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News > Heritage > St Andrew's Day - 30th November

St Andrew's Day - 30th November

Looking back at how the College celebrated St Andrew's Day in the early years
30 Nov 2020
St Andrew's College 1865 from the Illustrated London News
St Andrew's College 1865 from the Illustrated London News

St Andrew's College as it was originally called, took its name from the ancient parish church in the village and was so called until 1870 when it became known as Bradfield College. Hence the significance of the Saint's day to the school. From the very beginning of the College in 1850, St Andrew’s Day was one of the most joyful and important celebrations in the school year and originally marked with a great bonfire and fireworks display.

From JO Scott’s recollections:

‘A great bonfire with fireworks was the custom…It was a grand sport. A vast quantity of faggots was brought from the woods and piled up at the NW corner of the playing-fields. Squibs and crackers were distributed freely among all the boys and masters and a certain number secured Roman candles. Everyone was squibbed without distinction and assembled villagers were bombarded with Roman candles. A certain number of burns resulted and one of the masters had his coat destroyed…’

After one too many dangerous incidents, the focus of the day was changed from 1858 onwards to centre around dramatic performances in Hall, usually a Shakespeare play followed by a light farce.

Leach writes, ’Happy the boys who were privileged to take part, and what heart-burnings there were among those who were not! About a week before vigorous preparations were made to decorate the Hall. Parties of boys would sally forth, and return with great bundles of ivy and holly, which were stacked in the lobby …to the detriment of those who kept their caps and gowns there. Out of the evergreens we constructed long and heavy festoons, which hung from pillar to pillar, and gave the Hall a decidedly festive appearance.’

Another great treat on St Andrew's Day and one for which there are numerous accounts, was ice-skating.  One master writes in 1899: ‘On St Andrew’s Day, 1856 the lake in Englefield Park was frozen hard, & the school, masters and boys, skated and slid there for a great part of the day.’ During this period the UK was at the tail end of the 'little ice age' where temperatures were on average rather lower than they are now. Even as late as the 1940's, skating at Englefield Park was still a Bradfield tradition when conditions allowed and most boys had their own skates.

By the 1880s Old Bradfieldian’s were invited back to the school to play an annual football match against Bradfieldians, after which dinner was served in hall with a great many speeches that were often published in the Chronicle. It was certainly one of the most joyous occasions in the College calendar and one which must have helped the boys get through many a freezing cold November in unheated dormitories.

From the 1901 Chronicle: ‘Of the proceedings themselves little need be recorded, for there is fortunately little of the formality of a function about them. After luncheon in Big School… those who trusted in the stoutness of their boots watched the skilful line of Waif forwards trampling in the mire the other invincible school team… After dinner in Hall, where over a hundred sat down, the Warden welcomed his guests …and said he was he was especially glad to see …so many survivors of the late war. Some might say that happy was the school that had no history. But Bradfield was making history, and though we regarded the past with gratitude, we looked forward to the future with abounding confidence.’

With OB attendees meticulously listed in the Chronicle every year, St Andrew’s Day fast became one of the most fun-filled and important events for keeping in touch with OBs and, perhaps more significantly, an opportunity to encourage Old Boys to contribute financially to new College projects, thereby ensuring that Bradfield continued to thrive.

Below are some photos of early drama programmes and an invitation to St Andrew’s Day handwritten by the Headmaster from 1867 when there was a Scarlatina outbreak.


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