Betjeman’s Schoolboy Poems Read at Dragon Centenary

Dragon School, Oxford | 16 Jun 2017
Poet Laureate, writer, personality, documentary maker and campaigner Sir John Betjeman arrived at Dragon School, Oxford 100 years ago. At an event to celebrate the famous poet, a Betjeman Society memorial plaque was unveiled by headmaster John Baugh.
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Photo: John Baugh and Charlotte

The wry, comic, schoolboy verse of Sir John Betjeman (‘poets never write about the dawning when it rains’), delighted a large gathering of Betjeman Society members for their AGM held at the Dragon on Saturday 10th June 2017.

Sir John attended the School between 1917 and 1920. The Betjeman Society chose to mark the popular poets’ formational years at the school with the gift of a plaque to inspire future generations of Dragons ‘to have a go at writing poetry’. Sir John’s time at the Dragon awakened a lifelong love of Oxford, where he later studied and which featured often in his poetry and prose.

The school has always encouraged poetry and creativity. The School magazine ‘the Draconian’ published his work and he was much praised for his performances on the stage: from Gilbert and Sullivan to Shakespeare. These experiences began a life in television, as a producer and presenter, and on vinyl as he combined music with verse. Likewise, as a poet, journalist and writer; his collections of poetry had unusually broad appeal, some selling over 100,000 copies.

Children at the Dragon, then as now, are encouraged to engage in society, and Betjeman proved an articulate campaigner for the preservation of architecture. In ‘Summoned by Bells’, his blank verse autobiography, later made into a film, Sir John, describes his childhood; it was his schoolboy explorations of North Oxford that developed his fascination with architecture, particularly churches. Today his statue stands outside gothic St Pancras station, one the many places he helped to save. 

Sir John will be best remembered as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1972 until his death in 1984. The Betjeman Society’s plaque to Sir John was unveiled in the playground by headmaster, John Baugh, and Charlotte Austen (Year 2). Over 65 Betjeman Society members attended. During the day children read poetry by Sir John, and poems written by the children inspired by his verse. The school bell was rung, the same bell that called Betjeman to his lessons.

John Baugh, Dragon Headmaster read a message sent by Tim Betjeman, Sir John’s grandson, who said: “A lot of my grandfather’s love of architecture began here, and a lot of his fond boyhood memories are stored here. It is a great and fitting tribute that he should now be formally anchored into the brickwork of the Dragon”. 

Old Dragon and Betjeman Society Vice-Chairman, Andrew McCallum, remarked, "Many Society Members have said this was our best meeting ever. We were delighted to learn that John Betjeman, who disliked sport of all kinds, had been allowed to walk the grounds writing and reciting poetry during sports' lessons." Dragon School continues to nurture creative talent and to celebrate individuality, seen so clearly in the unique John Betjeman.

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Photo: Statue of Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras
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Photo: Andrew McCallum with Dragon pupils
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