A sad but true tale from the eighteenth century

The School beam in Ohanes. Translated by Henry Bottomley
1. To Mr Mayor of Ohanes,

I have the honour of bringing to your notice my fears on looking at the beam in the centre of my classroom; it is broken in the middle, causing the roof to bend, and has become a funnel which collects rainwater and pours it onto my desk, wetting my papers and causing me rheumatic pains which I should not have to tolerate. To close, Mr Mayor, I hope your kindness will repair this if you do not want any shocking events to happen to the children or their teacher, being your very obedient servant. May God protect you for many years.

(Signed) the basic literacy teacher of the locality of Ohanes. (Previous Next)

2. To the basic literacy teacher of the town of Ohanes,

I received with some surprise the note you have sent me and I intend to challenge you. It is unusual that the agents under my authority have not given me any information about the beam, and I therefore doubt that you find yourself in the conditions you describe; indeed I understand that Mr Sarmiento only put the beam in some 70 years ago - I do not doubt it - and I suspect you are only producing excuses for not doing your job properly. As for the damp papers and the rheumatic panes you claim, you could take better care of the papers by keeping them in a drawer or at home, and you could go to school with a sheet. Despite that, one of these days I will send one of my subordinates to look at the position. If I learn that you are lying, then you will have to work for another six years without receiving the stipend of your post. Made God protect you for many years.

(Signed) Mayor Bartolomé Zancajo. Ohanes 20 November 1734. (Previous Next)

3. To Mr Mayor of Ohanes,

I have the honour of receiving your note yesterday in which you doubt the state of the beam. Since my earlier letter, Mr Mayor, eight months have passed including the winter rains, and in consequence I am always watching the beam with fear. Will it fall or not? One day or another the beam will fall like leaves off a daisy. If you do not believe what I am saying, you could send two skilled people, or if it would not be too much you could come yourself, to see that I am not lying and to see the state of my classroom; I would give a lesson as normal. As for your final comments, I do not believe you would stop my stipend, because I know that they say of you "to the crate, neither...". To close, Mr Mayor, may God protect you for many years from the effect of the beam.

(Signed) Teacher Menón Garrido. Ohanes 29 November 1734. (Previous Next)

4. To the basic literacy teacher of the town of Ohanes,

I have received your note 29 November last year, which seems to be excessively pessimistic about the condition of the beam. You know, Mr Teacher, that if the school does not suit you, you can leave and go somewhere else, as there is no real need for what you teach.

Why should people here care where Mars is, or the phases of the Moon, or that 4 times 6 is 26, or that Miguel de Cervantes discovered the Americas? To find a trade, it is only necessary to have suitable skills. Despite this, as I'm a lover of couture and I would not want it said I had speaked to the teacher and not treated him properly, I will name a commission to inquire into the condition of the beam and whether you have lied to me about its fall. May God protect you from many years.

(Signed) Mayor Bartolomé Zancajo. Ohanes 15 October 1735. (Previous Next)

5. Experts' opinion: Antonio Fuentes Barranco and Juan González García, graduate master builders of the town of Ohanes, state that:

Being present at the site named or called, that is to say simply, the school of this place, at 12 noon on 15 May 1736 accompanied by the clerk of the town council, and sent by the mayor, we opine, think and believe that the beam that occupies the centre of the classroom, hall or room, which might by these three names be denominated or circumscribed, that the said beam has not moved, only having downed about 10 or 12 intches, and is only freatening to fall and thus bring down the ceiling on those beneath it. But it seems the wood is brittle, and it would have to crack before collapsing, giving enough time to save at least seven or eight. By which we sign and do not stamp, as we do not have a stamp.

(Signed) Antonio Fuentes and Juan González, in Ohanes on the date indicated above. (Previous Next)

6. Don Celedonio González García de García González, Clerk of the town of Ohanes de las Alpuxarras, district of Uxixar, Kingdom of Granada

I say, declare and swear, in respect of the information of the basic literacy teacher of this locality, about the beam that this first person told the mayor, who would be the second person, which is split in the ceiling of his classroom. My impartial, dispassionate and honest opinion, as corresponds to my profession, is the following. If it falls and threatens danger, then the possibilities are:
a) that the teacher dies, in which case the town council avoids took the need to pay his stipend;
b) that the children die but the teacher does not, in which case the teacher is redundant;
c) that both the children and the teacher die, in which case both of the above apply, that is to say that two birds are killed with one stone;
d) that nobody dies, in which case there is no cause for alarm.
Having examined legally the causes and effects mentioned above, I provide this honest and loyal opinion, completing it as an act of good faith.

(Signed) Celedonio González García. Ohanes 15 May 1736. (Previous Next)

7. Document of the municipal archive of Ohanes, which clarifies the whole case of the said beam

I, Don Joseph Sancho Mengibar, official chronicler of the town Ohanes declare on my honour the events described in the historical archives of this town to be certain; lamenting that the same put a tragic blot on the bucolic annals of the town.

The fourteenth day of October of the year of our Lord seventeen forty, the mayor of this town being Don Bartolomé Zancajo y González Zancajo, and it being 12 noon, the ceiling of the school room collapsed, killing the basic literacy teacher Don Menón Garrido Martín and the fourteen pupils who at that moment were in his class. After laborious work, the cadavers of the victims were extracted from the ruins and taken to the depository of the municipal cemetery, accompanied by the whole town who participated in the mourning caused by such a catastrophe, more or less because such a number had been immolated in pursuit of culture.

This provided the opportune expedient for the relevant authorities to be able to show that they had periodically taken all suitable steps to ensure the good functioning of the scene of the recent event; as conclusive proof they showed that two expert builders and the illustrious clerk of this town had given their opinions on the good state of the building in their statements dated 15 May 1736; these plainly demonstrated that it was only a chance accident which was responsible for the collapse.

(Signed) Joseph Sancho. Ohanes 15 December 1740. (Previous Next)


These papers, taken from the archives of the town of Ohanes de las Alpuxarras, were previously published in Spanish in the magazine Alzada, a publication of the School of Technical Architects of Granada. A spanish version is here.
Copyright in this translation:
Henry Bottomley 1999. All rights reserved. (Previous Top)