My old school has some quite remarkable historical associations - as well as also being the alma mater of Professor Stephen Hawking and being the only British school to have produced a pope (Nicholas Breakspeare, Pope Adrian IV) the school was associated with one of the very first printing presses - in fact the third printing press in English history - set up in the Abbey Gateway St Albans which is now part of the school and where yesterday's meeting took place.
That much I already knew from having paid at least some attention to various speeches on the history of the school which I heard while a pupil.
And what I learned yesterday is that one of the eight books known to have been printed on that early printing press was a copy of a latin textbook of the time known as the Elegantiolae, written by Agostino Dati, (1420–1478), and printed about 1479.
It has been suggested that the edition of this book printed for St Albans School may have been the first ever printed school textbook. At one stage there was one known surviving copy of this edition which found its way in to the library of John Moore, Bishop first of Norwich and then Ely, and thence into the Royal Library at the University of Cambridge. Another surviving copy was found at St Albans School and I saw it yesterday, where it has been provided with a very special new cover - not the wallpaper in which school textbooks are frequently wrapped, but a parchment even older and rarer.
This of course gives me an opportunity to repeat one of my favourite stories which I admit I have previously blogged about here and here. But the old ones are the best ones ...
The state of both his universities,
To Oxford sent a troop of horse, and why?
That learned body wanted loyalty;
To Cambridge books, as very well discerning
How much that loyal body wanted learning."
For Tories own no argument but force:
With equal skill to Cambridge books he sent,
For Whigs admit no force but argument."
are links to internet pages which include versions of the story and the two poems.