Gresham's School in Wartime

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Wartime debating at Gresham’s - researched by Henry, himself a debater of some note

The most remarkably obvious fact about the Gresham’s debating society is simply how popular it is.  Dozens of people vote in each debate, but what is even more striking is that many of them speak on either side.  Individual houses also had their own debating societies, showing the seriousness in which it was taken.  The motions of these were, as might be expected, rather more esoteric than the main debating society, for example, ‘In the distant future passengers will cross the Atlantic by air rather than by sea’. It is perhaps less surprising that debating was seemingly so essential to the life of the School, given the reforms introduced by Howson and later Eccles, making Gresham’s arguably the leading school in the country for those who desired a less traditional and more radical education, for those privileged enough to afford it, of course! 

The main debates were far more dominated by current events.  While some of the contributors clearly mirror the opinions of their fathers, often Liberal MPs, there were enough Conservative members to make for a lively debate. It was all recorded with the dry and quietly insulting wit of the anonymous reporter, eg. ‘J.H. Cole confidentially addressed some more or less coherent remarks’, and the ‘verbose invective’ of N. Drey when quoting figures ‘absolutely unintelligible to himself and others.’ Henry and his classmates were amused by the archaic attitudes shown by some OGs in their debates, particularly in bringing class into everything, although ‘politics is not the trade of a gentleman’, clinging onto to colonialism wherever possible, and, of course, when discussing the thorny subject of women’s suffrage.

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