Badley and Bedales

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  • From Chapter 12 The Public School Phenomenon
    Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy   Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1977  ISBN 0 340 22373 1. [Out of Print]

Chapter 12. The Progressive School Movement. 3. Badley and Bedales (p283-290)

J. H. Badley was born in 1965 the son of a rather austere. well-off doctor and a   mother who was both warm and lively and at the same time an evangelical.. He was not sent away to his prep school until the (comparatively) late age of thirteen, and at fifteen he went to Rugby. Although he recognised the narrowness of the life there, he did well; he was a fine classicist and good at rugger. It does not seem to be until he went to Cambridge, in 1884, that his ideas began to change. He became a socialist and was also influenced by the ideals of William Morris about art and community life. But the direction these ideas should take, and the decisive influences were Reddie [Cecil Reddie b 1858 arguably the founder of the 'modern' British progressive school]  and Abbotsholme. He heard about the plans for the school when he came down in 1888, went there and was instantly fascinated by both. He was, at the age of twenty-four, one of the first masters appointed, but it is probable that from the start he had secret plans to found a school of his own. After two and a half years two typical Reddie problems were becoming acute: the first was Reddie's increasingly autocratic temperament; the second was an expression of this―Badley wanted to marry and Reddie said he couldn't. In 1993 he left and started Bedales.

All Badley's ideasinitially at any rate, their development was quite different―were taken from Reddie. For instance the account I gave of the Abbotsholme curriculum can stand for that of Bedales. [p 281 "the curriculum was English based, not classical, and wide― science, art, music, French, German, with opportunities for plays and hobbies. Religion was non-dogmatic and non-sectarian. Boys were not crammed for work , there were no prizes and lessons were only in the mornings. The games madness was condemned; instead much time was spent on manual labour in fields and gardens, and the boys were also taught tailoring, boot  making and cookery. Remembering his confusion, Reddie introduced a good deal of sex instruction".] And he copied many of the early organisational details too, right down to the earth closets which enabled him to return to the soil that which had been taken from it. There were differences of emphasis of course; Bedales talked more of co-operation; there was also no mention of "sons of directing classes". Badley's socialism remained constant all his life.

It is at this point that we should perhaps note that both Abbotsholme and Bedales were in a god number of ways only relatively "progressive". In certain respects they were more like public schools of the 1890s than they were the mild regimes we saw at Cheam or Hazelwood. E.L.Grant-Watson, who was sent to Bedales in 1893, describes a routine that was almost brutally Spartan: "Cold baths were the rule, even though we had to break the ice on the goose cans". There were runs before breakfast, the last two being swished in by a prefect with a cane. More runs in the afternoon, more swishing. The emphasis on labour was not comfortable: there were beds and butter to be made, much digging, the rougher the better, cows to be milked early on frosty mornings. The earth privies seemed inexhaustible:

"... Not in this, or any other occasion did he [Badley] in the least unbend from his attitude of stern and dignified reserve. They wheeled the barrow into which Mr Badley shovelled the excrement, and very full he would load them for small boys to wheel, for there was no pampering, no thought of weak hearts or young muscles strained to lift barrows, swimming to the brim."

Girls did not go to Bedales until 1898, and at first discipline was left to the boys. As a result, it was often harsh and the expectation of courage and stoicism made it difficult to complain. There was also bullying. Grant-Watson gives an horrendous description of a dreaded Bedales "Pie". Roger Powell says that Grant-Watson had it in for Bedales. The brother of the assistant headmaster married Grant-Watson and produced a Hamlet effect. But I find his descriptions are substantiated by others. Powell himself described scenes of bullying, of canes being broken by over-zealous prefects. It is clear that early Bedales was fairly tough. Mr Moorsom was there from 1902-10. He, too, remembered the cold baths, the runs, the oceans of excrement ("Unpleasant tasks were not actually meant to be unpleasant. So Badley but on immaculate white tennis trousers and gym shoes to help. Rather embarrassing.") He said being burned was like being "burnt alive".

One side of Badley was extremely reserved, almost cold. He was strict and he was obeyed; he neither smoked nor drank. (Reddie was the only man allowed to smoke in the study): "When he came stalking with his quick, silent tread, into the classroom there was immediate silence; if there happened to be a piece of paper on the floor, he would point to it without deigning to say a word, and the boy nearest would hurriedly pick it up. ..." In some ways he had been strongly influenced by Rugby, and he brought from there conceptions of "character" and "tone" which he altered, elevated indeed, by ideals of crafty, high thinking, William Morris, Ruskin, and his own brand of purity―it was the public school figure transposed to another plane. Mr Moorsom described Mr Geoffrey Lipton:

"He personified Badley's ideal. He completely epitomised what Badley was struggling to turn out. A fine strong clean Englishman―a perfect craftsman―at the same time extremely puritanical and totally repressed. He never smoked or drank and when he joined the army and became an officer, if any of his troops swore he simply knocked them out. Needles to say he made a disastrous marriage. He couldn't carry it through. His wife committed suicide actually in front of his house. But he was the ideal Bedales type, exactly what Badley stood for―wonderfully idealistic and great uplift. He was eventually gored to death by a bull. He lost his temper with it."

These are elements in that early Bedales and they should be remembered. I mention them to counteract a certain fuzziness that can be conjured up by the word "progressive". But it would be wrong to emphasise them; indeed the emphasis should be the other way. Badley was experimenting. Everything could change, and did. By the time Moorsom was at Bedales there was very little bullying, "pies" had gone. Nor could the prefects beat, though they could spank with a slipper. Badley's own use of the cane was so rare as to be virtually synonymous with expulsion. And all this changed too. Bedales next evolved a highly complex system of drills and adding up of faults; there followed in the early 1920s, a period of no punishments at all. After this the system was one of compromise and flexibility. Now (I am talking of the mid 1920s) only Badley caned―and as usual he did so extremely rarely. And Badley found that the few school laws were much more easily accepted if they were reasonable, and could be questioned. He set up a "Parliament"; not a legislative body, but a place where action could be explained. grievances brought up and suggestions made. There was a feeling of being consulted.

But―as one escapes the stifling pressure of conventional public schools around 1900-1910―it is the sense of freedom that is exhilarating about Bedales. Free time was really freethe evenings, Saturday afternoons, Sundays. Grant-Watson remembers getting up at dawn, barefoot and in untidy clothes, and going to see his friend the gamekeeper. Moorsom expressed his individuality by going to church; he was thought "madly eccentric". "I wasn't particularly happy at Bedales but I should have died at an ordinary public school". There was also a sense of pioneering. of being engaged in an exhilarating shared endeavour which was shocking to the outside world. If things went wrong they could together put them right; if new experiments were attempted, they would be attempted in unison. Badley consulted the older boys before the school went co-educational.

Public schools formed houses and grouped closely together largely for disciplinary reasons, as we know; they became communities by accident, willy-nilly. Thereafter, as was their custom, they began to attribute values to this that had nothing to do with their original development. By 1900 the idea of learning community values from the public school community was implicit in all of them to a greater or lesser degree. But, from the influence of Ruskin and William Morris and other "community idealists" current in the 1880's, it was far stronger and more explicit in progressive schools. That was why the school environment should be more "realistic" and should more closely resemble the outside world. Another was of looking at this, which Badley expressed, was that the way to learn to live in the complex community of the outside world was to learn to live first in the simple community of school. It was a question of stages. There was also the idea of change. Badley said, "Every school is, consciously or not, an embodiment of social aims, and it was by making Bedales a working model of what a community should be that I thought I could do most to realise mine.  At Bedales―and at many progressive schools―the direction of change was very roughly left-wing and egalitarian.

The second point was that as well as communities, the progressive reformers wanted happy communities. This was a prime concern, not a secondary consideration. Education was to do with life, not earning a living; it was more important to be happy, to lead a full life, than to pass exams. And here the Rousseauesque roots become relevant. If man is essentially good, then he should be allowed freedom to develop that goodness and become happy. Rules must be kept at a minimum. Given time, he will develop the necessary discipline himself; indeed self-discipline is the only sort worth having, and it can only be self taught. If it is imposed rigidly from outside it either forms a compulsive straightjacket of automatic rules which the individual continues to obey unthinkingly thereafter, and requires a rigid society to continue imposing on him and others; or else it leads to a wild and rebellious reaction.

The element of "self-regulation" was to become much stronger in some of the progressive schools of the 1920s and 30s, but it is absolutely explicit in early Bedales and was due largely to the character of the two chief masters, Badley was aloof and shy; but he was more complicated than that. He was also a brilliant class teacher, whose Latin classes were electrifying. He was an enormously kind man, always the least prone to expel, most keen to give a second chance: "...he did not seem to be identified with the rigorously puritanical tone that he appeared to have created." He often took children free whose parents could not afford to pay; he used to lead expeditions to Switzerland. At the same time, aware of his shyness, disliking any form of autocracy, he was able to supply what he lacked through his second master Oswald Powell, who was extremely active in the school and frequently ran it for a year or more when Badley was away.  Powell came from a large Victorian family and was a warm, easy, loving man. He provided essential ingredients Badley could never have supplied; he was open where Badley was inhibited, could communicate where Badley was silent, close where Badley was distant. He was the eye and ears and hands of Badley, the heart where Badley was the brain. It seems doubtful that Badley could have carried the school alone, and it is clear that Bedales was far more a partnership than is usually acknowledged.

There is one other area where Badley's influence, initially at any rate, has been exaggerated, and that is coeducation. Here Bedales was truly revolutionary (in England. In the US and Scandinavia co-education had long been familiar and single-sex schools the exception). When the first girls came in 1898, the strangeness of the idea can be gauged from the ludicrous nature of the objections raised: were the girls to play football, and the boys play with dolls.? Were the girls to be caned? Would the boys dance all the time? Badley said at first there should be fewer girls than boys because this strangeness always made it look as though there were more. This move, which seemed to take place almost haphazardly, and was certainly in line with Badley's desire to make his community more "real", has been attributed to him. But in fact it was due to his wife Amy. A sweet and gentle character, she had also been a fervent supporter of woman's rights and later supported the suffragettes. She had long been convinced that co-education was the only fair education and had refused to marry Badley until he promised he would bring this about.

I was twice told during my interviews, in all seriousness, that Maurice Bowra used to be taken to the reeds by the river at Bryanston so that he could watch the naked limbs of the bathers skim over him. Now it is true   the boys bathed naked at Bryanston, but what Bowra is supposed to have done is quite impossible, unless he wore a diving suit. (Perhaps he did. It is a curious picture).  But the point is that progressive schools have always excited people in this way. The wildest fantasies, thinly disguised wishful thinking, spring up about the sexual license flourishing ion them. They were, and are, relatively free, it is true; but they can be quite the reverse. The differences in sexual attitudes between progressive schools are typical of the sort of very wide differences that can exist between public schools, and the way these differences start is typical too.

I was first alerted to the situation at Bedales by a few lines of Badley's book, Bedales. Badley, from the photographs, had a kindly, rather eager face, with humorous eyes. His prose, however, is not particularly humorous (of all the progressive writers the only one you'd read for pleasure is A.S.Neill); Badley at best is calm and commonsensical, at worst boring. But about anything sexual he becomes instantly frigid―and also rather surprising. His view is that because boys and girls have each other as companions normal sexual attraction and behaviour can be postponed until adulthood. Or rather any sexual behaviour or attraction other than platonic friendship is not normal, it is "silly". "Silliness" can be stopped, when it arises, by helpful talk; but it is best stopped if the community itself condemns "silliness", attempts to suppress "silliness", and if each member refrains from "silliness" him or herself. And certainly this took place at Bedales from the start. Grant-Watson says that even before girls came, visitors were amazed at the "cleanliness" of the boys ―even single sex was "silly", When girls came this was simply extended: "Love affairs were discouraged and held up to ridicule as sentimental and silly." And indeed the community, including the young masters, did try and seek out and stop any nascent sexuality.

And yet―what an odd attitude this is. You can think a great many different things about expressions of the sexual instinct―that they are disgusting, that they are delightful, that they are for adults only, or for anyone, that they are harmful, or beneficial, that they should be controlled or unrestrained; but it is rare to find someone thinking them "silly". The clue came from Mr Moorsom, who put baldly what other people had hinted at. Badley had an extremely unhappy marriage. He had a cold and icy relationship with his wife, and hardly spoke to her. ("He was married to the school, not Amy," someone else said.) He used to sleep alone in a room next to one of the dormitories. He was therefore extremely frustrated, and this resulted in an intense and sublimated interest in the girls and concern for them. It also meant that sex was completely suppressed. "Silliness" was, therefore, partly the calm "rational" way of expressing an attitude of disapproval towards sex that as common at the end of the 19th century, and partly due to his own repressed feelings.

It had a profound and long-term effect on Bedales. Someone who returned to the school in 1918 wrote, "When I knew Bedales as a boy, the dormitory life and life of the school generally was clean― now it seemed to me, it was growing cleaner still." If a new boy proved "dirty ion talk" he was reported by other boys, the matter being regarded as too important to be considered "sneaking". Jocelyn Brooke, at Bedales 1922027, noted the tacitly ant-sexual atmosphere, the survival of "silliness". By 1936 sex had ceased to be silly and had become "a problem", but one, as we saw from Geoffrey Crump's advocacy, that could be solved by art [p157 Sublimation and public school passion.  "By 1936, at Bedales but also at several other schools, art has replaced games"]. By 1945 when Sasha Young was there, the situation was much like that we've seen in certain public schools, where the staff were repressive and the pupils largely against complete physical expression but totally involved in passionate, intensely romantic love affairs. "You could choose where you sat at lunch. You chose to be near the person you were keen on, never at the same table. You would look far to unattractive eating. You were too frightened to eat anyway. You wanted to look at him." The atmosphere was charged, full of intrigue and excitement. People acted as go-between. On St. Valentine's Day, Valentines were exchanged and, devoured by interest, people lounged against the pillars of the "quad", watching the reactions to their notes, their own reactions being watched.

This fraught, taut state ended if you agreed to "go with someone", or vice versa. This was a formal, recognised state. You sat together and did things together. "There was a lot of love-play, kissing, and so on. But most people didn't make love; I didn't nor any of my friends. We used to go and kiss for hours in haystacks. Even today the smell of hay is a romantic smell to me.A number of people, not a great many, did make love. "There was boy called D―who used to take one or two highly-sexed girls into a boot cupboard"(the romantic smell of boot polish).

We shall deal with other aspects of Bedales as they arise chronologically. But we can note that because if when it was started and because of Badley's temperament, it was always on the right wing of the progressive movement. The beneficial effects of co-education were diluted by the repressive ant-sex attitudes which he encouraged, because an anti-sex attitude spreads unconsciously to the extent to which the two are joined, an anti-love attitude. He sought to make the most powerful and enriching of human instincts "silly" and therefore trivialised the whole infinite penumbra of emotions extending from it. Strong traces of this attitude can still be found at Bedales today.

Because Badley and Reddie were ex-public school boys, their progressive schools were public schools too and shared certain fundamental characteristics: their concern with character for example, and the fact that they were boarding. The progressive school movement must be seen as a deviant off-shoot from, or advance guard of, the public-school system. And of course many good public schoolmasters at this time―indeed at any time before and after―shared certain of their concerns on pragmatic grounds. The need for a wide curriculum, the enormous, indeed essential educational value of interesting a pupil, the need for closer and more human relationships between masters/mistresses and pupils―Cory [Schoolmaster at Eton] for instance exemplified all these. The difference is that the progressive schools were a movement, not examples of incidental enlightenment. This will become clearer as we proceed.

Another characteristic progressive schools shared with public schools is that they charged fees. That is, they ere a middle class development. They have often worried about this and some of them―Rendcomb, Dartington, the Quaker schools to an extent―have made valiant efforts to recruit from the lower classes but have always been defeated by the necessity to pay their way. But it is more than this. There is a particular pressure―or temptation―at work which we could elevate into a psycho-economic law about public schools. An inspector at the Board of Education said in 1905, "The ambition of a successful school is not to do better than the work it began with, but to pass on to work of a more ambitious character." The richer a school is the more teachers, equipment, classrooms, games fields, telescopes, laboratories, theatres,  billiard tables, etc it can have. Teaching is more fun and more fulfilling and so is learning. There is a third aspect to this fee-dependency. It might have been thought, in seeing themselves as communities which would represent a better society and so help change society in their own image, progressive schools were reversing the more usual anthropological role of education―which is to extract and pass on the important accepted values, morés, and social hierarchies existing in a society. But in practice the progressive schools did the same―only on behalf of a minute sub-society. They relied on people who approximately shared their views; that is elements in the larger society who had already changed. As these were rare. for many years they had to struggle, frequently depending on the children of cranks, and enrolling enthusiastic but inefficient amateurs to teach. However early on they had a piece of luck. About this time, a Frenchman called M. Edmond Demolins wrote a book called A Quoi tient la Supériorité des Anglo-Saxons? He traced this superiority to boarding public schools, but it so happened that the only ones he'd seen had been Abbotsholme and Bedales. The book was therefore read with some astonishment over here, but it was a godsend to Badley and Reddie. Hordes of foreigners―Dutch, Swedes and particularly Russians―rushed over and kept them going.

And that, finally, is the obvious but extremely important thing about Badley―he kept going. Where Abbotsholme disintegrated in a series of cataclysms, Bedales―with the aid of Oswald Powell―showed that Reddie's ideas could work, could last, could be successful. And the school was helped in this by both men living to an almost incredible age: Badley became a legend, dying in 1967 aged 102; Powell dying in the same year a few months before his hundredth birthday.

© 1977 Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy