When Godwin school went to Paris - 1912

Monday, 27 February 2017

We have featured the history of Godwin school over a number of posts., over recent months (see here, here, here, here, and here for details). One of the most memorable events in that 130 year history is when a choir from the school visited, and won two first prizes, in a singing competition in Paris, in June 1912 (see here) for reference to this.

The competition was well covered, over a number of editions by the Stratford Express at the time. We are extremely fortunate that they published a diary of the Godwin visit, written by one of the staff accompanying the pupils.  We reproduce this diary, in full, below.

The 150 West Ham children (including
 50 from Godwin) on the steps
 of Vincennes Town Hall
Wrapped around this verbatim account of this visit, we provide some context.  This is a lengthy post - but a fascinating snapshot of a quite extraordinary event in the history of Godwin school, and some of its pupils.

Context of the competition

Stratford Express headline of a very
 detailed account of the Paris trip
The Stratford Express of 29 May provided the context of the visit:

One hundred and fifty boys and girls have been taken to Paris this Whitsun. They feel they have been somewhere, have seen something, and they certainly have had an experience the memory of which will live with them for as long as they live.
 Beckton Road Girls' school, Godwin Road Boys school and St Paul's Boys school had the honour of supplying each a choir of 50 voices to represent West Ham in the great International Music Festival organised by the Paris municipal authority ...
In all there were some twenty thousand entries from England and the Continent for the various choir and band contests, but none were more eager and expectant than the children from our elementary schools.
 To visit Paris was an idea almost too good to be true and it can easily be understood that the long-looked-for journey, with all its experiences, has filled the minds of all the fortunate children who formed the special choirs of their respective schools.

What follows, below, is a fascinating verbatim account of the trip to Paris, from the Godwin perspective, penned in the Stratford Express, by an unknown teacher (there were only 3 on the trip, Mr Herbert, the Head, Mr Earle, the choir master and a Mr May).

Godwin Road in Paris Day by Day

The long-looked-for visit to Paris has come and gone, and not a hitch of any kind has occurred to mar the pleasure of the success of the project. Godwin went primarily to sing, but much more has been done, and the pleasant remembrances of the visit will remain in the memories of those who took part for many years to come.

The boys and their teachers lined up at Forest Gate station at a quarter to seven on Saturday morning, and many parents of the boys came to see the choir off, and wish the party bon voyage. At Liverpool Street two buses were waiting to convey the boys to Holborn Viaduct. By a quarter past eight the Godwin party was comfortably settled in two saloon carriages communicating with each other and at 8.25 the train started in highest spirits.

The ride to Folkestone was of great interest and pleasure to the boys who showed themselves keenly anxious to see Chislehurst, where Napoleon III resided after the Franco-German war on 1870. Arriving at Folkestone at 10.15, the party with other West Ham schools, went aboard the Empress, which also conveyed the LCC (ed: London County Council) choirs to Boulogne. It was a brilliant morning, the sea was smooth, and things augured well for a grand crossing.

The air was keen and invigorating, but soon signs of mal-de-mer began to manifest themselves among some of the boys. As we neared Boulogne a slight twisting pitch and roll made it necessary for some of the youngsters to go below. But the scene at Boulogne harbour soon pulled everybody together, and put the boys in the highest of spirits. The quay was lined with French; bands played the National Anthem and the Marseillaise by turns, and indeed everybody seemed en faite to welcome Les Anglaise.
One of the first sites in France to greet
the boys - a near contemporary post card
 of Boulouge-Sur-Mer railway station

When the boys were seated in the Paris train, His Worship the Mayor of West Ham (Mr Alderman JP Hurry), and those accompanying him, worked with the teachers like Trojans (ed: for American readers: not what you are thinking!)in distributing lunches to the West Ham schools. While this was going on, the French dames distributed dolls, flags and favours to the youngsters, and scenes of wild enthusiasm prevailed everywhere.

Godwin's section of the train stood opposite the entrance to the buffet, and here a group of French and English stood listening to the remarks of the young people. Very amusing it was, after some of the boys had been "chipping" them for some time to hear the French manager retort with: "Get your hair cut and sing up". This was the signal for the boys to pipe out the Marseillaise.

In a short time the train steamed out of Boulogne station and the first idea of the French country occupied the attention of the boys. The first stopping place was Amiens. Here many alighted to stretch their legs, but soon the train was off again.

As the party proceeded, the attention of the children was called to the historic incidents of the district, such as the battles of Crecy and Agincourt and the crossing of the Somme by the English under Edward III. Nothing of importance occurred from Amiens to Paris, and the party contented themselves by looking out on the well-wooded and cultivated country.

Arriving at the Gare-du-Nord about 5 o'clock, Godwin's party was met by Mr Lawler, the English master at the Institute Commercial, where the boys were to be put up at Vincennes, about four miles outside Paris. His services during the whole of the visit were invaluable, and most generously accorded.

Vincennes Town Hall today
 - a French listed building
leaving the Gare-du-Nord, following the placard "Godwin Road School" a dense crowd was encountered. It soon appeared that it was impossible to find a tram to convey the boys to Vincennes, and Mr J T Meadows-Smith, secretary of the British Chamber of Commerce, Paris very kindly came forward and accompanied us to the Place de la Republique.

The party alighted at the Institute. Here a royal reception awaited the boys. "Welcome", in huge letters, was over the entrance, drums were beat, and the young foreigners prepared to get settled into their new conditions.

On Sunday morning all were up early, for the municipalite of Paris had arranged for the West Ham schools to go down the Seine to St Cloud at 9 o'clock.  Breakfast over and prayers having been said, the boys started for the Hotel de Ville, from which point the schools were to embark. Here they were met by Mr Boumaire, the agent of the festival, our Mayor and Councillors, and the others accompanying the children. As the boats proceeded down the Seine to St Cloud, our destination, the various buildings of interest were pointed out.

A near-contemporary photo of Notre Dame,
 as the boys would have seen it.
Our Mayor, busy as usual for the good of the West Hammers was occupied by changing the boys' money into the French coinage. On the return the other schools were on the first boat, and so Godwin alone occupied the second, and the boys enjoyed themselves well, as they well know how to do.

In the afternoon a reception was held at the Town hall, Vincennes. Our Mayor, robed at the "Institute" and the members of the party followed by the boys of St Paul's and Godwin proceeded to the Town Hall. On the steps of the building, the two schools lined up on either side, while the Mayor's procession entered.

At the reception speeches of good cheer were made, and the school children of the various schools sang. Godwin's item was Wake up, my merry masters, all. The room was getting very crowded and Godwin's choir retired to the vestibule, and resumed their position later on the steps to meet the return of our Mayor, who, by the way, expressed the sentiments of the entente cordiale in such kindly terms that one of the French dignitaries said afterwards he felt ready to cry with joy.

To leave the boys for a moment, at the dinner of the house-party in the Institute, Mr Herbert, the head master proposed the toast to the Director of the Institute, Dr J Delapace O.I. and expressed the gratitude of the visitors for the good feeling manifested towards them, and at the same time reciprocating it on behalf of those located in the Institute.

Later Godwin's choir sang a number of hymns and Crossing the bar, an elaborate composition by Mr FE Wilson FRCO, of Ilford, a former teacher of Godwin, who was also one of the party.

Monday was a great day for sight-seeing, so far as Godwin was concerned, for Mr Herbert had arranged for a drive for the boys around Paris.

At ten o'clock three brakes (ed: buses) drove up, and soon they were all aboard. The first place visited was the famous Pere-le-Chaise cemetery, and here under the guidance of Mr Robert Kyle of Messrs Cook's Tours (ed: Thomas Cook), the chief great monuments were pointed out. Proceeding the party next visited Notre Dame, and the items of interest were pointed out.

After this the Parthenon, with its beautiful pictures were inspected under Mr Kyle's lucid explanation.  By this time Mr Kyle was a Godwinian, and the boys seemed like his own children; nothing was too much for him to do. Driving on, we passed the greatest shop in Paris on our way to the Champs de Mars, with that always fascinating object for boys, the Eiffel Tower.

The recently erected and "always
 fascinating object for the boys"
Eiffel Tower
Here the conveyances left us for a rest and the party proceeded to the Trocadero. Getting just a glance into this building, for a concert was about to take place, the party ascended the tower by lift, a concession Mr Kyle secured at a greatly reduced rate. Arrived at the top, all Paris was before us. The air was beautifully clear, and Mr Kyle pointed out and explained from this point of vantage all the chief buildings of Paris.

By request, the boys sang that charming part song composed by Mr HH Donald, Summer Longings. They will never forget it, surrounded as they were by the beautiful city of Paris, the glamorous Bois de Boulogne and the Avenue des Acacias, the fashionable drive of fashionable Paris.

The next objects of interest visited were the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, the Alexander III Bridge and the tomb of Napoleon. Here the crowd was very thick, and it was with difficulty the boys were kept together. On the steps the party were photographed for the papers.

The next move was to the Place de la Concorde. The crowd was very great, and from this site our way through the Tuilleries and along the Rue de Rivoli, through lines of soldiers keeping back the people assembled to see the President. It was a wonderful sight and one the boys will ever recall.

By six o'clock all were safely back at Vincennes and so ended a unique day in Paris. Visit one of great pleasure and educational value.

Tuesday was Mr Earle's day, for the choir was due to sing at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre at 8.30. Godwin was the first choir to sing, and made an excellent start. Many choirs, English and French sang during the morning. While this was going on, the choir crossed to the Theatre Chatelet, to sing the sight test.

Location of the boys' great triumph
 - a near contemporary post card
 of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre
Shortly after noon the awards were announced and imagine the joy of Godwin when the judges declared that Godwin Road, West Ham was awarded one of the first prizes. We learned on the boat coming back that a first prize for sight singing also fell to Mr Earle's choir.

In the afternoon the choir went to an invitation show of pictures at the Hippodrome, and returned well pleased with the day's performances.

At dinner in the evening a very pleasing episode took place. In consideration of the kindness of Madame Delaplace and Mademoiselle Delaplace. Mr Herbert, on behalf of Godwin, presented Madame with a beautiful bouquet and Mademoiselle with a large box of chocolates. In acknowledging these the doctor made a delightful speech.

He said:
Never in my life before have I regretted so much that I cannot speak to you in English. This gift has touched us profoundly, as it happens to be the 20th anniversary of our wedding day. In embracing my wife I embrace you all. The boys have sung with French children the Marseillaise. This is not a song of war, but a hope the time is not distant when the children of the nations will only unite their voices in the songs of peace and goodwill. I ask you to raise your glasses in the cause of the Entente Cordiale.
The speech was ably translated by Mr Lawler.

following the gift to Madame Delaplace, Mr Earle, on behalf of the Godwin boys, who had made a collection of their own, presented Mr Tooth, an English student from Surbiton with a fountain pen. Mr Tooth had fairly captured the affection of the boys, and had rendered excellent service as a guide and interpreter during the visit. He had sold them chocolate, helped them to change their money, and in every way had been at the boys' beck and call.

Thoughts now began to turn homeward. On Wednesday morning, the boys went to buy presents and get ready for the return. During the morning, his Worship the Mayor and Mayoress of West Ham visited the Institute and concluded the final arrangements.

All through the visit his Worship has been most assiduous in his efforts for the comfort of the West Ham choirs, and merits the warmest gratitude from  all. His task has been most difficult, and the thanks of Godwin to his Worship are most heartily given.

Immediately before starting the house party with Dr Delaplace, Madame and Mademoiselle and the Mayor and Mayoress were photographed. The return was but a repetition of the outward journey, enthusiasm everywhere; but perhaps the warmest of all was at Forest Gate.

The Broadway was full of well-wishers, anxious to congratulate Mr Earle, Mr Herbert, Mr May and all who had seen the project through. The choir assembled around the fountain from the steps of which Mr Herbert addressed the crowd.

He thanked all who had been helpers in sending the choir to Paris. He said that all had returned safely. No accident had occurred, the first two prizes had been won.

The boys then sang two verses of a hymn and cheers were given. Thus ended this memorable episode in the history of Godwin Road school, satisfactory alike to the teachers, the boys, the parents and well-wishers of the school in Forest Gate.

Following the visit, J Trant of 6 Knighton Road, Forest Gate, wrote to the Stratford Express (see extract, below), expressing his appreciation for the efforts of the staff accompanying the trip. He wrote:

May I through the medium of your paper thank Mr and Mrs Herbert, Mr and Mrs Earle and Mr May for their kindness and attention to the boys of Godwin Road's School, during their recent visit to Paris to compete in the great musical festival. No accident, no boy left lost, no boy tired out, plenty of riding accommodation, everything for their comfort, which speaks well for the organisation of Mr Herbert and Mr Earle. I write as a parent of one of the boys.

Six weeks after the event, the local MP, Baron de Forest, hosted an event at Stratford Town Hall for the winners in the competition.  The Stratford Express covered the event in some detail (see extracts, below).

Stratford Express headline to the
presentation evening report
Edited extracts from the report, include:

Wednesday evening at the Town Hall was an occasion long to be remembered in the annals of West Ham school life, for on that evening the prizes and certificates gained by the West Ham choirs in Paris at the International Musical Competitions, were presented.

Each of the choirs received two beautifully framed certificates. The awards were: Godwin Road Boys. gained first prize for glee singing and first prize for sight singing. ... The prizes consisted of gold crown of oak and laurel leaves in the case of  Godwin Boys ... for glee singing. For sight singing Godwin Road ... received silver plaques.

The children (from all West Ham schools), numbering 150, each received a certificate, at the hands of the Mayoress, the framed certificates and prizes being presented to the conductors of the choirs by Baron de Forest MP. ...

The Mayor said that it was appropriate that the Baron should be there, because he assisted some of the choirs financially to make it possible for them to take the trip to Paris, a trip which most certainly had tended to improve the cordial relations between England and France.

No child or teacher would ever forget the experience. ... Best of all was the magnificent singing they all heard and the splendid success of the West Ham choirs. When one thought and knew they competed against all comers one felt proud of the singing abilities of the children of West Ham. ...

Baron de Forest - the area's last
 Liberal MP. He helped fund the
 Godwin trip and showed why in his
 speech - a dedicated internationalist
 who sought to prevent war via
 international friendship exchanges
Baron de Forest said ... 

'When he was first approached to assist, he did so with great pleasure, first of all because he knew many of them (the parents) were anxious the children should go to Paris, and secondly because he saw in the whole enterprise a step forward in improvement of their relations with foreign countries (Applause).
Although relations with France were very good at present, they need fear no war with the country, still he hoped that these events might encourage a series of similar festivals with other European countries, and he was hoping for an occasion when their children should be called to Berlin to participate in similar activities (Applause).


We were left wondering, at the end of writing this piece, just how many of the Godwin party, who had such a joyous time,  would have returned to France over the next six years - and not come back?

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