There are seven houses at Ipswich School. Westwood is the boarding house, the other six houses form the basis of our pastoral system in the Middle School and Sixth Form. Each house has around a hundred students in it from Years 9 to 13 and they are under the care of a Head of House from the teaching staff. Within each house there are six tutor groups, one each for pupils in years 9, 10 and 11 and three in the Sixth Form where Lower and Upper Sixth students are placed together.
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Broke (pronounced ‘brook’) was named after Rear Admiral Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke (1776- 1841), a distinguished naval captain of the Nelson era, who became a national hero as a result of his success in the Battle of Boston Lighthouse in the Anglo-American War which began in 1812.
Broke’s other memorial at his old school is the swimming pool, which dates from 1884 and which was paid for by his son, Admiral Sir George Broke Middleton, as a memorial to his father. Broke came from a gentry family who lived at Nacton Hall. We know almost nothing about his schooldays. His headmaster was the distinguished and scholarly Dr John King, one of whose sons, Richard Henry King, was a shipmate of Broke’s on HMS Shannon, and also became an Admiral.
In those days, the School House was located in premises in Brook Street and Foundation Street. Broke left Ipswich School at the age of 12 for the Naval Academy at Portsmouth where he soon became an expert in gunnery. He joined HMS Bulldog as a Midshipman at the age of 15. Family influence helped to secure rapid promotion and he was a Post Captain at the age of 21, though he did not receive his first command, HMS Druid for another eight years. By then he had married and had begun to raise a family. His second command, the frigate HMS Shannon, came after two years.
Broke’s enduring fame was won during the war between Britain and America which broke out in 1812. The emergence of the USS Chesapeake, an American frigate of comparable size to the Shannon, but with rather greater firepower, from Boston Harbour gave Broke the chance to fight the ship-to-ship action of which he had dreamed. The speed and accuracy of Shannon’s carefully drilled gun crews and the boldness with which Broke led a boarding party onto the decks of the Chesapeake ensured a British victory. Broke received a serious head wound in the fighting and Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake was fatally injured.
The battle, which took place on June 1st 1813, was the climax of Broke’s career, and he subsequently retired to Broke Hall where he lived the life of a Tory country squire. He died in 1841 and is buried in Nacton Churchyard. His exploits in the battle were celebrated in a song which remained popular for some years. Readers familiar with Tom Brown’s Schooldays will remember that the boys in School House sang it.
Felaw House (pronounced ‘fell-law’) is named after the School’s first and one of its greatest benefactors, Richard Felaw. Felaw. a merchant, bailiff and Portman (Alderman) of Ipswich, was a distinguished and wealthy local citizen who represented the borough in parliament in 1449 and again in 1460-1462. He also served as the local controller of customs, and was a figure of some national significance, since he carried out a number of important duties for the Crown. He took the Yorkist side in the Wars of the Roses, and was a close associate of Sir John Howard, later the Duke of Norfolk. Howard’s son Thomas, Earl of Surrey is believed to have been a pupil at Ipswich School. He went on to command the victorious English forces at the battle of Flodden.
Felaw was also a friend of John Squyer, who as chaplain of the Guild of Corpus Christi had likely been responsible for educating the sons of the town notables in the south aisle of St Mary le Tower church. The town’s guild chaplains had long been entrusted with this task.
Felaw’s generous benefaction to the school was possible because he had no male heir. He died in 1483 and was buried in St Mary Quay. His Will ordered that his house “ageyn the gate of the freyers prechers in Yippiswich be ordeyned to be for ever a commyn Scole hows and dwelling place for a convenient scole Master.” The “freyers prechers” were the Dominicans (Blackfriars), whose convent stood across the road from Felaw’s House. The Master and Scholars used the Blackfriars Chapel for daily worship. Lands and property were also bequeathed to pay the Master’s salary, and to provide a free education for boys born in Ipswich unless their parents’ income or capital was above a certain level.
The school was placed under the authority of the Bishop of Norwich and the Bailiff of Ipswich – the latter having the job of appointing the Master. The house, which used to be in what is now called Foundation Street, was unfortunately demolished in the 1950s. A few of its timbers are preserved in the School Museum.
Felaw’s bequest meant that the school, which had originated sometimes after the year 1209 when the town received its charter from King John, became a borough grammar school with, for the first time, its own premises. One of the very first pupils to benefit from this enhancement of the school’s status was, almost certainly, Thomas Wolsey, later Cardinal Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England. The son of a local butcher, Wolsey must have attended the school in the late 1470s and early 1480s before proceeding to Oxford.
It was common practice in the 19th century public schools (the majority of which had more than one boarding house), to refer to the boarding house located in the main school buildings as “School House”. Usually the headmaster was also the housemaster of School House, and he and his family resided in the house or immediately adjacent to it. This was, for instance, the case at Rugby and Oundle.
The Henley Road building which opened in 1852 was designed to provide accommodation for the headmaster and his family (in the south wing of the building, now occupied by the Classics Department and the staff common room), as well as bachelor undermasters who acted as house tutors and domestic servants. Boarders lived in dormitories on the first floor of the building, where the music practice rooms are now located. They had no studies in those days, and the old Great School (demolished in the 1950s to make way for the new Physics Labs) was their only indoor play area, where violent and unregulated games took place. Headmasters and their families continued to reside in the south wing until the retirement of Patrick Mermagen in 1972, when 11 St Edmund’s Road became the Headmaster’s house.
The dormitories in School House – scene of the youthful midnight story-telling activities of Henry Rider Haggard – could only cater for a limited number of pupils. At times when boarding was in great demand, some boys were “boarded out” in the homes of married members of staff, where they enjoyed a level of comfort which made them the envy of other members of School House. In the 1850s the boarders had privileged access to the School Library and the only day boys who could use it were the members of the Chapel Choir.
By the early part of this century, the boarders had been provided with studies as well as dormitories – these were located where one of the Physics labs is now – and a selection of their “pin-ups” (preserved because pine panelling was installed over the plaster walls on which they had been glued) survives in the School Archives. The growth in the numbers of pupils in the 1950s made it necessary to expand boarding facilities, and in 1954 Westwood was purchased and opened as a boarding house, so that School House ceased to have a monopoly on boarders. The subsequent purchase and opening of Highwood as a second boarding house transformed School House into what it is now, a day pupils’ house.
Rigaud House (pronounced ‘ree-go’) is named after the Reverend Stephen Jordan Rigaud. MA, DD. There is also a house named after him at Westminster School, where Rigaud was Senior Assistant Master from 1846 until 1851, when he came to Ipswich.
Rigaud’s wife was the daughter of Benjamin Vulliamy, the royal clockmakers who presented the school with the clock in Little School (see picture below). Educated at Greenwich and Oxford, where he was a fellow of Exeter College from 1838- 1841, Rigaud was in contention for the headship of Rugby on the death of Dr Arnold in 1842.
When he moved to Ipswich, Rigaud brought with him a number of pupils from Westminster as boarders, including John Wordsworth, nephew of the poet, who was later Bishop of Salisbury. Rigaud’s headship was a time of important changes for the school. He masterminded the move from the town centre to the new, purpose-built premises in Henley Road in 1852, and organised the subscription which provided the school with its chapel. Rigaud was the first of a succession of headmasters to live in the Henley Road building. He and his family occupied the south wing, where the staff common room and the Classics Department can now be found. It was Rigaud who decided to rename the school as Queen Elizabeth’s School, Ipswich. A branding iron with the initials Q.E.S.1. can be seen in the School Museum. It was used on furniture, not on pupils. Rigaud also initiated the publication of the school magazine, then known as The Elizabethan, which was almost certainly the first magazine of its kind issued by an English public school.
Rigaud’s departure from Ipswich in 1858 was apparently amicable. He received the official congratulations of the Mayor and Corporation for raising the school “to an eminence which it had never before attained.” Behind the scenes, however, relations between the Headmaster and townspeople were not cordial. Rigaud was actually prosecuted for delivering an excessive flogging to a pupil. He inflicted between twenty and twenty-five blows on the unfortunate youth for “blackguardly behaviour” – running on the grass in the Arboretum and throwing stones at a noticeboard. Though Rigaud was cleared of this charge, his local reputation never recovered. Nevertheless, on leaving Ipswich School he was consecrated as Bishop of Antigua in 1858. He died of Yellow Fever in 1859, shortly after arriving in his diocese, and is buried there.
Sherrington House was inaugurated in 1933. The house is named after Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, OM (1857-1952), the Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of the science of neurophysiology and undoubtedly the most distinguished scientist produced by Ipswich School thus far.
Sherrington attended the school from 1871-76, and received an education that was almost entirely classical and mathematical. He studied at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge, and then qualified as a doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital in 1885. His field of research was spinal reflexes. His experiments on decerebrated cats may strike the modern mind as cruel, but they enabled him to achieve major advances in the understanding of the mammalian nervous system, and some of the terminology that biologists still use was invented by Sherrington. For example, he coined the term synapses to describe the connections between the neurones.
Sherrington was not simply interested in the mechanics of the nervous system. He also studied its behaviour. While his contemporary Pavlov emphasised the importance of conditioned reflexes and encouraged a mechanistic view of the human mind which became known as behaviourism, Sherrington concentrated on what he termed the integrative action of the nervous system. He was fascinated by the way in which the higher mammals collect and process information about their surroundings through their senses, and how they develop a sense of living in space and time. His work in this area had important implications for psychology as well as for neurophysiology, He was also interested in the ethics of science, was a Goethe scholar, and a published poet.
Sherrington maintained his connections with the school throughout his career, and was President of the Old Ipswichian Club in 1900. In retirement he lived for some years in the Broomhill district of Ipswich.
When the Highwood boarding house was opened in 1962, its pupils were automatically members of Sherrington, which thus became a boarders-only house. Sherrington and Highwood remained synonymous until Highwood’s closure in 1988, when its boarders moved to live at Westwood and all pupils, whether day or boarder, were divided between the schools’.
Two of the houses of Ipswich School are named after distinguished former headmasters. The Reverend Dr Hubert Ashton Holden was headmaster from 1858 to 1883, and might have served longer had he not got himself into an unresolvable argument with the governors about the need for improvements to the school buildings.
He was a classical scholar and an educator of national repute – his editions of Greek texts were widely used in the public school world – and he turned down, out of loyalty to Ipswich School, the opportunity to be the first Master of Wellington College, a job which was filled instead by Edward Benson, who went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Holden was appointed to succeed Rigaud, and the list of applicants for the vacant headship in 1858 was a distinguished one.
Holden was a product of King Edward VI School Birmingham and Trinity, Cambridge. Once appointed to Ipswich he quickly built up an academically distinguished staff, including the eccentric litterateurs Devey Fearon Ranking and Robert Sanderson, whose whimsical manuscript sagas and chronicles, decorated with water-colour illustrations and mock heraldry, are one of the most unusual treasures in the School Archives. According to the book “A Famous Antient Seed Plot” by Dr Blatchly, Sanderson, Holden’s Second Master, “maintained that he, Holden and Mr Gladstone were the only three men in England who really knew their Homer”, and it was no idle boast. Sanderson’s Classical Fifth and Holden’s Classical Sixth were something of an academic forcing house – sixty-one Open Awards at Oxford and Cambridge were gained during Holden’s headship, yet the subsequent careers of most of the youths who obtained them were undistinguished.
The most famous products of the Holden era were the novelist, imperialist and agricultural expert Sir Henry Rider Haggard and the Nobel Prize-winning neurophysiologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington. The former was an academic also-ran. He left the school to go to a crammer in London, though not before he had carved the first six letters of his surname on the lid of a desk. Years later, when he returned to the school as a baronet and a best-selling writer, Rider Haggard either requested or was given a knife to complete this piece of vandalism. The result can be seen in the School Museum.
Holden, who was much loved by his pupils, was commemorated by the Holden Library. The naming of a house after him reflects the fact that he won a national reputation for the school, and made its academic standards a yardstick against which other public school headmasters measured their results.