A HISTORY OF THE OLD ESTHAMEIANS' SOCIETY
By A. W. LEONARD
AS early as 1907 old scholars of the Secondary School formed an Old Collegians' Association, under the presidency of Mr. W. H. Barker, the first Principal. After the 1914-18 war the name was changed to Old Collegians' Society and many older members still regard themselves as "Old Cuffs", though the name of the Society was changed to Old Esthameians' Society nearly twenty-five years ago, after a period during which both names had been used. It is believed that the word "Esthameian" originated with the Football Club; it was certainly coined by the old scholars and later taken as the title of the magazine and then incorporated in the School Song, the words of which were altered from the original.
Few records of early days are available, but socials were a prominent feature of the association's activities, and clubs for football, tennis and ladies' hockey were, soon established, followed by swimming and a debating society. By 1914 a flourishing organisation had been built up by an enthusiastic committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Franklin, with Mr. A. Owen as secretary. After the outbreak of war the various sections ceased to exist - except the Ladies' Hockey Club, which carried on without a break until 1939. The exodus of old boys on active service emphasised the need for a magazine which would keep members in touch with each other and the school. This had been considered before and in January, 1915, Messrs. Done and Franklin produced the first number. This magazine and, in particular, the efforts of Mr. Franklin were largely responsible for keeping Old Collegians together. Within eighteen months Mr. Done left the School, and Mr. Franklin carried on with the magazine, but felt unable to continue as our chairman as well, and in the autumn of 1916 Mr. Weir took the office, which he was to hold for twenty-two eventful years.
War Memorial Plans
As soon as the war ended, plans for a War Memorial were discussed by the School Staff and the Higher Education Committee, and an appeal was issued for money to build "a social club house in the precincts of the College".
The Old Collegians resumed activities and soon had a football team again, thanks to the efforts of Mr. R. W. Humrphris. A general meeting was held in 1919 and a new committee appointed with Mr. W. J. Smith as secretary and Mr. E. W. Burrell, treasurer. Dances were held regularly in the School gymnasium and rambling, cycling, swimming and tennis were resumed. A year later Mr. R. A. Dods became secretary as Mr. Smith was unable to continue with his good work.
The Society had always faced one great handicap - the lack of suitable sports facilities. In 1907 the ground at Beckton was used, but this was quite unsuitable, and the Tennis Club moved to Wanstead Flats in 1912, but a fall in membership led to a temporary amalgamation with the little Ilford Club in 1914, when our members played at Rectory Field for the first time! After the war, they returned to Wanstead Flats, where they remained until the Rectory Field became our sports ground. The Ladies' Hockey Club also left Beckton for Wanstead Park and later played in West Ham Park, Barking Road Recreation Ground and at Fairlop before moving to Rectory Field. The Football Club remained at Beckton for many years and in spite of difficulties won the championship of the Ilford Intermediate Combination in 1922 under the captaincy of Mr S. F. Reading and the East Ham Hospital Cup in 1923, when Mr. C. B. Pidgeon captained them. No suitable dressing-room was available at this period and much money and time was spent in securing and equipping an old railway coach, which was still to be at the farm twenty years later.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that the War Memorial Committee turned its attention to a proposal to secure a sports ground, as there seemed to be no possibility of building a club house near the School. As early as 1922 they thought it might be possible to buy Rectory Field, but the Council also appreciated the value of this site and bought it themselves in 1924, though it was not possible to use it until a lease expired in 1930. The War Memorial Committee returned to the original proposal to build a Club House and, in view of the favourable attitude of the local authorities, plans for the present building were prepared in 1928.
In spite of handicaps, the sports club, flourished and younger members came forward to take the place of those who revived the clubs after the war, and in 1925 changes took place in the Tennis, Football and Ladies' Hockey Clubs where Messrs. R. A. Turner and A. L. Nathan and Miss M. Adcock replaced Messrs R. R. Hay and R. C. Sanders and Miss R. Nathan respectively, whilst Mr. Dods retired from the post of general secretary to be followed by Mr. L. H. West.
Social activities had not been neglected and dances were held in the gymnasium every two or three weeks during the winter, whilst the Annual Supper Dance in the Town Hall became the principal social event of the year, organised first by Miss L. Hall and subsequently by Mr. R. C. Patterson. Arrangements were made for an Annual Dinner in 1922, but had to be cancelled owing to lack of support and a second attempt in 1924 was postponed owing to a threat of a railway strike, but nevertheless the First Annual Dinner at the Florence Restaurant on Thursday, 10th of April, 1924, was a great success.
With an increasing membership and many new committee members, attention was turned to new activities and in March, 1926, Messrs. Andrews and Gillender produced "Nothing But the Truth" for the new Dramatic Society. The following summer a Cricket Club was formed under the captaincy of Mr. A. L W. Porter with Mr. C. A, Bloomfield as secretary and in the autumn the Badminton Club was inaugurated at Monega Road School with Mr. D. J. Crawford as secretary. He was followed by Mr. W. W. Clarke a year later, when Mr. Crawford became treasurer of the Society.
During the next few years all section, of the Society increased their membership and the prospect of having our own sports ground with a club house spurred all to greater efforts. The Christmas Draw became a regular feature - to raise money for the War Memorial and thoughts were turned to the use which would be made of the new building. The expansion of the School led to the creation of the Annexe at Shrewsbury Road in 1931 under Mr. Andrews, and with his help a small Men's Section was started with a billiard table installed in the Staff room and suitably covered for use by them during the day. The Dramatic Society was now able to rehearse in a larger room away from the distractions of evening classes at the "Tech." and the arrangements for meetings of committees were eased though the secretary and section officials still found room for the Society's records and office work in their homes.
The society was entering a period of great activity and changes and was fortunate in having its affairs managed by very competent officials, ably supported by good committees, with others available to deal with the coming expansion. The Football Club, of which Mr. J. E. Dods had been secretary for some years, had a pitch at Rectory Field in 1930, and the Ladies' Hockey Club (secretary Miss Ben) followed the next season, but it was not until 1932 that the summer clubs were able to use the ground, new tennis courts having been laid. It new became possible for the Society to start catering for refreshments and teas: an improvement welcomed by members and a source of profit owing to the excellent arrangements made by Miss D. Harwin and others before the Club House was built.
Effects of the Separation of the Schools
In the autumn of 1932 came a change which was to affect the Society in varying ways for ever afterward,. The "Tech." became the Boys' Grammar School and the girls moved to the new Grammar School at Plashet Grove with Miss Cross as Headmistress. With her assistance we were able to improve our fortnightly dances by leaving the old gymnasium for the new School Hall, with in better floor and surroundings and simplified arrangements for catering. At the Boys' School Mr. Andrews had become Headmaster and, with his assistance, the Badminton Club was able to transfer from Monega Road to the gymnasium. Dr. L. C. Tyte, who had been secretary since 1929 succeeded in increasing the membership and the Club played on two evenings each week. With Mr. J. E. Dods as captain, a men's team had a good season in the First Division of the Essex League. The following year, when Mr. A. W. Carter had taken over the duties of secretary, the Club entered a mixed team in the County League, where they played with much success until 1939.
When the Schools were separated in 1932, Mr. Barker retired and left East Ham, and at the Annual Meeting of the Society in November he concluded twenty-five years as our President. Mr. Andrews followed and his help and guidance were to be of great value to us in the next few years.
Opening of War Memorial Club House
Although the Rectory Field was now in use, the Club House still had to be built and, whilst the Old Esthameians had been informed of progress through Mr. Weir, and indeed raised much of the money, the Society had no official position in the matter until April, 1932. The War Memorial Committee then invited the Society to send three representatives to meetings, and Miss D. Harwin, Mr. C. H. West (Secretary) and Mr, J. E. Dods, the recently elected treasurer, were appointed. The site for the Club House had been conveyed to the Committee by the Council shortly before this and in March, 1933, the War Memorial Committee accepted a tender for the erection of the Club House. The great day in our history was 30th September, 1933, when Alderman G. H. Manser, J.P., Mayor of East Ham, opened the War Memorial Club House in the presence of a large gathering, presided over by Mr. Barker, The Rev. H. B. Curtis offered a Dedicatory Prayer and Mr. Gillender unveiled the memorial tablet.
The Society now had to change the planning of the past year to running a Club House which was open every evening (except Sundays), and Mr. L. H. West became the first Club House Secretary, whilst Mr. J. E. Dods looked after the finances a, well as those of the Society as a whole. The new secretary of the Society was Mr. A. W. Leonard, who had been assisting M, West and also Dance Secretary for some years. The new assistant secretary was Dr. L. C. Tyte, who was already editing our part of the magazine and had made many useful contributions to committee discussions previously.
The Club House is the property of the War Memorial Trustees and they, with representatives from the Schools and the Society, formed the Management Committee responsible for the building. This committee is not suited to dealing with the details of day-to-day business and as soon as the Club had settled down with a definite membership, a House Committee was elected by the members to arrange internal matters as they wished.
[For a more detailed account of the opening and a plan of the club house, published in the November 1933 edition of the Esthameian, click here]
Proposals for Sports Pavilion and Hall at Rectory Field
The Society now appeared to be firmly established and only two major improvements remained to be completed. The first was the provision of a better pavilion on Rectory Field, which the Council completed in 1935 and the second was to build a hall which would cover the ground between it and the Club House. The Club House had already cost more than the War Memorial Committee had available and the Society had undertaken to repay a substantial loan from the bank. There was steady progress in making repayments up till 1939, but the committee was not prepared to consider seeking further funds in order to build a hall, though plans for one were once drawn and an estimate of cost obtained.
Having no hall, the Society continued to use rooms at the Schools for badminton and dances, but no very satisfactory arrangements could he made for the Dramatic Society. After a good start this section had reached a high standard in plays produced by Mr. A. J. Ewart and continued later order the direction of Mr. O. J. Hughes.
The Club House soon attracted regular members, and billiards, snooker and table tennis tournaments became a regular feature each winter, together with a few matches against other clubs, whilst members of the sports sections found this headquarters an attraction for visiting teams. Having seen this great new venture safely launched, Mr. West retired in 1935 and Mr. M. H. Gravenstede became Club House Secretary.
The Cricket Club was one of the first to benefit from the new surroundings. Mr. Bloomfield was at last able to approach better clubs, and his successors, Messrs. R. M. Anderson and S. E. Towler, saw the fixture list improve each year. The Tennis Club, which had previously had to he content with one court on Wanstead Flats, now had no difficulty in filling three courts. The section was one of the largest in the Society and was fortunate in having its affairs managed by capable secretaries Mr. F. Davey until 1935 and then Miss M. Mepham and Miss W. Smyth.
The Football Club soon found that full use could be made of the available pitches and Mr. A. J. Fossey found himself busy with three teams. The need for a junior team became apparent and in 1936 when Mr. H. M. Cleare became secretary a J.O.C. team was formed. In this season the first eleven, captained by Mr. J. Barton won the First Division Championship of the Ilford Intermediate Combination and reached the final of the London Old Boys' Senior Cop. The next year they again reached the Cup Final and defeated Old Uffingtonians by two goals to none and the J.O.C. team won the Thompson Cup. Seeking better games, the first eleven competed in the Southern Olympian League in 1938-9, whilst the second team won the championship of Division II of the Secondary School Old Boys' League and were beaten five-four in the final of the Old Boys' Junior Cup. Prospects for 1939-40 appeared to be extremely good.
New activities were not overlooked and in 1938 Netball and Men's Athletic Clubs were formed.
Each year there were a few changes in the membership of the General Executive Committee and no difficulty was experienced in finding willing workers. Throughout the long period between the wars nobody had spent more time on the Old Esthameians Society than Mr. Weir, the Chairman, but after presiding over a meeting in March, 1938, a breakdown in health prevented him from taking my further active part. At the next A.G.M. Mr. L. H. West was appointed to follow him. In the meantime Miss Cross had retired in December, 1931, and the two Schools were becoming separate entities with no link between them as few of the original Staff remained.
Proposed Changes - Outbreak of World War II
The outbreak of war in September, 1939, affected all activities immediately, but before considering this it is of interest to recount events which had taken place a little earlier. The local authority was proposing to redistribute school playing fields, and the Grammar Schools were to move to Flanders Field. In informal discussions which the officers of the Society had it was suggested that we might find suitable facilities at the new ground and build a Club House there, using money obtained by the sale of the present buildings - a sale which could probably have been effected then.
In September, 1939, the Club House was taken over as, a Civil Defence Post, but latter it was returned to the Society and continued to function as headquarters. It had been anticipated that Mr. Leonard would resign from the post of Society secretary in November, 1939, and be succeeded by Mr. E. J. Hannant, who had been Dance Secretary, 1934. Mr. Hannant now took responsibility for looking after the Society's interests. In March, 1941, the Trustees made an agreement with the Council whereby the Club House became available for the Education Committee. All prewar activities had ceased, but there was a demand for club facilities for boys and girls who had recently left School. Mr. Hannant organised a club for younger O.E's which met first at his own home and later at Napier Road, Central Park Road, Girls' Grammar and Altmore Schools in spite of heavy air-raids. When Mr. Hannant was moved from the district, Mr. F. Gifford took over management and he, in time, handed on to Mr. A. R. Jacob. In 1944 this Club was made an independent Old Esthameians' Junior Club for old students who had left school in 1939 or later.
Whereas the 1914-18 war had made the magazine essential, circumstances in 1939-41 were such that its continuation was impossible. In the early days the School had been responsible for editing the whole magazine, but in 1921 Mr. S. J. Mallinson had been appointed to edit the "Old Colls." section, and a year later Mr. C. Chown took over. In 1926 an attempt was made to increase our contribution by Mr. L. G. Macey and this was continued in 1931 by Dr. L. C. Tyte, who continued until 1934. The Society then had a difficult period. Mr. O. J. Hughes was appointed editor, but soon relinquished the post owing to ill-health, and Miss K. E. Andrews carried on, although she was already editing for the Girls' School. In 1931 Mr. R. G. Stuart became the editor, but was unable to continue in 1939. The secretary made a hasty effort to complete a summer number, and in June Mr. A. W. Carter was appointed. The last number of The Esthameian - the seventieth number of the joint Schools and old scholars' magazine - was published in December, 1939. It was a real triumph for the Girls' School was at Kidlington, the Boys' School at Swindon and our own editor at Witney.
During the war many changes in the Schools' Staffs took place and Miss Mitchell replaced Miss Duncan as Headmistress in 1943 and Dr. Whiteley was appointed Headmaster when Mr. Andrews retired in 1944. Mr. Andrews' untimely death within a few weeks robbed the Society of its most valued adviser, and it was a source of great encouragement to find that his successor was really interested in the Society.
Late in 1945 members of the pre-war committee met to review the situation, and discussions with the "Juniors" showed that the future prospects for the Society were good, provided that the two groups could combine satisfactorily - giving the enthusiasm of youth to the experience of the older members, modified to suit the changed world in which we found ourselves.
A General Meeting was held in March, 1946, and the Society resumed with Miss Mitchell as President, Messrs. West, Leonard and Dods continuing as chairman, secretary and treasurer, with Messrs. Jacob and D. J. McCarthy assisting the latter two officers. The Rectory Field was still being used for allotments and the Club House was used for school classes every day until the end of July. The Tennis Club had some use of a school playground and it became clear that the Society was unlikely to regain full use of Rectory Field. By the autumn it had been possible to resume badminton with Miss D. Leahy as secretary and two football teams had been entered in the Southern Olympian League, all matches to be played away. With the return of more members from the Forces several changes in the committee took place at the A.G.M. in November, 1946, when Mr. West retired, and Mr. H. S. Cutting was appointed chairman. At this meeting Dr. Whiteley was elected President in place of Miss Mitchell.
Social functions were resumed, but increased expenses made it difficult to run a dance in a small hall economically and the Society has never been able to resume its programme of fortnightly dances, whilst the Town Hall has never been available for the Annual Supper Dance. Nevertheless, a few dances have been held every year and an Annual Supper Dance at one of the smaller local halls is now a regular feature of our programme, the organisation being in the capable hands of Mr. A. R. Jacob, and, later, Miss R. Hardy. The Annual Dinner was held in 1947 again, when many members had to be refused tickets as the room was not large enough. As in the past, this function has always been organised by the secretary and this year we reach our Twenty-fifth Annual Dinner.
In 1947 the Rectory Field was again in use, but with restrictions which had not been encountered before the war. The Tennis Club was granted use of the courts on only three occasions per week, but the Cricket Club was able to resume its former fixtures after a great deal of work by Mr. C. T. Baggott, who was secretary until 1950 when Mr. L. Kneller continued with the work.
The Football Club became stronger than before the war and in the 1947-8 season, captained by Mr. H. Organ, won the Old Boys' Cup again. The Cup was won again the following year when the second team also won the junior Cup, this being the only occasion on which both cups had gone to the same club. The first team was also top of the Senior Division 2 of the Southern Olympian League and was promoted to Division 1, where they were top in 1950 and again in 1951. With four senior teams and a junior eleven playing matches at Rectory Field and Debden, management of the section's affairs is a difficult task and much work has been done by Mr Jacob And his secretaries Mr. J. Hadley And Mr. B. Wood.
As only one football pitch is available at Rectory Field, accommodation elsewhere was essential and in 1950 the Council granted us the use of a pitch at Debden, an inconvenient place and far from our headquarters, but nevertheless one which has been much appreciated. With the introduction of rugby at the School, it was only a matter of time before the Society started a new section. The Rugby Club was formed in 1950, and in 1951 a pitch was secured at Debden, where the club has gradually built up an excellent fixture list, with Mr. A. Johnson as secretary.
The Netball Club, which was inaugurated shortly before the war, resumed activities in 1947 and owing to lack of support from the Girls' School is not able to play more than one team each week. Unfortunately, the Ladies' Hockey Club has not been revived and there appears to be little possibility of this unless the game is resumed at School.
The Badminton Club was not able to regain its old high standard, but resumed at the "Tech." gymnasium after the war with sufficient members to meet on one night every week until 1954, when they were forced to seek a hall elsewhere - an inferior one.
The Dramatic Society soon resumed activities and some excellent productions have been staged by Mr. Young And Mr. Vennis, but the lack of a substantial number of regular members has resulted in this activity closing down.
The Future of the Club House and Rectory Field
The post-war period has produced many new and difficult problems, many of which affect continuity of membership. In general the girls leaving school are not as interested in the Society, whilst the boys hardly get to know us before they are taken away for National Service, and many continue their studies at the Universities. The housing difficulties of the last ten years have resulted in more members leaving the district, and marriage usually results in departure to some considerable distance from East Ham.
The Club House has in consequence been used less than originally and this situation is aggravated by the fact that the restrictions on the use of Rectory Field make it impossible to provide sports facilities at our headquarters as before.
The provision of facilities at least as good as before the war has been under continual discussion with the local authorities since 1946, and in September, 1950, the East Ham Education Committee received a deputation from the Society to state our case. The difficulties of the authorities are well understood but, in view of past experience, we had hoped to be able to secure sports facilities at the new Boys' School on the Langdon Crescent site and perhaps build a less elaborate Club House there. This now appears to he impossible, and future prospects are not good, as half the Rectory Field is now to be taken to build a new school. There are possibilities of a partial solution to our problems, but in the meantime the expense of maintaining the Society with activities in so many different places grows.
The work of the officers does not diminish and when Mr. Leonard retired from the position of Hon. Secretary in 1949 we were fortunate in being able to call on Mr. A. R. Jacob, who had already done much work for the Society in the previous ten years. In 1953 further changes took place when Mr. J. E. Dods retired from the office of Hon. Treasurer and was replaced by Mr. H. W. Airey, whilst Mr. A. W. Leonard succeeded Miss Andrews as Chairman.
An additional task which the Committee has had to face since the war is the publication of the magazine. As the two schools separated, we had to issue our own publications. The Old Esthameian War Bulletin No. 1 was produced by Mr. Carter in 1940, followed by Nos. 2 and 3 in 1941. Two more bulletins and many Newsletters were prepared by the Junior Club before the Society resumed full activities again in 1946, and the first peacetime number of the Old Esthameian was edited by Miss K. E. Andrews in December of that year. In 1947 Miss E. Archer was appointed Editor and she continued until Mr. W. Airey took over in 1950, to be followed later by Messrs. R. H. Hill, H. Airey and R. Dingley.
In an account of our activities, even of this length, it is not possible to mention all who have contributed to the strength of the Society, and looking back one sees that no mention has been made of many who have played a big part, including the Misses E. Cutler, E. Plowright, E. James, G. Jarrold, M. Bolt, F. Wells, E. Mays, E. Lovett, M. Quinn, V. Gibson, M. Huggett, J. Moore, A. Nel, O. Osborne, T. Thompson and S. Nye; and Messrs. J. A. May, C. Sturton, S. Andrews, W. L. Gardner, T. Jeffs, J. Borneo, B. Clippingdale, A. Clyne, W. Jones, E. R. Gunn, L. Hutchinson, R. M. Philpott, K. Newlyn, A. Drew, L. G. Towers. With the help of Old Esthameians like these the Society can increase in strength and play an important part in the life of East Ham.