The Mystery of the Clock Tower Graffiti

Posted: 24th February 2021

Clockwork Tower

Our resident archivist, John Brown, who has worked at Taunton School since 1975, has been investigating the recent discovery of graffiti in the clock tower of the main school building.

A recent foray into the clock tower revealed some interesting graffiti on the walls of the lower room below the tower itself.  There are several dozen signatures of pranksters of mostly older generations who somehow managed to penetrate the normally locked trap door on the top landing to leave their mark for posterity.

A search for some of the names in old school registers has shown many to be genuine. The oldest appears to be that of F. G. Eashmond of Devon and dates from 1883-6, only about 15 years after the school’s main building was opened.  Frank Gregory Eashmond from Tiverton is listed in the earliest school register held in the archive.

The periods with the most names seem to be just after the First World War and around WW2.  Perhaps these were times of laxer security; we know that during air raids in WW2, boys had to leave their rooms and bed down in the main corridor. Did a few daredevils use the general confusion for a quick trip up the tower?  One interesting name is that of evacuee G Edmonds  KSR 1940.  King’s School, Rochester in Kent was one of the schools evacuated to Taunton for most of the war.  Another intriguing signature is that of  K A  Coles  (1936-41).  Ken Coles was a day boy, so this may have been a daytime raid!  He was still living in Staplegrove in old age and I recall him as an active member of Staplegrove Church.  Unfortunately he died in 2016 so we are unable to ask him about his schoolboy escapade.

clocktower graffiti at Taunton schoolThere are several names which cannot be traced in any registers, which raises the question whether these might be young domestic staff, many of whom lived in during the 19th and early 20th century. Some of these were not much older than the pupils and probably just as much up for a dare – which admittedly might have cost them their job.  Two scrawls –  ‘A Hooper, Porter, 1904’ and ‘S Holmore, Porter at Fairwater  1925-35’  would seem to confirm this theory.  Two others, with the precise date of 27th April 1931, are J Hawker and J Huxtable, who have added  ‘of Taunton’  after their signatures, suggesting perhaps the town rather than the School.   Certainly both are absent from contemporary registers.

There was obviously a greater opportunity for nocturnal visits to the tower for boys in houses accommodated in the main building – School House and Winterstoke.  However the latter was a junior house for boys under 14 who were perhaps less likely to go on night jaunts than older teenagers.  From 1918-21 Fairwater was also housed in the main building for various reasons which may explain some Fairwater names from that era.  A list of four friends (Walters, Nash, Besley and Owen) survives as a joint scrawl from 1919, when all were aged 17 or 18.  Of these, Nash and Besley were from Fairwater, Owen from Thone (a senior house then) and Lewis Walters was a School House Prefect – shame!

The shortage of names from the last 50 years suggests that tightened security had made access to the tower more difficult.   Certainly as a resident master in School House for many years, I recall the trap door always being firmly padlocked, making the prank well-nigh impossible – though I wouldn’t have been surprised at some of the boys of that era having a go.  There is a 1981 name – C Hawker (unidentified)  and just one from the 21st century, that of J Soper in 2012.  This appears to be Jeremy Soper of Evans who was in the Lower Sixth in 2012.  An adjacent scrawl mentioning You Tube suggests the graffiti are genuine.  If so, was this another daytime escapade and how did he gain access?  Had he found the trap door open whilst some maintenance was being carried out and seized his chance?  Some day we must ask him!

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