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When I asked a group of girls who had been at Hatherop Castle in the 1960s whether the school had had a lab in those days they gave me a blank look. 'A laboratory?' I expanded, hoping to jog their memories. 'Oh that kind of lab!' one of them said. 'I thought you meant a Labrador.'
As we discover from Ysenda Maxtone Graham's quietly hilarious history of life in British girls' boarding schools between 1939 and 1979, this was a not untypical reaction. Today it's hard to grasp the casual carelessness and even hostility with which the middle and upper classes once approached the schooling of their daughters. Education, far from being regarded as something that would set a girl up for life, was seen as a handicap which could render her too unattractive for marriage, and, with some notable exceptions such as Cheltenham, schools went along with the idea.
While their brothers at Eton and Harrow were writing Latin verse and doing quadratic equations, girls were being allowed to give up any subject they found too difficult and were instead learning how to lay the table for lunch. Fathers tended to choose schools for arbitrary and often frankly frivolous reasons. Hatherop, for example, was popular with some because of its proximity to Cheltenham Racecourse. One girl's parents chose Heathfield 'because none of the girls had spots'. Not surprising, perhaps, that many of them left school without a single O-level.
Harsh matrons, freezing dormitories and appalling food predominated, but at some schools you could take your pony with you, and occasionally these eccentric establishments - closed now or reformed - imbued in their pupils a lifetime love of the arts and a real thirst for self-education.
In Terms and Conditions, Ysenda speaks to members of a lost tribe - boarding school women, now grandmothers and the backbone of the nation - who look back on their experiences with a mixture of horror and humour.
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- Sniffy and Particular
Shocking, enlightening, Mallory Towers it was not.
The sheer physical, emotional, and mental pain that was endured in the name of boarding school education, is really shocking.
But its fascinating to see just how tough those girls could be.
2 people found this helpful
Although my school is never mentioned by name it is as accurately described as if the author had been there. Memories of sagging mattresses , freezing cold bedrooms and putting your cloaks on top to keep warm, stodge and slop for lunch , the many injustices of life etc etc etc. A wonderful encapsulation of the social history of girls boarding schools. A brilliant read for anyone who went to one pre 1980 or for their spouses / children who want to understand why their wives/ mothers are the way they are now. I even recognized myself in the description of the lasting effects that the schools had on these women. Frightening- in all aspects and I heartily recommend it
- T. Hadnot
I loved this book so much. Christine Kavanagh does a wonderful job of narrating this excellent book. Ysenda Maxtone Graham has undertaken to tell the story of boarding school girls, and she succeeds beautifully. This book is well written, easy to read/listen to. It’s not dry at all. I found that I was really invested in the stories of these women who have suffered, triumphed, lost, and gained. There is such a huge difference between the boarding schools we read about and the ones that actually existed.
I highly recommend this to anyone who’s ever been fascinated by the idea of girl’s schools, or anyone who’s looking for an enjoyable nonfiction read. You won’t be disappointed.
1 person found this helpful