Thomas-y ramblings

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Out early this morning into the Ashford Hangers – daguerreotype shades initially as I climb up the muddy path, past black dog’s favourite pond (good dipping here) into the other green world where Edward Thomas loved to tramp.  A half hour’s climb in the half light is a tonic: imagine never wanting to come back to your home – to a cup of jasmine tea, the prospect of whatever ingenious notices our students will surprise me and my colleagues with and a varied, engaging day.

Walk in the Hangers to feel a bit Thomas-y;  saunter from Winchester to St Cross to feel a bit Keatsian, especially in this season hoping  that Autumn’s defining poem (“season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” etc) really was composed on that walk.  Having been born in the most unpoetic part of Britain (Fylde Coast), it is a constant delight to find myself in one of the most poetic places.  As usual, I wonder why I don’t do this every day.

A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t stop myself thinking about Thomas as I pick up an apple crossing the Orchard on the way to talk to the recently arrived Block 3s about some of the dos and don’ts of Bedales life.  Picking up the apple, a half-remembered line from a Thomas poem, which I taught decades ago, comes back into my head: “I cannot bite the day to the core”.  The Block 3s, being a responsive lot, come up with all available symbolic associations for the apple when I bring it into my talk – Apple (of course), temptation and experience.  Re-reading the E.T poem in question (The Glory) I am taken by his description of time – what sort of life must you be living if you find time “dreary-swift”?

But it is with the experience bit in mind, and the hope that the weekend really will be bitten to the core, that we set out on Badley Weekend – a combination of whole school efforts on Saturday at each of the three schools and the big community fair on Sunday, the weekend aims to be an example of John Badley’s founding principle of ‘Head, Hand and Heart’ in action.   It is an ambitious idea and each year we sit back and think hard about what worked and what didn’t.

Some of us would love to do more work in the whole school effort – once you get your method for filling your wheelbarrow with sand and steering it along the path, you do want to keep going.  Seeing the finished path (the Roman Road) and admiring not only what we did this year but also the fruits of our labours from last year, it is satisfying.   The community fair passes off very well – a big, different kind of effort where the work falls more on the staff than the students, but a good deal of money is raised for our three charities – Mencap, the King’s Arms and our own bursary fund, the John Badley Foundation.  Here are some photos to give you a flavour.

Next week, the big HMC (Headmasters and Headmistresses) conference that I have put together takes place in Belfast.  There are already some by-products of that event which will benefit Bedales  – more from there as the three days evolve.

The Glory

The glory of the beauty of the morning, –
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: –
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty’s presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day’s end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.

– Edward Thomas

Poetry Corners

WP_20141116_011 cropped

FT Weekend’s First Person article features David Hunt, who works at Tufnell Park tube station. He started writing poems on the service information board each day – in effect a poetry corner – at this granular Northern Line station a couple of years ago. It began with a Wendy Cope poem on Valentine’s Day; he tries to be topical but is carefully unpartisan. “We get requests too. Teachers really get into it – for some reason they like Keats.” The article ends: “We get people doing all sorts of odd things at the station. Chucking beer around, throwing up all over the place, but the poetry is sacrosanct – nobody touches it.”

Here it has been something of a sacrosanct, poetry corner kind of a weekend, starting on Saturday evening with Edward Thomas-inspired performances in the Lupton Hall by folk groups, 3 Cane Whale and Pedal Folk. The latter especially base much of their work around Thomas’ poetry and prose; much of their performance revolves around their own re-creation of Thomas’ journey from London to the Quantocks which they did on their bikes last year. Happily this jolly, quirky and folksy event takes place on the eve of our celebration of the 100th anniversary of the genesis of Edward Thomas’ first poem, Up in the Wind, which we are commemorating with a day of talks, tours, walks, sausage-eating and tree-planting. So on Sunday morning (dry and clear, phew!) 120 outdoor clad people gather in the Bedales theatre to hear Thomas-editor and expert, Dr Guy Cuthbertson talk about his life and poetic importance. Guy is followed by the heads of English from Bedales and Churcher’s, the Davids Anson and Cave, who focus their appreciation on the poem, March. Then, assisted by students from Churcher’s and Bedales, we are out on tour in Steep, visiting Thomas shrines: Yew Tree Cottage, the nearest thing that Edward and Helen Thomas had to a home, (where we admire a Lad’s Love bush and hear the poem Old Man which was based on that yew-like plant); the crossroads by the Cricketer’s (where we hear Aspens, the last poem he sent to his poetic mentor, Robert Frost); and then onto All Saints Church where we hear about the Thomas windows, both the original Whistler one and its recent replacement. Then off up to the Hangers, tracing the path that Thomas would have taken at least once daily, between Yew Tree Cottage and the little room/shed that he retained in the grounds of the Red House and where he used to write.

Having toiled up the Shoulder of Mutton (good visibility, hooray!) and admired the Red House (built by Lupton for Thomas but unloved by ET), we are whisked up to the White Horse, aka the Pub with no Name, where a specially invented Edward Thomas sausage, soup and a hearty bun await us, courtesy of Georgie Stuart and her team. Yet more importantly, the culminating, precious moments beckon: renowned Irish poet Michael Longley reads two of his own poems about Thomas – one features the diary which was found, ridged by the shell-blast that killed him at Arras in April 1917 – before handing over to his wife, Edna, the leading authority on Thomas. She talks about the genesis of the poet Edward Thomas from the renowned prose writer – “emerging from his prose chrysalis” in November 1914 with his first poem, Up in the Wind, which, inspired by his over-hearing of a conversation by the bar of the White Horse and shaped by Robert Frost’s belief that sentence sounds animate blank dialogue, led to what she describes as the Frostian eclogue of his first poem, which we now hear, performed by Michael and Edna.

So it is uncanny and unrepeatable, this moment in a marquee 100 years on to the day, hearing the Longleys, poet and critic, devotees to poetry, side by side on a dais by the pub which inspired a Keatsian poetic flowering of poems in the shadow of the Great War as they read this angular, anguished and curious first poem of our local, poetic hero. The finale of this celebratory day is, suitably for a poet who loved outdoors, in the pub’s garden as Edward’s great-granddaughter, Lucy Milner, plants a beech sapling to commemorate the start of this extraordinary, brief and prolific poetic journey.

IMG_1540 IMG_1561


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

For STEM read STEAM

Ivon Hitchens

Hats off to Edmund de Waal, author and ceramicist, and the Crafts Council. On Monday De Waal launched the Crafts Council manifesto – Our Future Is In the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making. Craft-related courses are under the cosh in schools and Art Colleges. De Waal points both to the £3.4 billion that craft skills generate for the UK economy and to the link between making and entrepreneurship, citing Josiah Wedgwood whose childhood experience as a potter was instrumental to his becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the eighteenth century. The manifesto places the A of Art amongst the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), pointing to its importance in careers such as Architecture – hence the re-fashioned acronym, STEAM.

This links in my mind with what I heard in the presentation given by the Bedales Schools’ Art departments to our governors on Friday. Bedales Head of Art, Simon Sharp talked about how the place was “a school of seeing where it was cool to be creative” and where, because of the strong emphasis on Art and Design in our prep school, Dunhurst, students coming through to the senior school established this culture whereby “there was no cynicism about the value of Art” and where students quickly accepted that “worry and struggle are part of it – if it’s easy it’s not Art”.

There are two current and vibrant examples of this: the Art auction, launched with a display last week of some of the most prominent work, including an Ivon Hitchens (pictured above), kindly donated to help raise money for our new Art & Design building and now online at Paddle8; and the Barnsley Workshop exhibition in the Gallery, which will be viewed amongst others by many of those attending the Edward Thomas event on Sunday, when we will celebrate his brief life of an associated kind of craft –  that of poetry.


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Creativity in China

On a British Council-sponsored visit to China, representing UK boarding and, via that, Bedales; so as I tap this it is early morning and I am sitting with my four headteacher colleagues  in the mother of all traffic jams in Dalian, up north on the coast (known in colonial times as Port Arthur) and, like most Chinese cities, a place of huge growth. Now it stands at about 6 million.  Most of our work us in and around Beijing but this is our excursion north to take our message to this increasingly affluent city.

Having spent some of my sabbatical in China in 2009, when Moony and I visited our partner school in Shanghai (Chuanshua) and then travelled more broadly, it is intriguing to see how things have shot on in the interim, not least in approaches to education. Yesterday we spent much of the day at Beijing No 80 High School. Situated in the Chaoyang district of Beijing and selected in 2010 as “an experimental school for the cultivation of innovative talents in Beijing”, it says much about the ambition of Chinese education. Using its international section as a way of making the school look outwards, it is throwing huge resources at teacher training and student exchanges. For example 300 teachers spent a month training in England this summer. The most intriguing part if the three hour conference we had there with local educators yesterday was the contribution of the boss of the Education Committee of the Chaoyang  district, which (to give you a sense of the scale) has 5 million people in it.  What became very clear is that the government is seeking to meet the growing appetite amongst the Chinese middle classes for a better global perspective through getting more of the educational world to come to it.  Also clear is the way in which schools like No 80 are taking seriously the need to make students think for themselves: expressions like lifelong learning and creative thinking abound.

All this is part of the Chinese “2020 plan”, set out in 2010, to prepare their students to compete better internationally  and for more to have the option of going to top foreign universities.  In recognition of the important work No 80 is doing, not only did they have us to visit, but also Premier Hu Jintao visited last year.

Even more enjoyable than the three hour conference or even the bewitching array of lunchtime dishes, was teaching an Edward Thomas poem (The Manor Farm) to a very orderly group of sixth formers.  The 35 students were very patient and receptive. We concluded with a shot of the memorial inscription about Thomas (“killed Arras…1917”) from the Poet’s Stone, which elicited a general, plaintive sigh – an endearing and memorable final moment.

Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

The buzz is back

Talk candidly to most people in my line of work – teachers and heads – and they will say that the thing they look forward to most as the summer holiday goes into its final phase is the return of the students. Induction of new staff is genial; the smell of fresh paint is cheering; INSET is fine – especially with great stuff from our Harvard researchers; and post exam analysis sessions with heads of department are important and instructive; but it is only when the students return that it all really starts to make sense and the place is fully energised again. The buzz is back. My first assembly on the Sunday evening has the stunning Edward Thomas short piece The End of Summer at its centre – no sign of that yet, but Dominic Oliver‘s exhortation to the Bedales students on the first morning back is perhaps more timely: it is Hwaet! – mainly as an exhortation to the troops but also as a tribute to Seamus Heaney: the first word in the great Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf, which Heaney made into his own poetic version, Hwaet can be rendered as Listen, Hark, Lo; Heaney, employs the word so and captures the sense that things are under way the moment it is said: likewise with the pace of a new term as drama auditions, sporting trials, first lessons and the other myriad happenings get under way: Hwaet!

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

A poetic day

Poetic day, Tuesday, waking up in an ancient wood above Ullswater to the honk of greylag and strong early morning sun on the water. The Block 3 campers, tired out with scary bed time stories and an instructor-led night walk around the lake’s edge, take some rousing and sorting; where there is grumpiness, it usually is dissipated by quiet coaxing of the Outward Bound instructors, the need for activity and, of course, the surroundings. Gold star for Zazu overnight, curled up in the porch of my tent. Back to Bedales to meet the Poetry Society and English department colleagues who have come to chat over supper with the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy and musician, John Samson. Having felt a bit nervous about how a combined poetry and music performance would work, the result for me is an enhancement of the poetry, whether that is through John’s intriguing musical interludes or his additions during the reading, for example the strains of the Christmas Carols that accompany Carol Ann’s poem about the Christmas truce of 1914.  The evening finishes with discussion about Edward Thomas in the White Horse where, arguably, Thomas’s poetic journey began.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Bedales set for Spring

Much PSHE in the Budge household – not just the fecund hens – but our black girl puppy Zazu reaches womanhood: now the horizon is scanned each walk for roving men dogs. Those previously innocent frisky play fights with other Bedales dog neighbours – Otto Coates, for example – pose a threat. Happily, at least as of this morning, Otto remains in the age of innocence and the puppyish frisking continues. With the new lime trees planted at the front of the school and the apple trees in the Orchard, we are set for Spring proper. Additional backdrop for me is All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis’  poignant account of Edward Thomas’ relationships – with Steep, Frost (poet) and war – quite an insight on all counts, but very unfrisky.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.