Period: Mid/Late Victorian
Date: c.1870 & later
Depth: 30” (all at top)
The unusual oak refectory table having a three-plank top with extensive chiselled graffiti, with names and initials of numerous English school boys, the earliest date at 1873 through to 1897, the later married base having turned baluster trestles, sledge feet and a moulded stretcher, the whole surviving from the Victorian period.
The fact the boards have survived in nigh on original condition is very pleasing and there is a good patina to the oak and no losses to speak of. The base is a later marriage and the timber is of the same period. One of the four sledge bases is slightly truncated, there is expected wear and shrinkage cracks to the top as photographed, the boards when reused, having four similarly sized round knot holes plugged which are visible as per the photographs. It is sturdy and ready for use and we have given it a light wax.
The names inscribed to the top include Baring, Brocklebank, Buxton, Elliot, Buckley, Godsal, Knowles, French-Blake, Hoare, Fairbairn, Warburton, Umley and many others, with dates mainly being 1896 and 1897 with one being earlier at 1873.
Lids and table tops were the primary graffitied objects in schools in this period. The graffiti here is carved with a tool fit for the purpose, probably a wood chisel which leaves a characteristic wedge-shaped groove in the hard oak.
A poem, published in The Radleian in 1890, describes how to spend the time between 5.30 and 6.30pm ‘almost the only hour many fellows get to themselves all day:’
I scream, I hoot, I whistle,
In gossip I rejoice;
I talk the last school scandal,
I love my own sweet voice.
I cut the desks and hack them,
I feel the thirst for fame;
I carve in two-inch letters
My valuable name.
These are ownership marks, or memorial inscriptions for public consumption; they are not about rebellion, moreover the relationship between schoolboy and classroom, and between schoolboy and teacher…. the temporary and the permanent; anonymity and making your mark.
A unique table that never gets tiresome.