“I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of ‘premonitory symptoms’, it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.”
Perhaps it is just as well that the School had not quite been founded in 1889; otherwise, English literature might have been deprived of one of its great comic works.
In Jerome K. Jerome’s celebrated semi-fiction Three Men in a Boat, J. and his two friends, upon consulting a medical volume, proclaim themselves to be suffering from an assortment of maladies: cholera, diphtheria, typhoid fever and – most concerning to them – overwork! However, rather than presenting themselves as case studies for health research, their remedy is to take a leisurely voyage up the Thames in a rowing skiff from Kingston to Oxford.
The novel had been intended to be a serious piece of travel writing; however, the factual accounts of the landscape and riverside towns soon gave over to comical digressions and anecdotes of boating misadventures. Originally derided by critics, it proved a hit with readers and grew to become a literary classic. Since its first publication, Three Men in a Boat has never been out of print.
This week, a blue plaque recognising Jerome’s brief residence at the address was unveiled at 32 Tavistock Place, directly across the road from the School’s Tavistock Place buildings. The plaque was made possible by champions of the local area, the Marchmont Association, and the Jerome K. Jerome Society.
The suitably light-hearted ceremony was attended by comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Rory McGrath who, along with Dara Ó Briain, had recreated the three men’s journey in a series for the BBC. Following the unveiling, Chair of the Marchmont Association Ricci de Freitas, Mayor of Camden Jonathan Simpson and local MP and former Secretary of State for Health Frank Dobson joined local residents and Jerome enthusiasts bedecked in blazers and boaters, at a lunch reception in the School’s Tavistock Place gardens.
Participating in such an event is a wonderful way for the School to engage with the local community, and it serves as a reminder of how closely connected the Bloomsbury area’s rich cultural, literary and healthcare histories are – and particularly fitting in this instance, given our own waterborne origins, albeit on a ship in Greenwich and not a skiff in Kingston!