In 2011 Westminster School Archive was fortunate to acquire the journals of Lawrence Tanner, who was a pupil here between 1905 and 1909.
The journals provide a vivid insight into school life at the beginning of the 20th Century, at a time which is often now felt to have been the height of the public school system.
Tanner’s entries cover a wide range of subjects. Everyday occurrences, from petty squabbles, managing his fags and concerns over his role as Head of House, receive detailed coverage. However, Tanner had a keen interest in local history and current events. He mentions issues of national importance such as women’s suffrage and the Irish question, and investigates the past of his boarding house, the school and Westminster Abbey. Accounts of school customs, such as the Greaze and the Latin Play, can seem startlingly familiar, whilst Tanner’s preoccupation with maintaining school hierarchies may feel rather priggish and old-fashioned. I hope that readers find that the journal enhances their understanding of what it was like to be at Westminster School over 100 years ago.
Lawrence Tanner was born within sight of Westminster Abbey at 53, Vincent Square on 12th February 1890. A few months before his birth, his father, Ralph Tanner, then assistant classical master at Westminster School, was offered the post of Grant’s Housemaster. By the date of Lawrence’s baptism, by Dean Bradley in Henry VII’s chapel, the family had moved into No. 2, Little Dean’s Yard. In Lawrence’s time the Housemaster and his family lived on the ground and first floors of what is now Grant’s House, with the boys’ dormitories occupying the floors above. Lawrence officially attended the school between 1905 and 1909. Although he wrote journal entries across these five years, the most complete and detailed accounts cover his final year 1908-9, when he was also Head of House.
Tanner’s journals were presented to the school by Enid Nixon, who had acquired them from her late husband, Howard Nixon, Lawrence Tanner’s colleague and friend for many years. Excerpts have already been published by Tanner himself, in his work ‘Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary’.
In transcribing the diary the aim has been to remain as faithful to Tanner’s original text as possible, whilst occasionally correcting spelling and inserting grammar to ensure his meaning remains clear. As the entries are often extensive, the Archivist has acted as editor and presented sections of Tanner’s original text. Missing passages are indicated by an ellipsis. Occasionally explanations have been inserted using square brackets and there are links to the Glossary and Who’s Who pages on this site to assist the reader. There are also links to other relevant websites which provide further information thought to be of value. We can take no responsibility for the content of these external websites.
Tanner’s journal was originally serialized in 2011-12 on Westminster School’s intranet pages. It was decided to make this content publicly available during 2012-13 as its subject matter is likely to attract broader interest. In order that Tanner’s school year ran in line with the Westminster School year entries from the journal were published a few days in advance of their calendar date. The serialization was completed in July 2013, but the journal has been retained online as a permanent resource.
The Archivist, Elizabeth Wells, would like to thank the following for their assistance and advice with this project: Isabella Ramchandani, Dan Minghella, Dr Alan Borg, Dr Stephen Spurr, Tom Edlin, Diarmid Tanner, Anthony Sheehy, Richard Hindley, Christine Reynolds and Tony Trowles. Of course, the greatest thanks are due to Lawrence Tanner himself, for both keeping such a wonderful journal and his enduring work developing the archives at Westminster.