The Edwardian Era
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1902-1914


KES Old Boys - turbulent beginnings, 1901-1919
by Richard Mallison

Old boys gathering prior to attending a performance by the school of 'Henry V', 1913 Old boys gathering, 1913

Set against the seven-hundred years existence of the grammar school itself the Old Boys' Association, or the Stratford Club as it was originally known, is a comparative newcomer. The early years of the club at the beginning of the twentieth-century were marked by vicissitudes which caused it to founder early on, dashing the aspirations of its founders. Ten years or so later a resurrected club was set fair when the Great War broke out, forcing it to suspend its activities for the duration. It was not until the 1920s that the club was firmly established and its future assured. The story of those early years is the subject of this article.

The genesis of an Old Boy's association may be traced to an informal dinner held at the Red Horse Hotel in Bridge Street on 25th July 1901. As well as the headmaster, the Rev Houghton (1895-1902), on whose initiative the event was organised, eleven former members of the school attended, and in this convivial environment they discussed the formation of a Stratfordian Club and elected a committee from among their number. This comprised Mr Frank Gibbs (1863-7) as president, two joint secretaries and four members, one of whom was the headmaster.

The committee held its first meeting the following October at which it drew up the rules of the club. Underlining its desire for close links with the school these stated that not only were all Old Boys eligible for membership but also all past and present masters of the school (Rule VII), while the committee had the power to appoint "the Head Monitor and the Captains of (Rugby) Football and Cricket of the School" as honorary members (Rule VIII). The subscription was fixed at 3/- per annum.

The first of what were to become the principal events in the OB's calendar were arranged for 30th December 1901. In the afternoon a rugby match was played at Pearcecroft between an Old Stratfordians XV and a team from Northampton raised by Mr L W Taylor, a master. The visitors were "a weighty and useful looking lot" (Stratford Herald), but being two players short they were obliged to play with only six forwards. This gave the OB's a slight edge in "as splendid an encounter as could have been wished for" and ensured their victory by 8 points to 5.

That evening thirty Old Boys attended the 1st Annual Dinner at the Red Horse Hotel at a cost of 4s/6d. The opportunity for some retrospective thoughts about the "Old School" was seized upon eagerly by most of the speakers. Mr E Parke, in proposing the toast to the school, reminisced about the two headmasters he had known following his arrival in 1867 the Rev. Thomas Medwin ("a dear old gentleman" who nevertheless "took some severe and occasionally painfully methods of enforcing discipline") and the Rev Hugh Griffith Evans (who exercised "firm but kindly rule"). Another speaker highlighted the role of the school in preparing its pupils for imperial service when he reminded the assembly that some eighteen Old Boys were currently serving in His Majesty's Forces in the Boer War. (A far greater sacrifice of lives of Old Stratfordians lay ahead in the Great War of 1914-18). The final toast, to the Stratfordian Club itself, drew from the speaker the observation that he "knew of no other way in which traditions of the School could be handed on than by having an old boys' club". The various speeches were interspersed, as was the custom of the time, with songs and recitations rendered by the members themselves.

However, the club was faced with a handicap which the goodwill and enthusiasm of its core supporters, mainly Stratford-based, would prove difficult to overcome, namely the relatively small constituency of potential members. At the turn of the century KES had an average of only seventy pupils on its roll, many of whom left at fourteen or fifteen (the rules stipulated that Old Boys had to be seventeen before they were eligible to join), and sometimes after a relatively short stay at the school. Further, a significant number of the pupils were boarders who would disperse once their education in Stratford was complete. As much correspondence from the period clearly shows distance was a significant factor for many potential members of the newborn association.

Thus 48 subscriptions only were realised in 1902, the club's first full year, scant return for the committee's ambitious plans which included supplying ties, scarfs and coats in the club colours from designated local outfitters. The two pivotal events went ahead in the December of that year. An Old Boys XV defeated the Town Club by 12 points to 3 in a game of only 'moderate character', followed by the Annual Dinner at which the Rev de Courcy Laffan, a distinguished headmaster from an earlier period (1885-95), was the principal speaker.

These endeavours failed to arrest a decline in membership. By the summer of 1903 only 24 members had paid their subscriptions and the secretary was forced into a despairing appeal in the school magazine for payments to be made. It went largely unheeded. The fledgling club was unable to achieve solvency and had expired by the year's end.

Almost ten years were to pass before a move was made to revive the Club. The occasion was a meeting in Big School in November 1912 under the chairmanship of the headmaster, the Rev. Cornwell Robertson (1902-14). Those present were keenly aware of the earlier failure and, therefore, of the need for the resurrected Club to have as broad an appeal as possible. A modest annual subscription of 2/6d, which was to include a copy of The Stratfordian three times a year, combined with some astute publicity accompanying the launch generated a healthy response with over eighty Old Boys joining within the first few weeks, a far higher figure than had been achieved by the first club at any stage in its brief life.

In January 1913 the Old Boys assembled their first rugby XV for over ten years but lost their encounter with the Town Club by 10 points to 5. Sadly, for two of the OB's team the game was to be one of their last links with the School as they were to lose their lives in the coming conflagration. Both Arnold Bloomer (1896-1903) and Cyril Hoskins had been captains of rugby in their last seasons at KES.

That evening in line with the more egalitarian image which the club was seeking to promote a supper rather than a dinner was held at the Unicorn Hotel on Bridgefoot. The event was keenly supported, the mood buoyant. Later that spring a party of over thirty led by the president, Major Tom Hutchings, attended the much acclaimed performance of Henry V played by boys of the school in the Memorial Theatre.

With membership in a healthy state (120 recorded) and finances secure discussion at the animal meeting in December 1913 focused on the possibility of a club room in the town "where old boys could meet and fraternise once a week". Enquiries were made but nothing came of the proposal. (A club room for the use of OB's was secured at the Working Men's Institute in Rother Street in 1931). No rugby match was played that year but the supper was again favoured with a good turnout, providing OB's with an opportunity to record their appreciation of the headmaster, the Rev Robertson, who had recently tendered his resignation.

In June 1914 his successor, the Rev Cecil Knight (1914-45), featured in the KES XI which defeated the Old Boys by a convincing 119 runs. Rev Knight contributed 25 runs before being bowled by Edgar Cranmer (1904-8), the OB's most successful wicket-taker. Edgar's temerity in removing the headmaster was more than matched, however, by the school's fast bowler John Pickett (1908-14) who took nine OB's wickets for 34 runs. Several players from both teams would soon be among the more than two hundred Old Stratfordians who served in the Great War. Two, Gordon Barber (1911-15), the school's opening bat and an all-round athlete, and John Wilkes (1905-8) for the Old Boys were to make the ultimate sacrifice.

The outbreak of war, in August 1914, naturally caused the suspension of most OB's activities for the duration, though the club did master a cricket XI to play the school in July 1915, only to receive a severe drubbing.

Four years were to pass before the next game was held - and revenge gained. In July 1919 an Old Boys XI, which included several ex-servicemen, defeated the school in a low-scoring match. There was a similar outcome in the rugby fixture played in December of that year when a much heavier OB's XV overcame the school by 19 points to 6. This was the first occasion the OB's played the school at rugby.

That evening the Golden Lion in Bridge Street was the venue for the annual dinner. Inevitably the recent conflict cast a shadow over the proceedings and silent tribute was paid to "the 'brave boys' - who had given their lives for their country". The Rev Knight, attending his first OB's Dinner since taking up his appointment nearly six years earlier, outlined his plans for a war memorial to those who had fallen and appealed to OB's for their support. (The War Memorial Library was opened on 12th May 1923. The names of the thirty-one former pupils who were killed in the Great War are recorded on a bronze tablet).

Even in the aftermath of war it was clear that the Old Boys' Association (its recently acquired title) had a secure future. KES itself now numbered more than 200 pupils and the association had strong and effective leadership. The association weathered a further membership crisis in the late 1920s but it would take a second world war to pose the next serious challenge - and to deplete its ranks in the process.

© Richard Mallison, Head of Economics 1968-1993
writing in 1995


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