A Tribute to Lord Cholmondeley

By Robin Treffgarne
Date Added: 17/07/2009


Competition can often be a really encouraging spur and give a keen edge to otherwise mere vague good intentions. This is I certainly true when handwriting is concerned: to have an annual contest makes a decided difference to handwriting when practised in a school term.

In 1950, Lord Cholmondeley offered prizes for an annual handwriting competition between Eton and Harrow, bringing together two schools who for some years, independently of each other, had begun to develop an interest in this then very neglected field. In combining their activities, Lord Cholmondeley helped greatly in the development of Italic in the two schools. Winchester joined the contest in 1952, and all three have continued to compete against each other annually.

Competition may, of course, encourage a polish and display not entirely a feature of normal handwriting; some formality creeps in and courtly flourishes find a breathing-space. But the judges wisely curb, without wishing to destroy, these tendencies, bearing in mind that the competition aims to encourage as wide an interest as possible, and to convert the heathen hands to the Italic: in their own words, “the writing should be in a good ordinary cursive hand, not a strictly formal hand. Attention should be given to the form of the letters, to legibility, fluency, spacing of words and letters, and the placing of the text upon the page."

A varying choice of about eighteen lines of prose or verse is used as the set-piece for the year, and each School can submit six entries by their seniors, over 15½  years, and six shorter entries by their juniors.

Eton had commenced their handwriting activities in the early 1940's when Wilfred Blunt inspired an interest in Italic; Sir Sydney Cockerell had also given some encouragement. Harrow was fortunate in that the Head Master, the late Dr. Ralph Moore, became personally interested in the Italic which Maurice Percival began to teach in 1948, following a lecture by James Wardrop, (the first of an annual series) on hand-writing. With Lord Choldmondeley's own very active interest, and the start of the Competition, it is fair to claim all these as part of the pioneering period in the development of the italic hand. They occurred, in fact, some years before the foundation of the Society for Italic Handwriting.

The names of Lord Cholmondeley's prize winners are inscribed in a finely-bound volume by Mrs. Irene Wellington, who assists in the judging and writes a commentary on theindividual competitors, a very helpful and interesting item of the event. Eton have won the Competition the most, and Eton and Harrow share a distinction of producing the winner three years running, with T. H. R. Harmsworth (1955-7) for Eton, and M. D. d' Abo (1960-2) for Harrow.