Guy Oates (1905-1987): Education and Schooling- Part Three

I was now a frightned [frightened] boy, and I felt this was [not] the end but the beginning of more trouble’

(Oates, 2:57).

York school: Archbishop Holgates Grammar School 1916 – 1921 (Founded 1546)

When Guy and Sep arrived home from the London school for the summer holidays in 1916, they had not realised they would never be returning to that school. Their mother was very worried about their health, as both boys were thin, and she asked them many questions about their living conditions and the members of staff, but in order to not upset their mother, the boys told a few ‘white lies’ (2:54) to keep her free from worry. When the holidays were over, instead of going back to London the Oates’ mother took them to a school only twenty miles away in York. On arrival, the boys were greeted by ‘a distinguished man,’ (2:54) who was the headmaster of the school, ‘he had piercing eyes, wore spectacles with [a] heavily bearded face, [he was] stern looking and void of all sense of humour, he was in fact a little frightening’ (2:54). Once saying their goodbyes to their mother, Guy and Sep were ushered into a room in which nineteen other Yorkshire Society School boys were waiting. All of the boys were ‘puzzled as to why’ (2:54) they were there and not in London. ‘Where my brother and I had been two out of thirty we were still two but out of four hundred and fifty’ (2:55). Guy found out that because of the war, the building was at risk of being bombed, due to its location. Therefore, it was decided that it was unsafe for the boys to return. A short while after this the school was bombed, Guy actually ‘went to London and [found that] the school was gone’ many years later (7:94), it had become another architectural casualty of the war.

The nineteen boys were eventually summoned to the headmaster’s study, ‘the big ones at the rear, we little ones nearest his desk. [The headmaster] mentioned that he had received reports on each of us, and that not one of them was encouraging, in fact, looking at or appeared to be at we nearest to him, are very bad’ (2:55). It was clear that the headmaster was not optimistic about the boys, as he believed they would disrupt the other boys of the school.

My third and last school

‘This was a very different school to the Yorkshire Society, which was more like a large house’ (2:55). The facilities were nicer than the London school, and, the building was ‘warm and refined’ (2:55). The dormitories were similar, 12 beds to each room, but there weren’t any chambers here as they had lavatories just next door to their rooms, there was a lot more furniture also. ‘Here there were wash basins with running hot water, with dry towels hanging up on rollers […] I was beginning to like this place,’ (2:55) Guy was experiencing things he had never had the privilege of, it did not matter that he was still one of the ‘youngest, smallest and lowest placed in the school’ (2:17) as now he was able to have a warm bath. ‘[He] knew every inch of Y.S.S, now [he] was lost, there being so many class rooms and corridors,’ (2:55) given that there were around 450 boys in this school, ‘the difference between the two was immence [sic]’ (2:55). The land was much bigger than the London school, and therefore it is easy to understand why Guy felt like his new school was like a maze. The following day, Guy was placed in ‘Form 2. They knew [he] had learned very little during [his] two years ar the Y.S.S’ and so they believed this form was best suited for him.

Although the school’s living conditions were better than the Yorkshire Society Schools, this did not make Guy’s any life easier. About a month into being at Archbishop Holgates Grammar School, ‘it happened,’ Guy’s demise. ‘Once again my temper and perhaps arrogant manner was to be my undoing,’ (2:57) Guy excitedly began to run across the assembly hall towards the school playground to play cricket, this was against the rules and so a fellow classmate shouted, ‘aye you, that boy running, Stop’ (2:57). Guy initially stopped and looked at who was calling him but since he was just another pupil he ‘took no notice’ (2:57) and continued to leave the hall. Unfortunately, somebody grabbed hold of Guy and so he automatically began to lash out at his handler, and so a fight began. ‘Within seconds a master appeared from nowhere stopping the fight. We were both taken to the headmasters study’ (2:57). This was the beginning of the end of Guy’s enjoyable time at school, ‘two things led to [his] downfall. One I did not know you were not allowed to run in the assembly hall, and two, had the boy been wearing a cap, I dare not have hit him for he would have been wearing his Prefect cap’ (2:57) it was against the rules to fight, but to ‘hit a Prefect was a crime’ (2:57). The headmaster reminded Guy of his ‘rough nature and uncouth manner. (This could have been my Grandfather in me)’ (2:57). Side note: Guy’s grandfather was a rather mischievous gentleman, and you’ll be able to learn more about him in an upcoming blog on ‘Home & Family (Part One)’ where I will go into greater detail about the men in Guys’ family. But for now, back to Guy’s school life. The headmaster then began to threaten Guy, ‘if ever you fight again you will be expelled, Now get out’ (2:57) with expulsion on the line Guy now lived in fear. During teatime, the headmaster further made an example of Guy, telling him to stand up on a chair so he could inform the rest of the school of Guy’s misbehaviour, ‘though only eleven years of age [he] felt humiliated in front of the few friends [he] had made. That little castle which [he] had built was now in ruins and [he] had no solid foundation to start again. Worst of all [he] was now afraid of the future’ (2:57). With the few friends, he had gained he soon lost, because of this Guy felt very lonely in a time when he desired friends the most.

Cricket and ‘Gaining Ground!’ (2:60)

When playing cricket, the boys from the Yorkshire Society School created numerous of the legendary string balls, (you will have read about this famous ball in ‘Fun and Festivities – Part Two’ in which both Sarah and I followed Guy’s instructions on how to make one), the boys were split into teams of four. The aim of the game was for ‘either side to hit the wall that the other was protecting,’ (2:60) the team that was not throwing first has to ‘catch the ball before it hit the ground and run four paces and throw it back into if possible a space where the other side where not protecting’ (2:60). Eventually, players would be taken out of the game and whatever side was able to take out all of its opponents were the winners. This activity ‘was a fine game for strengthenin [strengthening] your throwing arm’ a skill Guy used to his advantage as ‘by the time [he] had reached the age of twelve [he] had won the junior high jump and was becomong [becoming] a reasonable cricketer, being a good bowler, fair fielder’ (2:60).

In April of every year, under the guidance of the housemaster, ‘the boarders’ (2:60) were given an opportunity to choose ‘their captains in cricket, football, swimming and field events’ (2:60) and present their chosen candidate to the headmaster. ‘To [Guy’s] surprise they chose [him] to be the captain of the boarders junior cricket team,’ (2:60) this was just the thing Guy needed to give him back his confidence, ‘deep down there was that little bit of pride’ (2:60). However, as Guy points out, ‘they say pride comes before a fall, little did [he] know how soon that fall was going to be’ (2:60). Since the headmaster disliked Guy greatly as soon as the team put forward the idea of Guy being the captain he simply responded, ‘You I don’t want a stuffling [sic] captain, sit down’ (2:60). Although Guy was filled with rage, he did not know how he could retaliate, ‘the pride, strength, the happiness [he] had felt had now been knocked out of me. Once more, he had made [Guy] look a fool in front of those with whom [he] had to live, work and play’ (2:60). Everything Guy had worked towards to gain back some sort of enjoyment in school had been destroyed ‘in one foul swoop’ the ‘little castle which [he] had tried to reestablish, having no solid foundation had crumbled yet again,’ (2:61) most of the boys he had made friendships with began to ignore him again, leaving him on his own.

Photograph of Guy and his other teammates ‘1st team’ – 1920 (2:68).
1st team with teachers – 1902 (2:68).


About one month later, the headmaster had told a Prefect to go collect Guy at around 9:30 just before bed, ‘feeling worried and wondering why, [he] put on my dressing gown […] [and] knocked on the study door, he said “come in”’ (2:61). In the headmaster’s hand, he was reading from Guy’s file from the London school, he looked up at Guy and said: ‘“ I see from your report when you were at the Yorkshire Society school you never received the cane”. “No sir,” [Guy] replied’ (2:61). The headmaster proceeded to ask Guy to ‘“take off [his] dressing gown, pull up [his] dressing gown, pull up [his] night dress and kneel on that chair”’ (2:61). He then began to hit Guy and ‘within seconds [he] felt the stinging pain of four strokes across [his] bare buttocks. He then said, “well now you have, go to bed”’ (2:61). The impact of this event went much further than just physical pain, ‘to this day [he was] puzzled as to why he did this. [He] was just and ordinary boy, no better and no worse than any other. [He] was always obedient, obliging, respectful of my seniors and betters. [He] was a happy little lad with a happy nature, full of life with an abundance of spare energy. [He] was good at most sports, but poor at class work’ (2:61). Guy as an adult reflected on how he could not understand ‘how any man could cane a boy in cold blood’ (2:61). He speculated the reasons behind the headmaster’s actions, ‘he either could not control his hatred of [Guy] or he was a sadist. Every boy be he rough or gentle has a soul. Beat him if you must if has done something wrong, but to flog a boy and not tell him the reason why is beyond my comprehension’ (2:61). To cane, someone was a cruel act but to cane for no reason was beyond just. As a result of this, Guy’s education worsened, ‘the caning upset [him] more than [he] realised, what little interest [he] had in [his] class work began to deteriorate and [he] began to go backwards’ (2:61). The headmaster completely derailed Guy any time he could, when Guy began to progress he simply knocked him back down.

The side effects

This constant humiliation stuck with Guy throughout his life; he always believed he was a disappointment. The relentless belittling surely led to unrecognised psychological problems, reading about his relationship with the headmaster is quite distressing at times given that I have grown extremely fond of Guy’s life, it is heart-breaking to know he suffered so much at the hands of someone who should have known better. Part Four will cover the final section of Volume Two, in which Guy discusses the cadets, Septimus, sports, and his messages to some of the teachers.
(Remember to check Twitter for updates @TashaSiloLJMU).

If you have enjoyed reading about Guy’s life, you may like to explore the full collection of Guy Oates Posts.

If you would like to read some of our fellow Writing Lives students blogs, then look no further! Here are some of the posts Sarah and I enjoyed for this particular theme:

Keisha Callaghan writes about Amy Gomm and, her education Amy devotes an entire section of her memoir to talk about her experience of school.

Bronagh Haughey’s blog on Ellen Cooper provides an interesting read about Ellen’s time at Primary school and Sunday school.

Chris Kalogritas: shows how there was a shift in education which helped many children in the early 1900s through the eyes of the author Allen Hammond Chris has allowed readers to see its benefits.


Oates, Guy. The Years That Are Gone. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, Vol. 2.

Further Reading: 
Gagnier, Regenia. ‘Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.’ Victorian Studies 30.3 (1987): 335-363. 
Rogers, Helen and Emily Cuming, ‘Revealing Fragments: Close and Distant reading of Working-Class Autobiography’, Family & Community History, 21:3 (2019): 180-201.
Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47- 70. 
Savage, Mike. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Penguin, 2015.
Vincent, David. ‘Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class.’ Social History, 5.2 (1980): 223-247. 

Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s. London: Alan Lane, 1982.
Cookson, G. Archbishop Holgate’s Grammar School, York Front Drive. London: Buchanan, P.A. & Co.  N.d. Web. Accessed 8 April 2019.
‘Schools and colleges.’ A History of the County of York: the City of York, ed. P.M. Tillott. London: British History Online,
1961, Pg. 440-460. N.d. Web. Accessed 10 April 2019.
Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working-Class Autobiography. London: Methuen, 1981.

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