The real Winslow Boy

The biggest story in the British press 100 years ago today centred on a High Court case brought by the family of George Archer-Shee, a teenage naval cadet who had been expelled from Osborn Naval College two years previously for stealing a postal order valued at 5 shillings.

The grounds for George Archer-Shee’s expulsion were largely circumstantial. On 7th October 1908 he was granted permission to leave the grounds of the College and visit the local Post Office in order to purchase a postal order and a stamp, with which to buy a model train costing 15/6. Upon his return it was reported that a postal order for 5 shillings, which had been received earlier that day by fellow cadet Terence Back, had been stolen.

Local Post Office clerk Annie Tucker was summoned, and she produced the cashed postal order in Back’s name and stated that only two cadets had visited the Post Office that afternoon – and that the same cadet who had purchased the 15/6 postal order had cashed the 5 shilling order. On that basis Archer-Shee was expelled.

Martin Archer-Shee, George’s father, did not believe that his son had stolen Back’s postal order and began a defence of his honour. Prominent barrister Sir Edward Carson was engaged, and on 26th July 1910 the case finally came to the High Court.

Within the Royal Mail Archive we hold papers relating to the Archer-Shee case in POST 30/1652B. Amongst these papers are records of all postal orders purchased and cashed at Osborn Post Office on 7th October, and the 15/6 and 5 shilling postal orders, which were saved from destruction in order to be presented as evidence in court.

Postal order for 15/6 purchased by George Archer-Shee

Postal order for 15/6 purchased by George Archer-Shee

5 shilling postal order stolen from Terrence Back

5 shilling postal order stolen from Terrence Back

Also in the file are records of interviews with Post Office staff, and correspondence between Martin Archer-Shee and the Post Office, in which Archer-Shee asks permission to view the original postal orders.

Martin Archer-Shee’s determination to clear his son’s name was characterised in the press as a David and Goliath battle, in which a small boy of good reputation was unfairly expelled from the College by the Naval establishment. It is a story which has remained in the public memory, largely due to Terrence Rattigan’s 1946 play The Winslow Boy, which was inspired by the Archer-Shee case.

The Winslow Boy has been filmed twice, in 1948 and 1999, and is regularly performed on the stage. Several years ago the BPMA was asked to assist some theatre producers by providing a facsimile of a postal order of the period; we went one better – we sent them a facsimile of the original.

5 responses to “The real Winslow Boy

  1. How much would 5 shillings then be worth today?

    • In answer to your question as to the worth and monetary value of 5 shillings in today’s society.

      5 Shillings then, is worth 25p now.
      1 Shilling was worth a lot of money, especially in 1908.

      1 Shilling was also (CALLED a ‘bob’).
      There were 2 sixpenny pieces for every shilling, also (CALLED a ‘tanner)
      There were 4 threepenny pieces for every shilling (CALLED a ‘thrupenny’ piece)
      There were 12 ‘one pence’ pieces in a shilling. (CALLED a ‘penny’).
      There were 2 ‘halfpenny’ pieces for every penny. (CALLED ‘a ha’penny’).
      That meant there were 24 halfpenny pieces in 1 shilling.
      There were 4 farthings for every 1 penny. This meant there were 48 farthings in 1 shilling.

      The farthing was last minted in 1956 and ceased to be legal tender at the end of 1960, and was demonetised on the 1st January 1961.
      The halfpenny was withdrawn from circulation on 31 July 1969.

      Under the old sterling currency of pounds, shillings and pence, the British £ pound, was made up of 240 pence. The pence (a penny) was denoted by the letter ‘d’. The ‘d’ was a short form for the Latin word ‘denarius’, which was a silver Roman coin, translated as ‘a penny’.

      There were 20 shillings in one £1. The shilling was denoted by the letter ‘s’. This ‘s’ was a short form for Latin word ‘solidus’ and was a gold coin in ancient Roman and continued into the Byzantine period.

      The “old” penny was a bit bigger in size than the new decimal 2p piece, and had the symbol of Britannia imprinted onto it. The name Britannia derived from the ancient Roman name given to our island of Great Britain, or British Isles.

      Pre decimalisation, the British currency used the signs:- £.s.d.
      (£1=one pound); (1 shilling 1s = 1/-); and (1d). £1/1s/1d.

      There were also denominations of £1 notes which was worth 20/- (shillings).
      There were also 10/-s notes. There were 2 10/- (shilling) notes for every £1 note.
      There was also a coin called a ‘half-crown’ (2s/6d), which was worth 2 shillings and sixpence. There were 8 half crowns in a £ pound.
      The half crown was withdrawn from circulation on 31st December 1969.
      There was also a 2 shilling coin (CALLED a florin); also CALLED a
      ‘2 bob piece’. There were 2 one shilling coins for every florin.

      Decimalisation devalued the British £1 by almost 50% overnight!
      When we joined the E.U. this caused us to lose our £pounds, Shillings , and pence British currency. On 15 February 1971, known as ‘Decimal Day’, the United Kingdom and Ireland decimalised their currencies.

      Post Decimalisation
      1 shilling now had the reduced value of 5p instead of 12d. The value of the £1 was reduced to 100p from 240d. It was rounded up into 1/10ths. There were 10 ten pence pieces in £1. We were robbed overnight, and poverty ensued as a result. Mothers were forced to go out to work to help pay for the sudden massive rise in the cost of daily living and to help pay the rent. The cost of food, heating, lighting, and children’s clothes doubled too.

      With both parents working, this led to the beginning of the phenomena referred to as ‘Latch key kids’. This in turn led to children being unsupervised and cared for in the same nurturing manner that they had known before, with mum being at home and having their children’s tea time meal ready when the children came home from school. Nursery schools and ‘child minders’ became part of everyday normal living. This denied parents their right to a family life, and denied them their human right to parent their children and promote their own family values. Instead, they were forced to accept the values of the child minders. Parental relationships broke down with the stress and marriages broke up. Children were split up from their parents and suffered anxiety and distress. And parents, too, suffered anxiety and distress being split up from their children. ‘Maintenance’ payments made by estranged parents were set up to help pay for children caught up in the aftermath of governments driven by greed. Mines, shipping, and steel industries closed. Dignity was lost. No hope. It is said that ‘money is the root of all evil’. We lost our British vales and cultural identity. Plastic money, debt, and misery ensued.

      Sadly, Decimalisation changed our society and changed our way of life. ‘Decimalisation Day’ devalued our money, and devalued and deskilled workers. I wonder if we will ever be able to pull back some of the precious old values, and old ways of life where man’s humanity to his fellow man was a lynch pin and cornerstone of our society.

      Change is inevitable. But change should value what is good, and keep it. Not throw it out and replace it with an inferior system. Then again, it is those in power who make the decisions. Not decisions that the electorate hoped for when they voted in their elected MPs into positions of power, to act on their behalf, and in their best interests. Will we learn from history? Or will history continue to bury its head in the sand, to our detriment and demise?

      I hope that this explanation of the value of 5 shillings in today’s terms
      has been of some help to you, and may have provoked some thought of the impact of decimalisation, on ‘everyday working people’s lives’.

      Kind regards,
      Brenda Nicolson
      13th October, 2016

  2. Pingback: The Winslow Girl | Ranmer Welsh Cobs

  3. if the Wilmslow boy did not steal the postal order
    Who did ??

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