Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 9 – A School Story

Ancient Yew TreeIn this episode Mike & Will return to M.R. James’s old alma mater for chaos in the classroom, death in the dormitory and revenge in the refectory.

That’s right, it’s ‘A School Story’!

N.b. If you have forgotten your gym-kit, you have to listen to this episode in your vest and pants.

Show notes:

  • The History of Temple Grove School (.pdf)
    The school in ‘A School Story’ is based on the prep school that M.R. James attended, Temple Grove School which was at the time based in East Sheen, London.
  • Site of Temple Grove School on Googlemaps
    Temple Grove School is not longer in existance, but this gives an idea of where the parkland in which it stood used to be. Note Well Lane where the old stable stands (now converted to a very nice looking house) and where we spotted yew trees! In the photo of us below we are standing at the north-eastern end of Observatory road, where the lake used to be. This Map from 1895 gives an indication of where the school stood (see ‘H’), and this map shows the layout of Temple Grove Estate in 1811.
  • “I’ve Seen It!” – A School Story and the House in Berkeley Square by Rosemary Pardoe
    Here Rosemary Pardoe provides some background information on the legends surrounding the famously haunted 50 Berkeley Square in London, mentioned in ‘A School Story’.
  • Ancient Coin Pendants
    Jewelry such as the ‘coin charm’ that Mr Sampson wears on his watch chain is not hard to come by these days! For more info on Byzantine coins see Wikipedia.
  • Eton and Kings (Ghosts & Scholars)
    M.R. James published a volume of recollections about his life at school and in academia.
  • Ancient Yews Group FAQs
    Yew trees are a common sight in English churchyards. The Ancient Yew Group website provides some interesting information on the historical and mythological significance of yew trees.
  • ‘A School Story’ at FreakyTrigger
    Some excellent analysis of this story at FreakyTrigger, plus some interesting views in the comments.
  • ‘The Well’ by W.W. Jacobs
    This story, published in 1902 by James’s contemporary W.W. Jacobs, features some similarities to ‘A School Story’. Mike Pincombe highlights this story in his excellent essay ‘Homosexual Panic and the English Ghost Story’ (Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter 9).

Visit to the Site of Temple Grove School, East Sheen

Mike and Will's visit to the site of Temple Grove School in East Sheen, London

Top: Temple Grove Estate, East Sheen, 1812
Bottom: Mike & Will at Temple Grove Estate, East Sheen, 2012.

Can you spot the differences? Hint: top image = more bonnets, bottom image = less swans.

We are standing in the slight dip in Observatory Rd that marks where the lake stood 200 years before. Mike had brought his umbrella to fight off the swans. Turns out this was unneccesary.

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