His life and books
The Southport school which Nat Gould attended was situated at 32 Queen’s Road in North Meols. Nat calls it “Strathmore School”, but it seems hardly to have been in the top rank. The headmaster was Francis F. Rigg, a Sheffield man, who had been an undergraduate at London University but had apparently not acquired a degree there.
In the 1861 Census Return nineteen pupils were recorded, all boys of ages ranging from ten to sixteen.
There were three assistant masters, including Nat’s favourite John Williams aged 29 who came from Dudley in Worcestershire. The boys called him Shoddy, but the only thing slovenly about him was his slippers, which Nat Gould recalled as being “not only down at heel, but out at toes”. They clattered as he walked, and so gave his pupils ample warning “to assume reverential attitudes”. In his quiet and unassuming way he taught young Nat more than any other master (1).
Significantly for his later career, Nat Gould began writing a blood-curdling drama, episodes from which he read each night to the boys in his dormitory. Once Shoddy Williams caught him in the throes of composition and confiscated the manuscript. He read it and returned it saying “It’s not at all bad, Gould. You will probably write something decent before you die” (2).