottoms.

boarding school bookThis book called Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone-Graham popped up on my Amazon recommendations feed yesterday.   It includes some tales from former school friends and was Country Life Magazine’s Book of the Week and recommended by India Knight as ‘the most brilliant, hilarious book’.

‘Ysenda’s book is a quietly hilarious tale of life in British girls’ boarding schools when an education for girls was seen as a handicap which could render them too unattractive for marriage. There were notable exceptions such as Cheltenham Ladies College, but while most of the boys at Harrow and Eton were being taught Latin verse and doing  quadratic equations, girls were being taught how to lay the table for lunch.’

westonbirt2This got me thinking about my own (often absurd) education at a British girl’s boarding school. I went to Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire  from 1970-75.  Yes, we too were taught how to lay a table for dinner, plus the usual lessons in  deportment, the art of conversation and good manners. But the funniest  lessons were called, ‘How to Drink Champagne Without Burping’ (swallow your burp backwards very quietly) and ‘How To Get Out of a Sports Car Without Showing Your Knickers’, (keep your knees together, swing both feet outwards, follow with body) and ‘How To Marry A Peer of the Realm,’ (must have missed that lesson ‘cos I married a barrow boy).

ACADEMIC-LIFE_main_school_1863-Westonbirt-088Most of the girls had double or triple-barrelled surnames. I learned how to pronounce counter intuitive names like Cholmondeley and Froude with panache. I also learned how not to walk on the newly mowed grass, how to plan a dinner party for twenty-five, how to instruct the staff, how to sew a collar and cuffs, and how to grease a lacrosse stick. Normal, regular survival stuff!


Churcwestonbirt4h twice a day, three times on Sunday.  Outer knickers (grey wool with a pocket for your spare hankie), tweed divided skirts that gave you an inner thigh rush, long maroon cloaks with monk hoods. Deodorant, make-up, jewellery and tampons all forbidden. No heating, carpets or curtains in the dorms, hair wash once a fortnight. Plastic washing up bowls for washing in. And the food came with attractive names like Baby’s Bum, Dead Man’s Leg and Bogey Mash.

mallory towerswestonbirt 1

But it wasn’t all Lowell School.  We had jolly japes a la Malory Towers, apple pie beds, midnight feasts and imaginary boyfriends.  Mine was called Craig Stone because I thought that was a really cool, manly name.  I got quite fond of him… I still am.

Looking back on it all with a mixture of horror and humour, I can see how it shaped the woman I am today and why I tend to giggle at the absurdities of life.  I mean how can you possibly take life seriously when you were once asked by matron to bang your bottom hard against the dorm wall one hundred times a night to stop it getting too big?  Somebody should have told her that big bums would be all the rage in 2017!

Boarding School, Daft Lessons and Big Bottoms.

6 thoughts on “Boarding School, Daft Lessons and Big Bottoms.

  1. Francesca says:

    To think what a brilliant school Westonbirt was ment to be and still is .. no heating , carpets or curtains ! Washing up bowls !!! What …. mine was luxuaey compared as we had heating in the bedrooms , curtains and sinks to wash in ! Some in a long line so you quickly learnt how to wash under your nighty ! Older girls got their own bathroom !! And quilts ! I also had your grey warm over knickers passed Down ! Like most of your cloths ( the green dress !!! Lol ) The grey knickers were cosy ! I used to love your cloak ! Ok so I didn’t learn deportment , the girls at my school prob burp loudly when drinking anything let alone champagne ! I used to have to smuggle spare knickers in and wash them myself and dry overnight on the heating pipes in bedroom .. if caught they were taken away !! Used to have to bath regularly and teacher used to scrub us ! Once tried to scrub away my birth mark !! Used to love the midnight feasts and apple pie beds .. my school taught us to be open with our thoughts and to talk about them ! Yep I guess our schools do mould us a little .. haha I’m far to open and talkative even today !! ..we used to polish our shoes everyday not something I often do nowadays ! We didn’t learn how to instruct someone to sew , we learnt how to independently sew ourselves ! 🙂 you’ve just made my school look a whole lot better haha xx


  2. Eric says:

    At my school we used to cue up outside the Headmaster’s office very Tuesday morning for the traditional beating. He’d stagger out black and blue at the end of it – but still come back for more the following week. Apparently it was character building.


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