Gresham's School in Wartime

We would like to invite people who have an interest in our WWI story to get in touch with us through the blog. Our sixth form researchers will be contributing their own experiences of the project to the blog and we hope to update the website as new material becomes available. If you have any relevant comments or contributions of stories or archive material we would be delighted to hear from you.

If you would like to submit a blog entry, please email Liz Larby.

RAF Centenary - Gresham's WWI airmen

As part of the Centenary of the RAF a service of commemoration recently took place at Westminster Abbey, followed by a parade and spectacular flypast, involving 100 aircraft, over Buckingham Palace.  The RAF was formed from the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, fighting effectively in WWI from 1st April 1918 in support of ground forces over the Western Front. At least 18 of our OGs who fell in WWI were airmen, including four RNAS, many transferring from the Army to train as observers late in 1917/early 1918.  We have recently commemorated the lives of OG airmen Richard Rumsby, Douglas Wells, Alec Malcolm and Arthur Estcourt who all lost their lives a hundred years ago serving with the RAF.  Pictured below is Charles Douglas Wells.


Francis Arthur Perkins - an OG engineer, researched and written by James

Francis Arthur Perkins was born in Peterborough on the 26th February 1889. He was the son of John Edward Sharman Perkins who was an engineer. Francis joined Gresham's in the Lent term 1905 and left in the Summer of 1909. He was a Howson’s boy and got a prize in Latin prose and was a successful sportsman. After he left Gresham’s he  went to Emmanuel College in Cambridge where he successfully gained a pass degree in mechanical engineering in 1910.

When the First World War started he joined up with immediate effect into the Royal Engineers. While he was with them he went to the Dardanelles in Palestine and then to Egypt. He was demobilized in 1918 with the rank of Major.

After the First World War he went to work in engineering. He was a third-generation engineer. He first started at a company called Lawes Chemicals Limited, and then followed the footsteps of his father and grandfather who both worked for Barford and Perkins, a family firm that manufactured roads, rollers, compactors, agricultural rollers and many other agricultural machines. After working at both companies he went to Aveling and Porter in Kent. While working for them he started work on a high-speed, lightweight, diesel engine with someone called Charles Chapman. Soon after starting this work, though,  Aveling and Porter went bankrupt, forcing Francis and Charles to start their own company.

The family firm was eventually sold to Massey Ferguson which is a major Agricultural company today.

Irene Statham - Gresham's own suffragist

Irene Statham – music teacher (1905-8) and ‘suffragist’

Marian Adelaide Irene Statham was born in Plymouth in 1878.  Her father Edward was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and her mother Annis née Forbes hailed from Jamaica.  The 1891 Census sees the family, including younger sister Nora, resident aboard a reformatory ship, Clarence, moored off Birkenhead, where Edward is Captain. Irene came from a musical family, her uncle Henry was an amateur musician, who played the organ and contributed articles to Grove’s and the Dictionary of Music & Musicians. Her cousin Heathcote, himself an OG (1905-8) went on to become an organist of international repute, as well as a composer and conductor.  By 1901 Irene and her mother and sister are staying in Notting Hill, Kensington, whilst her father is boarding in Arundel, Sussex and gives his occupation as retired Commander RN.

Irene came to Gresham’s in 1905 to teach violin and piano, performing in her first concert with four others in 1906. In 1907 she performed in her first staff play, A Pair of Spectacles, playing the parlour maid.  The following year Irene again played a maid in Punch, and was credited for her realistic ‘intonation and imitation of a cheerful menial’, helping to set the scene when the curtain rose without a trace of nervousness.  It is perhaps for her concerts that she was most remembered at School, though, and following a 1907 performance The Gresham Magazine reported, “Miss Statham is always sure of a hearty reception, she can and does undertake great music and interpret with poetry and insight, with delicacy of phrasing and, we venture to think, perfection of style.”

Music was already flourishing when Irene Statham arrived to teach in 1905, with a small choir performing public concerts. In 1906 the much-heralded orchestra was launched, and thanks to the connections in the musical world of its director Geoffrey Shaw, the School attracted regular well-known visitors such as Cecil Sharp.  From 1910 Walter Greatorex continued the good work, establishing music as an important part of the life of the School, and producing many talented OG musicians such as Lennox Berkeley (1914-16).

The 1911 Census sees Irene as a boarder in Hanworth House in Holt, along with other single teachers including Vivian Smith and Dalziel Hammick.  Interestingly, she gives her occupation as violin teacher and suffragist, and in the following year takes part in a debate on the topical subject of women’s rights. On 2nd March 1912 Mabel Smith, a South Yorkshire politician, moved that ‘This House disapproves of the Enfranchisement of Women’.  Miss Statham showed the absurdity of the present system under which women were allowed to canvass but unable to vote, and were not permitted to sit on town councils.    Mrs Field, wife of the School Chaplain, ‘boldly declared that she belonged to the most militant class of suffragists.’ Another of those who spoke in favour of women’s suffrage was headmaster Howson who believed that women could take part in public life ‘without detriment to home and family’, pointing out many examples of their ‘excellent activities’ in public life.  The subject of unfair and outdated distribution of votes had been keenly debated at School since 1908, when an important discussion took place with 120 in attendance, when the motion that ‘This House would welcome the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women’ was carried by 27 votes.


Irene Statham left Gresham’s in July 1914 and was credited with having much to do with the success of music in the School.  She went on to study the ‘new method of teaching’ under Professor Yorke Trotter who put his system of musical education based on rhythmic movement into practice at the London Academy of Music. Irene remained a spinster all her life, living in Westminster during the 1930s and up to the 1950s.  She died in Purley, Surrey in 1963. 

I would love to know what happened to Irene after leaving Gresham's and to find out more about her suffragist involvement. If anyone has a photo of her I would be very pleased to have a copy. 

The Preston family

The family had settled in Holt around 1844 when William Preston, grandfather of OG Sidney Preston who died on 10 April 1918 (see profile in Roll of Honour) had established himself as a ‘professor of music’, later opening a printing and stationery business on the High Street.  His younger sons, Thomas and Arthur took over the business, adding the sale of musical instruments, and later photography.  Preston Brothers took some of the early photographs in the Gresham’s albums, as well as printing postcards of Old School House and an 1888 athletics programme.  Around 1900 the business was known as the Reliance Works, and was taken over by Rounce & Wortley, who carried on the tradition of providing printing services for Gresham’s for many years. Eight members of the family attended the School, including Sidney’s father and uncle, four of his brothers, and one cousin.

Thomas and Sarah Preston contributed to the growing fund for the Chapel in 1914, where their son Sidney was later to be commemorated.  Two more of their sons, OGs Reginald (1891-1958) and Chamberlain (1893-1971) are recorded as serving in the War in the printed register, in the Indian Army and Norfolk Regiment respectively, and their daughter Mary, like her cousin Eva, worked as a nurse at nearby Letheringsett Hospital. Reginald was registered at the Old School House in January of 1899, but features in several photos of pupils of Weybourne Station in 1903.  Like his brother Sidney he played cricket for the School and did well at athletics and the paperchase.  He also played rugby for a North Norfolk team.  Reg played an attendant in the 1904 production of Twelfth Night, and won a prize for science before leaving in the Summer of 1907.  1909 OG News records him as working for Lincoln & Lindsay, bankers of Brigg, in North Lincolnshire, and the 1911 Census also has him as a bank clerk. Reg is listed as serving in 1914 as a Private with the 9th (cyclists) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, later earning promotion to Lieutenant serving with the Lincolnshire Regiment when they were attached to the Indian Army. He married Dora Druance at St. Faith’s Church, Lincoln in 1916.

Reg’s younger brother ‘Chummy’ Chamberlain attended The Limes School in Holt before registering in the Old School House in January of 1906.  He is recorded as winning a prize for maths in 1907 and being awarded a Holt Foundationship in 1909.  On his army attestation papers of 1914 he gives his profession as photographer, and his pictures, along with those of his father and brothers, form part of the Checkley Collection in the Norfolk Record Office. Chamberlain served as a Private, then a Lance-Corporal with the Norfolk Regiment, being wounded in 1915.  His cousin Louis Goodall Preston (1899-1942) registered at Old School House a few months after Reg, and soon showed the family prowess at sport, doing well at athletics, although he was no model pupil, being caned twice, once for bad work, and once for lying.  In the 1911 Census Louis is recorded as a motor engineer, but just two weeks later he left Liverpool aboard the SS Campania for the US, to settle in Colorado where his Uncle Arthur Ling was already established.  He married Lorna Annis, and their daughter Lillie was born in 1916. Louis worked in the US and Canada for the next thirty years, divorcing and re-marrying in 1933.  Another family rift was possibly the reason for Louis’s uncle, OG William Gowen Preston (1847-1927) leaving Holt sometime after 1871 with his wife and eleven children.  Shortly after, the family was in receipt of poor relief, but he is later recorded in Norwich and other Norfolk towns working as a pressman or printing machine worker, returning to the long-established family profession.

I am indebted to family member Debra Watkins for her Preston blog and to Philip West who is writing a book on the family. The photograph shows the family on Salthouse beach, courtesy of Norfolk Record Office MC 2043/8/909x6

Henry Neil Newsum - older brother of Clement Neill who died on 27/9/1917 - by Kit and Dolf

Henry was a boarder in Howson’s between 1908 and 1912.  He received colours in rugby and hockey as well as being a good cricketer, and was made a School prefect. In 1912, as School Captain, Henry played an important role on the ceremony for laying the foundation stone of the Chapel, handing a copper box to Sir Edward Busk, Chairman of Governors, for burial as a time capsule. Henry attended University College, Oxford before becoming a timber merchant in the family business in Lincoln.  He joined the Lincolnshire Regiment in 1915, serving as a Captain, and won the Military Cross for a courageous act of reconnaissance. Both brothers trained their companies for the action of 26 September 1917 which claimed the life of the younger, and it was probably due to the insistence of a CO that Henry stay behind that the family did not lose two sons that day.  After the War Henry created a unique memorial to his brother by having his study in Howson’s panelled in oak complete with a beautifully carved school crest and plaque.  Much later, in 1932, he wrote a book about the experience, ‘Behind a Mask – the European War 1914 – 18’, perhaps inspired by the death of his brother. He married Beatrice Hillas, and sent his son David to Gresham’s (Farfield 1942-46). Henry Newsum died in 1968 and was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter’s Church, Eastgate, Lincoln, where there is a memorial window to his brother.  He is pictured below in a 1911 cricket XI, front row, left.

Lieutenant-General Sir William George Holmes(1892-1969) – a distinguished OG career soldier

William was born in Westminster, the son of Dr William Reid and Elizabeth Holmes.  The 1901 Census records the family, including older sister Elizabeth, living in St. James with a governess, housemaid, parlour maid and cook to look after them. He attended Prep. School in York before registering at Gresham’s in January of 1904.  He boarded in Woodlands, where he later became a prefect, playing both rugby and cricket for House and School.  William also did well in the junior steeplechase, and performed in two plays, ‘The Tempest’ where he was ‘splendid’ as the jester, and as Sir Toby Belch in ‘Twelfth Night’ in which he was described as ‘quite first rate’.  An obituary in the OG Magazine reveals that he was a keen and accomplished boxer and swordsman as a young man.

He leaves the School at Christmas of 1909 and in the following year is mentioned in the honours lists for admission to Sandhurst where he also continues his rugby playing.  In 1911 he is commissioned into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and is listed as serving with them as 2nd Lieutenant in 1914.  William was wounded twice during his service in France, Belgium and Italy, and received the DSO & Bar in 1917, when, “During the final stages of the fighting he was the soul of both defence and offence,” and “it was mainly due to his gallantry and dash that the enemy counter-attack was defeated.”  He also won the Italian medal for valour and was mentioned in dispatches four times. Continuing his army career after the War, William is promoted to Colonel in 1933, and in 1937 becomes the youngest Major-General.  In WWII he commands the Territorial Army’s 42nd Infantry Division in France, going to North Africa after Dunkirk as Lieutenant-General. Between 1943 and 1945 he is in command of the IXth Army in Palestine.  After his knighthood in 1945 he retires to a ranch in Arizona.


George Lee Temple - Gresham's 'Baby Airman'

In the early hours of 2017 a themed pub in Acton, The Aeronaut, suffered a disastrous fire which saw party-goers evacuated and the building’s upper floors gutted. The pub was celebrating the New Year with typical events, including cabaret acts and circus performances with airborne feats in honour of its local hero George Lee Temple. Born in Acton in 1892, George was the youngest of the four children of retired naval lieutenant George and his wife Philippa.  He attended Trent College before registering at Gresham’s in January of 1908, winning a prize for drawing in the following year, as well as representing School House in swimming races, before leaving at Christmas. George soon embarked on a motor apprenticeship in Coventry and was a keen ‘daredevil’ motor cyclist, racing in a team for the Singer Works.  An accident in 1912 perhaps brought him to the realisation that his talents lay in the fledgling aviation business, though, and in September he went into partnership and opened a flying school at Hendon. The young man began learning to fly and purchased a biplane.  He was granted his Royal Aero Club Certificate in February 1913, but sold his interest in the flying school that Summer after concluding that there was money to be made in exhibition flights for the entertainment of the enthralled public.  One of his daring stunt flights, on 17 May, drew a crowd of 6,000, who each paid 6d to enter the landing ground and watch the aerial acrobatics.  

On 4 September George became the youngest pilot to make the journey from France to England, but his performance in a handicap race from Hendon to Brighton was somewhat hampered by his compass falling off into his lap! On 25 November he became the first Englishman to attempt the bunt(loop) in England, a feat so dangerous he was lucky to escape with his life, indeed The Times reported that he joked he would kill himself with these exploits one day!  Having succeeded at flying upside-down, although not achieving the elusive loop, George continued to give daring performances to large crowds, the adulation encouraging him to take even greater risks. Luck ran out for the so-called Baby Airman, though, on 25 January 1914 when he set off from Hendon in very cold and windy weather despite recovering from a bout of flu.  After flying his Bleriot plane round the enclosure for ten minutes the engine suddenly failed, causing the machine to execute a complete loop, landing upside-down in the middle of the aerodrome.  George died of his injuries, which included a broken neck, later believed sustained by collapsing at the controls due to illness, but the plane was unscathed.  The 21-year-old airman was buried in the cemetery at Acton in the family plot, his memorial an angel, and his epitaph read, “Now gallant boy pursue thy happy flight with swifter motion haste to purer flight.” (Photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)

Prize book - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - awarded to G.H. Lowe donated by his father-in-law Tony Mortlock

The prize was awarded for English in 1913 to Guy Humphrey Lowe(9/6/1898) who was born in Harrow.  His father was Charles, a surveyor, his mother Charlotte, and like his older brother Harlowe, Guy attended Woodridings School in Pinner before Gresham’s. He registered at Old School House in May of 1911 and progressed to Woodlands, where he was soon representing the House at cricket.  Guy also played hockey and rugby for the School, returning as an OG to play in matches, and did well in the steeplechase and athletics.  He won prizes for Latin, English and History in 1913, and performed a piano solo at a concert, as well as singing in the choir.  In 1916 Guy achieved promotion to Lance-Corporal in the OTC, and in the following year is reported to be at a training centre prior to becoming a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. He attended OG events in the early 20s and married Miss Ella Brookes at Hendon in June 1923.  The register records that Guy went on to have a career as a technical brewer, and his father-in-law believes he suffered lung damage throughout his life because of gas attacks during the War.  Guy died aged 89 in Staffordshire.

Harlowe Robert Lowe(9/5/1897) began the family tradition of boarding in Woodlands, having registered at Michaelmas 1905 in the Junior House.  Like his brother, he too showed promised at athletics and steeplechase, played cricket for Woodlands, and hockey and rugby for the School. Harlowe won a prize for French and was promoted to Band Corporal in the OTC.  The family were great supporters of the School, Charles giving money to the Chapel Fund in 1912, and both sons subscribing to the Old Boy’s and War Memorial funds.  Harlowe is listed as serving as 2nd Lieutenant in the Gloucestershire Regiment in 1916, being awarded the M.C. for “handling his platoon with great courage and skill.”  He married Miss Molly Doig at the Savoy Chapel in 1931, attended a London OG dinner in the following year, and like his father, became a chartered surveyor. Harlowe died in 1950 and the OG magazine printed an obituary reiterating his great love of Gresham’s, showing his faith in all it stands for by sending his son Ian to Woodlands. 

Guy and Harlow had another brother, John Henry Charles Lowe, too young to serve in the Great War, who boarded in Woodlands from 1926-30.  He too won prizes for French and English and served in the OTC, as well as performing in House and School plays.  In his final year, he took part in debates on subjects such as the spirit of adventure and progress in modern society, often in the company of another Woodlands boy, young Donald Maclean.

Ronald Neal - brother of Archer Neal who fell on 15 September 1916

Ronald was born on 22 November 1893, the second of the four children of Holt watchmaker & jeweller Owen Neal and his wife Fanny. The family, including sisters Hilda and Frances, lived on the High Street, not far from Old School House. He attended The Limes in Holt before registering at Gresham’s in September of 1904 as a dayboy.  Ronald won a prize for writing in 1906 and was awarded a scholarship to continue his education in 1909, playing cricket for the dayboys that Summer, just as his younger brother would a few years later. He returned to the School in 1919 as an OG to play in a hockey match. In October 1914 he is listed as serving as a Trooper with the Royal Dragoons, and two years later receives the news of his brother’s death on the Somme.  OG News for 1918 records Ronald as being at Cadet School, and later as serving in a Cavalry Regiment, being awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre.  In 1922 he is reported as wounded during fighting in Johannesburg whilst serving with the South African Mounted Police.  Ronald married Catherine Hart in 1927 at Christ Church, Arcadia, and his death in the Transvaal Province is recorded in 1945.

Year 9 Project Michaelmas Term 2016 : A School Photograph

This Term students in Year 9 have continued their work on WWI in History, with a particular focus on the boys from Gresham's who fought and in significant number, fell in the conflict. Students have worked in groups to launch their own research project based upon an old school photograph. Their task was to find out all that they could about the young men in the photo, those that fell and those that survived. They have, in most cases, had the opportunity to visit the School archives, and to use the School registers and various School magazines and national databases to research and present their findings. They have produced work of a very high standard, worked collaboratively to corroborate evidence and to meet tight deadlines. In consequence Year 9 have learned much about the methodology and the pitfalls of genuine historical enquiry. It has been a fascinating and highly important process and one which the students have clearly engaged with and enjoyed. Chris Cox, Head of History