Harrow County School for Boys

Ralph Burnham and the 1915 Harrow County Schoolcap
by Alex Bateman (Old Gaytonians Association Archivist and editor of the "Old Gaytonian")

In late summer 2005 I was browsing the auction site ‘ebay’, when I came across an example of a Harrow County School cap.  It was advertised as a ‘Vintage Boys Harrow County School Cap Circa 1915’, although it seemed more like the style of the 1950s era caps I have in the archives.  Our web site Editor Jeff Maynard also keeps an eye out for such things, so I mailed him for his thoughts, repeating the above.

Jeff emailed the seller, only to discover that aside from the cap, there were other items included, not least a 1915 dated report card.  The cap had seemingly belonged to a relative named Ralph Burnham who they thought had died sometime in the 1930s.

Ralph had been born on Christmas Eve 1902, one of five children of Florence and Arthur Burnham of Kenton Farm, Harrow.  After passing the various entrance exams, he joined Harrow County School for Boys in 1914, although it seems that from the outset his attendance at the School was disrupted by illness.

Ralph had a heart problem that became progressively worse as the year went on.  Sadly he passed away on July 9th 1915, just two weeks before his 13th birthday, with a notice appearing in the Harrow Observer the following week.  The family were obviously heartbroken at the death, and kept the items that were to be auctioned.  After his younger sister Olive died in April 2000, the cap, report card and Christmas Cards were found in an old tobacco tin.

It was decided that the cap and other items should be purchased for the archives, not just because of the association with the school, but also because of the importance of such early material.  Pre-World War One items are not easy to find, especially items of uniform dating from the first half dozen years of the school.  

Anyone who has bid on an auction knows that it is the last seconds that are the most important.  Despite a flurry of emails from Jeff letting me know that time was running out a careful watch was being kept, and with seconds to go a suitable bid won the lot.  A second bidder in Australia helped push the price up to £74.96, but it was still a reasonable price for such a rare collection of items.

After further correspondence with the family they agreed to include a large portrait photograph of Ralph wearing the cap in question, probably taken about a year before his passing upon his joining Harrow County.

I have a small archive budget allowance from the Association, but almost a third would have been spent on the cap alone.  Jeff put forward the possibility of asking for donations and to that effect placed a note in the guest book on the site.  This resulted in several emails, and extremely kind financial gifts from several old boys.

As a footnote to the story, I made enquiries as to Ralph’s resting place, which turned out to be Harrow Cemetery, on the Pinner Road.  It seems his mother passed away relatively young too, aged 65, in October 1943.  She was laid to rest with her son.

The thanks of the Association go to, Andrew Carruthers, Peter Fowler, Colin Dickins, Jeff Maynard and Alex Bateman who made the purchase of the collection possible.


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