Tag Archives: Cruel school

Rosie at Thorndale Hall [1983]

Thorndale Hall cover

Published: Judy Picture Library #240 [1983]

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Library #400 [1993]

Artist: David Matysiak

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Rosie Cooper is not a popular girl at Meadowdale Hall School. She is an extremely gifted girl who excels at everything, but she is spoiled and selfish and never helps anyone or shares her skills. Even the staff find her unbearable, but don’t speak out because her father is the chairman of the board of governors and her family have old ties with the school. For this reason the staff give her favourable treatment and bend a lot of rules for her.

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Then prefect Kay Easton decides enough is enough. She orders Rosie to clean out a lumber room and won’t have any of Rosie’s threats of what she could do because her father’s position. Rosie realises she has met her match in Kay and grudgingly starts cleaning.

While cleaning the room, Rosie stumbles across a picture of what looks like the school in its early days, but under a different name: Thorndale Hall. Rosie gets a strange feeling the picture means something to her, and it’s creepy.

It’s creepy all right: next moment the picture vanishes, and everything starts spinning and dissolving. When it stops, Rosie finds the school has changed and so have her clothes: “what coarse old rubbish”. A fearsome-looking Victorian woman named Mrs Grimm (the Thorndale headmistress) appears and demands to know why Rosie hasn’t scrubbed the floor. Rosie’s arrogance resurfaces, making her usual threats about her father being the chairman of the governors. Thinking Rosie has lost her mind or something, Grimm and her assistant, Trimlett, inform her that she is an orphan who is boarding at Thorndale Hall, all paid by her “scapegrace [wayward] guardian”. Grimm and Trimlett make it very clear that they are capable of handling Rosie with extreme cruelty; Trimlett has already broken one girl’s arm. Later we learn Trimlett’s punishments killed another girl. Cowed and bewildered, Rosie is forced to scrub the floor, realising she has somehow gone back in time to Thorndale Hall, which is clearly run on the lines of Wackford Squeers.

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In the dining hall Rosie is introduced to another cruel assistant, Mr Bludge, who wants her to help with very substandard and meagre portions for the pupils. It is here that Rosie begins to find that she is no longer quite so good at everything. She clumsily breaks the jar of dripping and in punishment is given just dry bread. One girl, Lucy Dawlish, takes pity on her, and Rosie makes a friend for the first time in this story.

That night Rosie tries to run away, but finds there is a guard dog, which raises the alarm. Bludge almost catches her, but Lucy creates a diversion by screaming and feigning night horrors. This enables Rosie to slip back without being caught, but the cruel staff say Lucy’s nightmares are due to too much food and don’t let her have any breakfast. (Any excuse to make them go short, obviously.) Rosie tries to slip Lucy her own food, but Trimlett catches her.

Pupils are forced to do all the work around the school. There are lessons, but Rosie is in for a shocking surprise in class – she is no longer able to read! Grimm calls her a “useless slut”, but instead of teaching Rosie to read she puts Rosie back to more menial work, saying that’s all she’s good for. (Another excuse for more slave labour, obviously.)

Rosie still wants to escape, and realises the first step is to make friends with the guard dog. So she takes scraps from the larder to feed to the dog. Lucy envies the dog for getting more food than they do, but it does the trick: in a matter of days the dog no longer barks at Rosie.

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However, when Rosie gets too close to a room with blacked-out windows while window cleaning, Bludge acts like this has spooked him and he rants at her. This arouses Rosie’s suspicions. She gets even more suspicious when she finds the door to the grimy window room is always locked. Grimm and Trimlett also go into a rant when they catch Rosie at the door, which makes her even more suspicious. The cruel staff are getting suspicious of Rosie and are watching her closely.

Rosie and Lucy now try their escape. As they do so, they are surprised to see a horse trap arrive with two men, who carry a box into the school. The dog does not bark at them, so it must know them. The girls take advantage of the men leaving the gate unlocked to make their escape.

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They find a Peeler, but he does not believe their story and brings them back to Thorndale Hall. He tells the staff that he will call back to check in a week or so, which makes the staff too scared to punish the girls. Instead they tread a cautious line of better treatment for the girls (such as more food for the pupils) until they are sure things are safe again. But Rosie senses they are in danger because the staff suspect they saw the men and there are signs the staff are wary, such as the dog being moved closer to the grimy windowed room. Rosie keeps watch for the men and sees them creeping around the room with the box, and then somehow reappear without it. She realises there must be a secret entrance that is concealed by greenery.

Rosie does not realise the men saw her spying. When the staff hear about it, they decide to advance their plans to do away with Rosie and Lucy. Rosie is listening at the door (and narrowly escapes being caught doing so) and realises they must escape. But in view of what happened before, they must go with some form of evidence so the Peelers will listen this time.

So Rosie heads to the secret room for some. When she pulls back the greenery she finds a small hidden door and a silver medallion. Hearing footsteps, Rosie hides with the medallion in time – but not in time to put the greenery back. Bludge sees it has been moved and is now alerted, which means Rosie and Lucy have to make an instant escape. They do so, but Grimm sends Bludge and Trimlett out to find and silence them, or it will be Newgate Prison for all of them.

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Trimlett and Bludge do catch up with the girls, but the Peelers catch them red-handed and arrest them. The Peelers explain they half-believed the girls because it tied in with other things they had observed, such as the two men, but they had to wait until they had checked things out.

At the school, the Peelers force Grimm to open the door to the secret room, which reveals a counterfeiting operation that forges coins with stolen silver. Grimm feigns innocence, but she goes wild when Rosie furiously counters with the truth. Grimm locks the Peelers in the room and then goes after Rosie with a poker. She is almost upon Rosie, but then everything starts spinning and dissolving again…

Rosie now finds herself back in her own time, and in her own clothes. Kay gives Rosie full marks for her excellent cleanup of the lumber room (how did it get cleaned up?). Rosie wonders if it was a dream, but when she checks the school records it corroborates everything she experienced at Thorndale Hall. The school was exposed, Grimm was imprisoned for theft and forgery, and her school closed down. Thorndale was exposed by…Rosie Cooper.

Rosie is at a loss to explain it. Was it a dream or what? But everyone is surprised and delighted at how Rosie has suddenly become a kind, friendly and helpful girl at the school. Rosie is now making friends and becoming popular.

Thoughts

This story could still stand on its own if it was just a straight out period piece of Rosie being a 19th century girl being put through the experiences of Thorndale Hall, bringing it down, and going on to become one of the founders of its more savoury successor, Meadowdale. After all, there must be some connection between Rosie Cooper exposing Thorndale Hall and the Coopers having long-standing connections with Meadowdale. However, that aspect is never explained. Instead we’ve got the added dimensions of a spoiled 20th century girl who needs a lesson and gets it at 19th century Thorndale, and a time travel element that nobody can understand or explain. This makes the story even more exciting, intriguing and mysterious than if it was just a group slave story set in a cruel and secretly criminal 19th century school.

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We have to wonder if the time travel creates some sort of paradox. Is 20th century Rosie the same Rosie who exposed Thorndale Hall in the past and (presumably) established her own ancestral connections to Meadowdale? Or is it some weird combination between 20th century Rosie and 19th century Rosie (as implied by retaining her 20th century memories yet becoming unable to read)? Or was 20th century Rosie somehow reliving the experiences of 19th century Rosie while still retaining a portion of her own consciousness? Or was it some supernatural power reaching out to punish Rosie for her arrogance? It is stretching credibility to say the whole thing was in Rosie’s imagination.

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The villains are predictably cruel Victorian people who run their school in a Squeersian style manner. But it’s not just to take advantage of girls for profit. The villains also using the school as a front for a secret counterfeiting ring. It would be interesting to know if they set up the school that way in the first place and they were criminals to begin with. We get a hint that this may be so when Grimm’s lessons suggest she does not care all that much about educating the girls. One-eyed Bludge does not give the impression he is the teaching sort either.

Matysiak’s artwork makes the villains really terrifying and the stuff of nightmares. For example, the close-up of the two mystery men (above) still keeps their faces indistinct. Their faces are rendered in an impressionist manner that makes them even more frightening than if their faces were shown clearly. In another panel (below), Grimm is made even more alarming by a stripe of dark highlighting that goes right down from her forehead to her collarbone.

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The artwork is a perfect fit for rendering this intriguing and powerful story. Matysiak’s artwork is brilliantly atmospheric in conveying the grimness of the school and its Victorian setting, the evil of the school staff, the covert operations at the school that provide the mystery that must be unravelled, and the supernatural time travel elements of the story. It’s done through ingenious applications of inking rather than linework or hatching. It produces real beauties, such as in the two panels mentioned above.

 

School of Shadows (1995)

School of Shadows cover

Bunty Picture Library: #393

Published: 1995

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

The pupils of Ratcliffe Park Boarding School are temporarily relocated to Ratcliffe Manor when their school needs repairs because of structural damage from flooding. There are whispers from a couple of pupils, Emma and Mags, that the manor is haunted. Sarah and Sally, the protagonists of the story, don’t take the rumours seriously. But they are disturbed when they see the portrait of the stern-looking Lavinia Wykes, whose family were the first owners of the manor, and marvel at what a contrast it is to Lavinia as a child in another portrait.

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Then the headmistress, Mrs Jonson, starts acting very strangely. Normally she is a kindly headmistress, but suddenly there are strange fluctuations in her behaviour. She starts turning into a Jekyll and Hyde character. At times she acts quite normally, but at other times she turns into a dragon, treating everyone in a manner that is not only extremely harsh but also Victorian in its thinking. She gives orders for the pupils to be served plain breakfasts consisting of dry bread and porridge. New rules are installed, and the girls are shocked and surprised at how severe they are: uniform to be worn at all times; no talking after lights out; no food in the dorms; no wandering around inside the house; and other rules listed that are not described. The caretaker doesn’t fare much better. When the school first arrives, Mrs Jonson tells him not to worry about cleaning the difficult-to-clean Victorian style windows. But then she does a very angry U turn, demanding they be cleaned “my good man!”

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Sally and Sarah put her behaviour down to the stress of the move, and Mrs Jonson is indeed taken ill. But when the deputy head, Miss Greg, takes over, she starts acting the same way. When Mrs Jonson returns, she seems to be herself again and even gives the girls pop posters for their dormitory. But soon the same thing starts again.

Things get weirder and weirder. When sent to the upstairs room for detention, Sally and Sarah rapidly discover there is something strange about it. It is inexplicably hot, and soon there are strange lights and voices crying “No! No! No!” in the room. In the school grounds they encounter a strange apparition and catch the words “…and I will not tolerate it!” in a voice they don’t recognise.

Sally and Sarah now think it is time to look up the history of the manor. They search newspapers in town, which yields information that the Wykes family built the manor as a private house. Thirty-five years later it was converted into a girls’ boarding school, with Miss Wykes as headmistress. Two years after that, a fire broke out in a dormitory, killing Miss Wykes and several pupils.

Now Sally and Sarah believe the manor really is haunted after all, and the ghost of Miss Wykes has possessed Mrs Jonson (and Miss Gregg during her brief stint as headmistress). When they tackle Mags for information on what she said about the manor, she says she was just embroidering rumours she had heard from her gran.

The abnormal change in Mrs Jonson gets worse and worse. She even starts looking like Miss Wykes, calls herself Miss Wykes, and redecorates her office in a Victorian style and switches to kerosene lamps because electric light hurts her eyes. She also gets flummoxed when she encounters computer technology, but then seems to recover herself and tackle it comfortably. She had given the girls posters to decorate the dorm with, but then tears them down when she turns into the dragon that seems to model itself on Miss Wykes.

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By now the headmistress’s behaviour has spread confusion and fear through the pupils. Because of it, they hate being at the manor and are desperate to go back to their own school. Sarah and Sally don’t want to start a panic by telling them what they think is happening, but they do take a third girl, Jane, into their confidence.

During another Wykes possession, Mrs Johnson scolds the girls for reading by candlelight in the dorm again – when there are no candles at all. At this, Jane, Sally and Sarah suspect that candles in the dorm started the fire.

They discover that records from the Wykes school are stored in the upstairs room – where the inexplicable heat, noises and lights are centred. That evening, they investigate the records, while the heat and noises start up again. They suspect this is because the original dormitory was located in the upstairs room, and where the fire started. A blueprint of the original school confirms their suspicions.

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They then come across a teacher’s journal, which lists the same set of rules that Mrs Jonson set up. The journal reveals that the fire was indeed started by pupils reading by candlelight in the dorm, which they often did because Miss Wykes frequently punished them by sending them to bed much too early. It goes on to say that the manor had been a sinister place since the fire and would have been better off burning right to the ground.

Then the girls discover that the day is an anniversary of the fire, which can only mean that something terrible is going to happen. Right on cue, the voices start up again and a notebook starts floating. They realise that another school on the premises must have been what sparked it all off. They head off to the headmistress’s office, hoping to convince her that they are in danger. As they do so, they feel they are being followed.

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They find no headmistress – but her office is on fire! They sound the fire alarm and the school evacuates. They hear another “No! No! No!” coming from the upstairs room, this time in Mrs Jonson’s voice. They find her in a very strange state, and she drops her lamp, which starts more fire that is not affected by fire extinguishers. The girls feel that these are not ordinary flames, and the fire brigade does not fare any better against them. This time the manor does burn to the ground, and the girls realise that the journal was right to say that it should – it is the only way to purge the ghosts. Mrs Jonson returns to normal and everyone is safe. The protagonists don’t dwell on wondering exactly what happened at the School of Shadows – they are just glad to see the end of it and return to their own school.

Thoughts

The harshness of old-style school discipline, particularly among principals who take it too far, or even let it turn into downright child abuse, has been a frequent one in girls’ comics. It often makes grim reading and a salutary lesson in not what to do in education. But when it is combined with the supernatural, as it is here, it makes for the most disturbing but compelling reading.

The haunting at the School of Shadows is all the more frightening and effective because the ghosts are kept obscure and it is never made clear just what the haunting is about. There are no supernatural beings actually appearing to frighten everyone, apart from the one in the grounds. No apparitions appear to speak to anyone, whether it is to make demands, threats, requests, or offer explanations and help. The ghost of Miss Wykes does not appear in person; you just get the impressions of both the ghost and the tyrannical headmistress it was in life, through its possession of Mrs Jonson. But this makes the haunting even scarier.

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The ghost in the grounds is the only apparition to actually appear in the story, but just what it is – it does not even look like Miss Wykes or the pupils who died in the fire – what it wants, or what it means by “And I will not tolerate it!” are not clear. It does not even bother to actually scare the girls; it just drifts by them as if they don’t exist. Its purpose in the story is difficult to understand and it does not square with who is supposed to be haunting the manor. One gets the impression that Bunty was gilding the lily a bit there.

However, there are few nice touches about the haunting of Miss Wykes. The first is the glimpse of her as a cute-looking child in one portrait that is such a contrast to the formidable, unsmiling headmistress she has become in the portrait that unnerves the girls. So often do these stern, hard teachers that we see in so many serials forget that they were once children themselves, just like the kids they rule with a fist of iron. And the reader also gets a reminder that a horrible headmistress was a child once – something you don’t see every day in girls’ comics.

There are also dashes of faint humour that the tyrannical ghost of Lavinia Wykes is getting a bit of 20th century culture shock while she possesses the body of Miss Jonson. One occurs in the computer room where she is completely thrown by all the computer technology, and we get the impression she had to retreat there and let Miss Jonson return. Another occurs in her office where she can’t bear modern electric lighting and insists on the old-fashioned lamps.

The girls don’t dwell on pondering exactly what went on at the manor, but we will take a moment to do so. First, there cannot be much doubt that the combination of the upcoming anniversary of the fire and the presence of another school on the premises was enough to stir up the ghosts. Plus, it must have been a miserable school with the harsh, intolerant Lavinia Wykes as headmistress (mind you, we have seen worse in girls’ comics).

It certainly looks like Lavinia Wykes was reliving her time as headmistress through her possession of Miss Jonson – but for what purpose? Was the past just replaying itself through the guest school because of the upcoming anniversary of the fire? Or did the ghost(s) have an ulterior motive? For example, did Lavinia Wykes want to relive her time as headmistress all over again? Or did she react badly to the sight of the modern, progressive school and its easy-going headmistress and set out to impose her ideas of discipline on the school? Clashes between strict old-fashioned schools and progressive modern schools have occurred before in girls’ comics, such as “The Girls of Liberty Lodge” in Tammy and “Dracula’s Daughter” in Jinty. If Lavinia Wykes had been alive, there would certainly have been feuds between her and Miss Jonson over the way a school should be run.

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Or were the ghosts out to exorcise themselves by recreating the past and then the fire? It is strange, the way the fire that destroys the manor does not seem to be an ordinary fire, and resists all attempts to extinguish it. But the ghosts don’t seem to be out to kill anyone with the fire, as there is no there is no attempt to stop them escaping with their lives.

There is no way to know for certain because there is not enough information given about the ghosts and their motives. Like the girls, we only know for certain that the ghost of Lavinia Wykes is no more by the end of the story, and are so glad.

 

 

 

The Maze

Plot

On a school trip to a ruined Victorian mansion, Susie Waters wanders into a maze. When she comes out, she finds herself in Victorian times, when the mansion was a school run by the cruel Miss Grimstaff. Susie needs the key to the maze to get back, but Miss Grimstaff has it. So Susie is forced to stay at the school, where she starts as one of the abused pupils and is then promoted to substitute teacher (but is still ill-treated) until she can get the key. In the meantime, Susie does what she can to help the abused pupils.

Notes

Appeared

  • The Maze –  Bunty:  circa #1992 (16 March 1996) – (?)