It is common knowledge that Bishop Vesey’s is a school with an abundance of history, having been founded in 1527. Whilst many of the early records may be lost to time, some still survive to this day. There are copies of the “Veseyan”, a termly magazine, still in the school dating back to the very early 20th century which gave us a good look into school life. So what was BVGS like one hundred years ago?
There are many societies at BVGS and one that has withstood the test of time - The Debating Society. In 1920 the debating society actually held its first meeting on Friday 26th November with its first motion being “That Labour is now fit to govern”. Throughout the year they also had many more interesting topics to debate, like corporal punishment, prohibition and how detrimental the state of Ireland was to the prestige of the British Empire. The Debating Society still exists nowadays and students are avid participants in a variety of debates.
One eye-catching piece of information found in the 1920 edition of The Veseyan was the existence of another group: The Society of Crabs and Tadpoles. Societies have existed for centuries and so it is no surprise BVGS had a quirky one of its own. This society, was related to sports, in particular, football. There were two teams, the Crabs and the Tadpoles, which played matches regularly within school, in a friendly competitive nature which still exists in Vesey Culture today.
Students also had the opportunity to take part in cadets and shooting practice. Many pupils took part in cadets, forming the ‘company’ known as the ‘Cadet Corps’ which is mentioned in the Veseyan. They worked on various exercises, from routine work on the Parade ground to performing public duties elsewhere. The cadets also took a yearly trip to the August Camp in Marlborough. Though the trip in 1920 was cancelled due to an outbreak of mumps. Shooting practice took place under the watchful eye of the Colonel, to whom, the Corps’ good record, is owed.
The Winter 1920 edition of The Veseyan heartily reports:
‘The Honourable Society of Crabs and Tadpoles.
The football season has so far been a success. Apart from a few wet days at the beginning of term we have been favoured with excellent weather. This has permitted regular play throughout the term. Without such regularity of practice and the great keenness of both the Tadpoles and Crabs, the Juniors would not have attained such excellent results, especially in their contest with the Seniors.
In spite of the fact that Shelley II- the Tadpole Captain- has been absent for half the term, his side has more than held its own against the Crabs, who have been Captained by Ready.
The Crab and Tadpole matches have been three in number so far- three draws and a win for the Tadpoles. The great event of the term was the match against the Seniors, in which the Juniors won their laurels. From the onlooker’s point of view it is hard to withhold admiration for the performance of the team taken as a whole. Individual faults there were, notably in the forward line, but the combination was excellent and the backing-up very good.’
Over the last 101 years the number of students at Vesey has grown massively. In 1920 there were only 249 pupils in the whole school, spread across the three houses: Red, Blue and White, all of which would have been boys as girls weren’t accepted into the sixth form until 1983. Today there are 1,250 students spread across six houses, two which, Purple and Emerald, were created in the past five years.
House competitive spirit, although still curated to this day through House Competitions (House Spelling, Rugby and Languages in this term alone) was incredibly strong in the 1920s. In every edition of The Veseyan there was a ‘House Report’ from each House regarding how they had performed in the past term. In the Winter Term of 1920, Red house won the Hockey Shield with its first team playing “exceptionally”. White house came second and Blue house came last which was put down to their forwards’ “inability to score”.
Of course, it is impossible to mention ‘101 years ago’ without mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic which spread across the world in 2020 and continues to dominate global and national events of 2021. It is hard to imagine how Bishop Vesey's Grammar School of 1920 would and could have reacted to the pandemic: with the internet and mobile technologies being so critical in enabling both work and a semblance of social contact to contune during three national lockdowns. In 2020, BVGS hosted all of its annual events on an online platform: Founder’s Day, Remembrance Service, Speech Night, Leavers’ Assembly as well as regular asssemblies to all year groups. The Veseyan of 1920 reports that the Speech Night then was: ‘held in the Christmas Term, and a very large gathering of parents and friends were assembled to witness the prize distribution’, quite different to the virtual affair for the 2020 Speech Night at BVGS.
With primitive technological infrastructure existing in 1920, compared to the wealth we experience today, it is difficult to imagine how BVGS would have maintained a sense of Vesey Community or a provision of education for its students, were COVID-19 to have occurred 100 years ago.
However, something which we can deduce from this comparison is though the school has undergone and borne witness to many changes over the past 101 years, the Vesey spirit and school has endured. Long may this continue.