The Gold Book is not mentioned in any history or diary concerning Radley. It is probably the item listed under ‘miscellaneous’ in the inventory of 1856 as: the chased & Gilt Book Covers & book [value] £20. It was undoubtedly bought and made by William Sewell, since the handmade paper is the same batch of Whatman 1855 as that used in the Liber Argenteus, and the gophering (gold decoration) is identical. The decorated boards are among the finest of their age, and represent an extremely rare survival. There is no record of when or where Sewell bought them.
Both boards represent Old Testament scenes which prefigure the eucharist. This indicates that they were originally made to cover a church or cathedral Bible or Service Book. The scenes have been dated on stylistic grounds to c.1610-1620, and are Northern European. The figures are moulded gesso (carved wax) covered in heavy gold leaf. The surrounds of the boards, the clasps and the spine decorations are brass with gold leaf; the red velvet on the spine is original.
The upper board depicts 1 Samuel 21: the High Priest Ahimelech presenting the show-bread from the Ark of the Covenant to David and his men. David is shown on foot, dressed in the armour of a Roman general, crowned as a king, and bearded as an old, wise man. His men are mounted on horseback behind him, with typical Dutch/north German helmets of the early 17th century. A page holds his shield. Ahimelech is shown in the distinctive dress of a Jewish High Priest, including tassles, with an eastern-style turban. He stands on a dais, indicating his superiority over the king, although both he and his attendants appear to be bowing as supplicants. They offer the six loaves of the show bread, which were originally made from the manna saved after the Israelites reached the Promised Land, and placed in the Ark of the Covenant: they are thus among the holiest relics of Israel.
The lower board depicts several scenes from Exodus: Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses is shown with his distinguishing iconography of two rays of light (sometimes shown as horns) rising from his head; he holds his staff. Behind him is Aaron, the first High Priest, dressed identically to Ahimelech on the upper board, carrying an incense censer. In the foreground, men, women and children in northern European dress reminiscent of Brueghel’s figures, are gathering manna in a variety of containers, baskets, pots, a bucket; one man wears a distinctive Dutch hat of c.1610. The Israelite camp stretches into the distance behind them, with the pillar of cloud towering in the distance. The details of plants are particularly finely modelled.
The conflation of periods in the dress of the characters is typical of masque costumes of the early 17th century.
Despite its invisibility in the school records, Sewell must have always intended that this book should be part of the reward and punishment system of the Black Book and the Liber Argenteus, conveying even greater honour. However, the earliest entry is dated 1864, three years after Sewell left Radley, within the Wardenship of R.W. Norman, who continued or introduced many Sewellian customs or plans. There is then a sixteen year gap until 1880, when it was re-introduced by Warden R.J. Wilson for three years. Twenty years later, Warden Thomas Field awarded two entries in 1903. Then, after another gap of twelve years, Warden E.G. Selwyn awarded entries for original compositions as well as a translation. The entries are Greek and Latin Prize translations, each copied in the winning boy’s own hand. Several entries for the missing years are to be found in two school exercise books. The blotting paper is still tucked inside the book from its last entry in 1916. This is the origin of the school’s most prestigious academic awards for everyday work: the Copy.
1864. W.E.W Collins. Troilus and Cressida. Act 1, sc. 3. Greek translation
Williams Collins entered Radley 1858. He became Senior Prefect and won the Gold Medal. He went on to become a well-known player for Harlequins
1880. H. B.Cooper. Introduction to Macaulay’s History of England. Translation. Latin prose prize
Henry Cooper, C Social. Entered Radley 1875. He became Senior Prefect and won several prizes and scholarships. He became an Oxford don
1880. A. Adams. John Milton Samson agonistes. Translation. Greek Iambic Prize
1881. A. Adams. Gibbon’s Decline and fall ch 41. Translation. Latin prose prize
1881. A. Adams. Ayton’s Œnone. Translation. Latin verse prize
Alfred Adams, B Social. Entered Radley 1875. He became Senior Prefect and won the Gold Medal
1881. G. Gordon. From: Morris Epic of Hades. Translation. Greek Iambic prize
George Gordon, B Social. Entered Radley 1877. He became a Prefect and won several major scholarships
1882. G.H. Baker. Gray’s Elegy. Translation. Latin verse prize
George Baker, B Social. Entered Radley 1877. He became Senior Prefect and won several major scholarships
1883. C.V. Bagot. Gibbon’s Decline and fall, ch. XI. Translation. Latin prose prize
Cecil Bagot, F Social. Entered Radley 1878. He became a Prefect and won the Gold Medal
1883. T.A. Cook. Ad jesum christum adventurum. Alexander Pope. Translation. Latin verse prize
Theodore Cook, B Social. Entered Radley 1881. He became Senior Prefect and won the Gold Medal. Represented England at the 1906 Olympics
1883. C.V. Bagot. Grote ch. 94 To the literary Greeks – counsel. Translation. Greek prose prize
1903. G.W. Walker. Milton Paradise lost Book iv line 32 ‘O thou that with surpassing glory crowned’. Translation. Greek Iambic prize
George Walker, E Social. Entered Radley 1899. He became a Prefect and won several major scholarships. He returned to Radley as a Don, 1911-1915
1903. J.L. Johnston. Henry II. Translation. Latin Prose Prize
John Johnston, B Social. Entered Radley 1899. He became Senior Prefect and won the Gold Medal. Killed in action in France, 1915
1915. G.H.C. Adams. Own composition. Greek iambics
Geoffrey Adams, F & C Social. Entered Radley 1909. He became Senior Prefect and won the Gold Medal. Killed in action in France, 1916
1915. A.F. Blyth. Own composition. Latin hexameters
Alick Blyth, H Social. Entered Radley 1910. He became Senior Prefect and won several major scholarships. Killed in action in France, 1917
1916. E. Giles. Shakespeare ‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’. Translation. Latin elegiacs
Esmond Giles, H Social. Entered Radley 1912. He became Senior Prefect and won the Gold Medal