Farfield is a boarding house at Gresham’s School, Holt, Norfolk. It was built in 1911, which makes this year its centenary. Nowadays I should say boys’ boarding house, to make it plain that it was for the male sex, but for more than half of that 100 years there were only boys at Gresham’s. The first girls’ house, Oakley, appeared in the 1970s. In that 100 years Farfield has seen as a number of interesting people come through its doors.
The first really menorable person to have been a Farfield resident is W. H. Auden, who was a member of the house in the early 1920s. His earliest poetry datest from his time at the house. The next is Benjamin Britten who followed Auden. The two did not know each other at Gresham’s, although they became collaborators later. It may be possible to link the single sex nature of the school with the fact that Auden and Britten were two of the most prominent gays in the mid-twentieth century. I know that it is commonly said nowadays that one’s sexual orientation is in-born, not made. However, I think that the effect of an all-boys boarding school, coming as it does at an impressionable age , may well have had an effect. Of course it does not explain the huge cultural signifigance of Farfield in producing these two towering figures. That must be down to the extraordinary effect of the North Norfolk air.
Farfield has had many notable characters in later decades, although perhaps none as famous as Auden and Britten. There is, for example, Sir John Tusa, former head of the BBC World Service and Director of the Barbican Centre in London. He will be a guest at the dinner next week (24 September, 2011) being held for old boys.
There have been about a thousand pupils through Farfield in the one hundred years since it opened. One of those pupils was J. C. W. Mason, 1963-67 – me.