Archive Collections – A Remarkable Story

A recent rediscovery in the Monastery Archives has prompted us to share a remarkable story from the early twentieth century.

Abbot Siegebert Trafford (1886-1976) was Abbot of Downside from 1938 until 1946 and before this had been Head Master in the school from 1918-1934. Educated at Downside, and becoming a monk in 1905, Abbot Trafford was a House Master before his promotion to Head Master, during which time a most serious incident occurred. 

A letter, written by Abbot Trafford, has recently been rediscovered in the archives and discusses what Trafford described as ‘a trivial mishap’. However, the incident was much more serious than that. 

On 29th February 1916, Trafford was in his office in Palace Row next to the Petre Library when the Head Boy, Tony Wallis, came to see him. Wallis’ brother was serving in France and had sent the boy a captured German pistol from the trenches. Knowing the seriousness of having a firearm at school Wallis wanted to give it to Trafford for safe keeping.

As the boy handed the weapon to Trafford, ‘there was a bang and the boy cried out “My God, I have killed you!” I hurried over to the dispensary – I found the matron attending to a number of boys who had bruises and cuts from tobogganing that afternoon as there was about 3ft of snow. I said “Matron, can you come”, she said “can you wait a minute father, I am very busy.” I said in reply “you had better come, I am just going to die.”‘

Luckily, Trafford did not die; he was taken to the Old House where a doctor was called from Bath. Before he arrived, the Abbot and many of the community came to Trafford’s bedside and said prayers for the dying, Abbot Cuthbert Butler ‘shaking like an aspidistra.’ Fortunately, Trafford went on to make a full recovery and become a significant name in the history of Downside. 

The images below show Trafford in his office in which the incident took place; Trafford whilst he was recovering from his ordeal and the offending weapon which is still at Downside.