Two Glorious Years.
There were numerous cricket matches when the Red House boys entertained their visitors to tea, which was something new. The away matches included one at Bolwick with a strawberry tea provided by Mrs Buxton, the widow of the Chairman. A cousin of the Buxtons had just been elected Member of Parliament for North Norfolk; this was Noel Buxton who was well-known in philanthropic circles as President of the Save the Children Fund. He became Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in a later government but was remembered at Red House for an adventure on the local branch of the railway which the boys knew well. While waiting for the train at the little station Noel sat in the sun on the grass bank; but he sat on ants nest. The train then arrived so he got into his first class carriage, pulled down the blinds and took off his trousers to shake the ants out of the window. Just then another train passed in the opposite direction and took away the M.P.'s trousers. At Norwich the railway kindly lent him a pair of porter's trousers; then he went on his journey to London and attended at the Houses of Parliament clad in this way.
The school felt that 9th November 1910 was a red letter day because their great supporter, Mr Eustace Gurney, was elected Lord Mayor of Norwich. He was only half the age of some of his predecessors and no fewer than seven of his family had been Mayor before him. It was only in the previous year that the position had been elevated to Lord Mayor. In spite of an exceptionally busy term of office Eustace continued to attend the Red House Committee meetings; on other occasions he bought visitors who made generous contributions to the sports and social fund which was to be fully stretched in the next twelve months.
The new Lord Mayor had been moving spirit in arranging with the Royal Agricultural Society of England that the Royal Show should be held at Norwich in the year 1911. In those days the "Royal" was held in different counties each year. The arrangements to come to Norwich were made long before it was known that this would also be the year of the Coronation of King George V. Both events took place in June the Royal Show opening one week after the Coronation. Even before the end of May the Red House log discloses rising excitement, there are a succession of entries by the Governor.
"Signs of preparations for the festivities in connection with the approaching Coronation of their Majesties the King and Queen. "The Managers met in Committee this morning, the Lord Mayor of Norwich motored over just as the Managers were leaving" "All very busy preparing for the Coronation festivities to be held in Dudwick Park; about half our boys are taking part in a Pageant." "Very hot weather; Governor and Matron to Norwich to buy flags, prizes etc.",
"Thursday, June 22nd. The Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. Long may they reign in health and happiness! We sang the National Anthem and dressed the mast with flags. We attended a service at the Parish Church. P.Edward Sewell came up this evening and presented us each with a Coronation tea ticket."
"Friday June 23rd. Festivities held in Dudwick Park this afternoon. The boys all marched in the Pageant procession, P.Edward Sewell providing a sumptuous tea, sports and a grand display of fireworks. Miss M.A.Sewell presented the prizes. The boys stayed (with the exception of the younger ones) until the last and had a right good time."
We know from Margaret's writings that forty Red House boys took part in the Pageant, representing different rural trades and occupations. Each boy was dressed according to his trade and carried appropriate tools or implements. Two hundred people from Buxton village took part.
On the following Wednesday King George V arrived by Royal Train at Thorpe Station where he was met by the Lord Mayor and Lord Leicester the Lord lieutenant. There was a state drive to St Andrews Hall where Alderman Gurney surrendered the sword of State to the King in accordance with ancient custom and presented an address to his Majesty which was read by the Recorder. The King replied to the address of welcome and stressed his own interest in agriculture and his support for that industry. He then asked for a sword and that of the Officer Commanding the Royal Norfolk Yeomanary was handed to His Majesty who now conferred the honour of knighthood on Alderman Gurney, the Lord Mayor. After this they drove out to the Show in their open carriages, with a sovereign's Escort furnished by the Yeomanry.
There was great excitement at the Red House when they heard that the King had knighted "their" Lord mayor; they [promptly sent off a telegram of congratulations. Half of the school staff with some of the boys visited the Show on the following day. The log relates that each boy carried a little parcel of refreshments and an entrance ticket which had been provided by Miss Sewell. This party was somewhat overwhelmed in the enormous crowd of 75,000 people. The remainder of the officers an more boys went on the last day when the crowd was much smaller and the boys could see everything.
These celebrations had come during hay making on the farm; a few days later Babington was writing: "I cooled the barn roof with water from the fire engine. I feared that the combination of iron, tarred felt and matchboard might catch fire in the great heat." The school farm was worked on the traditional four-course system which had been developed in this county before spreading to the rest of England and then to much of Europe. At Red House wheat was grown on the first year, then turnips which were followed by barley in the third, undersown with clover and rye-grass; this was grazed or cut for food in the fourth.
Day by day the events of farm and garden were always recorded: here are some extracts for the year 1911:-
July 14th. The new season's honey is for sale 10d a section
July 17th. Bought 40 lambs at 28/- each. They were walked over from Eaton. A nice looking lot, a few road lame and some have red noses: all are being attended by William Jeckell
July 24th. Bought 10 pigs at 15/6d each; not a good price but their food is dear.
July 31st. I took the Matron and children for a row on the river. (Note the Governor, when writing in the school diary always referred to his wife as Matron)
August 2nd. We are hoeing the turnips and cutting the headlands of the wheat field in readiness for a harvest.
August 4th. Thomas Savage dipped the 40 lambs for which I paid him 6/-.
August 8th. Finished cutting the wheat this evening. We are very pleased with the working of the "cutter" which was bought last autumn.
August 11th. Cutting barley. Governor out for a half-day fishing.
August 13th. Sunday. A very "old boy", Fred Platfoot and his son, motored over from Thetford. Nearly 30 old boys have visited us this year. It has been a good year."
Agriculture continued to prosper in Norfolk until 1914 and the Red House farm and market garden did well; Alfred Babington was pleased with the farm and with his school which was full. Margaret Sewell, on the other hand, had misgivings. There were now more boys in the school than the officers could treat as individuals and many of the younger ones slept on canvas-covered frames while a few had hammocks instead of beds. The boys and duty officers were locked in at night, the keys being kept by the matron. Margaret represented to the committee that the sagging canvas beds were bad for the children's development and that there was a fire risk when the doors were locked. She also maintained that these boys should be taught to control themselves rather than be controlled; the aim should be to "train them to become dependable young men so that they could earn a living." Margaret got her way over all the changes that she wanted, but it took time. Possibly Babington did not see the need for change due to the fact that most of his fifty years of life had been in the same place, at Buxton.
Miss Sewell's god-daughter who used to visit the school in those days when staying at Dudwick, has recently given the author this account of her impressions: "Mr Babington was a short, fat, jovial man with a beard. I, as a child was slightly in awe of him and I thought the boys were too. The Red House was then definitely an Institution and pretty spartan. The boys slept in long dormitories and when the bell rang for meals they came clattering down the stairs in heavy boots. They always seemed to be in a crowd and as long as a boy didn't get into trouble he just went along with the rest; this was how it appeared to a small child who only saw them at "inspection" in the quadrangle, in gangs working outside or on their walks through Dudwick Park with a master fore and aft. Mrs Babington was a kind, motherly woman and I am sure took good care of those who were unhappy or sick, especially the little boys. On Christmas Day the boys had their plum pudding first, to take the edge off their appetites; this was followed by great rounds of beef carved by the Managers in white aprons, and I with the other guests piled on heaps of vegetables. All soon disappeared."
An old boy of the school has give his account of what it was like to be a Red House boy over 60 years ago. He recalled that most lads came from very unhappy homes or had no homes: the Red House gave security with a real opportunity to make friends and learn a trade. His memories of those days were of simple happy occasions such as visit to Hevingham Church where the Rector had said they might collect sweet chestnuts on a Sunday afternoon in autumn. This old boy said that the tree is still standing today: sure enough it is, but looks as though it might fall in the next gale. The records show that this old monster of a tree was planted in 1610, in the times of James I!