Bablake School, Coventry: A Former Pupil Writes.

Lucy Mander

Two of us, to be accurate. I turned up at Bablake School one September morn in 1974 along with 119 other 11 year-old boys. Much the same thing had been happening, we were told, since 1344, which didn’t make the day any less terrifying. The lessons were endless, the homework was brutal and everyone was tall and loud. After a few months it was all normal but little did we know that more horrors lay ahead: the very next September seven girls arrived.

Girls! In a boys school? It just didn’t add up. The school had been single-sex since forever but a new Education Bill had been passed and times were changing. As time went on the school became fully mixed and that’s how it stayed. But were those seven brave pioneers really the first girls to grace the place?

This week’s book suggests not. It’s a handwritten mathematics exercise book and outwardly it looks a lot like the ones I used in the seventies. It’s a lot older than that, though: it’s dated 1844. Like all good pupils the owner has written their name clearly inside the cover and therein lies the mystery: the name is Lucy Mander.

I love handwritten books, diaries and manuscripts and this maths book is typical of its type. It is a ‘fair copy’ book, which means there are no crossings-out and re-workings. The headings are elaborately decorated and shaded, all with a steel-nibbed dip pen, and the sums are mind-bendingly difficult. (I’ve cropped the answer off the last one – it’s a very long multiplication, try it if you dare!)

I’d also love to know the answer to Lucy Mander…