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The House System

green house  badgeblue house badgered house badge

The first reference to the school's "houses" that I have found is in the February, 1917, ATOM. There were three houses - Green House, Blue House and Red House. The fact that there is no reference to "houses" in the 1911 ATOM, and that the article refers to the "new House Shield", suggests that the house system had been introduced fairly recently.

THE HOUSES, 1915-16

For the first time in the history of the competition, the Greens have succeeded in ousting the Blues from the position of supremacy which they have held from the beginning, and come out easily on top. At football and cricket they have shewn themselves undoubtedly superior, and we most heartily congratulate them upon their success. The new House Shields was presented to the captain of the winning house on the last day of summer term.

Between the blues and the Reds there was very little to choose. We think, however, that the Blues deserved their slightly superior position.

The results were as follows :--

  Assoc Cricket Shooting Sports Total
Green House
(Capt A.D. Sopwith)
8 8 1 6 23
Blue House
(Capt P. H. Woods)
2 3 2 4 11
Red House
(Capt D. A. Mitchell)
4 3 0 2 9
The ATOM, February 1917

In the March, 1932, ATOM, an article appears entitled A Suitable Name for a School House. The author ("GR") suggests that the colours be changed to more descriptive names. He muses on the possibility of giving them "such appellation as the Limes, Poplars, Rhododendra and such other sylvan names". Other suggestions, all in light-hearted vein, include "Romans, Japs, Chinks and Paraguayans", "Polyanthus, Polyphyllachromatics and Kalopolyphyllanthus" ... although the idea of shouting at a Rugby match "play up Poly.. " may not be such a good idea as they'd have to start shouting before the match started "if they wanted to finish the name before the final whistle's shrilly blasted".

He also suggests that it might be an "excellent plan to follow the nomenclature of our tram cars, which it is said, are named after famous Tyneside worthies - Robert Ingham, Wouldhave and others". But a most promising suggestion came out ... why not borrow the names of famous Old Boys, and so foster in the School an "esprit de corps".

1932 - Runciman, Fenwick and Chapman Houses
In the following edition of the ATOM, dated November, 1932, an article entitled The Renaming of the Houses appeared. It explains that the houses were given names, because "one can scarcely develop any enthusiasm for a mere colour".

Also, the strong dominance of one particular house meant that it was desirable to re-arrange the composition of the houses. So the town was divided up into three large districts, and boys residing in a particular district were allocated to a particular house.

The houses were named after Old Boys - Mr Runciman, Mr Fenwick, and the Chapman family.

Runciman was a leading light in the debating society while he was at the school, and went on to become President of the Board of Trade

Fenwick was an aviation pioneer, who lost his life while flying in 1912

The Chapman family had many connections with the school. Colonel Chapman's father was one of the school's founders, and one of its first governors; Dr F Chapman was the first man to score a try in an international match at Twickenham; and Colonel Chapman himself was well connected with the school.

green house  badgeblue house badgeyellow house badgered house badge
When the Mowbray Road High School merged with Westoe School in 1936, and moved to the brand new building in Harton, the houses reverted to colours. I assume that it was not thought appropriate to have the houses named after boys from only one of the new school's roots. So the houses were back to Red, Green and Blue, but with the addition of Yellow.

1946 - Chapman, Kirwan, Fenwick and Lawrenson Houses
The March, 1947, ATOM reports that the Games Committee decided to re-organise the house system. The first change reflected the 1932 view that the houses should be named after prominent Old Boys or their families. Two of the original names were retained (Runciman lost out, possibly because of his political allegiances!), and the two remaining houses were given the names of Heads of the two foundling schools:

Fenwick: Mr Robert C Fenwick was an old boy who designed the first aeroplane to be accepted by the War Office. He was killed in 1912, flying his own plane. But the name also reflects the fact that three other members of his family attended the school.

Chapman: As before, this House was not named after an individual, but rather after a family. Henry Chapman was a member of the original committee which founded the school, was a shareholder in the South Shields High School Company, and was a governor for many years. Dr FE Chapman was an English Rugby International, and most famously scored the first ever try on the turf at Twickenham. And Colonel Robert Chapman was Chairman of the Governors for eleven years.

Kirwan: George Richard Kirwan had been headmaster of the South Shields High School from 1896 until his death in 1919. His son was also an Old Boy, who had given money to the school for prize money.

Lawrenson: TA Lawrenson had been headmaster of Westoe Secondary School from 1906 to 1934

But this wasn't the only change. The ATOM also reports that "all boys in one form are now in the same house, thus uniting form and house interests".

Even though the houses had done away with their colours, they still appeared to retain a colour identity. But they weren't the same as the original colous. Instead, they represented the three colours of the school, plus white:

Fenwick House badge Fenwick - light blue
Chapman house badge Chapman - white
Kirwan house badge Kirwan - yellow
Lawrenson house badge Lawrenson - dark blue

In 1955, the allocation system changed. Instead of all boys in a form being allocated to the same house, boys were allocated to a house at random - and the house colours became:

Fenwick house badge Fenwick
Chapman house  badge Chapman
Kirwan house badge Kirwan
Lawrenson house badge Lawrenson

When I joined the school, in 1962, we were each given, somewhat ceremoniously, a round coloured badge indicating to which house we had been allocated.

The House system continued until at least June, 1976, but no longer operates in the school today.

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