Social Colours, 1880

Long Dormitory, Radley College, in the 1850s. (Now part of F Social)

The ‘Social’ system was introduced to Radley by William Sewell, when he became Warden in the 1850s. Although the idea behind it was fundamental to the original ethos for Radley when it was founded in 1847, it was five or six years before it became a part of school life. The boys did not live in separate boarding houses under the care of an individual housemaster as they did at other schools.  At first they were housed in several dormitories, created by a series of cubicles separated by partitions on the second floor of the Mansion, a location immortalised in a story by Walter Woodgate who arrived at the school in 1850:

Risley and Gurdon were special heroes in tradition among small boys … A pal of theirs, one Young, had been confined for the day to his cubicle, situated in the dormitories of the old Radley Hall, the centre-piece of the school buildings. The Hall was of Queen Anne style, with stone facings to brickwork. The corner facings of each wing were stone slabs, with interstices between each, about two inches wide and deep, each such niche affording hold for tips of fingers and toes. Risley and Gurdon had scaled the house from outside, by this sort of ladder, to pay a friendly visit to their pal in durance and had not broken their necks. (W Woodgate Reminiscences of an old sportsman, London 1909, p59)

The Long Dormitory was built in 1849, at which time most of the boys were moved out of the Mansion to share one large dormitory, still separated into individual cubicles. The cubicles, and the privacy which they afforded in a communal sleeping area, was one of the revolutionary aspects of the new educational experiment that was Radley. One of the junior members of the teaching staff was assigned a small bedroom at the end of the dormitory, but order was maintained more by the expectation of good behaviour than by enforcement. The concept of ‘Silence in the dormitory / Sileatur in dormitorio‘ astonished visitors: occasionally visiting mothers were allowed to kiss their sons good-night, Sewell boasted about it to his contemporaries, and wept at the memory in his speech to the first meeting of the Old Radleians in 1872. However, a growing school required more focussed pastoral care and so the ‘Socials’ came into being.

The earliest teachers at Radley were called ‘Fellows’, following the model of the Oxford colleges and is still retained as a concept by calling all teachers at the school ‘Dons’.  The Latin term for ‘Fellow’ (socius) and the adjective ‘socialis’ also implies ‘companion’.  Sewell tackled the problem of pastoral care for an increasing number of boys of various ages from eight to eighteen, by assigning each boy to the care, protection and companionship of a Fellow: they became his ‘socials’.  From the mid-1850s, each Fellow looked after the well-being of a group of boys of mixed ages and interests, primarily through ‘socializing’ with them by taking them on walks, playing games, and hosting them at Sunday afternoon tea in his own private room.  Occasionally these were referred to as ‘Forms’, but there is some confusion between age/ability-related teaching forms and these earliest manifestations of the Social system since the terminology had not yet become fixed.

Radley College pupils c1859

This group of boys of different ages in 1859/60 is probably the earliest photo of a Radley College Social. From William Wood’s personal album

Every Don seems to have had a ‘social’ to look after, or to have shared with another Don. Walter Woodgate recalled the effectiveness of this system in 1855/6:

Sewell & Fellows, 1858. Rev Gibbings far left, middle row

I made many friends among my school tutors. It was Sewell who first conceived the idea of drafting of boys to the special cult and care and influence of separate tutors: the boys attached as ‘clients’ to a tutor need not be in the class or classes which he taught. My ‘patron’ tutor was the Rev H Gibbings. ibid, p66. (Robert Gibbings came to Radley College in 1848. He became the Vicar of Radley parish in 1865. He and his wife became life-long friends of Woodgate.)

But it wasn’t always a good experience: Richard Norman, later Warden, was compelled to close his rooms to his Socials for two successive terms, first for breaking his property, then for stealing his oranges; while Arthur Godley, who was a boy at the school from 1857 until 1861, later went to Rugby School where he was impressed by the atmosphere of comfort, warmth and good feeling which he had not experienced at Radley.

The terminology and idea of the ‘Social’ seems to have been fairly well established and recognised by 1861, when Richard Norman assigned his particular set of boys to other Fellows when he became Warden, but the term ‘Social Tutor’ does not appear in an official College document until October 1877 when the Warden’s Register records a decision that ‘on Saints’ Day evenings all boys were to be in school or in their studies unless they are with their Social Tutors.’ The first recorded attempt to establish the Socials as we would recognise them today was at a Common Room meeting in November 1878, with two more meetings in January and February 1879. At that point Common Room agreed that ‘Tutors might assist their pupils in work, but all masters need not be Tutors; they should sign orders for clothes and give leave to go out of bounds; ordinary cases of caning should be reported by the Form Master (teacher) to the Tutor, but in case of more serious punishment the Tutor will be consulted beforehand.’ The major point of dispute was pay.  In most public schools, boarding house masters were paid per capita by pupil.  At Radley, where all the Fellows cared for their ‘socials’, there was no per capita payment, which caused considerable disagreement over pay and duties.  The matter was referred to JG Hubbard, who had assumed financial control after the disasters of William Sewell’s later years.  He gave his consent to all Common Room’s proposals, providing that all the Fellows (now referred to as Assistant Masters) were Social Tutors, and agreed an immediate payment of £1 per pupil.  Two Dons were still unhappy with the situation. They left before the next term when the new system came into operation. The original number of Socials was six, because, excluding the Sub-Warden and Herr Ploetz the German Master, there were only six Assistant Masters on the staff in May 1879 when the new system started. From this time the Social system featured on the school prospectus and the Social became the unit for sporting contests.

H Social 1897. Photo 1930s postcard

The first six Social Tutors were George Wharton (A), Charles Vincent (B), Henry Evans (C), Thomas Raikes (D), John Kirkby (E), Frederick Dalton (F).  The letters were assigned to the Socials in the order in which these six Dons had arrived at Radley, from Wharton in 1862, Vincent 1872, Evans 1875 and Raikes, Kirkby and Dalton all in 1879. This relationship between the seniority of the individual Don and his Social was to influence the development of the boarding houses until the 1940s. The next teacher to join the staff was James Horsburgh in 1880.  Following Hubbard’s insistence that every Don must be a Social Tutor, and given that none of the existing Tutors had left the school, Horsburgh was assigned his own Social in 1881 which became G.  Horsburgh had a short career at Radley. He left in 1882, to be followed immediately in G Social by Richard Kindersley, who came in 1882.  Kindersley left in 1884 and was accordingly succeeded in G Social by the next new teacher to arrive, also in 1882, Ernest Bryans. This created seven Socials, with all six original Social Tutors still holding their posts. The next man to arrive at Radley in 1883 was James Hichens, who was not appointed a Social Tutor immediately. In 1888, Hichens became Tutor of H Social which had a very brief life at this period of just one year.  This proliferation of Socials with a new one created every time a Don was appointed, with no vacancies  in the existing Socials, indicated that the system was fundamentally unstable.  Frederick Dalton left in 1886, which allowed Thomas Hobson and Augustus Orlebar to each briefly take over F Social in succession, until Arthur Croome was appointed to F in 1892. He held the post for eighteen years. Charles Vincent eventually relinquished B Social after eleven years, for most of which he was also Sub-Warden, to be succeeded in turn by Arthur Titherington and then from 1894-1924 by Francis Stone. The remaining Tutors from the original six all held their posts for at least thirty years, during which time they served under four Wardens, Robert Wilson, Henry Thompson, Thomas Field and Edward Selwyn: the latter two certainly suffered under a system which gave great influence to men who may not have been best suited to the job.  Limited tenure was first introduced in the mid-1930s, reduced further to circa twelve years under Warden Richard Morgan in the late 1990s.  Full list of Social Tutors to 2018

B Social 1931. Photo 1930s postcard

The dispute over per capita pay probably had its origins in the uneven distribution between Socials of boys who were already in the school in mid-1879.  There is no indication how they were allocated, nor whether those boys who went to Wharton, Vincent or Evans were already associated with them as their ‘socials’.  There seems little correlation with the age of the individuals to ensure that there were senior boys in every Social.  Some entry cohorts, for example those who came to the school in Summer 1875, were all assigned to the same Social – C/Evans’s – the same year in which he himself arrived at the school which may indicate how the system worked before the changes of 1879. In Summer 1879 the 67 boys already in the school were divided between the Socials thus: A 20; B 12; C 12; D 12; E 6; F 6.  Those boys who arrived from Summer 1879 to the founding of G Social in Michaelmas 1880  were also not divided up evenly between the Socials.  They were allocated: A 6; B 3; C 4; D 7; E 7; F 5 –  giving a total number in each Social of: A 26; B 15; C 16; D 19; E 13; F 11. Newly founded G Social contained eight boys by the end of the academic year 1880-1, all of whom came to the school in that year, with the other fifteen boys of that entry cohort allocated amongst the existing Socials. H Social made a brief appearance in 1888 with just ten boys, all of whom arrived in that year; eight of them stayed beyond that year, four of whom were re-distributed to E, and the others to A, C, G & F after James Hichens left the school in 1889.  Socials have been temporarily disbanded on two other occasions: F Social from 1915 to 1919 as the First World War took its toll on school numbers (it was resurrected in 1919 with just nine new boys), and H Social from 1940 until 1945 to make room for evacuated Eastbourne College to share part of Radley’s site.  This last move had tragic consequences when the Social Tutor, Walter Smale, who had been in post since 1919, committed suicide, an act probably related to the loss of the Social combined with the deaths of many H Social boys in World War Two.

G Social 1924. Photo 1930s postcard

How to populate a new Social is a question that has only arisen twice since 1888, although it is once again under discussion in 2018 as plans for the proposed L Social take shape.  In 1909, H Social reappeared as a fully functioning Social.  Of the entry of 49 junior boys who came from Summer 1909 to Lent 1910, sixteen were assigned to H, all of them the same age.  No seniors were moved from the other Socials, so the new Social existed without a prefectorial system until this first cohort had grown up to police themselves. A century later, when the latest Socials, J and K, were founded simultaneously in 2009, they were set up with all year groups represented, the seniors mostly transferred from the other eight Socials by their own choice.

The Grey Book, 1908, with dormitory allocations by Social Tutor

The Grey Book, 1908. Dining by Socials

The house now occupied by H Social was built in 1897 as the Sub-Warden’s House and is labelled as such on postcards sold from the 1900s until the 1930s. Housing the Socials was a tricky question since the concept of boarding houses, with their individually powerful House Masters and fierce segregation within the school, was alien to the original scheme for Radley.  In 1879, all the boys were still living mixed up in a variety of dormitories in College: in Upper (Long), Lower (now F Social Hall & Library), Gallery and Cloister dormitories, and in Upper, Middle and Lower Markets and Octagon studies.  The cubicles, studies and places in Hall were allotted at random or by personal choice. This placed great difficulties in the way of the Social Tutors, who had very little disciplinary control over their own pupils, and meant that the personal influence of each man was generally slight.  There was no Head of House: most prefects were ‘Dormitory Prefects’ who ensured some order within all the different sleeping areas.  Maintaining cohesion among a group who did not live together was tricky. One way of tackling this was established in 1908: from this point the Grey Books included fixed seating plans for dining by Socials. This created greater Social identity and recognition between the boys of a Social. This segregation was considered detrimental to the school as a whole by some, but it continued after the building of the new Hall in 1910, primarily because it aided policing of the boys and contact for the Social Tutors who each dined with his boys at first.  Later this became the role of the prefects.  Dining by Social lasted until the introduction of the cafeteria system in 1970: one Old Radleian hailed the new system as (finally) a chance to get a life-supporting quantity of food.

That the Social syastem needed some reform or formalisation was the focal point of the Warden Selwyn’s address to the Old Radleian Society in 1913, when he was outlining his vision for the future:

While still continuing to worship together and dine together, the Social system would require development, and his aim would be that each set of Socials should number at least 35.  It seemed to him also desirable that the Socials should have more independence and freedom, combined of course, with a wise centralization. His ambition was that the Socials should be strong centres radiating round  their  Tutors,  which would require  in  the  future  geographical redistribution,  and with this  in  view it was desirable to  establish regular Halls for  each Social, instead of the Class Room, as at present existing. The Radleian, 1913

Unfortunately for Selwyn, most of his Wardenship was dominated by the First World War, which saw the numbers in the school fall by at least 30%, and by controversy with his teaching staff who opposed most of his proposed reforms.  However, the push towards a more ‘boarding school’ style of living, discipline and pastoral care did result in ‘regular Halls for each Social.’

Warden Martin’s Infirmary, 1873. Photo Henry Taunt

The physical boarding houses emerged in a random order with no fixed plan for their development, facilities or locations. The first Social to be housed in its own quarters was D Social in 1886. This was the initiative of the Social Tutor, Thomas Raikes, who loaned his own money to finance the build. He may have been motivated not just by a desire for better management of his Social, but because he was the first married Don to teach at Radley. (Most of the Wardens had been married but the various Wardens’ wives had suffered different degrees of isolation and downright rudeness from the bachelor teachers.) Mrs Raikes was described as ‘cultured and distinguished’ and credited with creating a very different atmosphere for the Social, particularly the junior boys, than prevailed elsewhere in the school. C Social followed suit in 1891, taking over the Infirmary building which Warden Martin had built in 1873 (it is now incorporated into E Social). In 1904, the Archbishop of Canterbury opened the new home of F Social, including the house built for Arthur Croome, the Social Tutor, and his growing family. Mrs Croome, the second teacher’s wife, was ‘brilliant and amusing’; their daughter, Norah, was the first girl to be brought up at Radley. She married a former F Social boy, Norman Whatley, in 1914. Arthur Croome was a very fine sportsman but his leaving gift to the school was to establish a prize for academic excellence which was awarded to the Social which won the most academic prizes in a year.  The Croome Casket, and its accompanying illuminated manuscript book, was awarded until the 1940s, when it was superseded by the Smale Casket, named in honour of another excellent Social Tutor, the tragic Walter Smale of H Social. Croome’s house is now the Tutor’s house for A Social. In 1924, the newly-appointed Sub-Warden, Francis Nugee, built what is now G Social to perform the double-function of Sub-Warden’s and Tutor’s house – in preference to the house now known as H Social which had been the Sub-Warden’s house until that point. He is also credited with planting the avenue of hornbeams in c1933, which leads past the new house of G Social, to create an alternate main drive for the school. A house that is now B Social followed in 1931, originally inhabited by F.

D Social 1886. Photo by Henry Taunt

But none of these was a permanent home for each individual Social. In the first place, there were eight Socials and (eventually) six boarding houses.  The houses became known as ‘Out-Socials’, while the two remaining Socials which still occupied dormitories inside the school buildings were the ‘In-Socials’ or ‘In-College-Socials’. Whether a Social was an ‘Out-Social’ or an ‘In-Social’ depended on the seniority of the Social Tutor. The more senior the Tutor, the better the accommodation. When a senior Tutor retired his replacement in Social would be junior to the existing Social Tutors.  Consequently, the Social relinquished its accommodation in an Out-Social to move back into College as an In-Social, to be replaced by the Social with the most senior Tutor in the Out-Social just vacated: eg. in 1924 when Francis Barmby retired from C Social, which he had held since 1909, C moved from the Sub-Warden’s house (now H) back into College under their now most junior of the Tutors, Geoffrey Hellard; D Social, under Francis Stevenson who took up his post in 1916, was now the senior Social so moved into the house vacated by C. At the same time, all the other Socials had to move up one: so B (under Francis Nugee, now Sub-Warden but not Senior Tutor) moved from present A to the house Nugee had just built, present G, and A moved out of College into the house vacated by B.  The last time this complicated procedure happened was 1938 when G moved from In-House to take over the house then occupied by B Social when Nugee left Radley to become Headmaster of Eastbourne College. This remained G Social’s home; at the same time B with their new Tutor moved into the space occupied by F, which became B’s permanent home; and F, also with a new Tutor, became the most junior of the Socials so moved back into College, where it remains.  By pure chance, D Social arrived back in the home originally built for it by Thomas Raikes.

Markets and Octagon 1849. Photo Henry Taunt

The In-Socials were scattered through the rabbit warren of small rooms and multitude of staircases that constitutes contemporary E Social and the original Long Dormitory now part of F. In 1931, the opening of what is now B Social, meant that there were only three Socials instead of four in College.  The In-College Socials were divided into their own areas for the first time in Radley history: the three Socials which happened to be residence at the time, E, C and G were assigned Upper, Middle and Lower Markets and Octagons respectively, each with a Tutor’s or Sub-Tutor’s study.  C and G each had one half of Long Dormitory. G moved out in 1938 to be replaced by F.  In 1967 C Social moved into its permanent home in the Old (albeit second) Infirmary.  E and F, the last two Socials to be left in College were now almost completely separated.  In 1977 the Long Dormitory building was re-structured with an extra floor to create what is now F Social.

Orchard House 1979-2007

By the beginning of the 21st century the school had grown to more than 600 boys, still divided between eight Socials, now accommodated in designated boarding houses. Boarding house and group of boys were now synonymous since the building had also acquired the name ‘Social’.  Most of these residential blocks had grown up haphazard with constant adaptations to the needs of a new century – electricity, plumbing, privacy, broadband. More than 80 boys were housed in each Social.  J and K were the first Socials to be housed in purpose-built accommodation, although even these incorporated two existing buildings: the Bursar’s House, built in 1929, and Orchard House, opened in 1979 as a place for boys to live outside of Social. A feature of these new buildings was their inclusion of green technology.  The two new boarding houses allowed the number of boys in all the Socials to be lowered to c60.

C Social with dachshund, 1888

The Social Tutors do not work alone: live-in Sub-Tutors for each Social are recorded in the Grey Books and on Social photos from the 1920s.  Most went on to become Tutors in their own right.  Increasingly from the 1920s, the Tutor’s families appear in the Social photos, although Evans’s dogs are there in C Social’s photos from the beginning.  And the Matrons, now Pastoral House Mistresses, – they have their own story, which will be told in due course…

The Social Colours

Order of Starting

 A Social Wharton’s

B Social Vincent’s

C Social Evans’s (1)

D Social Raikes’s

E Social Kirkby’s

F Social Dalton’s

C Social Evans’s (2)

Social Fours League Table 1880


Order of Finishing

C Social Evans’s (1)

A Social Wharton’s

B Social Vincent’s

E Social Kirkby’s

C Social Evans’s (2)

D Social Raikes’s

F Social Dalton’s


One of the earliest expressions of the more formal approach to the Socials in 1879 was the Social Colours. These made their first appearance on the river in 1880 to identify the different fours in the Social Fours contests.  These replaced ‘Form Fours’ where the different forms or classes had competed against each other. Form Fours had the advantage that boys of roughly the same age and size rowed together, whereas the Socials were represented by mixed ages.  A correspondent in The Radleian in June 1880 wasn’t happy with the change:

Tempora mutantur: more innovations. What will Old Radleians say when they hear that the time honoured Form Fours have been abolished, and their place taken by “Social Tutors’ Fours”? The reason given is that Social Fours are likely in the highest degree to promote good rowing, while Form Fours (in which by the way boys are generally far more of an uniform size than in the Social Fours) are entirely detrimental. Yet Radley has produced members, and good ones, of the Oxford and Cambridge Eights, with the old Form Fours in existence. Radley is in truth an extremely Conservative School, as one of our correspondents informed us last term. (The Radleian, June 1880)

But Inter-Social competition eventually proved to be the key driving force for organised sport at Radley, in an age when it was very difficult to organise matches against other clubs and schools. Improvement in rowing was seen almost immediately after the Social Fours were introduced, since each Social selected and trained its best rowers. C Social dominated from the very beginning, because its Tutor, ‘Buffy’ Evans was Master-in-Charge of Rowing.

The Social Colours have changed over the years. In 1880 A Social pale blue and silver – remained unchanged until 1915; B 1880-present cerise and black; C 1880-present pale blue and dark blue; D 1880-present white/silver and ultramarine;  E 1880-1881 yellow and black, 1882 primrose and ultramarine, 1883-present black and pink; F 1880 black and amber, present burgundy and gold. But just to confuse the issue, if a Social entered a second boat that boat rowed under different colours.  The colours were probably chosen by the boys themselves.

Initially, the Social Colours were exactly that – not an identifer for every boy in the house, but colours worn or awarded for sporting prowess on behalf of the Social.  From the 1880s there were calls for varying degrees of award – Social stocking tops, sashes, caps (only for 1st team members) – all of which have now morphed into that unique Radley institution Social Strings (a tie with the House colours printed horizontally rather than diagonally) which are now awarded for outstanding achievement on behalf of the Social, and Social socks, cufflinks etc.  But the adulation afforded to those who had won Colours created an unhealthy atmosphere within the school which Warden Edward Selwyn was determined to reverse after he took up post in 1913.  In 1915 Social Colours were suspended for the duration of the War, in favour of Colours awarded only to those who played in the 1st teams for the school in matches against other schools.  After the War, and Warden Selwyn’s departure, there were calls from Dons to expand the awarding of Sporting Colours to those in the 2nd teams, and from boys for the return of Social Colours:

May I trespass upon your valuable space to ask when the colours which were suspended in 1915 for the duration of the war, are to return. May I also suggest that it seems a great pity that Social Sashes and Social Stocking-Tops are abolished; for there are no such things as ‘House Colours’ at Radley, unless one is a ‘First Cap.’ I feel sure that more enthusiasm would be displayed in the games if these Social Colours returned. (The Radleian, April 2 1919)

The Social Colours returned in 1919, now changed to the familiar colours of all the Socials (except G, which changed its Social Colours from black and silver to red and dark blue in 2011) and now worn by all the boys in a Social.  A suggestion in The Radleian in 1922 asked that each Head of Social should have his Prefect’s tassle in his Social Colours.  This, incidentally, is one of the few references to the Heads of Social before the 1940s.  It is probable that Social ties date from this period as well, but they, like Heads of House, slip through the records unannounced until a passing reference in 1955 in a spoof report states that they were frequently tied around the various gargoyles on the outside of the buildings. The proliferation of society ties across the school meant that individual boys did not necessarily wear their Social tie everyday. In the mid-2000s an embroidered band of Social colours was added to the gowns so that a boy’s Social is immediately apparent (but only when he’s wearing his gown in the winter months!)

And the great mystery that is ‘I’ Social?  There are two possible answers: the first that Orchard House could be thought of as the ninth Social, although Orchard prided itself on being a House not a Social.

The other answer is that throughout the 2000s the Chronicle magazine published the weekly diary of the Tutor of ‘I’.  He must be out there – it was all so convincing.

Clare Sargent, 2018