Chapter XIV

The Literary and Debating Society


THIS SOCIETY, the oldest in the school, was founded in 1890. There had been a debating society earlier but it had become defunct.

In my early days, the society met every Monday after school in the winter and spring terms. Now it meets on alternate Mondays.

The society gives excellent training; many of its members have later distinguished themselves at Oxford and Cambridge and other universities.

MR. H. W. SERPELL was the first Honorary President I knew. He held the post for 32 years and presided over more than 500 meetings. Mr. A. Birch followed him, in 1944 Mr. H. K. Black became President. May the society long flourish under his guidance.

In addition to other officials, there is always the Honorary Bee-keeper. I have always been rather puzzled about the origin of this! The official was often called on to give a report about the health of the bees and, if required, had to produce some honey!

Mr. Serpell’s régime was a flourishing one, most of the meetings I attended were in his time.

I think I enjoyed best the impromptu debates; but I always longed to draw a blank from the hat. I was nervous in those days, it was an ordeal to have to make a speech. I appreciated the amusing rubbish in the debates. One was, “That periwinkles are poisoning the Caspian Sea”. I remember that Bishop A. M. Hollis, as a young Old Leodiensian, made a most amusing speech. Another: “That the colour of trees should be changed from green to red”.

Once I had to propose the motion, “This Society welcomes the proposal of the Bishop of Ripon to close laboratories for 10 years.” In the school magazine it was reported that I said I did this out of respect for the Bishop. Comment: “We suspect, however, that it was because she received a piece of paper, with something written upon it!”

There have always been most interesting lectures, sometimes illustrated by lantern or epidiascope, set debates, and play readings. The last are probably now confined to the Dramatic Society, very much junior to the Literary and Debating Society.

Mr. Serpell was a most efficient President, tactful and courteous, with a keen sense of humour, though he generally had a serious expression. He was a lovable and wise guide of the society.

DURING MY LAST 12 months at school, the Literary and Debating Society discovered that a certain date to come was the 500th meeting since I first addressed the Society, so they did me the honour of asking me to speak to them of my memories of ‘those days’, when I had first attended the meetings. I found I could not speak for an hour about the Literary and Debating Society as it was, in spite of the numerous minute books which R. J. Morrish—whose courtesy I shall always remember—lent me. So I followed my memories of the society with general reminiscences. Many appear in this book but not all. There are several tales I would not dare to put into print, in spite of their being very amusing.

ON 24TH MARCH 1953, after I had retired, the Society celebrated its 1,000th meeting since it was formed in 1890. The Honorary President (H. K. Black, Esq.), honoured me by inviting me. The Junior Library was packed, the meeting was inspiring and also amusing. The motion was: “That this House would welcome a return to the good old days.” The motion was lost by a large majority. I did not help to lose it! One speaker asked how far back were the good old days. I certainly should not have wanted to have things as they were in the Middle Ages.

Many distinguished Old Leodiensians were there, including Professor F. H. Lawson, and we received messages and congratulations from many others, including Bishop A. M. Hollis in India. We had a message, recorded on a gramophone, from C. H. Serpell, Esq., now the Washington correspondent of the B.B.C. Christopher Serpell was once secretary of the society. Mr. Burrell was present, he was, I believe, the first secretary of the society.

When the debate was over we had what small boys would call a ‘super’ supper. The domestic staff really rose to the occasion: they always put in a great deal of hard work to feed people on various occasions. The Taylors were most efficient in this way, as are the Metcalfes now.

The Health of the Society was proposed by T. W. Ainsworth, Esq., the Honorary President responded. P. T. Jones, the youngest member present, proposed the health of the guests, H. S. Wilkinson, Esq. (Secretary in 1895 to 1896), responded.

I felt extremely proud to be at that meeting, which was indeed a red-letter occasion. The minutes were written in red ink!


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