Double unveiling to add insight to Norfolk school’s history

Arguably Britain's best 20th century composer is set to take the place of honour at one of his Norfolk schools next week when a bust is unveiled.

And the historic event will be given added depth with the launch of an updated book about the pioneering headmaster whose radical thinking paved the way for Britten and a host of other famous names to flourish at Gresham's School, Holt.

Graham High's bust of Britten, who attended the school from 1928 to 1930, will be officially unveiled on October 11 at the school's Auden Theatre, which houses a sculpture of another famous old boy, the poet WH Auden.

Britten's face will look out at the current students and staff from Farfield House, the house that he attended.

The sculpture was commissioned by the Old Greshamian Club, which wanted a bust of Britten in time for the 2013 centenary of his birth.

At the same event, editors Hugh Wright - headmaster of Gresham's from 1985 to 1991 - and John Smart will launch their revamped edition of 1925 book Howson of Holt, which focuses on George Howson, the headmaster at the school from 1900 to 1919.

Mr Smart, a former teacher of English at Gresham's said: 'Both Hugh Wright and I think Howson was a very important figure in terms of his educational ideas, which were well ahead of their time.

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'Gresham's was re-founded in 1900 and he helped to produce this galaxy of talent that attended the school.'

He added: 'He had a very positive approach to what boys could do and achieve. Others schools were often more concerned with punishing them and keeping them in order. Howson wanted to maximise their potential.

'He believed Gresham's stood for a nobler expression of boyhood than could be found elsewhere.'

He said the school was 'in the doldrums' until Howson took the helm, when it moved from the centre of Holt to its current Cromer Road site. Pupil numbers were 'running down', and Mr Smart said it 'may not have survived'.

Mr Howson introduced a new curriculum, a regime with 'very little corporal punishment' and an 'honour system based on trust'.

Mr Howson died in 1919, possibly of a broken heart because so many of his beloved students died in the trenches of the first world war.

Mr Smart said: 'We've tried to put Howson in his rightful place as one of the people who changed thoughts about education, particularly through his loyal lieutenant JH Simpson, who wrote the first edition of the book and who went on to become a government education adviser.

'Through him, Howson's ideas became part of the mainstream of ideas about 20th century education.'

The book includes a host of new photographs from Howson's era, plus pen-pics of many of the students who went on to become famous or renowned in their field.

Mr Smart said: 'Who knows what would have happened to any of them if they had gone somewhere different. He allowed his pupils really remarkable freedom.

'They had lots of free time and had almost nothing in the way of public examinations. For many, the first examination was when they went up to Oxford or Cambridge university to sit a paper.

'They were free to roam around the countryside and ride their bicycles to Cley or Salthouse. They could discover things for themselves. It was a very liberal school. And it was a golden era for Gresham's.'

Howson of Holt, costing �12, will be available from Gresham's School, Bakers and Larners of Holt and the Holt Book Shop.