Soham Grammarians - G Phythian BSc (Agric) (Reading) Rural & General Science 1952-55

Soham Grammarian, Autumn 1952

Three other acquisitions made this term are Mr AE Lawrence [sic], Mr G Phythian and Mr AF Pusey. These new members of the Staff have been cordially received and from the general opinions heard, it seems to be a unanimous desire that they should stay in our midst for many years.

Soham Grammarian Summer 1955

We are sorry to hear of Mr Phythian's forthcoming departure and are very grateful for the beneficial services he has rendered in the agricultural section of the school. We wish him every success in his new post in Worthing.

Mr George Phythian died on Christmas Day 2008. The funeral service was on 6 January in Lancaster. George taught General and Rural Science 1952-55. He followed George Hunt at SGS, his first teaching post, leaving for Worthing High School and then deputy head in Pershore. He then moved onto a headship in Lancaster which he held till he retired. He continued to live in Lancaster. [via Len Norman 49]

from the 1954 School photo

22 January 2009: Mrs Yvonne Phythian has kindly provided the section dealing with his SGS period from Mr Phythian's autobiography:


So I started to teach at Soham Grammar School for boys, early in September 1952. I got a steam train via Ely to Soham where arrangements had been made to have lodgings with Mrs F Gooch, 33 Fordham Road, Soham. I taught General Science and Rural Science to first and second year boys and also to 'B' stream boys in years 3,4 and 5 preparing them to take GCE 'O' level in General Science but I also had a few boys who wanted to take 'O' level Agricultural Science.

Eventually I was able to enter them for the Cambridge Board for GCE and Camps and Fairchild passed in the 1953 exam. The same year, after being one year at the school, sixteen out of twenty six entries (approximately 55%) passed GCE 'O' in General Science. This was the normal level my predecessor achieved with the 'B' stream boys. In the following year it was 59%. At the same time I taught some more Agricultural Science and four out of five entries passed including Len Norman who got high grades in both General and Agricultural Sciences.

It was with great difficulty I persuaded Mr E Armitage, the Head and staff especially Mr Ford to let Len Norman stay on in the Sixth Form to study Biology and Chemistry for 'A' level and do 'O' level French so that he could go to do Agriculture at Reading University where he got a good degree. Subsequently he did an MSc in Agriculture at Aberystwyth. Later he became a lecturer in agriculture and eventually Principal of the Hampshire College of Agriculture which gained a high reputation in the country. Len became a Christian and married the Christian Union Vice President at Aberystwyth University.

Whilst at Soham Grammar School, I started a Young Farmer/ Agricultural Club as we all had to run a club last period on a Friday afternoon. There was a larger area at the end of the school playing fields. I persuaded the Governors to buy a plough to fit a Massey Ferguson tractor the school had. The plough cost about 20 and one of the boys had a lot of experience ploughing and he ploughed up this half acre of land. It was lovely black Fenland soil. We decided to grow some plots of wheat.

The Governors allowed us also to buy a Cultivator. So we were able to grow wheat which the boys sowed in the plots on a Friday afternoon. In the Summer holidays of 1953, the Caretaker cut the wheat and scythed it. Later it was threshed and the resulting twenty bags of wheat were sold to the local Soham mill for about 20. which covered the cost of the plough. The following year a piece of land in front of the lodge was ploughed. This was used to grow sugar beat under contract for Ely sugar beet factory. So the return covered the rest of the cost of the implements. We drew a subsidy for lime. We made several vists to farms as well as the sugar beet factory.

Whilst at Soham, Yvonne was at Thetford. I had to bike to see her on Saturdays. We had been engaged before we left Reading. We fixed our wedding day for Easter Monday 19 April 1954. The day was sunny and warm. The service was at All Saints, Harbury, Warwickshire where Yvonne's father was church warden. Rev David Atherson who had been vicar of the parish and Canon Joe Robinson, a canon of St Pauls, London and a school friend) shared the service. My brother, Ted, was best man. My sister, Betty, was the bridesmaid. After the service which start at 12 noon, we had a reception in the Women's Institute for about sixty guests. There were daffodils flowering in the church yard and tables in the reception were decorated with primroses. Later we caught the train from Leamington Spa to London and travelled on to Weymouth for a week's honeymoon.

Yvonne and I had a flat in Thetford. I think Jack Boyce, seeds man at Soham Grammar School, helped move my stuff from Soham to Thetford. I still had the 125cc motor bike to travel from Thetford to Soham daily. It meant an early start especially if it was not working and I had to catch the train from Thetford to Ely and then the bus to Soham. On those occasions I had to thumb a lift from Newmarket to get there.

Yvonne and I joined St Peter's church, Thetford with Rev Jackson as the vicar/rector. He and his wife came to see us. I told him of my link with St Andrews, Soham and asked how did one become a Lay Reader. So I became a Lay Reader licensed by the Bishop of Norwich, Bishop Herbert, who had previously been Bishop of Blackburn. It was Friday night, 10 June 1955, I was licenced in Norwich Cathedral during St Barnabastide. I had been granted a temporary license some months earlier on the recommendation of the Rector. I took my first service on Sunday morning, 26 September 1954 at East Wretham church. I took services there three times before Christmas.

Often there was only the churchwarden, organist and me present in the old country church. I also did one or two at Croxton near Thetford. The biggest congregation on a Sunday morning was when it was wet. Then it was not fit to go to Norwich so they came to church. Sometimes, a church choir man took me. On one occasion, I think in Lent, the organist had trouble playing the hymn Christian doest thou see them on the holy ground because the tune changes key after each fourth line to the fifth line but she could not do it. As the last verse begins 'Well I know thy trouble, O my servant true' so the choir man and I could not help laughing.

On Saturday 14 May 1955 Yvonne and I went by coach to Wembley to a Billy Graham Rally at a cost of ten shillings (now fifty pence). We sat high upon the concrete seats of the stadium. I remember it was cold and Billy Graham said "as the sun is going down I want all Christians to pray that those who have not made a decision to follow Christ will come forward to do so in prayer." At first few moved then there was like a rushing mighty wind and the grass was covered with people. We really saw a work of the Holy Spirit. We had made our decisions some years ago.

All told I took seventeen services and preached in Norwich diocese in 1954-1955 before we moved to Worthing. After nearly three years teaching at Soham Grammar School, it was time to move. The Professor of Education at Reading University had told us "you do three years in your first job .... make mistakes, learn to put them right, then move ... Do about five years in your next job, get experience and promotion, then move on."

Mr Phythian went on to describe his move in August 1955 to Durrington, for his new post at Worthing Technical High School. There he taught General Science and Agricultural Science and for this work he was paid with a scale 3 allowance. He taught some Religious Education and helped umpire some cricket matches. In addition, he did a weekly two hour evening class in Horticulture, mainly soil science; and in the summer he did visits for the evening class students.

In 1957 two WTHS Agricultural Science students passed. In 1958 ten out of twelve passed Agricultural Science and sixteen out of twenty one passed General Science. In 1959 five out of seven passed Agricultural Science and eight out of twenty two General Science. In 1960 three out of seven passed Agricultural Science and ten out of thirteen General Science at Worthing Technical High School. He left the school at Easter 1960.

He was relicensed as a lay reader in the Chichester Diocese to the parishes of Holy Trinity where the vicar was Rev Wycliffe-Jones and St Matthews, where Rev Wilcox was the curate in charge. At school the Phythians met John Foster, who taught Maths and eventually became Head of Maths in a comprehensive school near Bristol and subsequently a Headmaster. He was a keen Christian and with Mr & Mrs Phythian, ran a Christian Union at the school. They also ran an Agricultural/ Young Farmers Club and made many visits. Mr Phythian also helped Mr H Perry, Head of Maths, run a ballroom dancing club after school. The school had many animals and Mr Phythian reared chicks and orphan lambs and also a Friesian calf.

There were three children. As related by Len Norman Mr Phythian ended up with a headship in Lancaster which he held till he retired. He continued to live in Lancaster.

Mr Leon Kitchen (History 1951-57) writes, 29 Oct 2009: George's early teaching experience at Soham, Worthing and Pershore has already been documented but it was in 1966 when he ‘returned home’ to Lancaster in his native county that he faced his toughest challenge as a newly appointed Headmaster.

It was to merge two Anglican Secondary Modern Schools in Lancaster into a co-educational school, to be named Ripley St Thomas C E High School. The initial starting roll was 349. This amalgamation took place on the site of the boys’ secondary school, a magnificent location housing a handsome Gothic charitable institution 'Ripley Hospital', opened in 1864 by the Ripley family for 300 children of the ‘deserving poor’ from Lancaster and Liverpool as boarders.

George inherited the problems of adopting this once state-of-the-art 19th century building - it had a swimming pool - to the needs of the late 20th century. By the time he retired in 1991 after 25 years as Headmaster, the school was an 11-18 Comprehensive with a yearly intake of 225 pupils and a Sixth Form approaching 200, making a roll of 1320.

He built up the Sixth from the start even though it did not receive official recognition until 1989 thus penalising the school financially. Sadly he did not live to see the new Sixth Form Centre opened this year.

George’s earnest evangelical Christian commitment was central to his life and teaching. He continued as an active Lay Reader and on retirement served for two sessions in the Northern Synod until 2001. He was throughout supported by Yvonne and his family who shared his deeply held Christian faith and values. Leon Kitchen

If you can add memories of Mr Phythian or provide photos of him, please contact the editor.
page last updated 1 Nov 2009