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Charles Binyon’s Autobiographical Notes 1884-1899 (before Badsey)

Diary Entry

The family consisted of:

Doctor’s.  Sham illness – given holiday.

1st purchase – 1d pack of playing cards.  Had them loose in my pocket.  Went to church, drew out handkerchief walking up aisle.  Out came cards.  Consternation of family!

London buses, colour, up on top.


I sat for an entrance examination at St Paul’s in 1884 and passed in but failed to get a scholarship.  So in September of that year I entered St Paul’s School.  The school had just moved from the City, near St Paul’s Cathedral, to West Kensington.  All of us new boys were told to go to a certain room after prayers.  There we found a master awaiting us.  He told us to get into a line and then he asked the first boy, “What is my name?”  Of course we did not know and so he asked each one and when he came to the end and none of us knew his name he shouted out, “You are the most ignorant dolts I have ever come across” then “My name is Horace Dixon Elam”.  The he asked if anyone knew anything about Elam and somebody said it was the old name of Persia and that pleased him.  But we never knew what he would say next.  One little chap who for some reason came a day late was told to sit at a desk “and twiddle your thumbs and think what a fool you are”.  He used to call me an “oaf of the first water” and say it was as plain as pike staff.  If a boy made a mistake he would say, “I should like to drag you through a dirty ditch”.  Still he was a good teacher and I learned a lot from him.  We had a lot of homework.  He used to comment on events such as the death of General Gordon, and was a very great admirer of Cardinal Newman.  But after two terms, the authorities considered I was too backward in Classics, so I was taken away from my form and with several other boys was put into a Special where we did nothing but Latin and Greek.  After a few weeks of this I was put into the Lower 4th missing out the Third altogether, the result was that although I could do the Classics, I was all behind with the other subjects and so I found the work extremely difficult, and then during the summer holidays I was sent to a school in Jersey where it is true I only had lessons in the morning, but was left entirely alone in the afternoons with strict instructions I was not on any account to leave the premises.  I did escape once and sketched a nearby church.  But I did not enjoy my stay in Jersey and was glad to get on the seamer for home.  This was a paddle steamer “Brittany” and I remember the Captain shouting to me to get off the paddlebox.  I came back by myself and enjoyed the trip.


In September I sat for the scholarship and this time was successful and so became one of the 153 “fiches”.  I had a very sarcastic master who was continually jeering at the boy who won the scholarship.  I became very worried and on the doctor’s advice I left St Paul’s and was sent to a small boarding school at Margate on Oct 28 1885.  Here I had an easy time having plenty of walks on the cliffs or to the harbour and not too much work.  In August our family all went to Hastings for the summer holidays.  I left Margate early in 1887.  And I had French lessons from a French aristocratic gentleman, and also attended an art school where I watched young ladies painting in oils, but learned very little myself.

This was the year of Queen Victoria’s first Jubilee, and on the day of the procession, I walked to see what I could, but I could not get near the route, and so had to be content with standing at the top of Half Moon Street and could just see the plumes of the Life Guards as they went by in Piccadilly.  However I was able to see Queen Victoria on several other occasions.

It was a glorious but very dry summer.  This year we went to Ilfracombe and Mortehoe for the holidays.  Mortehoe village was very short of water.  Drinking water had to be brought from a distance and the washing water was decidedly green.  Laurence used to take me walks, stepping out at a quick pace and very silent until we reached the destination, when he would be most genial.  At this time Morte Point was closed to the public and this incensed Father and we watched him trying in vain to uproot one of the notice boards.


My parents must have been puzzled to know what to do with me and at last I was sent to a school near.  I had a good time here as the work was easy and I was able to get excellent reports.  But as I was about the oldest boy in the school and the work was really only revision it was not anything to be proud of.  My age and school experience gave me a certain prestige and so I became the head of the school and with the boys my word was law.  But I don’t think I was a hard despot.  I left the school in the summer of 1888.

For the summer holidays we went to Ambleside and I had my first view of the Lake District.  I was rather disappointed at first with the mountains, as there are none very high in the immediate neighbourhood.  But a cousin of ours, Miss M B Dockray, was staying with us and she took me to Coniston one day and then she decided to ascend the “Old Man”.  A few days after we went up Red Screes and Fairfield and later with Jack on a pouring wet day up Bow Fell in clouds, but we had a glorious peep through a gap in the clouds of Skiddaw basking in the sun.


Shortly after getting back to London we heard that Father had been offered the living of Winchcombe (Gloucestershire) and had accepted.  So maps were bought and studies and I was delighted with the prospect as soon as I learned from the maps the nature of the country and found that the small town was right among the Cotswolds.  In order to get me out of the way when packing and dismantling was going on, I was sent off for a few weeks to St Leonards.  At the beginning of December I had orders to travel via London.  My train to Charing Cross was late so I missed the train at Paddington and had to come on by a later one which was broad gauge and had no third class and meant a change at Swindon.  However I arrived at Cheltenham where I was met just in time to catch the bus to Winchombe, 7 miles, but it was dark when we arrived at the Vicarage.  Next morning when I looked out of the window and saw the street, I was amazed.  Instead of the trim uniformity of the streets I had been used to, I saw a higgledy-piggledy set of cottages of all sizes and shapes all joined together.  I started exploring at once.  The church was large, very finely proportioned but with rather poor detail, but a tall, solid tower.  I soon got to know the surrounding country and often used to walk to Cheltenham and back.  By taking the old coach road across the common I could easily beat the time of the bus, for at the foot of the hill, all passengers were turned out and had to walk to the top.  But in August 1889 I became unwell and was sent to a hydropathic establishment at Malvern Wells.  The treatment was very successful and I returned after three weeks.  I took the opportunity of visiting Worcester Cathedral, being the first provincial cathedral I had seen.


Type of Document
First 15 pages in a hard-back notebook with the title “Charles Binyon Autobiography 1884-1914”
Location of Document
In private ownership