Found it!

I suppose it’s silly to be excited about something as bizarre as answering an obscure question but hey, that’s why I like research.

After visiting museums and doing my usual scour-the-place-for-bookshops (yep, found some, and shipped ’em home), I returned to the library to check out College of Preceptors Annual Reports (turned out to be 1978 and 79), a book called The College of Preceptors (which turned out to be lost), and The Preceptors’ Trigonometry by William Briggs (nice but not much there except…trig).

But while waiting I asked for the 1880 College of Preceptors Calendar back (I had reserved it, so they hold it for 5 days). And this time I scoured it, for book-keeping certificates. I found book-keeping, under the “optional subjects” for the larger full licentiate exams. It didn’t appear to be a “commercial” subject, but was worth 200 points like anything else. I didn’t find Wells, but then I looked further and I found his exam: the exact exam in book-keeping examination he says he took, Xmas 1879.

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I was pretty excited. Yes, it turned out there was a book-keeping exam, and he must have taken it. When I returned the book, I couldn’t resist telling the guy that it contained the exact book-keeping examination that H.G. Wells took when he was 12. First big smile I got out of any staff in the West Room (they’re a little dour – I’m not sure why).

In the book, it said that the names of all those who obtained a certificate would appear in the half-yearly Class List published in the Educational Times. Now, I know already that the Cambridge University Library doesn’t have the Educational Times (which is strange since they have so much College of Preceptor’s stuff). But the Bodleian does, so I planned to check.

Turned out I didn’t need to go to that trouble: it’s online. Take a look at page 47 – Wells, H. b (which must be book-keeping, although that’s supposed to be bk), Bromley Academy.

So only one mystery remains: Wells refers to “special certificates” in book-keeping, not just one, and I can’t see anything special about this one. He mentions Morley was apparently big on getting all the lads to take the test to get ready to be clerks in shops. Wells says he was

…bracketed with a fellow pupil first in all England for book-keeping, so far, that is to say, as England was covered by the College of Preceptors.

So maybe it’s in the missing 1881 Calendar, or elsewhere – at least I found the first one, and I can get many of the Educational Times online.

Next I seek more on William Briggs, and I remembered he set up his press in Foxton, and lived there. So after finding it missing in the open stacks, I returned to the Rare Book Room (they smile there) to request Rowland Parker’s The Common Stream (I have it at home, but I hadn’t finished it). It uses Foxton to do a fuller history of England. It took them only 10 minutes to get it for me (!) but no, no good – he really only goes up to industrialization, with a little bit on the world wars and after.

But even though it wasn’t there, looking for the book in the stacks sent me back down memory lane to graduate school, when I was an inveterate shelf-browser.

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Shelf-browsing fires the imagination in a way that electronic search simply cannot — but that’s a post for another day.