Sherborne School’s connection with ravens goes back a very long way.  From the year 998 until the dissolution of the monastery in 1539, Sherborne Abbey, and the associated school, was run by a Benedictine order of monks.  St Benedict, the founder of the order, is often depicted with a raven in reference to a legend in which a raven saved the Saint’s life by carrying away a piece of poisoned bread he had been given to eat.  This motif can still be seen today in the carved figure of St Benedict on the pulpit in the School chapel.  It is therefore possible that ravens were kept by Benedictine monks at Sherborne in honour of the founder of their order.

Jack and Grip were the names of the earliest ravens known to have been kept at the School.  A poem about Jack was published in The Shirburnian in March 1859.  The poem refers to Jack having been about the School for a number of years and, as captive ravens can live for up to 80 years, it is possible that Jack had arrived several years before the poem was written:

The Raven is a bonnie bird,
With jet-black eye and feather,
The friend of all the upper school,
The fear of all the lower.

He’s not afraid of one his size,
Nor twice his size, nor three times;
He has a beak and sharpish claws,
And if you ‘d like to try them,
You’ve only got to put your hand
Just near enough unto them.

He’s been some time in this same place,
And seen all sorts of weather –
With wind and snow, and rain and hail,
And hoar frost on each feather.

And yet, perhaps, he’ll live to see
Another generation,
Or, may be, two; for, as I’ve heard,
‘Tis a bird of long duration.

And when long years are past recall,
His epitaph shall say,
That “Boys grew men,
And men grew gay,
But Jack outlived them all.

The School ravens made two more appearances in The Shirburnian in 1859, revealing how they were regarded by the boys at the School with a mixture of fondness and annoyance at their unsociable antics.  In ‘A Tour Round my Study’, a boy writes of the view from the window of the School House studies (now the Headmaster building):

‘I gaze for a moment out of my window; the grave old raven is scanning over a Greek grammar which has been left in the courts.  He hops round and round, caws a cry of defiance, and pecks at a verb, which disappears root and all.  What a classic you must be by this time, you cunning old bird, if you have properly digested all the learning you have so greedily devoured.  I have not forgiven you the bite you tried at my leg on my first appearance in the school courts, nor the stealthy abduction of one of my shoes, which you tried to bury deep in the tan at the foot of our gymnastic poles.’
The Shirburnian, May 1859.

And later in ‘An Old Friend’s Second Appearance’ we learn about Jack the raven’s arrival at Sherborne with a broken wing and of the subsequent desertion of his partner, Grip (named after the raven in Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge):

‘I was sitting under the old walnut tree in the School courts at about 8.30 pm…  There was the old raven roosting on the post just opposite me … Old Jack still haunted my mind.  I could still hear him cawing with anger at being disturbed.  I wondered what he was thinking of?  Was he thinking of his faithless partner Grip, who had so basely deserted him?  Or was his mind running on the day on which he was first introduced to these classical courts with a broken wing?  How miserable the poor fellow looked whilst it was being set!  How frightened he was when he was afterwards attacked by a cat, who handled him so roughly that the setting was displaced, and his wing put into that twisted shape in which it now appears!  Ah! You would be a match for twenty cats now, wouldn’t you, old fellow?  I wonder if he remembers all the old fellows who used to pet and feed him with bits of cheese after dinner.  I can answer for it he never forgets those who were always teasing him!  Poor W-, how fond he used to be of Old Jack!  Many’s the time that I have seen him lick fellows for teasing his old favourite.’ 
The Shirburnian, October 1859.

In the 1890s, Jack was succeeded at Sherborne by Morloch.  Morloch was brought to the School by Headmaster F.B. Westcott and Archibald Wrightson, a boy in School House.  According to The Sherborne Register, Morloch and his successive wives (he was suspected of murdering at least one) were housed in the Slype, or ‘Ravens’ Nook’, the lean-to building against the north transept of the Abbey and the only surviving section of the former monks’ dormitory.  However, the ravens appear to have spent most of their time sitting on the chapel steps where they pecked latecomers and destroyed the hymn books!

The School ravens in their favourite haunt at the top of the Chapel steps, c.1900.

The Rev. Westcott was obviously fond of the School ravens for amongst The Songs of Sherborne School (published c.1903) is one he wrote entitled ‘The Ravens’.  With music composed by the School’s music master, Berthold G. Thorne, ‘The Ravens’ tells the story of Morloch and one of his many wives.  It recounts how the two ravens ‘brought tidy souls to blank despair’, littering the Courts with torn hymn books, and how the female raven took flight, possibly as a result of the noise of the Pack Monday fair (‘But there came a day (woe worth that day)/ When bells would ring, and bands would play,/ And the town went wild with glee’), leaving Morloch croaking ‘I’m happy, why need you care? Caw! Caw!’

In 1902, the School’s ravens achieved international fame when a photograph of one of them appeared in the boys’ own annual, Young England.  The photograph shows a raven sitting on a fence around the Sixth Form Green outside School House.  The accompanying story mentions that it is a ‘peculiar old custom to always keep two of these birds at Sherborne School’.

During his twenty year tenure at Sherborne School, Morloch the raven became something of an institution, although his untidy and aggressive behaviour was not appreciated by everyone.  It is therefore hardly surprising that in 1910, with the arrival of a new Headmaster, Morloch was expelled from the Courts and from the School.

Morloch’s departure from the School was commemorated in the April 1910 edition of The Shirburnian with an anonymous poem that parodied Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem ‘The Raven’.   Poe’s poem tells the story of a heartbroken young man who is visited by a raven that gradually drives him mad by answering ‘Nevermore!’ to every question he puts to it.  The poem in The Shirburnian ends with the following lines:

‘Prophet’, said I, ‘guard from evil – prophet still if bird or devil!
Say what weary fate has driven, driven thee from Sherborne’s door,
Luck of Sherborne School the vaunted, of this desert land enchanted,
Will our School by fate be haunted?  Tell me, tell me, I implore
Is the luck of Sherborne parted?  Wilt thou never come back more?’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore! Nevermore!’

Rachel Hassall
School Archivist
14 February 2019

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