Frank Kingdon-Ward Biography

Adventure for adventure's sake.

Part 1, 1885 - 1906
“Il a le Diable dans ses jambes!”
French convent school headmistress c. 1892

Frank had a sister, Winifred Mary Ward, who was just over a year older, and the two were inseparable friends throughout their lives. Her unpublished, and adoring, biography provides much of the material for this website, although some of her facts are clearly inaccurate, beginning with her claim that they were descended from Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian library. The Wards had another daughter, Dorothy, a year after Frank was born but she died in infancy.

The site of the former Royal Indian Engineering College, now the Runnymede campus of Brunel University, in Englefield Green.
The Royal Indian Engineering College. Now the Runnymede campus of Brunel University, in Englefield Green.

In 1886, when Frank was still a baby, Harry Marshall Ward was appointed professor of botany at the Royal Indian Engineering college at Coopers Hill (now the Runnymede campus of Brunel University) and the family moved to The Laurels, Englefield Green. Frank and his sister grew up in the countryside with a large garden surrounded by fields and woodlands with the Thames running nearby. They had a great deal of freedom and took full advantage to explore and get up to mischief. They were known locally as "The Heavenly Twins" in reference to the 1893 novel by Madame Sarah Grand. It was not intended as a compliment, in fact Winifred openly admits they were very naughty children.

They spent the summer of 1892*1 staying with their grandmother in France somewhere near Bordeaux. Frank was sent to the convent school to learn French whilst Winifred describes them as having the run of the convent. Frank describes events thus.

“I had a gay time, they stood it for a week while I periodically burst into the girl's school room bringing caterpillars and other frivolous pets, which I had found in the garden, to the mere superieure who didn't want them. But the climax was reached when I danced into the chapel during mass, to fetch a little girl of whom I was very fond, to play hide and seek with me in the grounds.
“The Roman Catholics are a susceptible people, and my crime could not be condoned. I was expelled forthwith, the mere superieure herself taking me back to my mother, carriage paid. 'Il a le Diable dans ses jambes' she said, with tears in her eyes, thinking of my enormities, and my mother was very much ashamed of me for quite a week. No jam for tea, and everything must be asked for in French! There were quite a number of things I had to go without – it was very distressing.”

The Mère supérieure also said of the pair of them “Ils courent partout comme des petits lezards” They run around like little lizards. Certainly it appears that the 'heavenly twins' were, as usual, anything but. Despite the distressing punishment, Frank said, “I didn't cry, though I liked the convent school and the little French girl; in fact expulsion from my first school was always a source of hilarity for me.”

Back in England, aged around eight whilst walking on the Old Windsor road, he saw Queen Victoria in her carriage. He quickly took off his cap and to his immense pride she bowed to him. It is perhaps not too surprising that he encountered the queen since their home was only about ten miles from Windsor. Perhaps it is surprising that he did not meet her more often since, by his own admission, he used to go on entirely 'unofficial' visits to Windsor castle where he “...gazed upon beds in which whole squadrons of Kings and Queens had slept”

A drawing of a boat done by a young Francis Ward aged approximately nine or ten, he has added the words 'very bad' presumably in judgement of his own work.
Frank sums up his own drawing of a boat with the succinct verdict "very bad". This is just one (fairly typical) of a series of boats drawn by the young Frank on the backs of letters sent to his sister Winifred.
Letters and drawings

They corresponded frequently whenever they were apart. Winifred was a hoarder and consequently many of Franks letters to her survive. The earliest letters I have are from 1893 when Frank was around 7 and presumably Winifred was away at school. He addresses her variously as My dear little sister, little Winie,(sic) and little pet, from 9th March to 20th March. The first is a tale of an upset donkey and cart. He was riding with his friend Dick. It seems the donkey stopped running so, after they seem to have taken turns at whipping the beast, it went to the side of the road and the vehicle ended up in a ditch. He continues,
Dr. (name illegible) came up and laffed somuch... (sic) ...and I am glad to say no one was hurt.

He writes again on the 11th with a disjointed letter which includes a list of engagements

miss Harvy to dinner
misses eddy to tee
misses Fisher to tee
miss harvy to tee
don't know how many walks with dick

He asks about the flowers that are in the greenhouses where Winifred is. Then goes on to say he is going out in the donkey cart with Dick and reassures her that no-one was hurt in the accident. He then asks again about flowers, and what sort of fruit grow there, is it hilly, or is it smooth, stony or what. A precursor perhaps for future interests?

One of nine surviving letters written by Frank to his sister from Colet Court. This one sent the day before her birthday. Other topics include the weather and fireworks.
One of nine surviving letters written by Frank to his sister from Colet Court. This one sent the day before her birthday. Other topics include the weather and fireworks.

On another summer holiday in Wales he showed some of the talent which would stand him in good stead throughout his professional life. He and his sister went off on long walks mapping their route and describing everything they saw. Winifred says that his abilities in mapping were outstanding even then.

At some point the family moved to 'The Villas' Coopers Hill and in 1894 when Frank was nine he went as a boarder to Colet Court (prep school for St. Paul's). He did write frequent letters home although many of his letters are now lost or destroyed (a whole collection of letters to his mother and many more to his sister, Winifred, were stored in a warehouse which was destroyed by a WWII bomb) I do have some which evidently escaped this disaster. He went through a period of adding drawings of boats to his letters, perhaps a sign of his desire to sail to unknown lands? Or just a typical boyish love of machines.

Also in 1895 Frank's father was appointed professor of botany at Cambridge university and the family moved to Cambridge. They became friends with another Ward family, no relation. The father James Ward*2 was a lecturer who in 1897 was appointed Professor of mental philosophy and logic. Like Harry Marshall Ward he was an agnostic. His son Kenneth was two years younger than Frank and they became firm friends. They also had a daughter, Margery, who was about the same age as Frank and Winifred so it was natural that they played together.

A Diamond Jubilee Victorian Letter Card sent by Frank to his sister on the fourth of June, eighteen ninety seven. In it he asks her to keep it for him as he wants it for his collection. He also asks her to buy a two-and-six stamp as they will not be available for long. This was presumably a special diamond jubilee stamp.
Diamond jublilee Victorian letter card, sent on 4th June 1897. He discusses entering four events in the school sports day, and asks her to get their mother to buy a two and six (two shillings and sixpence) stamp which he will pay for later, as they won't be available for long. Stamp collecting is a pretty much constant theme of his letters from school.

St Paul's School

On to St Paul's itself. There is very little information about his school career, although it was a Kingdon family tradition to send boys there. In fact some cousins of his were both head boys each in their turn.

Kenneth Ward attended Oundle school and so it was only during the summer and Christmas holidays that the boys were able to get together. They made up for it whenever the chance arose however. Frank and Kenneth got up to all sorts of mischief as outlined by Kenneth's mother in her privately published biography of him. *3

“it was only in vacations that the boys could aid and abet each other in their adventures. But then they made the most of their time and were off tramping and camping together on every opportunity, revelling apparently in the endurance of all kinds of discomforts and hardships. Their experiences were carefully and most amusingly recorded in what they denominated 'The Records of the Giddy Oysters' These books were, of course, written more or less in an absurd lingo of their own invention,*4 and were kept secret from their elders.”

Although Kenneth was the younger, he was also a fearless climber and took the lead in most of their escapades. During the winter holidays they went on “Nightlies” or “Wheezes” and some of their actions would in the modern world could have earned them community service, or at least with anti social behaviour orders against them. These “Nightlies” involved moonlight escapes from their respective homes, hiking across fields and streams, through hedges and ditches, breaking and entering into empty barns or sheds, lighting cooking fires, and setting off home made firecrackers, before hiking home and sneaking back into their bedrooms to catch a bit of sleep before morning. Sometimes they would be chased by watchmen, gamekeepers or police but remarkably they were never caught, the chase simply added an extra dimension of excitement to the the wheeze. Kenneth's mother recalls attempting to stop them, a fear for their safety being her main concern and it seems likely that Selina also made attempts to prevent their escapes but there is no mention in Winifred's biography.

A hole dug out from the banks of the river Cam in which Frank and Kenneth Ward slept on one of their summer camping trips.
The Giddy Oysters club took delight in camping out in all conditions on their summer holidays, and often made do with a hole dug out of the ground such as this one.

The Easter and Summer vacations were reserved for their camping and travelling adventures. Either through the weather or by their own efforts they somehow contrived to suffer every conceivable hardship. They usually slept in holes dug in the ground or under railway bridges and they constructed their own vehicles such as rafts which it seems almost invariably capsized. This account of one such adventure comes again from the Kenneth Ward biography.

"The Oxford expedition from first to last was rather disastrous; mainly because of bad weather. But they prepared the way for misfortune by starting on it with an extraordinary bicycling contraption of their own manufacture, consisting of a kind of trolley loaded with a small tent, cooking utensils and all sorts of accoutrements. This was harnessed to their bicycles by means of the tent pole, so that they could tow it along. They were vastly proud of this amazing invention as they wheeled it away before the amused but critical eyes of their families and of the astonished neighbours. But they soon found that the concern was unworkable – it would neither steer properly, nor turn; and before they were half-way to Oxford every conceivable disaster had befallen it. The tent pole had broken and the spokes and treadles of the bicycles were smashed. It had served mainly to collect gaping and jeering crowds round them at every village through which they passed. Finally they had to leave the bicycles at Buckingham to be mended, store the trolley at the railway station and hire a boat in which to complete the journey to Oxford. All might then still have been well had not the worst of weather befallen them; drenching rain and cold wind which blew right through the flaps of the little light tent in which they lay huddled up in their wet clothes on a piece of tarpaulin, trying to sleep. Still to Oxford they were determined to go; and to Oxford they went.

Here is the quotation from the G.O. Journal:*5

“Finding late in the evning after a long search a retired spot by the river, we moored our boat and set up the tent... We then, after some difficulty – the wood all about being damp – managed to light a fire to dry our things by. We retained only our shirts, and proceeded to scorch both ourselves and our clothes beside it, dancing round every now and then to keep warm. Badly needing supper (it was then late and dark) we made some tea, so called:- awful greenish soupy stuff that was all the dingy little village shop nearby could supply; and tried to eat some of the only food they had to offer – and it was worse than the tea! That meal was a record stomach-surprise! We then got into the tent and huddled up into the clothes, still damp in places; but the scorching in the others not doubt made up for that! We stuffed up some of the gaps in the tent with grass, but the bitter wind blew it in over us.”

Having at last reached Oxford and made the round of colleges, they started on the return journey; boated back to where they had left their bicycles to be mended; despatched the trolley and their luggage by train, and proceeded to bicycle all through the night.

“...we had a ripping ride in the moonlight. It was a lovely crisp, starlight night, the moon shining clearly on all around... The fields seemed slowly to revolve past us, merging into the mist and fading away into the grey night beyond. Kenneth wrote about this expedition “we would not have missed it for anything – for what we lost in pleasure we gained in experience.”

Frank went up to Christ's, Cambridge in 1904 where he rowed for his college, and won cups for running. When Kenneth finished school at Oundle he climbed to the top of the Oundle church spire (215 feet) and tied his handkerchief to the top. A feat which made the local paper. According t his biography, he only went up to Cambridge in October 1906 the same year that Frank left the college. However somehow they managed to fit in a few undergraduate adventures including the following which I relate directly from Winifred's biography of Frank.

I remember the time they decided to go to the Cambridge Theatre dressed as girls – an escapade that would certainly have meant them being sent down if they had been caught. No thought of this, naturally, entered the heads of Kenneth's sister Margery and myself when we were roped in to provide the necessary disguises. Never will I forget the night when in deadly secrecy, the four of us gathered in my bedroom to fit them out in our evening frocks. Frank's was a flimsy affair of muslin and lace which came to the ground on me but only reached half-way below his knees. Absorbed in trying to make the frocks meet round them, a matter more of hope than anything else, nobody noticed the trifling detail that he was wearing football boots. Their hands (Kenneth's were like hams) would not go into our gloves, so they put on mittens and then stuffed them into muffs suspended from their necks, as was the fashion at the time. They had hired wigs from the theatrical outfit shop in the town, and to crown them they borrowed our flowery summer hats. The general effect was indescribable. Off they went with their escort, a college friend of Frank's named Bertie Brierley (in those days an escort for girls was obligatory). The show was a musical, and their seats in the very middle of the front row of the stalls. Some of the chorus girls grasped what was up and sang straight at them a popular song of the day - “Hullo! Hullo! Hullo! Its a different girl again!” Substituting “man” for “girl”.
By then the boys were beginning to think they had bitten off more than they could chew. Kenneth had had a terrible time removing his hat, which was skewered on with long hat pins; when, at last, it came off, his golden wig nearly came with it. The audience, mostly undergraduates, were getting more and more curious, craning their necks to see what was happening; one group started clapping. Kenneth and Frank jumped up and made for the exit, but as they edged their way between the audience and the footlights Frank stumbled over a man's feet, and swore loudly in a voice hardly that of a young lady. When they at last succeeded in gaining the exit there were no cabs about, and they had to hoof it hard the long mile and a half home. Bertie Brierly was unluckier still. He had been recognised by the manager who, with singularly unsportsmanlike instinct, wrote a long letter to his tutor, with the result that he was gated for a fortnight, at which the other two laughed heartlessly and uproariously.

Their narrow escape appears not to have perturbed Frank and he continued to go off on escapades. Coming back late from a visit to a dance which he should not have been to, he was caught climbing back over the college walls. Winifred took it upon herself to plead with the master who was a friend of the family. The threat of being sent down hung over Frank for a time but, whether thanks to his sister's intervention or despite it, he escaped with being gated.

All Frank's college activities both academic and extra mural came to an end abruptly however with the untimely death of his father in 1906.

NOTES for chapter 1

Note 1. Possibly earlier, Winifred recalls they were four and five but Frank wrote in 1909/10 that it was seventeen years ago which would have made them around eight and seven.

Note 2. James Ward gave the Gifford lectures in 1896–1898: Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. 1 1896–1898: Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. 2 1907–1909: The Realm of Ends or Pluralism and Theism. There is a biography of James Ward here.

Note 3. "Memoirs of Kenneth Martin Ward, 1929 Simpkin Marshall Ltd Private printing.

Note 4.It would appear that this was largely public school slang. She mentions the use of the word 'tollies' to mean candles, for example.

Note 5. It seems to be Kenneth's words here although the literary style is similar to some of Frank's later writing.

Frank Kingdon-Ward Biography