Thursday, 10 February 2011

"A Bishop storm-tossed on the ocean"

At The Growlery - Bizarrest, bizarrer, and merely bizarre... - Felix Grant just mentioned his three school songs. Being of similar vintage and educational background, I also went to a school that had a song, but a custom-written one. They didn't sing it much when I was there, in the last few years before it went comprehensive and ditched the old Grammar School traditions, but I found it at Ian Henden's website and decided to mirror it here as it seems otherwise little-documented online.

Gosport County Grammar School Song

When down the swift tide of life we are gliding
Days of our childhood left far behind
Oft in fond mem'ry Rises a picture
Calling thoughts joyful or sad to the mind
What strikes the chord of so sweet recollection?
Sportsfield and classroom, the disciplined rule
Triumphs and failures Companions so faithful
Scene of life's springtime, the School!


So in chorus old and young
Cheerily sing! Let it ring!
Comrades faithful, true and strong
Let it rise! To the skies!
Staunch in fair and stormy weather
Join with heart and voice together
Side by side, companions ever
To the end.

Where once a Bishop storm-tossed on the ocean
Sought peace and rest on Alwara's shore
By the historic Waters of Solent
Rises our School, may it flourish e'er more
Long through the years may its praises be sounded
If past and present we make it our rule
Whether in work or in pastime the contest
Ever to strive for the School!


Then when our schooldays are o'er, and reluctant
Leave we at last its sheltering care
Shaping our course by worthy traditions
Calmly good fortune or evil we'll bear
And in the struggle for fame and position
With heart undaunted and courage e'er cool
Playing the game we will put into practice
Lessons we learnt at the School!


It's a good tune but moderately challenging; at least as pitched in his MIDI, it goes right to the top of my range. According to Dave Mack's alumni site (currently down - see archive) the tune was written by Ernest Douglass (from Dictionary of organs and organists (1912): Organist Holy Trinity, Gosport, 1893-9; St. Mary's, Alverstoke, Gosport, since 1899. Conductor Gosport and Alverstoke Choral Society) and the words by S H Barker, B. Litt.

The lyrics are a masterwork of stiff-upper-lip cliché, very much the kind of thing Tom Lehrer ridiculed in Bright College Days, and the "When down the swift tide of life we are gliding" line distinctly recalls Lehrer's "sliding down the razor-blade of life", and indeed our own parody recalled by Derek Ive in a HantsWeb thread:

When down the school bannisters we are sliding
Seats of our trousers left far behind,
Oft in memory rises a splinter
Calling thoughts painful and sad to the mind.
Who is it waits at the bottom to catch you,
Tells you you've broken the discipline rule?
One of the prefects - companions so faithful -
Inhabitants of the school.

The second verse of the song refers to a Victorian-originated founding myth for the town of Gosport (whose real etymology is most likely "Goose-port"): a claimed derivation iconised on the town's old crest as "God's port, our haven" - a motto said to have been coined by either King Stephen or his brother Henry de Blois after safe delivery from shipwreck. As described in The origins of Gosport by Philip Eley, the story arose from a piece of doubtful scholarship, probably by Henry Slight, published in the Hampshire Telegraph in 1811. Despite doubts expressed by Robert Mudie in his 1838 Hampshire: The northern, eastern, and southern slopes, and the New Forest, various 19th century gazetteers swallowed the anecdote whole.  ("Alwara" was the lady of the manor of what is now Alverstoke).

- Ray


  1. At the "British single sex school" to which I referred (and which I detested, not only for the time I endured it but on to the present day) we too had a specific custom written song ... but memory has drawn a merciful veil over it! [grin] Do I want to rediscover it? No doubt a quick web search would restore it to me but I couldn't as easily divest myself of it again!

    The mention of prefects in your parody brought back the memory that there were not only prefects but, above them, "observators" – sort of senior prefects, few in number, wearing gowns and mortar boards like the staff.

  2. OK ... following my previous comment, I succumbed ... the detested "British single sex school" from my mid teens did, indeed, have its own custom written song, though it called it a "psalm"(!).

    As soon as I saw the first line, the tune sprang back fully formed into my head. But now I've moved away from the page, I find that it has slipped from my mind again – so my fears of haunting would appear groundless :-)

    Its words paint an idealised and factually lax picture of the school's history.

  3. Third, afterthought comment to complete the circle...

    Despite my detestation of that particular school, I still second your preference for imperfect and bizarre British nonsense over US style phi beta cabbage...

  4. Jeremy Hummerstone18 February 2011 at 09:23

    When travelling on a coach to anywher we combined two songs thus:
    Forty years on, when afar and asunder
    Parted are those who are singing today,
    When you look back and forgetfully wonder
    What you were like in your work and your play.
    Cigarettes and whisky and wild, wild women -
    They drive you crazy, they drive you insane.