The Houses

Writing about the 19th century, John Burman, in his book, "Solihull and Its School", comments, "The lamentable absence of school archives denies much knowledge to us of human interest" I say, 'Amen' to that in my attempts to arrange and catalogue material extant from the 20th Century, which, although more abundant, is nevertheless deficient in many respects. Fortunately the House system seems to have come into being relatively recently and one is able from explicit and implicit material contained in the copies of the Shenstonian (earliest edition in the archives -Vol VII No.4 1906) to judge roughly how it evolved.

The need for houses grew with the steady increase in pupil numbers - 112 in 1900, c210 in 1918, 300 in 1927. Under 'School News' in December 1908 we learn that four houses were created, named logically but, perhaps, uninspiringly, School House (boarders), Solihull, Shirley and Knowle, and Acocks Green, the last three indicating the location of the homes of their members. By 1911 they have increased to five in number - Solihull, Country, Town, Acocks Green, and Knowle, but it is not until 1921, coinciding with the beginning of Mr. Bushell's headmastership, that House names familiar to living Old Silhillians appear - School House, Fetherston, Jago, Pole, Shenstone. The logic behind the choice is as follows:-

School House (boarders) By 1925 the House was found to be too strong to compete on equal terms with the other Houses and it was divided into two sub-houses, The Wanderers and The Nomads. This arrangement continued until 1933. In 1941, presumably with the effect of war, numbers of boarders fell to such an extent that the house was now too weak to compete and it disappeared from the House Competition until 1948.  Then followed a period in which the house provided formidable opposition in all the games until, in the 1960s, numbers again declined and, after much heart-searching, it ceased to exist as a separate house in 1968 and the remaining  boarders were distributed among the other Houses.

Fetherston took its name from Barnaby Fetherston, the first Usher (assistant master) to be named in documents relating to the School.  In 1574 Henry Hugford, Thomas Dabridgecourt, Thomas Waring and Thomas Greswolde (the arms of the last three are incorporated into the School's badge) gave property and land to provide for the education of orphans and young children born within the parish in an English (or elementary) school, which was almost certainly presided over by the Usher in the same premises as the Grammar School.  In 1612 mention of the termination of Fetherston's employment as Usher appears in the Collector's (Parish Bailiff's) accounts. How long he had occupied the position is not known.

Pole In 1560 the income from the property formerly allocated to the maintenance of the chantry chapels of St. Katherine and St. Mary in the Parish Church were diverted in part to pay the salary of a schoolmaster, Edward Pole. Although in 1566 the revenues of the chantry of St. Alphege were added to this fund, his income never seems to have exceeded £12 per annum, but this was probably a reasonable sum during his short (3 - 8 years?) service.

Neither Fetherston or Pole seem to have been gentlemen of any distinction and we remember them simply because theirs are the first masters' names recorded.

William Shenstone Richard Jago (1715-81) and William Shenstone (1714-63) are a different kettle of fish, for both occupy honourable places in the roll of English poets, although not in the first rank. They became school-friends during the headmastership of Rev. John Crompton, who seems to have enhanced considerably the reputation of the School in the 18th century with his sound classical scholarship, his love of English literature and his stern discipline.  Both poets proceeded to Oxford University, Jago to University College and Shenstone to Pembroke, a college which provided us with a Shenstone Housemaster in the 1950s in the person of Rex Thomas. After Oxford Jago returned to Warwickshire, eventually to become Vicar of Snitterfield in 1754.  He is best known for his poem 'Edgehill', which contains recollections of the School and of his friend.  Shenstone, the more talented of the two, left Oxford to manage the family estate, The Leasowes at Halesowen, where, living the life of a country gentleman, he devoted himself to his poetry, his widely acclaimed landscape gardening and his diverse hobbies.  Colin Hey, a member of Staff from 1937-46, has written a book, 'The Warwickshire Coterie', which includes illuminating chapters on both poets.

Windsor House came into being in 1959 in order to cope with the increasing numbers on the roll and took its name from the House of the Royal Family, perhaps in advance celebration of the Quartercentenary, when the Duchess of Kent in 1960 and Her Majesty The Queen in 1962 visited the School. Harry Morle became its first Housemaster.

In 1945 two additional houses, Wilson and Bushell, came into being, but they remained in existence for only two years, closing in 1947. I cannot ascertain the reason for either their creation or demise.  Although we have Bushell Fields and the Wilson Building within the School campus, it seems a pity that two Headmasters whose contribution to the School's material and academic development was so immense are not still commemorated by houses bearing their names.

In 1923 Malvern House, the premises occupied by the School at the top of New Road until its removal to the Warwick Road site in 1882, was repossessed to house the Junior School. It's members were put into four houses:- Arden, Blyth, Malvern and Gaywood (boarding). This arrangement continued until 1937-8 and the building was sold in 1939 at the bargain price of £2735.

Denis Tomlin


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