A Lasting Legacy, Michael Raw’s New History of Sedbergh School: 1525-2025

The late Michael Raw, History Master 1984 – 2015, was commissioned before his death to write a new history of Sedbergh School as part of the 500 anniversary celebrations of the school. Michael rose to the challenge magnificently and was near competition of this scholarly and engaging project when he sadly died suddenly last May. Michael had been interviewed at Easter 2023 about the process of writing the book and which aspects of the history he most enjoyed. Here we share a few excerpts from that interview.

500 years is a long time to cover. What preparation did you undertake before putting pen to paper? 

I did a lot of reading and thinking. I read several histories of other schools in order to glean ideas about how, and how not, to set about my own task. For example, I read a beautifully written institutional history of Stonyhurst which I thought said too little about the “inner life” of the school, that is, its music and drama, its sports and the activity of its societies. I read a history of my own school, Haberdashers’ Aske’s, which I felt was too brief and left out too much. I tackled some of the vast literature about Eton College and found “Eton Voices” by Danny Danziger to be the most lively and interesting. 

I thought long and hard about the likely readership of the “History” and how that should influence the structure and content of the book. I have imagined that the readership will be almost entirely Sedberghian and that each reader will turn first to the pages that cover his or her years at the school and expect to see his or her own interests covered adequately. That is quite a tall order which I have striven to satisfy! 

What sources of information have you used? 

As well as the commonly known Sedbergh history books of the past, I read a most interesting and eloquent book entitled “Almae Matres” published by Sedbergh’s former headmaster Mr. F. B. Malim in 1948. It includes a chapter on Sedbergh. He recalls the landscape in a most eloquent way and suggests its importance to the character of the school and to Sedberghians. I used one or two published memoirs, such as “A Shaft of Sunlight” by Philip Mason, a pupil in the early 1920s, and “To Earth with a Bump” by R.C. Spoor, a pupil in the late 1940s. Past staff, particularly Headmasters, were most generous contributing their thoughts and recollections, and of course the governors minutes and house magazines were very helpful. “The Sedberghian” magazine is an indispensable source for that “inner life” of the school.

Some of the period covered includes events that have occurred in living memory. How have you approached dealing with issues that some readers will have differing memories of? 

This is an important question. For reference, I was head of history at Sedbergh from 1984 to 2015, so my own memory goes back quite a long way, and others’ memories go further. A principle I set myself from the start was to be as objective as possible and not swamp the reader with the (probably unwanted) “thoughts of Michael Raw.” Nonetheless, it would be futile, and dishonest, to maintain that my own interests and judgements do not inform the book to some extent.  As for more recent events which I and others lived through and remember, I have tried to mask my own memories and judgement and work, as an empirical historian should, from the sources. Some readers will think that I have failed, but I have tried. Moreover, I think that historical understanding advances and is sharpened by disagreement as much as by agreement. It may be true to say that the book will have failed if every reader sits nodding his head from time to time and muttering “yes, I agree with that.” If a reader disagrees with what I have written, even if he does so vehemently, at least he will have been obliged to consider and work out his own alternative interpretation of events to set against mine. 

Have you learnt anything about the school that has surprised you? 

Yes. I was surprised by how young many of the early headmasters were at the time of their appointment and by how many of them suffered either physical or mental breakdown. For example, William Broxholme who was headmaster for just four years, 1742-1746, barricaded himself in his room and refused to see anyone on school business. Wynne Bateman (1746-1782) was one of Sedbergh’s three great scholarly headmasters in the 18th century. But his tenure ended badly. He suffered from gout and was subjected to all sorts of indignities by the town’s population. He was also rumoured to use “certain old books” to dabble in sorcery and magic in the school library.  

I was surprised that epidemics occurred regularly because of poor sanitation well into the 1960s. In one house, for example, there were no washbasins near the lavatories until 1965. As a result, gastro-enteritis was endemic. 

I was also surprised that, although house plays and staff plays had established places in the school’s calendar, there no all-school productions staged save for grimly predictable versions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas until the late 1970s. The proficiency of the school’s music and art was developed much earlier.  

A special opportunity to be part of Sedbergh School history

The History of Sedbergh School 1525 – 2025 is available to pre-order at a reduced price of £40. There is also a special and time limited opportunity for purchasers to be featured in the book.

It was the wish of author, Michael Raw, that the book be used to raise funds for a Roger Lupton Scholarship. Such scholars are children of exceptional talent for whom a Sedbergh education is not financially possible. Sadly, Michael died prior to publication of the book, however the School has honoured Michael’s wish by creating the opportunity for members of the wider school community to contribute to a Roger Lupton Scholarship in Michael’s name.

This special opportunity is available at pre-sale only and costs £110 including the price of the book, packing and postage and includes a donation to a Roger Lupton Scholarship of £70. All contributors will have their names included on the inside cover of the book and so be forever a part of this historical record. This opportunity is only available until March 2024 when the list of supporters will be given to the publishers to include in the book, making them part of the history of the school, whilst helping a child access everything that a Sedbergh education offers.

To purchase the book, either with or without the opportunity to feature in the book while helping a Roger Lupton Scholar please follow this link.

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