Old School Tie (and a request for information)

by Harry on June 21, 2008

My dad called earlier today to say that he was about to attend, and speak at, the farewell do for my old school, which is about to be closed after being in special measures for a few years. It made me feel a bit sad – I wasn’t there long, and didn’t have an especially enjoyable time, but to know that somewhere you spent formative years is to be no more is a shame. And formative they were.

The Economics teacher who filled in for the one who got into trouble with the police for stealing from Magdalen College, Mr Ross-Smith, took it upon himself to introduce me to Philosophy. He gave me the Tractatus, of which I made no sense, and then On What There Is, of which I made some sense: enough to convince me that I should study Philosophy rather than History at University, and giving me an unusually accurate sense of what Philosophy would be like. The close-to-retirement deputy head, Mr. Lewis (about whom, interestingly, my dad has long had the completely false belief that he disapproved of the merger of the grammar school for which he had worked into the comprehensive that I attended), identified me as a promising lefty, and encouraged Meg Beresford (a parent at the school) to recruit me to the then nascent (in fact, at the time, nameless) Campaign ATOM. (I vividly remember my first meeting, with about 10 grown ups in a broom cupboard at the East Oxford Community Centre: this man bounded in late, gave one glance at me, the teenage newcomer, and said directly to Meg: “Well I see you’ve finally recruited the masses”). Shortly before leaving school I was called to Mr. Lewis’s office, where he gave me a talking to, which amounted to conferring on me and my generation the responsibility for building Jerusalem.

I had two History A-level teachers. A rather posh Maoist (CPB-ML, if any of you care to know, and I’m sure that Scott, at least, does), who, when teaching us about the Russian Revolution declared to the class that it was a “disgrace that Trotsky was ever admitted to the Bolshevik Party”. He took me to a bunch of meetings, including one with the magnificent Reg Birch, and a subsequent Oxford Trades Council meeting which even I could see was being manipulated to exclude any participation by the WSLs and ended in a fight. The other History teacher, Mr. Matthews, was a gem. A little un-self-confident, and politically moderate, he was ruthless with my (frequent, and much worked on) papers, routinely giving me Bs and Cs, and disciplining both my writing and my thinking.

My English teacher, Mr. King, was known for being a strict, and square, teacher, and inappropriately academically oriented, given the clientele of the school. And yet, toward the end of the 6th form, I was befriended (bizarrely, now I think of it) by a group of school-leaving 16 year-old girls who, when they discovered he was my English teacher, went into paroxysms of admiration about how kind he was and how much work he had done to find them employment after he had failed to persuade them to stay on. I should have known he was not exactly as he seemed, from the fact that the barefoot bohemian and rebellious Mr. Ross-Smith made no secret of the fact that the ultra-conservative-seeming King was the only colleague he really liked. I’m grateful to have been taught by all of them and, looking back, amazed at how much of themselves they put into the job.

Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be about them. I want information. Unlike some people, I no longer have the luxury of being able to send my kids to the school that I attended. I’m interested in those who do manage to get their kids to attend the same school for generations. It seems to me that at least three successive generations of Hurds attended Eton, and at least two of Hoggs. I’d really like to find examples of other families in which more than two successive generations have attended the same school, and ideally at least one example from the US (the Kennedys, perhaps? The Gores?). Document whatever claims you make as well as you can. College doesn’t count – I just want examples of compulsory-level schooling (k-12).



Vance Maverick 06.21.08 at 5:08 am

At Yale, I met lots of people who had been to the same school as their fathers (I don’t remember mothers being part of this mix, but there must have been some). For example, one of my classmates was a son of Louis Auchincloss, and both he and his father had been to Groton. Looking at Wikipedia’s list of their notable alumni, it’s possible to extract more such bloodlines. If that’s what you really want.


Bill Gardner 06.21.08 at 5:10 am

I would have thought that there would have been three generations of Bushes at Andover. But apparently not. G. H. W. Bush and his sons G. W. Bush and Jeb Bush went to Andover. However, Prescott Bush (father of G. H. W.) did not; and neither did the children of W. or Jeb.


Vance Maverick 06.21.08 at 5:13 am

Sorry for the missing link there — easy enough to look LA up. Take a look, for another example, at Exeter. The Benchleys are the obvious choice there. But who knew there was a man named Alpheus Felch?


Kenny Easwaran 06.21.08 at 5:18 am

I went to the Lawrenceville School, a boarding school in New Jersey, and while I was there, a library was donated by the Bunn family (as in, the coffeemakers). I recall that they had a family tree of the Bunn family illustrating which members of the family went to Lawrenceville, which I seem to recall involved most of the men for four or five generations, and I think all the women young enough to go to the school after it became co-ed in 1988.


andyoufalldown 06.21.08 at 5:20 am

Are you looking for at least three generations? Or excluding public schools? Because in public schools in American suburbs, it’s pretty common to hear an older teacher go into the “I taught your mother/father” at least once a year. Given that not every teacher would remember every student, I think this indicates that tons of people return to their hometown to settle down, and send their kids through the same school system they went through. Some of my cousins are now in a high school that their mom (and mine) attended, and which my grandfather attended.

A more interesting question might be which schools can maintain an institutional character which makes it meaningful to say that three generations of a family attended “the same school”. Maybe the question only really makes sense for the St. Albanses and Paul’ses, the Philips Academies and so on.


grackle 06.21.08 at 5:57 am

“…after being in special measures for several years.”

Does this mean the gov’t thinks the school is hopeless and is thus closing it? I note that your link says the school is (was) trying hard to become “good.” I suppose “good” is some sort of objective measure of educational rigor?


Joseph 06.21.08 at 7:18 am

My dim recollection is that at least two generations of Gores went to St. Albans in DC, but I could be mistaken. If you want some legacies, that school would have a few, at least among the “famous for DC” set.


Katherine 06.21.08 at 7:59 am

#4 – yes, basically.


Charles S 06.21.08 at 8:02 am

Googling shows that while Al Gore senior attended public school and went to a teachers college in Tennessee, all 4 of Al Gore junior’s children attended St Albans or its sister school, the National Cathedral School (Al Gore III was kicked out of St Albans in 8th grade, possibly for smoking pot).


maureen 06.21.08 at 8:32 am

Does primary school count? I must have been 7 when I went into the third class at Laxey to be greeted by Miss Fanny Richards who advised me that she had taught my father. That’s quite a feat – the birth dates are 1897 and 1942. She had been persuaded not to retire at the standard age during WWII as they were a bit short of teachers. Then she just stuck around!

In that class there was no scope for either messing about or pretending to be thick but, my, she was a born teacher and as you see never forgotten.

Sadly, the next generation was unable to repeat the experience as my contemporaries – including sibling and cousins – had spread to the four corners in search of work. The school, though, is still there.


ejh 06.21.08 at 8:34 am

You went to Peers? Blimey. Mark Wright the most famous ex-pupil, I think?


Jack 06.21.08 at 9:19 am

Lots of people at the rural primary school at my primary school. We were occasionally allowed to look at the records and saw the punishments inflicted on various grandparents and a dinner lady. Are names important? The school was very small and has now been closed.


Aidan Kehoe 06.21.08 at 11:07 am

Yeah, my father and grandfather attended the rural primary school I went to; AIUI my great-grandfather wasn’t born in time for free unversal schooling, I don’t think he went to school at all. Birth dates 1896, 1945 and 1981.


Lazygal 06.21.08 at 11:09 am

I went to school with a girl whose mother and grandmother had gone to our school (Emma Willard), and another who was following in her mother’s footsteps; and at least two of my classmates have daughters enrolling there


Nick 06.21.08 at 11:11 am

I’m not sure if this counts, but tonight I’m returning to my former place of detention where my on-again-off-again partner’s elder daughter is performing in her leaving concert – she’s just finished A Levels in the year her younger sister started at the school. Back in the 1930s my uncle attended the same place before reading medicine at Oxford. So three rather laterally connected generations, though this reflects the geographical reality of Cumbria more than anything else.


Nick 06.21.08 at 11:18 am

Oh, and Harry – you may conceivably find this anecdote altogether more indicative. At a college reunion a couple of years ago, two things struck me about my peer group from undergraduate life at Cambridge in the late 70s – that we were in general the first members of our families to have gone to Oxbridge; and that none of us had children who were going there.


Peter 06.21.08 at 12:27 pm

Maureen (#8): Not surprising that Britain asked people over retirement age to stay on or to return to work during WW II, since the House of Commons had done the same with the post of Prime Minister!


harry b 06.21.08 at 12:53 pm

Mark Wright was in my year — he has been the most famous person from my school for most of my adult life, but there was a breif period — 2001-3 — during which someone else in my year (and in my History and Economics A-level classes, which were small, so I knew her well) was more famous:



harry b 06.21.08 at 12:55 pm

maureen’s story is interesting. One of my great-grandfathers, and one of my uncles, were each heads of (different) single rural primary schools (syntax??) for several decades, so if they were alive they could tell me a number of stories like maureen’s, I’d guess.


Nick 06.21.08 at 1:45 pm

Who on earth is Mark Wright? Is he a crooner popular with the young people? I think we should be told . . .


eszter 06.21.08 at 1:55 pm

Interesting question.

I guess this would require a family to stay in the same country for three generations, which rules out a chunk of mine.

I suspect this will be most likely in rural areas where there aren’t many options for different schools or with prestigious private schools (if we’re talking high school level or lower).

As for famous folks, I went to the same high school as Edward Teller so that takes care of that issue. I don’t know of anyone famous from my elementary/middle school though.


Anonymous 06.21.08 at 2:02 pm

My grandparents, aunt, and cousins all went to the Owego Free Academy. (Actually a public school.) My guess is that this isn’t all that unusual for the Free Academy, or for public schools in other rural, relatively depressed areas.


ejh 06.21.08 at 2:31 pm


The weakest link 06.21.08 at 3:00 pm

What about when the chain breaks? My family on boths sides is too new to the United States to have three generations at one educational institution. But this story reminded me of a friend of mine who was the first in at least three generations of her family to be denied entrance to Harvard (even though she graduated from Choate!). She used to laugh about what a ridiculously bad applicant she must have been to be denied after such a legacy.

As for me, the chain will remain broken, since I’ll never be able to swing Middlebury tuition for my child.


Nick 06.21.08 at 3:30 pm

Thank you.


jacob 06.21.08 at 6:49 pm

My sister went to the same elementary school (public, in D.C.) as our mother, who went to the same high school as her mother. My sister was taken out of public school before high school, so misses the three-generations mark.

I’ll also add to the large number of comments about families staying loyal to their prep schools. My partner went to Chatham Hall, a girl’s school in Virginia, and regularly talks about three- or four-generation Chatham families.

Re #9: it was definitely for pot.


harry b 06.21.08 at 8:34 pm

weakest link — the rule about private colleges is this: never pay the sticker price. You have no idea what the tuition is until you get admitted. Unless, of course, you are supremely rich and bad at all sports, which in the case of your kid is not true (the first bit).


R 06.21.08 at 10:13 pm

Because in public schools in American suburbs, it’s pretty common to hear an older teacher go into the “I taught your mother/father” at least once a year.

Yes — I know quite a few people around here who make teacher requests for their kids based on having had the same teacher themselves.


Eric H 06.22.08 at 5:05 am

Can we count the Potters and Weasleys at their school?


Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 06.22.08 at 6:56 am

“which even I could see was being manipulated to exclude any participation by the WSLs and ended in a fight.”

Time for resurrecting and ol’ Conor Gearty sectarian song:

“Oh if it wasne for the WSLs where would we be
We’d in the Millies or the RCP
Or in the Sparts or the heart of the ol’ CP
If it wasn’t for SO and Macgamna”


Brendan 06.22.08 at 9:27 am

I went to the same school as my grandfather, my mother, her brothers, and my older brother. Indeed, my grandfather, uncles, older brother and I all had the same teacher for at least one class. It was a small-town Catholic primary school, and the teacher in question was a nun (very elderly, by the time I came along). Does that count?


MR Bill 06.22.08 at 11:45 am

Steely Dan’s “My Old School”..


Sumana Harihareswara 06.22.08 at 1:45 pm

How many generations of Bluths went to Milford?


rea 06.22.08 at 2:39 pm

But who knew there was a man named Alpheus Felch?


rea 06.22.08 at 2:42 pm

Oops about #33. I was going to answer the question by pointing out that I lived on Felch Street while attending law school in Ann Arbor. Felch was governor of Michigan, senator, a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and a diplomat, as well as a long-time law professor at U of M . . .


ejh 06.23.08 at 7:59 am

“Oh if it wasne for the WSLs where would we be
We’d in the Millies or the RCP
Or in the Sparts or the heart of the ol’ CP
If it wasn’t for SO and Macgamna”

I believe Christopher Ricks’ critical appreciation is due to be published later in the summer.


burritoboy 06.23.08 at 7:30 pm

Since I went to a crappy-ass Roman Catholic school in San Jose, Ca that was only been founded in 1964 (Archbishop Mitty) we didn’t have too many multi-generations even possible. At least three generations of Whitneys attended Groton. In college, though, my next-door neighbor had an ancestor who founded the college, another who served as an early President, and numerous various relatives who had attended, taught and administered the place for over a hundred years (and yes, there was a campus building named after them).


antonia 06.23.08 at 8:20 pm

I was the 3rd generation in my family to go to Wycombe Abbey (considers itself equivalent to Eton) and I knew at least one 4th generation girl there. I don’t plan to send my daughter there though – even if we could afford it, old British public schools are a very artificial environment.


harry b 06.23.08 at 9:14 pm

re #37, actually Peers has/had a building named after my dad (who was Director of Education in Oxfordshire for a while). It was the languages building; the head of the time knew him well, and I presume it was a joke.


ejh 06.24.08 at 7:12 am

What are they doing with the school? Are they setting up a new one there, or knocking down the buildings for housing or something? I used to live on Blackbird Leys and would occasionally cut through the school fields on my way to the pub in Littlemore….


harry b 06.24.08 at 8:30 pm

They’re opening an Academy — I don’t know how much new building there’ll be, but there’ll be some I presume, and I guess it’ll stay on the site. They hired a new head, over the one who is currently there, presumably for the sake of change (the existing one seems pretty good, according to my sources, and was genuinely starting to turn things around…again).


arnold 06.25.08 at 12:49 pm

I think the Coleridges may hold the record for the longest connection of one family with the same school. In the direct line, five out of six generations have now gone to Eton:

John Taylor Coleridge (1790-1876), educ. Eton;
John Duke Coleridge, 1st Baron Coleridge (1820-1894), educ. Eton;
Bernard Coleridge, 2nd Baron Coleridge (1851-1927), educ. Eton;
Geoffrey Coleridge, 3rd Baron Coleridge (1877-1955), educ. Eton;
Richard Coleridge, 4th Baron Coleridge (1905-1984), educ. RNC Osborne & Dartmouth;
William Coleridge, 5th Baron Coleridge (1937-), educ. Eton.

Many of the younger sons also went to Eton, e.g.:

Henry Nelson Coleridge (1798-1843), younger brother of John Taylor Coleridge; educ. Eton;
and his son Herbert Coleridge (1830-1861), educ Eton;
Henry James Coleridge (1822-1893), younger brother of John Duke Coleridge; educ. Eton;
Gilbert Coleridge (1859-1953), younger brother of Bernard Coleridge; educ. Eton;
and his son Wilfred Coleridge (1889-1956), educ. Eton.

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