Anthony Chenevix-Trench: Fettes remains arrogant shock

Below, the unedited version of an article I had in the scottish edition of The Sunday Express on 17/2/13.

Would parents send their children to a school that continued to celebrate a past association with Jimmy Savile or Cyril Smith? So what’s the difference here? AC-T apparently considered sodomy ‘messy and futile’, so his abusive behaviour could have been much worse. But there’s no doubt in the minds of his victims that after leathering their bare backsides, often in his private quarters, and even on the marital bed, as well as in his locked office, he was masturbating as he admired his handywork _ while the boys were told to stay still and not turn around. Just the sort of man you want to lionise in a school chapel.


By Marcello Mega


ONE of the UK’s most famous independent schools has refused to remove a plaque in its chapel that pays tribute to a former headmaster, Anthony Chenevix-Trench, a sexual deviant renowned for beating the bare buttocks of young boys in his charge.


While plaques and other memorials to Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith have been removed in recent months amid the sex abuse scandals that have destroyed their reputations, Tony Blair’s old school, Fettes College in Edinburgh, has refused to follow suit.


Chenevix-Trench had been head of Eton from 1964 but was sacked in 1970 because of his increasingly sadistic treatment of boys, including the sons of titled and powerful parents who complained about his excesses.


The reason for his removal was never made public, and a year later he was appointed head of Fettes. His enthusiasm for beatings and excessive alcohol intake meant he was in the process of being removed by way of early retirement in 1979 when he died, aged 60.


A plaque on the wall of the school’s chapel reads: ‘His door was always open, for he loved his fellow man.’


In a letter sent to Lord Tyre, chair of the board of governors at Fettes, David Blackie, 66, an educationalist, talks of the ‘grotesque irony of the legend’, adding: ‘When engaged in his particular deviant form of love for his fellow man he in fact took great care to ensure that the door was locked.’


Mr Blackie, who first wrote to Fettes in 1994 to request the plaque be removed, endured many episodes of Chenevix-Trench’s brutal sadism when he had him as housemaster at Bradfield, in Berkshire, including beatings administered in the head’s private quarters, and even on his marital bed.


He tells Lord Tyre that recent revelations of child abuse have prompted him to appeal to Fettes again. He adds: ‘Anthony Chenevix-Trench was not a disciplinarian. He was over-familiar and tactile. He was late for meetings, late for lessons, late for chapel, dressed untidily and always smelled of alcohol.’


Mr Blackie concludes his letter: ‘I am writing to suggest you remove that plaque from your chapel. I personally don’t mind what you do with the chapel, but I think it does you no credit that it sits there with its absurd message, when really Trench should be held up in much the same way as James Savile, as one who abused his position over many years and got away with it.


‘I am asking the trustees of Fettes to be courageous enough to put the interests of children past, present and future first, and to distance the college from its links with this odious little man, and from any tacit acceptance of his perverse proclivities.’


Chenevix-Trench’s bizarre and unacceptable behaviour at Shrewsbury, where he was a housemaster, then at Bradfield and Eton, meant that word did circulate in privileged circles of his undesirable proclivities. There were many raised eyebrows when he re-emerged at Fettes, often referred to as the Eton of the North.


The late and well respected journalist, Paul Foot, who was taught and beaten by Chenevix-Trench at Shrewsbury, first wrote about his former master’s brutality in 1969, before his arrival at Fettes.


But the full extent of the deviant nature of his beatings only became widely known in the mid 1990s, with Foot, Blackie and other victims provoked into print by tributes paid to Chenevix-Trench, especially in a hagiography penned by Mark Peel, then a teacher at Fettes.


In a remarkably candid essay for the London Review of Books, published in September 1996, Foot wrote: ‘In his Foreword to a new biography of Anthony Chenevix-Trench, Sir William Gladstone writes that Trench’s ‘interest was in drawing out the best from boys as individuals’.


‘Another interest, not mentioned by Sir William, lay in drawing down the underpants of boys – as individuals – before ordering them to lie on his sofa while he spanked their bare buttocks.


‘In his Introduction, the author Mark Peel pays tribute to Trench’s ‘common touch’ without referring to his most common touch of all: the sensuous fingering of his pupils’ buttocks before and during the interminable beatings.’


The article provoked a flood of tales from fellow victims, but also a steady stream of those who had known Chenevix-Trench and who wished to defend him.


In dismissing Mr Blackie’s request to remove the plaque in 1994, Fettes cited respect for those who had known and admired its former head.


On this occasion, Lord Tyre took some weeks to reply to Mr Blackie, telling him simply that his comments were noted, as they had been in 1994.


A spokeswoman for the school said: ‘A letter was addressed to the Fettes College Governors and arrived at the end of November regarding this matter and a reply was sent back to the author of that letter in due course. No further comment will be made.’


Last night, Vanessa Goldie-Scot, daughter of Fettes’ former deputy head, Thomas Goldie-Scot, condemned the school for its arrogance.


Ms Goldie-Scot, 61, now living in Australia, could not attend the school with her brothers as it was no co-ed during her childhood, but she grew up there.


She said: ‘I went to the chapel regularly as a child, I was married there, and my children went there. The chapel is a special, sacred place.


‘My dear father went there every day, sometimes twice a day, for more than 40 years.


‘He would be turning in his grave. How the head and the board of governors cannot see that it is an insult to the children abused by Chenevix-Trench to honour him in that special place is beyond me.


‘He has long since been exposed as a sadistic sexual deviant. To continue to attempt to cover him in the cloak of respectability is foolish and futile.’


Fettes College opened in 1870 following a vast bequest by the former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir William Fettes, for the education of poor children and orphans.


Last month, the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator announced that Fettes was one of only three independent schools in Scotland to have failed to meet the level of public benefit required to retain its charitable status.


With fees ranging from £12,555 to £27,150, the school has been ordered to take steps to widen access to the benefits it provides.