Alan Macfarlane



This page is dedicated to the writings of Alan Macfarlane of Cambridge University

Alan Macfarlane, whose parents were on tea estates in Assam between 1946
and 1965, has become interested in the way in which families re-acted to
being separated. In particular, what was the effect of being sent home very
young to a boarding school? With his friend Jamie Bruce Lockhart, he has
written about the experiences he underwent after the war. In this part
of his account, which will continue up through public school and to
University, he and Jamie describe their feelings and memories up to 1955.

Alan is  delighted to tell us that the books will be available as follows:

The Dragon Triptych will be published in March 2012

Dragon Days - Jamie Bruce Lockhart & Alan Macfarlane, Executive format, xvi + 506 pages, plus a Visual Essay of 56 pages. £26.95

Different Days - Jamie Bruce Lockhart, A5 format, xv + 260 pages, plus a Visual Essay of 64 pages. £19.95

Dorset Days - Alan Macfarlane A5 format, xi + 268 pages, plus a Visual Essay of 78 pages. £19.95

All prices include postage and the books can be ordered on Amazon.




   February 14 2012




The preparatory school system, where children are sent away from home at the age of eight to prepare for later boarding through their teens, is a most unusual feature of English educational practice. This institution has existed for many centuries. Nowhere else in the world do we find anything similar, except by imitation. Preparatory schools have had an enormous influence on British culture, society, economy, polity and national character over a period of five hundred years.

Yet to study this phenomenon is very difficult. Clearly it can only be done retrospectively, yet almost all attempts to reconstruct early childhood are based purely on fragmentary memories.  The current work is based on hundreds of letters of three boys (from two different families) and a set of letters from one mother to her husband and son. This helps to give a multi-dimensional picture, largely written from the viewpoint of the child.

Many accounts of school life tend to omit a parallel consideration of life at home. The ‘Dragon Triptych' takes both sides of life equally seriously and stresses the inter-connections while preserving the separate experiences of the authors. Alan Macfarlane's experience as a social anthropologist equips him well to tackle problems of distancing the overfamiliar and comprehending the unfamiliar, while his studies of society in Nepal, Japan and China in

Particular, underpin his engagement with problems of entering the 'foreign country' of the semi-closed and secretive world of a boarding school,

The Dragon School, Oxford, is known to be not only academically one of the notable  preparatory schools, but also idiosyncratic and special in its educational philosophy. At the turn of the 1950s, Edwardian educational ideals were being re-shaped into a post-war philosophy which would evolve rapidly in the following decade. The Dragon anticipated many of the later developments.

The first half of the 1950's was also a water-shed between post-war austerity and the new affluence of later decades. This period, with its very different material, medical, social and ideological features is half familiar but also distant. It was a period when the British Empire was partly dismantled after Indian Independence in 1947, yet the last scene, with African independence and the Suez debacle, was still to come. The authors came from families with a long colonial heritage.

Alan Macfarlane has also written widely on English identity and social structure and this gives a particular flavour to the book, since it is part of a wider attempt to understand the British. Jamie Bruce Lockhart's background in a well-known school-mastering family and his familiarity with conditions in many different countries adds further special insights. That both authors shared the same preparatory and public schools and then Oxbridge over a period of thirteen years between 1950-1963 gives cohesion to the endeavour.

Dorset Days  - Alan Macfarlane

Alan Macfarlane's parents and two younger sisters arrived back in England from India in April 1947, when he was aged five. The family, including his grand-parents and young uncle, then moved to a house in Dorset in January 1948. His father had returned to a tea plantation in Assam at the end of 1947 and his mother left Alan and his sister Fiona in the care of his grandparents in October 1948, when he was aged six and three quarters. She returned for periods in 1950-1 and 1954-5, as did his father, but he was mainly raised by his grand-parents. At the age of nearly nine he went to boarding school at the Dragon. In Dorset Days, Alan describes the life of a colonial, middle-class, family in the difficult days of the late forties and early fifties. The house on the edge of a gorse and heather heath and with its wooded garden filled with fruit and chicken-runs was the centre of their life. Within it, as they found themselves constantly short of money, the family struggled to educate their children and live a respectable middle-class existence amidst the post-war rationing and austerities. The background of disease and worry over illness as the National Health Service started, the first years at kindergarten, the conflicts with bullying and stealing, bravery and kindness of a small boy's early character, are described. The central obsession with games, sports, bicycles and various toys and crazes, that world of imagination and parallel worlds is probed. The pain of absences and separation, a mother from her children, her children from their parents, husbands and wives divided by six thousand miles, with long voyages and the constant background of remembered infancy and one visit to Assam by Alan at eleven, all are evoked through long letters from Alan's mother. Finally, in ‘A View from Afar', Alan tries to understand those years which seem so distant and so near and describe a world on the edge of a vanishing Empire which no longer exists.

                      Dragon Days  -
Jamie Bruce Lockhart & Alan Macfarlane

Jamie Bruce Lockhart and Alan Macfarlane describe their experience of being boarders at a leading English preparatory school between 1949 and 1955. The book is based on over 300 letters from three boys, Alan, Jamie and Sandy, Jamie's younger brother. Chapters on the family background of the authors establish their origins and we then go on to examine the landscape of school in its widest sense, including the physical aspects of life at the Dragon in the post war period, from the playing fields to the dormitories, from food and clothing to illness and injury.

The school was based on an educational philosophy defined by three generations of Lynams, invented by Skipper in the late 19th-century and refined by Hum and Joc. The principles involved emerge in sections covering the culture of the school, its social structure, the unusual staff-pupil relations, the mix of boarders and day children and the rich ceremonial pattern of the year. The experience of passing through the school, from purgatory to paradise for Alan, less anxious for Jamie, and the way in which school letters can be interpreted comprise the next section.

The formal side of school learning, the methods of teaching, the content of exams, the unusual general knowledge paper and the comments on classwork by Jamie and Sandy at the time are analysed. Yet lessons in class were a small part of the teaching; equally important was our imaginative, intellectual and emotional growth which happened outside class. Our imaginations were fired by reading, films, entertainments and boarders' half-term expeditions away from the school. The oral culture of the school, the lectures, speeches and sermons, the teaching of public speaking and debates is another element. Another section of the book explores, on the basis of our letters home,  the way in which we were taught to express ourselves through arts and crafts, music, dance and drama, in particular the performances of Gilbert and Sullivan and Shakespeare. Much about life was also learnt on the games fields, and the repeated rhythm of winter rugger, football, hockey, then cricket and other summer sports, is analysed from a child's point of view. As important as formal games were the informal playground activities, in particular marbles and conkers, and the summer pursuits of bikes and the river. Life revolved about play and the crazes and toys which filled much of our leisure time. How this affected us and what we made of the experience is separately considered by Alan and Jamie, who offer some concluding thoughts on the goals and methods of English preparatory school education in a joint Epilogue.

Different Days   - Jamie Bruce Lockhart

Jamie Bruce Lockhart comes from a family with a strong tradition of service in teaching, medicine and the church. His early life also has two very contrasting centres of gravity, one in the northern Bruce Lockharts of his paternal kin, the other the clerical Hones of his mother's family. He spent a divided childhood between the northern branch, particularly in Sedbergh where his grand-father was a notable headmaster, and Oxford, where his grandfather Bishop Hone had retired. Jamie opens his account of his childhood with a description of these two sets of relatives and their points of origin. He describes the background to his infancy in 1941-43 and the migratory life of a child in the last two years of the war. With his father absent abroad Jamie was effectively brought up by a single mother in Oxford through to 1948. His parents then went together to post-war Germany where Jamie spent a year at school followed by holidays from the Dragon until 1951. Other holidays were in Scotland and Sedbergh and these are remembered vividly. As a counterpoint, the brief holidays and regular weekends spent through the Dragon period with the Bishop and Mrs Hone are evoked through accounts of the sights and sounds of north Oxford. An important interlude was a holiday in America with his parents in 1952. Finally the family moved in late 1953 to their home at Herons March in Surrey, with its magical lake and beloved dog. This richly patterned upbringing was shared with his slightly younger brother Sandy, who also went to the Dragon, and was later to become a distinguished figure in local government and politics. Jamie looks back on these experiences at the end of the book and reflects on family life and character development.

Alan Macfarlane was born in India in 1941 and educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Sedbergh School, Yorkshire. He received his M.A. and D.Phil. in history from Oxford, an M.Phil. in anthropology at the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He was elected a Research Fellow at King's College, Cambridge in 1971 and a Lecturer in Social Anthropology in 1975, a Reader in 1981 and Professor in 1991. He was elected to the British Academy in 1986.  He is currently Emeritus Professor at Cambridge and a Life Fellow of King's College. Among Alan Macfarlane's eighteen published books are: Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England (1970); The Origins of English Individualism (1978); The Riddle of the Modern World (2000); Letters to Lily - On How the World Works (2005), and Japan Through the Looking Glass (2007). His website ( contains a large amount of his work with his wife and colleague Sarah Harrison. 

Jamie Bruce Lockhart, born in Sedbergh, Yorkshire, in 1941, was also educated at the Dragon and at Sedbergh School. He then read modern languages and economics at St John's College, Cambridge. Following spells in banking in Paris and London, he worked in the Central Planning Office of the government of Fiji on preparation of the country's first economic five-year plan ahead of Independence. In 1973 he joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, serving in London and in diplomatic missions abroad in Nicosia, Vienna, Lagos and Bonn. After retirement he ran a charitable trust in London, where he launched a forum for dialogue between Greece and Turkey bringing together leading private individuals from both countries. He has edited the travel diaries and published a biography of Hugh Clapperton, Commander RN, and edited journals from the Lander brothers' 1830 Niger expedition. He lives in Suffolk with his wife, Flip, where he enjoys sketching and painting in watercolours and sailing his Loch Long, a 21-foot classic wooden boat, on the River Alde.

The collection of letters on which this work draws include those of Jamie's brother Sandy Bruce Lockhart, the late Lord Bruce Lockhart, Kt, OBE (1942-2008), farmer, for ten years Leader of the Kent County Council, latterly Chairman of English Heritage and a distinguished figure in local government and conservative politics.