The Dangerous Benches with drop-down, folding legs were multi-purpose, as I remember
from my school days.
They were used in P.E., at meal times in the dining room and, because they were so
portable, in other areas of the school as additional or emergency seating.
Here's a tale I heard, the day after it had happened, partly from the boys who participated
in the event and partly from a group of witnesses.
On one morning, following a bad storm, one classroom was flooded and all classes
for that room were diverted to the dining room. Tables were used as desks and the
benches were enthusiastically deployed, as a welcome change from single seater chairs.
The teacher allowed four pupils per bench, until one uncooperative boy decided to
take advantage of a new situation. He pushed and extend his elbows along the table,
making space limited especially for the pupil at the far end of the bench.
The teacher noticed this and pointed the disruptive to his own space away from the
rest of the class. The unhappy boy sulked because he didn't have anyone to annoy,
“In those days”, the strength of the group could belittle any “stupid” act and completely
ignore and isolate anyone silly enough to break normal rules of behaviour. Believe
it or not, pupils attended school to benefit from a good education, not to have a
After each lesson, the benches were cleared away.
The teacher of one of the classes using the benches during the afternoon time-table,
decided to line the pupils outside the dining room. She then picked two boys to match
the tables and benches, so the class could go to a place, ready to quickly start
All pupils had to stand in silence at the start of a lesson to await the teacher's
invitation to sit down. The same at the end of the session, all pupils stood, in
silence, soon to file out into the corridor, where prefects supervised most attentively.
Regimentation would be a good description.
I mention all of this as a background to what happened during that lesson.
The two boys grabbed the wooden benches, dropped the fold-down legs, with instructions
never to scrape the highly polished wooden floor-boards. Always lift and place. Never
place and slide.
Well these two characters chose to leave two benches “slightly” ready. The drop-down
leg mechanism relied on a wooden bar clicking and engaging a non-return tooth arrangement,
similar to that used on sea-side deck chairs. (And there's a wealth of funny stories!)
So two benches had the one leg firmly clicked and locked. The other leg was left
just with the bar outside the sliding lock mechanism. On further instructions, all
the benches were sufficiently far enough from the table for pupils to shuffle along
without touching the table nor the benches. Moving furniture was frowned upon because
of the noise and the anger of the care-taker, who had to repair even the slightest
imperfection. The group entered, stood in front of a place.
On the command, “Sit down,” one of the benches collapsed at one end only, like a
camel’s front legs folding into the sand. Well. Four pupils disappeared into a heap
at one end. The inquisitive class shot up straining to see what had happened, smiling
at another's misfortune.
The second booby-trapped bench succeded in remaining upright during the first command
to sit, but not on the second. As dislodged pupils were staggering to their feet
and told, “See to that bench and be quick. The rest of you, there's nothing to look
at, so sit down.”
As the class made contact with their seats, the second bench joined in the disruption
and another four pupils disappeared into a heap of arms and legs. The other pupils,
not on the floor, inspected their benches pushing and pulling the legs, as if the
benches were out to get them. It was more self-preservation, than noting another's
Of course an investigation ensued. They two boys “got away with it”, recorded as
an unfortunate instance of carelessness, not a wilful attempt to cause mayhem. From
every accident, additional rules were formulated.
Benches were prepared but placed on one edge. Before sitting down pupils were themselves
responsible for checking that these “dangerous benches” were assembled correctly.
When legs had been checked, the benches were placed, with utmost care, in an upright
position. The ultra cautious in any group withdrew the legs from the locking position
From that incident, any pupils falling to the floor from a “dangerous bench” were
punished with detention, at least. So we all learnt the lesson, “Check the bench
legs before you sit down.”
To this day, when I see a bench (repeating my definition - a seat without a back
and no arms), I expect it to hide some sort of danger. I just can't help myself.