Something old, something new, something madrasi, something blue?


Yes, in spite, or perhaps because of my Irish roots, I was up before daylight to watch The Wedding.  So sue me.

My mother and her generation grew up watching the royals across the Irish Sea and observing how they marked their big milestones.  On Christmas Day, people would listen to the Queen’s address, and so on and so on.  Then, there was Diana and her little princes, who grew up before our eyes.  When I lived in Spain, Wednesday was the day the “pink press” magazines would appear (Hola!, Semana, etc.) and they chronicled the Spanish royalty, the Monégasque royalty, the British royalty and everyone else with a title from Sweden to Lichtenstein and all others in between.  The portero in my building and I would pour over them, dissecting what they were wearing and who they were dating, marrying and burying.  (By the way, if you ever want to read a scathing and hilarious take on what it’s like to write for this special subset of Spanish media, get a copy of Maruja Torres’ Oh!  Es él! Viaje fantástico hacia Julio Iglesias)

So today, in between watching all the hats of varying brim sizes and architectural flourishes, as the BBC America coverage cut away at one point to one of the many celebrations going on around the island, I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard someone mention “Madras pipes”.

Er, wha?

Is that some band of hardcore Carnatic musicians, of the kind you see perform in Chennai in December?

Not quite.

It turns out that the good folks at the University of St. Andrews – where the now-newlyweds first met – were having a party to celebrate the nuptials of their two famous graduates, and one part of the morning’s entertainment was some musical accompaniment from the Madras College Pipe Band, a group of 26 traditional Scottish pipers.

Madras College?  So what’s that, then?

Here’s how the school’s website describes the history:

Madras College takes its name from the system of education devised by the school’s founder the Rev Dr Andrew Bell. He was born in St Andrews in 1753, the son of a local magistrate and wig-maker. He studied at the University where he distinguished himself in mathematics. He became a clergyman of the Church of England and took up an appointment as chaplain to the regiments of the East India Company in Madras. One of his duties was to educate the soldiers’ children. Because there was a shortage of teachers, he used the older boys, who had been taught the lesson by the master, to instruct groups of younger pupils. The pupils who assisted the teacher were called ‘monitors’. This method of education became widely used in schools at home and abroad. After his return from India, Dr Bell made it his life’s work to travel the country and encourage schools to adopt ‘the Madras system’, as it had come to be known. By the time of his death in 1832, over 10,000 schools were using his methods.

To make sure that his educational ideas would be preserved for the future, he made arrangements for the fortune his success had brought him to be used to found a school in his native town of St Andrews. By selling some land he owned he was also able to give money to the neighbouring town of Cupar so that in the end he founded two schools. One is the present Bell Baxter High School in Cupar which was originally called Madras Academy. The other is Madras College in St Andrews. The senior part of the school is still on the original site in South Street where the modern school has grown up behind the impressive 1833 quadrangle.

There’s even a Madras tartan!

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