For readers who attended Oxford Street after World War II, the house system is probably one of the most fondly remembered features of shool life. This is hardly surprising as it played a major part in our daily lives and formed the basis for all sporting, academic and other competition. For so many Whitstable kids, the house names have become immortal.... Becket (house colour: blue), Marlowe (house colour: red), Caxton (house colour: yellow) and Wolfe (house colour: green).
On this page we relive some of the memories of these houses However, it should be noted that, prior to the 1940s, a very different house system was deployed and we have dealt with this on a separate page - see the article The House System Pre-1940s. We strongly suggest that you take a look at that extra page as it discusses the entire history of the house system and outlines gaps in our knowledge of the older system. You may be able to help us unravel some of the issues.
For the moment, we will concentrate on the newer system that we all knew and loved.
Those Names... and a Local Connection?
I am sure that our readers know that the names are those of famous people and they have been plucked from English history. However, it is worth a recap....
Becket was born in Normandy (France) but came to England and, eventually, became Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. He was murdered in the cathedral by four knights after a long standing argument with his "friend" King Henry II.
Caxton was born in the Weald of Kent (possibly at Tenterden) and died in London. He is acknowledged to be the first English printer and publisher of the first book in English.
Prior to Caxton, books were hand written, expensive and, therefore, available only to the church and the very rich. They were also largely written in Latin. Caxton's work made literature available on a more widespread basis and paved the way for the English Language and English writers to dominate world literature for centuries to come.
Christopher Marlowe (1564- 1593)
Marlowe was one of England's most celebrated dramatists and poets. He was born at Canterbury and died after being stabbed in the eye during a brawl at a public house in Deptford.
Wolfe was born at Westerham, Kent and featured prominently as a military commander during the Indian and French Wars. He effectively ended French rule in Canada with victory at The Heights of Abraham and consequent capture of Quebec. He died from injuries sustained at that battle but his success added a massive section of North America to a growing British Empire.
I have often wondered why these names were chosen. After all, school house titles often adhere to a close knit theme. Common threads are not so easy to find with the four gentleman above. For example....
- They lived in four different centuries.
- They achieved fame in very different walks of life.
- Three (Marlowe, Caxton and Wolfe) were English.... but Becket was not.
- Three (Becket, Marlowe and Wolfe) met violent ends... but, as far as we know, Caxton did not.
You would also struggle to argue that they were the four most influential characters of English history. Perhaps, it was the disparity itself that appealed. Perhaps someone wanted a quartet that spanned English history from the Norman invasion. Perhaps, someone wanted to draw characters from influential but very different aspects of national development.... the church, literature, publishing and the battlefield. But why not Shakespeare or Nelson?
The answer could be that neither Shakespeare nor Nelson had connections with the county of Kent. The four gentleman above all did. So, is THAT the link we are looking for?
Assignment to a House
I am not sure how pupils were assigned to houses in days gone by. It may have been a simple alphabetical split. Certainly, boys from the same family found their way into the same house to allow "hand me downs" and reduce costs. As the third son of the Taylor family, I was blamed for wearing out "the hand me downs"!
Once "assignment" had been accomplished, there was immense pride in belonging to a house and many boys argued the case for their house being the best. In my case, it was an easy task. Wolfe was a combatant in keeping with boyhood hero worship. It didn't matter that Caxton changed the course of English history by helping to create the internet of his day.... or that Marlowe was arguably better than Shakespeare... or that Becket sacrificed his life for his principles. Wolfe was the man... primarily because I had been conscripted into his army in 1956. The Heights of Abraham awaited and scaling them would take 4 years.
Strength of the System...
During the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, the house system established itself at the very heart of school life. There were even badges to identify membership. The one on the right signifies "Wolfe" house and it was embroidered with green cotton on a circle of black cloth.
My old mum carefully unpicked it from the jacket of one my older brothers in 1953 and it has remained carefully preserved in the family photo box for over 50 years. Photo albums? We couldn't afford those in '53. We 'ad boxes!
The House system was particularly important on the sports field. In the late forties and early fifties, a number of house photos were taken of sports teams and quite a few have survived in family photo boxes worldwide.... along with other mementoes.
Sadly, both the photos and house badges disappeared by my final year at the school (1959/60) but we can we can show you some samples from earlier years.
House football team photos appear to have been the most popular items and the shot below records the Wolfe House (green) side of 1955/56....
|Wolfe House Football Team 1955/6|
|Back:||1: ????, 2: Cliff Cuttelle, 3: Mick Blagdon, 4: ????, 5: ????, 6: Billy Backhouse (possibly), 7: ????, 8: ????|
|Front||9: ????, 10: ????, 11: ????, 12: ???? 13: ????|
It was kindly provided from Thailand by Cliff Cuttelle. Cliff has added the names of three players... but can our readers name the rest?
The photo was taken alongside the garden quadrant of the headmaster's house (now the school office and staff room). It was a popular location for such shots.... and it served as a backdrop for the Caxton House (yellow) football photo for the 1956/57 season.....
|Caxton House Football Team 1956/7|
|Back:||1: ????, 2: ????, 3: ????, 4: ????, 5: ????, 6: ????, 7: ????, 8: ????|
|Front||1: ????, 2: ????, 3: ????, 4: ????, 5: ????, 6: ????, 7: ????, 8: ????|
This picture was kindly supplied from Deception Bay (Queensland, Australia) by David Harvey.
Our Becket House photo (below) was kindly sent to us by David Moss and, after publication in our Visitors Book, the boys names were provided by Ian Johnson...
|Becket House Football Team 1957/8|
|Back:||1. Philip Nutten*, 2. Kenneth Hinckley*, 3. Roger Cooper, 4. Richard Crooks*, 5. Richard Grandfield?, 6. David Moss*.|
|Front||1. Bobby Lincoln*,2. Maurice Price*, 3. Colin Fisher*, 4. Derrick Douglas*, 5. Terry Robb*.|
This particular photo highlights problems that could result from the "less than scientific" allocation of boys to houses. No fewer than nine of the Becket House side also played for the school team during the 1957/8 season. I daresay that made inter-house matches a little one-sided!!
Inter-house sporting contests extended to the water. Although the school did not acquire a swimming pool until the 1960s or 1970s, Tony Stroud received the following certificate from headmaster, Frank Newsome, in 1946....
Of course, the school used a seawater swim pool located in a caravan park at West beach. If you have not seen our separate article on the pool, take a look at our Memories of the West Beach Swimming Pool page.
Tony's certificate appears to be a general achievement award for swimming the not insignificant feat of swimming 220 yards but it contains the "Wolfe" house name in the top right corner. In additon to swimming tests, the school also held inter-house swimming races.
The only "athetics" photo we have managed to discover to date was taken in 1949 and kindly sent to us by Dave Jordan. It shows some of the boys of Marlowe House and, thanks to Ann Nash (Whitstable) and Denise Harris (Australia), we can name most of the boys...
|Marlowe House Athletics: 1949|
|Back:||1.????; 2. Derek West; 3. Dave Jordan; 4. Michael Laker; 5. Roger Harris|
|Front||1. Brian Foad; 2. Ron Shadbolt; 3. Nigel Newman; 4. Malcolm Mount; 5. Ronny Revell 6. Derek Marsh|
Initially, we weren't sure what the picture celebrated. However, Denise and Roger Harris have a copy of the snap carefully preserved on the other side of the world and it seems that the card proudly supported by Malcolm Mount contained the words "Marlowe for Athletics".
The lack of "athletics" photos is quite surprising because the annual sports day at Church Street playing field was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the 1950s school calendar and the excitement started some weeks before the event. Perhaps the best way for me to explain it all is to record my own memories of my first ever sports day back in the 1956/57 academic year....
I was introduced to Sports Day during the summer of my first year at the school. That was in July 1957.
Some time before the big day, we were dispatched en masse to our respective house teachers. In my case, that meant crowding into a room with boys from older year groups so that we could be briefed, processed and organised by the General of Wolfe himself... Mr Len Hake.
The main item on the agenda was the allocation of boys to events... and there was a fair number of events to which boys could be allocated. These included sprints, wheelbarrow races, sack races, obstacle courses, relays, throwing a cricket ball, football dribbling around posts and "egg and spoons". You know the sort of thing..... anything that fitted nicely into the definition of a modern Olympics.
Such was the magnitude of Sports Day that few boys remained unallocated... and I was chosen for the Under 7 sprint.
It was a heavy responsibility. After all, I had to maintain the reputation of a guy (General Wolfe) who had freed half a continent from the French and I had to achieve it against a friend who was both marginally faster and in the employ of an Archbishop (Becket) who had been murdered in a cathedral. I wasn't worried about a playwright (Marlowe) or a printer (Caxton)..... but the Archbishop remained a concern.
The big day arrived and the whole school congregated at Church Street playing fields. A straight track had been marked in a North-South direction by the admirable Mr. Munday (the groundsman) and four roped "pens" had been established on the eastern side to accommodate the competitors in their four house groups. The western side was populated by smiling parents. (Why... oh why... did they have to smile through everything... including success, failure and the capitulation of an egg 30 yards short of its ultimate omelette. Did they have no sense of occasion?).
The moment came..... the Under 7 sprint between the General who had liberated Canada and the Archbishop who had merely suffered four restless knights in a cathedral. I got off to a flying start. The Archbishop was behind me.... as were the hapless printer and poet.
By halfway, no-one had appeared and I was hurtling past the blur of smiling faces to glory... cheered on by the contents of the distant Wolfe pen. I burst through the tape and ploughed into the chest of a lady teacher. (Just as well really. I was so "pumped up" that I would probably have careered down South Street if she hadn't presented herself as a set of buffers).
Breathless, I garbled my name to her and returned to a rapturous reception from the Wolfe pen. Three points were safely in the bag and the General was adding Church Street to his list of territorial conquests.
Then came the big moment as, carried by the stiff breeze, the announcement echoed across Whitstable from Gaywood's massive loudspeakers.... "In first place... David Turner"! You know... I have never forgiven that lady teacher or Gaywoods for that!
Of course, annoyance wasn't the only thing on my mind. I was also confused by the fact that I had triumphed over my superior friend from Becket.
It wasn't until the homeward journey that I discovered the secret of my success and the explanation came from the mother of my great adversary. Victory had been earned by my superior preparation in the build up to the event. The Archbishop's envoy had put his plimsoles on the wrong feet.
I reckon that the real Archbishop would have escaped unscathed from the four knights of Henry II if he hadn't made the same mistake with his plimsoles. But there again, if he hadn't hadn't been murdered, he probably wouldn't have been sufficiently famous to become a "house" at the Whitstable Boys School!
Dave Taylor (Not Turner!!!)
A "Universal" System... of House Points
It wasn't just sporting exploits that added to the reputation of Messrs. Becket, Marlowe, Caxton and Wolfe. The house system infiltrated many other aspects of school life.... including bevaviour, artistic merit and academic acheivement. Here are some personal memories...
I arrived at the school in September 1956 and I was placed in the charge of Mr. Lawrence - one of of the kindest guys you are ever likely to meet. That meant Class 1A - located in the separate eastern block along with Classes 1B and 1C.
Within days, Mr. Lawrence had introduced us to space travel. Four strings were stretched from wall to wall at the front of the class and each was subdivided into sections by ink spots. A flying saucer was attached to each string by means of a large bull clip. The UFOs were constructed from blue, red, yellow and green card.
Mr. Lawrence was clever (and ozone friendly) because the craft were driven by house points rather than rocket fuel or atomic energy.
Each house point moved the saucer along one ink spot. Points were awarded for all manner of deeds..... including good behaviour, academic achievement and art worthy of a wall slot. On the downside, house points could be deducted for misbehaviour, poor work and art worthy of a Turner Prize.
If you ever spot a UFO and notice it zip into reverse, beware! The aliens have just been very naughty.
And on to Today...
A year or two ago, I was tending the garden when those immortal names of Becket, Marlowe, Caxton and Wolfe wafted on the breeze from a loudspeaker on Church Street playing fields. All was indeed "well with the world". The traditions of friendly competition live on.... forging links with the past and uniting children with parents who also served those famous names on that green swathe alongside the Old Thanet Way.
The house system is not just an integral part of a school. It is embedded in the history and memories of a town. Long may it continue!