Britten

San

Britten Housemistresses

  • Sue Thomson (1996 – 2001)
  • Julie Flower (2002 – present)

History

Opened on 22nd November 1996, the birthday of its honoured OG Benjamin Britten, this was Gresham’s much needed third girls’ house with a beautiful location bordering the School woods and overlooking the Auden Theatre and Chapel. Designed to house 80 girls, the building was converted from the 1938 Sanatorium and had already been used to house the overflow from Edinburgh from the early 90s as well as the Prep-Prep department and the laundry. Concerned with preparations for war in 1938, The Greshamreassured readers that “If illness should afflict us we can gain admission now to the palace of Sanatoria.” Described as being ‘on most modern lines’, if not ahead of its time, the San was equipped with a disinfecting building in case of infectious illnesses, provision for 33 beds, four nurses, a resident matron and two maids.

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Benjamin Britten in his Lowestoft Prep School uniform

In his opening speech Alan Britten said that his uncle would have appreciated the honour of having a house named after him and no doubt found it ironic given that he spent much time in the sickroom himself as a sickly and homesick pupil. He would also have been pleased that his music is still played and enjoyed at his old School, whilst reminiscing that he got little help with his music owing to a ‘mutual suspicion’ between himself and his teacher Walter Greatorex. Arriving at Gresham’s Benjamin wrote to his parents that he felt “horribly strange and small” but was in a study with three other ‘quite nice’ boys, one of whom unfortunately insisted on playing ‘miserable jazz’ on his gramophone all the time!

At Speech Day 1996 headmaster John Arkell informed parents and pupils that the builders were busy preparing the house for the new term. He spoke of the inclusion of girls at Gresham’s, admitting that perhaps this should have happened somewhat earlier, remarking on how well they had entered into the life of the School and become fully integrated. One of Britten’s first prefects, Harriet Taunton, interviewed the first housemistress Sue Thomson, who had been involved in planning and redesigning the building. Sue stated that her main priority was to try to enable each girl to get as much as possible from the house and School and was hopeful that the current members would soon develop house traditions for future years to inherit. She noted that musicians and sportswomen already featured strongly, with a healthy house spirit already being shown in these competitions.

A year later it was reported that the house had chosen a piece by Britten for their instrumental in the house music competition which was tackled very well by the third formers. Energy and enthusiasm were certainly not lacking, but lack of numbers hampered the house in competitions throughout the year, especially in cross country and hockey. In his opening speech Alan Britten had stressed the importance of participation in order to succeed, urging pupils to get involved in all aspects of school life. “Participation is a voyage of self-discovery” he claimed, without which Gresham’s would not have produced such “a glorious string of great men” or be well on the way to producing “an equally impressive string of great women.” Deborah Fenn, who left in 1997, went on to represent Great Britain at target rifle shooting.

Britten soon showed itself to be an ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ house with their house play Cinderella in 2001 when the entire house participated with enthusiasm. Kat Alanohoned her acting skills at School before becoming a popular actress and TV presenter in the Philippines. Housemistress Sue Thompson left for new horizons in New Zealand with her family and was replaced with Julie Moore in January 2002. Mrs Moore’s ‘borderline obsession with sport’, netball in particular, soon led to increasing success for Britten in house competitions, with wins in cross country, tennis, athletics and swimming. Netball, not surprisingly, soon became the favourite house sport, and in 2004 The Gresham reported that the trophy sat proudly on the Britten mantelpiece.

In the same year the magazine published a poem entitled A Britten Fairytale summarising some early struggles with authority, beginning “Once upon a time there were fourteen naughty little girls who were sent to live in a not so beautiful castle to learn how to be princesses.” In self-mocking style, the housemistress described herself as ‘a tall and wicked witch’ who introduced the argumentative disruptive girls to rules and routine. Within six months things began to improve at the castle, the girls learnt to be friendly, supportive, and cooperative. They made music and sang together, played games and won competitions, and achieved academic success. The castle, it goes on, took on the hues of a rainbow, with cheerful and colourful décor, and the little girls were well on their way to becoming princesses and, of course, living happily ever after!

Two years later Britten joined forces with Tallis to hold a grand May Ball for charity, managing to raise £847 for the Quidenham Hospice whilst having a lot of fun in the process. When not dancing the night away in the garden, the girls were busy practising for the house music competition, coming second overall, and winning the part song for the 5th year running. The influence of art teacher Emma Delpech was felt keenly and the common room walls soon became covered in colourful collages made by every member of the house. After studying at Wimbledon Art School, Zuleika Parkin was inspired by her teacher to try printmaking and went on to become a successful artist, exhibiting at the British Art Fair in London in 2009. In the same year, the house won the inter-house art competition, proudly displaying their trophy.

Britten was also becoming a dramatic house – Poppy Stimpson, Betty Jones, Claire Laurence and Lucy Lomax all took leading roles in the School production of Les Miserables. Residents further demonstrated their talents in A Night in with Britten when guests enjoyed a refined meal and music provided by the hosts which has become a regular and popular feature of the School calendar. The entire house helps to decorate the hall, serve the guests, provide raffle prizes, and join in the dress related gossip.Britten’s Got Talent competitions and the Britten picnic, complete with bouncy castle have added to the sociable reputation of the house. In 2013 we commemorated the centenary of Britten’s namesake with a host of events in his honour.