In 2012 Moseley re-introduced the school house system with eight ‘Houses’, the names of which are based on the original eight Oxford colleges. Tony Steele looks back on previous house systems.
The left hand panel lists the winning houses on school sports day from 1925 to 1982, covering all the years for which a house system existed at Moseley. Details have been taken from the base of a trophy, long forgotten, which was discovered stashed in a cupboard in the science block some years ago, along with all the other surviving school silverware. Why it was there and how long it so languished is unclear (but may be connected with the West Wing being declared unsafe and partially closed in the mid 80s). The item in question has little metal plaques attached to it in circular layers, with the name of the winning house in each year, giving us contemporary epigraphic evidence that we can then check against other sources, such as the school magazine. It tells us a great deal more, too.
Sports day took place in summer, towards the end of the school year and the first thing we notice is that there is no winner listed for 1924, i.e. for the first school year of MSS, 1923/24. Maybe the field wasn’t ready, still being covered in tree stumps, or perhaps the 99 boys of that first intake were deemed unready for a full competition, being aged only 12 at most. When proper competitions begin, the following year, the first house to win was James, named after John Angell James, chairman of the education board of Spring Hill College. It may conceivably also reference Joseph James, architect of the current West Wing building in the 1850s (and was certainly often regarded as so doing). After a four-year run of James we find Spring. This is short for Springfield, named after the area in which the school is situated. Specifically, it references the name of the previous establishment, Springfield College. Whilst this was, indeed, the name of the temporary teacher-training facility that inhabited the building from 1921-23 there appears to have been an erroneous belief that it was also the name of Spring Hill College itself. This, at any rate, is how that establishment is referred to in the school song. (“They planned it,/They built it,/They called it Springfield College.”) Perhaps someone noticed this error at some point, hence the habitual shortening of the house name to Spring.
The other two of the original four houses, which appear on the list, are Mansfield and Glover named after siblings George Mansfield and Sarah Glover, the original benefactors and founders of Spring Hill College. (“Long may the Houses four carry their names/Mansfield, Springfield, Glover and James.”) The hope for longevity of nomenclature expressed in the school song, however, was soon confounded, for in 1935 we find Midgley. All former pupils of Moseley from this period will know that this is, in fact, Springfield, renamed after its first housemaster, Cyril Midgley, who had retired in 1931 due to ill-health. In subsequent years this house is variously spelt Midgley’s, Midgleys and, latterly, simply Midgley. The table reproduces these variants how they appear.
WW2 Evacuation is responsible for the gap from 1939-44, though we see that competitions apparently ceased before the actual outbreak of war and resumed before it ended, though perhaps it is equally likely that there are some missing names here. Mention should also be made of the four junior houses, Cook, Jones, Starling and Whetton, which existed from 1948 to 1965. As junior houses they don’t appear on this list (though they have their own trophies) and bore the names of their first masters-in-charge. These were for 1st and 2nd year pupils, after which their members were distributed to the senior houses on the basis of what the latter needed in terms of sporting talent. They disappear after 1965 and other evidence indicates that the house system at MGS was in something of a state of decline at this time, or at any rate it was by the end of the decade. How else to explain Bruce Gaskin’s 1970 decision, in the twilight years of his headship, to scrap nearly fifty years of tradition and abolish the four famous houses, replacing them with three new, form-based houses? Yet that’s exactly what he did, as the very last issue of the Moseleian tells us. The three new houses were Boulton, Jackson and Mason, though in the four years of its existence (1971-74), poor old Boulton never actually won at sports day. Instead of naming them after individuals connected with the school, they were named after prominent figures in the history of Birmingham Matthew Boulton, the pioneer industrialist, Sir Barry Jackson, founder of Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Sir Josiah Mason, the self-made pen manufacturer. In another departure from tradition the houses were also given colours; green, red and blue respectively. Previous houses at MGS had never had colours, as more than one source has independently confirmed (but, as with anything mentioned here, if you know differently, please tell me). Whether the creation of these new houses invigorated the house system is unclear because they were soon overtaken by events and relegated to history.
Unlike, it would seem, MGS, its neighbour, MM, maintained a very strong house system right up until the amalgamation, enlivened by such popular housemasters as Roger Perks. Almost every conceivable activity could be turned into a competition to gain house points. No equivalent list survives for house winners, as it does at MGS, though some trophies survive for events such as cricket and swimming. Originally (i.e. from 1955) the houses were named Scott, Drake, Raleigh and Shakespeare (colours uncertain, possibly purple or blue for Raleigh and white for Shakespeare) but at some point in the mid 1960s they were either renamed or replaced by Hunt (green), Fleming (yellow), Spence (red) and Elgar (blue), though some sources remember the distribution of colours slightly differently. All MM houses are named after prominent national historical figures.
When MGS and MM amalgamated in 1974 to form MS, four new houses were created, replacing all previous ones; Arden (green), Howard (yellow), Warwick (red) and Lancaster (blue) but again, individual memories differ slightly over the colours. The choice of names is something of a mystery, though they have a very Shakespearean feel, with apparent local family connections. Two of them, Arden and Howard, were the names of Catholic recusant families under Elizabeth I but I cannot believe they were chosen for this reason. As with so much else about the amalgamation, one can possibly detect the hand of John Lockwood (deputy head of MM 1968-74, and of MS 1974-82) in the choice of names, which would have been agreed during the prolonged consultations between the two schools from 1972-74. This new house system, never strong to begin with, became increasingly nominal from around 1978 onwards, after which the houses were only ever mentioned on sports day itself. Nevertheless the winners were duly recorded each year and we may note that Lancaster never won (though its name appears on other trophies). This continued until 1982, when they ran out of space on the base of the trophy. In any case we know that in that year David Swinfen took over as head and brushed away much of the detritus of the past.
No 1939 House Champion? – No Mystery!
by Geoff Mande
Regarding Tony Steele’s ‘House Champions’ article above, having been at the school in 1939 I can give one possible explanation as to why no winner of the Sports Trophy is given for that year.
Previous winners of the trophy had depended on Sport Day results alone to win the trophy. In 1938 comparatively few pupils took part, with around 80% of the school being just spectators. It was therefore decided the following year to have a series of ‘standards’, one for each age and event. After lessons on certain set days any pupil could go to the sports field and try to achieve their standard. Thus by running 100 yards in 13 seconds, for example, they would earn a point for their house. So, instead of most pupils having no part in which house won, the majority did have at least have a small contribution.
Adding up these points to the Sports Day winners’ points was not as simple as it had been when only the one day’s events were considered and there might not, therefore, have been time to have the trophy engraved before war intervened and such matters were forgotten.
Junior House Colours
by Michael Kidson (1948-54)
I was very interested in the article dealing with the history of the Houses at Moseley, in the last issue. Perhaps I can add my memories of this.
I entered MGS in September 1948, which was the first year for the junior Houses of Cook, Whetton, Jones and Starling and I was placed in Whetton House. I recall that the colours for each were Blue for Cook, Yellow for Whetton, Green for Jones and Red for Starling. One could also buy lapel badges for their respective House which were an enamel circular disc with pin which we were allowed to wear on our blazer.
At the start of the third year we were placed in a Senior House, either Glover, James, Mansfield or Midgley and their respective colours were Yellow, Blue, Green and Red. I have no knowledge of how pupils were allocated to the respective Houses, but if you had an older brother you automatically followed into the House in which he was placed. I was placed in James.