Gresham's School in Wartime

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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