Alex Massie

Worst Hat-Bashing for Years: 16/7/39

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No-one who has done time at one of this country's more expensive educational institutions will be surprised by this account of the aftermath of the 1939 Eton vs Harrow match at Lord's. It's a scene of carnage that could be lifted from the pages of Wodehouse or, more darkly, Waugh.

Note too the attitude of the police and the frankly suspicious-but-far-too-good-to-check reference to Hitler. This, then, is the Sunday Express's account, noted by George Orwell in his diary entry for the 16th of July, 1939.

Worst Hat-Bashing For Years

Our “Gentlemen” Enjoy Themselves

Harrow beat Eton at cricket yesterday, at Lord’s, for the first time for thirty years, and then followed the biggest display of hat-bashing since the 1919 match.

Top hats were torn to shreds, umbrellas broken in pieces, ties torn up - and even trousers taken off.

When the winning run was scored Lord’s became “a well-dressed bear garden”.

And it wasn’t the boys who started it all but their elders - pillars of county society, “figures” on the Stock Exchange, grey-haired business men and the like.

Elderly men took off their toppers. They were kicked from their hands.

One distinguished looking old Etonian punched a clerical old Harrovian. Two other old Harrovians set upon their school enemy. He was thrown to the ground.

His tie was torn off and his coat was lifted, disclosing light-blue braces. In four seconds he was de-bagged. A woman friend cried for help to a policeman.

“I’m not a spoilsport” he replied. “I won’t interfere. I leave that kind of thing to the special constables.”

For a while the fighting was almost entirely among the older men. There were probably too many masters about. But after about twenty minutes the boys joined in.

Hats continued to fly in the air. There were bleeding noses. One boy twisted his thumb. A mob of shouting youths, hurtling by, knocked down an old woman. A girl’s frock was torn.

An umbrella crook caught the leg of a woman who was dragged about fifty yards.

A few parents and friends stood around the disturbance, in stately and smiling calm.

“What a good omen,” one man was heard to say. “What will Hitler say? The rather non-Aryan school has won after thirty years.”

There have not been such scenes since the 1919 match which resulted in a warning that the fixture would be cancelled if fighting occurred again. 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.