Thamensian: Remembering the old Lord Bills house rivalries

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ETHEREGE Wood, Rycote and Quarterbrain.

Those four words are drilled into my silly old Thamensian head and have a part in Thame history, and yet when I asked my assorted offspring about them this week all I got was blank faces.

They were, of course, the four houses at Lord Williams’s School, Lower School West.

For those of you too young even to remember that, the younger element of Lord Bills’ students used to be split between two sites; the dim kids went to East and the brainboxes like me went to West (‘West is Best’).

It was all a bit tribal and when the two schools did finally merge at Upper School in the fourth year of secondary school, things could get nasty.

I remember the great Chinese Burn War of ‘81 being particularly vicious, and it took me a further two years to actually talk to any of the Easties properly (I ended up marrying one, but my mother has never really accepted her due to this cross town rivalry).

The boarders went in to Rycote, us clever people went in to Etherege despite it being the remedial centre, Wood was based in the downstairs classroom and the Quarterbrainers were based in the cookery block.

It is a little bit dim and distant but I think Mr Ossleton drew our names and houses from a sorting hat.

Looking back it was clearly a throwback to the old grammar school days with the whole establishment in a state of change and revolution as it adapted to be the thriving comprehensive that it wanted to be.

Teachers such as Mr Lilley had taught my father in the 60s and still had those grammar school values which made the school stand out. Two parts Hogwarts to one part Grange Hill.

The only thing I ever really liked about the house system was the competitive element that it produced.

House music competitions were dreaded but the house rugby and football matches were outstanding.

Because West was smaller than East it meant that the house teams for sports tended to be the same 11 of us.

I opened the batting for the cricket team (badly), played up front for the football team (woefully) and hid in a hedge when the rugby team was being selected.

I am also the only person I have spoken to who can remember having to wear a blue ribbon, lovingly stitched onto my jumper by my poor old mum, to denote that I was in Etherege, (Wood were yellow, Rycote red and Quarterbrain green. Anyone else?).

It’s kind of sad that house system no longer exists, but I accept that the one lower school works better for all concerned.

Having sparked Sainsbury’s Wars on this page, I expect my fellow oldies to swamp the letters page with fond reminiscences of Lower School West.

Those of you who went to East can get someone to write the letter for you ...