Skull’s horror at alternative anthem

I am a fully paid-up member of the Mathia, as the former editor of a local newspaper sometimes disparaged those of us who were educated at Sir Joseph Williamson’s establishment in Rochester.

In the course of writing many Memories features on the alma mater, I have been asked many questions about its history. The most common question was: What are the real words of the Math School Chant?

For those uninitiated in the dark arts of Math tradition, I should explain that this is a piece of doggerel rebelliously chanted at the end of the School Song — traditionally at end-of-term ceremonies. (Once, many years ago, it was “performed” at the end of speech day at Chatham Central Hall — to the intense displeasure of the headmaster.)

I am, however, reluctant to discuss this in full detail because of:

  • Its unsuitability in a family website where it might be seen by people of a nervous disposition;
  • The chant’s defamatory allegations against a late and lamented master;
  • And its repetition of Colonel Bogey’s claims against a late and unlamented German dictator of monorchism.

Furthermore, I wouldn’t want to get into trouble with my old school for encouraging today’s scholars to engage in such sedition.

However, I will say this: the word used near the beginning should be “ragaboney” (the spelling is unclear), not “stromboli”, or “rumboley”.

It starts with E-I-O, not OGGY, which sounds rather too much like a rugby ditty for my liking. And the word is Neerg, pronounced nerg. Its meaning will be apparent to anybody who was at the school until about 30 years ago, being the nickname of the larger-than-life French teacher PGC Green.

A detail from an early 1970s panoramic photograph of the Math. I appear in this, as do other pals, who have, for convenience, been transported from other parts of the image

Legends have sprung up about the chant. The most notorious was at least half a century ago when, during KR Imeson’s headmastership, a pistol was fired at the portrait of Sir Joseph Williamson, the school’s illustrious founder, as the chant was carried out. The huge oil painting — now in the school hall at the new site on the Rochester-Maidstone Road — still bears the scars.

(I have relented: Those with strong hearts, minds and not a trace of PCness, can go the foot of this page.)

Knowledgeable punishments and schoolboy pranks

The punishment and reward system was simple. You got a commendation when you did something good and a detention if you did something bad (or something that was perceived to be bad). Really bad deeds were rewarded with a Saturday D.

There were also minor punishments handed out by a mini prefect called a monitor.

I was the model pupil receiving no detentions. (What a creep.) I once got a commendation — I forget what for — but it was entered wrongly on the form register, so I got in trouble for not attending a detention, even though I hadn’t been put in detention. Tough, eh?

My angelic nature means I need somebody to explain this penal system.

Why, it’s our old pal Luton Jack, the frequenter of low dives mentioned elsewhere. He writes: “When we started at the ‘new’ school, there were no prefects as they were all down the old school. So we had a bunch of associated third-formers appointed as our lords and masters and to maintain discipline. Ha!

“Of course monitors were pompous fascist scum — it comes with the territory I suppose. The maximum award from one of these lackeys was a ‘job’, 15 minutes’ litter collection or similar menial task in the morning break.

“Easy, but if you collected three ‘jobs’ in one week there was a ‘totting-up’ procedure which turned them into a Friday night detention. Similarly, three Friday detentions equalled a Saturday morning detention. I used to like the congruency of achieving one job, one Friday and one Saturday in a week!”

I am happy to report that Jack has turned out well despite his early delinquency. At least he knows what congruency means.

He adds: “One of my favourite memories of those delinquent days in 2D was playing darts in the class door — well it seemed like a good idea at the time I’m sure. So there we were in P Block, throwing darts in to the door (possibly not something that I would do now) when one of the more pompous monitors walked in.

“He missed getting a dart in his head, thrown by me of course, by a tiny fraction of an inch. For some reason he thought that this was dangerous. As usual some punishment designed to remedy my behaviour was applied with the usual complete lack of effect.”

Aside from the usual Friday detentions and Saturday-morning D, prefects were allowed to give lines. They were called Knowledges, after the King-and-country slogan that ran across the honours board at the old school: “Knowledge is a steep that few may climb while duty is a path that all must tread.” Some early entrepreneurs sold these by the dozen.

One English master gave out the following lines: “Few things are more distressing to the well-educated mind of an English pedagogue than to observe a boy, who ought to know better, idly disporting himself at improper moments.”

The best (or worst, depending on whether you were punisher or offender) was a classical classic: “It is a matter of the utmost importance that under no circumstances whatsoever should I permit it to lapse from my memory to bring with me to Latin lessons any such books as my Latin master, in his wisdom, should consider necessary in order to derive the maximum value and enjoyment from the aforementioned Latin lessons, that I may thereby facilitate the well ordering of my own education and that of others.”

You wouldn’t forget your books again, would you?

Schoolboy crush

A contemporary of mine writes on the friendsreunited site: “Who remembers the sport of filling a [lavatory] cubicle with first years? We were caught by [teacher] Mr Bogroll Beattie. His face was a picture when bodies kept coming out of such a small space! Did we scar the victims for life?”

Nowadays, I suppose it would be called a team-building exercise.

Lost for words

Every speech day, the school captain (old-fashioned name for head boy and principal prefect) had to give the oration — in Latin.

It was read from a grand piece of parchment and praised the founder, Sir Joseph Williamson. It became customary for another prefect to “borrow” the precious document a few moments before the school captain’s big moment came…

Two of the suspects in this purloinery can now be revealed. One rests on the upper echelons of the BBC, and the other is living in the north of England after a time on the run in Ecuador. Those alleged malefactors and their victim can be seen in the picture above, as can I. I was blameless in the matter, which is more than can be said for D J Hannah (who discomfited school captain C E White) and M S Marsden (whose crime was committed against the oafish Ollie Olsen).

Poll position

A mock election was held in the 1960s to coincide with the General Election. One candidate’s election poster featured a topless model with “vote for …” placed across her chest. Bribery was rife, votes being bought for all sorts of inducements, including Fruit Salad sweets and the infamous Black-Jacks. The fearsome headmaster, LT Waddams, nicknamed Skull, was not best pleased…

The most infamous candidate was a flame-haired sixth-former whom I shall call Dave. He stood as an Independent Neo-hedonist and his election song, to the tune of Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer, was:

Hedonists unite together

United we’ll still further be

Seeking out all lustful pleasures

Drinking, smoking, sex and song

Riotous living, riotous living

We will live and love with Dave (love with Dave)

We will live and love with Dave

I think he won. Naturally, his election promises were not fulfilled.

Here it is … the school chant

E-I-O! E-I-O! E-I-E-I E-I-O!

Ragaboney, ragaboney, ragaboney MSR! Rah!

Flavour, flavour, rah rah rah!

We are the moonlight shovellers, shovelling sh*t by moonlight.

Hitler, he only had one …

Woolly woolly woolly haggis

Woolly woolly woolly haggis

Woolly woolly woolly haggis

Woolly woolly haggis.


After school, we all agree, a bit of  Neerg is what we need.

So come and get your Neerg for free

Nig nog nig nog Neerg.

Nig nog nig nog nig nog Neerg,

Nig nog Neerg,

Nig nog Neerg,

Nig nog nig nog nig nog Neerg,

Nig nog nog nog Neerg,


Rochester & Strood
Medway villages
Medway at war
Crimes that Shocked the Medway Towns

14 thoughts on “Skull’s horror at alternative anthem”

  1. I remember the punishment called Knowledges. These were lines (usually 100 but sometimes 200. the line went as follows:- Knowledge is a path which few may climb whilst duty is a path which all must tread. Of course, we all tried the three-pencil trick and ended up having to rewrite them. I am quite sure that the suspicion that Skull was, let’s say, strange, was well founded.

      1. The fiendish thing about “knowledges” was that they were too long for one line of the “rough”book, thereby nullifying the possibility of joining three biros together with an elastic band.
        I suspect the name “Skull” came along later. In my day he was “Oscar” and thoughts that he may have been a tad “strange” went way beyond suspicion. If school concerts or theatrical productions required someone to take the female lead – he would be front of the queue. And very good he would be too.

  2. Shooting of Sir Joe: It was done overnight by a person unknown, about 1953. A lad who had been moved from Class 3G to the Tech was suspected — but nothing was ever proved. Pussy Purle, the art master and OW, patched up about six holes and cleaned the painting so that Sir Joe was visible for the first time in living memory.
    Nicknames: Waddams had the Territorial Decoration for military service; so TD was put after his name on the Headmasters’ Board. No boy knew what it meant, but some wag pronounced it phonetically ter-der — Turd! He was hated for forcing sixth-formers to wear caps and prefects caps with tassels attached; and for, effectively, removing sixth-form privileges. He got very upset when, at a prizegiving rehearsal, there was rhythmic clapping; I told him it was an old tradition called Kentish Fire — but I think he did not believe me…
    Neerg? Was that Slipper Green? Green backwards? He told us about the Folies Bergère in Paris during the war. He used a size 13 plimsoll to threaten discipline.
    Dan: Frank Myers, as he had a strong resemblance to Dan Dare, Spaceman comic.
    Pussy Purle: Nickname from his 1930 schooldays.
    Scrooge: Clive MacDonald, a brilliant English teacher who was teased unmercifully until he had a breakdown — which we all regretted.
    The School Chant: I cannot remember the words , apart from the opening, but it was “sung” on the rugby coaches.
    Cheers to Pitt House!

    1. In my time “T**rd” was the nick-name for Mr R. T. Child best-known for his ancient bicycle but also taught French and German. “Squeaker” Mead, who was Irish and taught maths died one weekend during term-time – in !957, I think. He would have been there in your time too, Dave. Do you also remember Alan Robson, young blood, who taught Latin and Scripture who was also Curate at St John’s church in Chatham? He died in 2018 in Norfolk where he also kept in contact with Stan Braxton and Eric Jones, both staff members whom you probably knew and what about Chrissie Ratcliffe, who was my form mistress the year I started?
      Oh! and cheers to Pitt House, and our illustrious housemaster, George W. R. Thornhill!

      1. Eric Jones and George Thornhill probably the best two masters in my time – they were able to keep discipline easily as they made their subject so interesting.
        Looking at the April 1963 school picture I notice I am the angelic 1st former standing just behind you Peter.(Assuming that is you next to the secretaries?)
        Cheers for Pitt again

        1. To the best of my knowledge, Eric Jones is still around and living in East Anglia. He has until recently attended the Old Williamson’s annual veterans lunch. Stan Braxton is a neighbour of his.

  3. Sir Joe’s shooting was much before 1953 – in my time (43-51) but I can’t remember the exact date. Re school uniform I do remember Bob Morris introduced some pre-war boaters in my time and Imeson hated them but could not stop them thus we all rejoiced. To annoy him, some of we seniors wore double-breasted blazers, which of course were all the fashion in town but not strictly school uniform.
    I hated the sadistic Imeson but he was a fan of the new Keele university and encouraged Mike Shorten and me to apply, leading to four of the happiest years of my life.
    In my latter working years I was asked to give the evening talk to the local branch of the Institute of Bankers at the Bull, my subject being Management. I humbly introduced myself as being not a banker but a practising experienced manager And an Old Williamsonian, the latter statement led to a round of applause … and I was guaranteed a hearing!
    I periodically view the art work on the first floor room of Francis Iles, on the High Street/La Providence corner which was my art sixth room but I can’t remember the great history teacher who was i/c of arts 6th. But some may; I think his wife was the French teacher.

  4. we rarely got pas the first nig nog before Frankie Myers went ballistic and reminded “third and fourth form out that door” – the long way out of assembly

  5. Interesting that concerning the derivation of ‘Dan’ Myers, best and most, well, effective teacher I knew. Priceless assemblies when the ‘Lads’ would launch into the alternative School Song – an heroic and selfless act considering the guaranteed response; namely, Myers sending in his goons (hapless teachers sited at strategic intervals along one side of the hall) at the nod of his head Vader style to drag out the usual suspects protesting in mock indignation. J Roots (see above) quite right though. Never knew the words as things were never allowed to progress beyond the first line or 2.

  6. K R Imeson then moved of to ‘headmast’ at my school – Nottingham High. I remember him creating quite a fear around the corridors when he breezed past in his cape. Our one amusing memory of him was at one morning assembly. A third or fourth year, who was carrying a stink bomb in their pocket, had it squashed. As the smell wafted past us in the choir at the foot of the stage and up to the lectern KR’s slightly hooked nose started to twitch. He followed the smell – firstly around the back of the stage as he thought it was a gas leak and then, like a bloodhound, onto the floor and to the boy in question. Surprisingly for KR the boy was ‘let off’ lightly – unlike the stink bomb!

  7. I recall the song as being “shovelling sh*t by the light of the moon”, which scans much better.

    Candidate Dave was rumoured to be the genius when Harold Wilson was speaking at the Central Hall during the election. Harold said “I believe we must keep Chatham Dockyard open. And why do I say that?” During the dramatic pause that followed, Dave shouted “Because you’re in Chatham Central Hall”.

  8. If you are interested in school panoramas, paste into your browser the following link, which should display the Math school’s 1963 photo of the whole school.

    The resolution is such that you can blow up selected extracts and spend hours of fun searching for former classmates.

    Furthermore if you go to the a website and scroll down to: Ragabony,MSR-Rah! you will find a link to the Manchester City Documentary Photography Archive which holds copies of the photos produced for schools across the UK by the now defunct Panora company.

    An unfortunate consequence of Austerity is that you now has to pay for the service of searching out and providing any panorama that is required. Until a few years ago, you could copy and download for free.

    Another source of information on old school photos can be found at:

    Again a commercial service, that lists possibly every school in the UK. On calling up the Math school, only a few recent panoramas appear to be available. However, for a price, they will carry out detailed searches to your specific requirements. This site accesses the Panora archive and photos taken by other photographic companies. (I have to report that the website can be a little temperamental; you can bring up the school listings but it does not always show the available photos when you click on a school’s link)

  9. I seem to remember the “It is a matter of the utmost importance” lines being referred to as “Standard Sentences” by the Latin teacher issuing them.

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