Harrow County School for Boys

Room 13 / George Cowan's Room

by Jeff Maynard

One of the most interesting rooms in the school, architecturally, belonged to George Cowan, Deputy Headmaster from 1965 to 1975.  It also had a previous existence, before the Second World War, as "Room 13".  For those that do not know which room I mean, if you sit on the bench under the Clock, the room is straight up the stairs over the War Memorial, in front of you, on the right.

In my day this was the abode of George Cowan, the eminently fair and methodical Deputy Headmaster, who knew the name of every boy in the school. A cosy room with lots of light from a skylight.  I remember George with a huge timetable placed under the skylight, trying to work out how to let me study English Literature, Pure and Applied Mathematics and Economics in the Sixth Form - a combination that covered Arts, Sciences and Modern Subjects.  He did that timetable without the aid of a computer, of course.  When George came down the stairs from his room, a sense of order prevailed; we all knew that he ran the school.  (I will not write here of detentions and "The plowman homeward plods his weary way.")

When I visited the room in August 2003 the room was completely empty.  I think that it was being redecorated - but it looked sad and forlorn.

However, I recently came across an article on the same room, written by Rex Russell-Forbes, who was killed in the Second World War, in The Gaytonian, March 1935.  In those days this room was the library!  It also seems to have been used as a room to eat lunch.  It was also a room with a view - the New Hall and new wing had not yet been built to block it.  This is an extract:

"The first impression, on entering, is what an extraordinary place it is.  There is no other room with such peculiar lighting.   The roof-light conveys the impression of being on top of the world.  This, combined with the usual bare appearance, makes the room seem very large.  The view from the window reveals, in the foreground, a miscellaneous collection of buildings, betraying a deplorable lack of cycle sheds.  In the center of the field the relaid table stands out from the remaining grass.  Beyond a decrepit fence and topped by Barn Hill, a mysterious hive of industry is noticeable.  Perhaps a rival Bathing Pool!  It should be mentioned that this view has become the craze of Harrow; all those in the fashion climb the stairs to absorb the scene of green fields and cool water.

"The contents of the room tend to be a trifle depressing until one becomes accustomed to the melancholy atmosphere.  One-sixth of the wall space is - or was - painted a drab black colour, ostensible for working out abtruse problems in super-charged mathematics, and very handy for noughts-and-crosses, as well as self-expression by obscure artists.  The library!  Alas, now I see it in stark reality.  Many great authors are represented there: Fenimore Cooper, an Early Victorian; Jane Austen, 1790 or so; Brontė sisters and Caxton, both round about 1850.  These authors were very popular among adukts, then.  The rest of the library is packed with similar books, all very useful for improving the minds of boys between the ages of 11 and 15."

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