Soham Grammarians

Mr Richard Dick Bozeat's talk at the 2005 Annual Dinner

Don't be too alarmed. When Frank originally asked me whether I'd do it I said how long for, I could do ten minutes. If I go over that, please forgive me. Welcome to our lady guest and you - well I won't call you gentlemen, old boys I expect - and ex-colleagues.

Over the years you will have heard many erudite and scholarly speakers from this platform. Well tonight I hope to take a serious but semi-humorous, light-hearted view of my time at Soham Grammar School.

My first knowledge of Soham came as a schoolboy, because I was brought up not far from here, over in Huntingdon and attended the Abbey School at Ramsey. My first encounter with Soham, and many of you will remember these, was the Fenland Schools Athletic Sports on the Sports Ground at March. Little did I think that in years to come I would become a member of the staff here.

Teaching at Soham came about quite by chance. I was at Loughborough in my third year, in the Spring Term. My colleagues and friends were all busily looking for jobs and one day a friend of mine came along and said "There's a job going up at Soham in Cambridgeshire, don't you come from that way somewhere?" "Yes, near there" I said. "I thought you'd be interested."

I thought it didn't sound too bad an idea so I wrote off for an application form on Friday, I received it on the Monday, I duly filled it up quickly, put it in the post and I had a telephone call on the Thursday - could I come for interview on the Friday? It all happened very rapidly!

Now my first impressions of Soham were very, very favourable indeed. I arrived at Ely by train, caught a taxi, arriving here about mid-day. I walked up the drive. I thought the setting was absolutely marvellous, the lovely weeping beech, the copper beeches, the lawn - everything looked in pristine condition it being springtime.

I went to the office, saw Mrs Smith I believe. The headmaster's office was up in the top corner of the Beechurst building and there I was introduced to RAT ....

So he was my first point of call as far as Soham was concerned. He took me aside "Come along young man, you're going to have look around the fields. So we set off and walked around. This building [Beechurst Hall] had not long been built. We walked round the grounds and out on to the holy of holies - "What do you think of that? Best wicket outside Cambridge you know!"

We had a general conversation and went off to the dining hall, had lunch together, then he deposited me in the Staff Room, again on the top floor where the Principal's office is now I think. The changing room was up in the corner for the games. At about 2pm I was called for interview, went downstairs to Mr Armitage's room, his study, which was down on the ground floor. I was invited in, sat down and talked. He didn't mention anything about teaching; we were talking about cricket and all sorts of things. It was more like a general conversation with a very nice gentleman indeed ...

Half way through the 'interview', the door burst open and someone came in and said "Those beggars have been writing on the toilet doors again sir!!" Mr Armitage was slightly embarrassed and said "Oh, er, wash it off Mr Hobbs, I'll see to it Mr Hobbs" and ushered him out. Then we proceeded and after another twenty minutes of general chat he said "If I offered you the post would you take it?" I felt like saying I only came because I wanted the job but I said yes, I would take it, and that was that. I then caught the bus back with Mr Lawrance and Mr Taylor to Cambridge and the bus back home - my home was at Oldhurst near Huntingdon - then went back to Loughborough on the Sunday.

It wasn't until quite some time afterwards that I thought, these interviews, there's not too much to them, you sit down and talk about cricket .... until I realised, when someone told me, that the actual interviews had taken place two weeks previously. I hadn't seen the advertisement until a friend had shown it to me in an old Educational Supplement. My luck was that no one was deemed suitable on that particular occasion and the post was still vacant. So that's how I came to be at Soham. That constitutes virtually my sum total of interviews. No great experience - still really a virgin as far as that's concerned!

I was appointed here to teach Woodwork; I took over from Mr Tabraham, Tabs as we all knew him. I also assisted Peter Askem in the Art Department - not very clever I'd imagine as I didn't have much of a clue as far as Art was concerned, he probably realised that .... !

I was also asked if I would assist at Games. It wasn't until some time again afterwards I realised that this came from when I was walking around the fields with RAT. I suspect he must have put in a good word for me with Mr Armitage.

Well I duly arrived on the first day, it was bright and shiny. Lionel Hart and I started at the same time, I with no teaching experience, he had three years teaching girls I believe, somewhere in Essex. We were met by the well established staff. That was one of the things that made Soham particularly different and to my mind a great school - the staff who came hardly ever left. There were people there, Mr Ford, Mr Thomas, Riley, Taylor, Tabraham, Lawrance and many others - they had all been here years. They gave the school a strong foundation I'm sure. It said an awful lot about what the school stood for.

Riley took me aside ..... he said "Don't worry about all these others, there's two people you want to keep on the right side of ." "Who's that?" I asked. "The Headmaster, that's for obvious reasons. The other is the Caretaker .... you never know when you are going to need him!" Well I thought that's a strange thing to say.

Some time afterwards - it was Peter Askem that told me this story - Peter said he'd been appointed here (he's sitting there and will correct me if I'm wrong, I'm sure) and came up to Soham during the summer holidays to have a look round the school. He saw two gentlemen standing out on the lawn out here where there used to be large greenhouses in my day. They were talking and he went and introduced himself. "I'm Peter Askem, I'm coming to teach here in September". One of the gentlemen piped up and said "I'm Mr Hobbs the Caretaker and this here is Rex what teaches them Latin" .... so you can judge for yourself.

Soham was much more than teaching one's timetable, and that was exhausting enough for a newly qualified teacher with no teaching experience who was really just a keen games player. It didn't take long before you got involved, not in just your teaching but many other aspects of the school. It wasn't long before the school play was mentioned - we shall need some props, we shall need a stage set. So it fell to me to produce these for the play, usually with the aid and assistance of Peter who used to produce a nice sketch for me, which worked fine until we put it into reality on the stage.

I remember one occasion before a particular play, I was sitting in the staff room with someone else and all of a sudden a crack appeared in the ceiling and plaster fell down. We thought that was strange ... and then we realised that there was an open space above us. We went to the housekeeper's room, which you would know as Miss Lowe's room I expect, which was the access to the loft. We called to see who was up there "You'd better come down because we are going to lock the room and you'll probably be spending the night up there if you don't come down." Who should emerge but Mr Day (I see him over there).

We thought he must have had an accomplice, so we called again "If anyone else is up there, come down." To my great surprise, and sadly to this day [for he died comparatively young] George Willett appeared, I didn't expect to see him coming down, but there we are. Terry Day's account of the incident

Mind you, Terence Day had a bit of a penchant for going into spaces in the roofs. I'm not sure but I'm pretty certain it was he who who went up in this particular loft [Beechurst hall] and knocked a panel out [up there] which broke Christie's violin, which was on the .. (Terry Day interjects: "I wish to kill that rumour ... I have a posse of witnesses that I was in Ely at the time ...: Dick Bozeat: "Oh well, he did spend his life in the police force ...")

I have an awful memory for names in particular. As I have said to a number of people this evening, I can remember people who were in my class, which was the first one I had, in the room under the clock at the bottom of the stairs, but after that it is a big blur. I remember I came in that first morning and there sat in front of me were Day, Dickins, Duffield and Griffiths, what a quartet ... And on top of that there were four Smiths in that form, which took a bit of getting my head around.

You know what the procedure was, if you had a day off school you turned up with an absence note the next day. So I took the register and one of the Smiths was missing, ACM Smith, SACM as we knew him. I was quickly on to this "He won't be in today sir, they're shooting on his farm." I thought no more about it until the next morning, expecting to see a note saying that he'd had the day off because they were shooting, but instead, across my desk was the largest hare I have ever seen ... that wasn't a lot of good for a bachelor living in digs with Mrs Gooch. I think I gave it to one of the members of staff. I didn't get an absence note but it told me the story.

Other activities I quickly got involved with. Lionel, one evening in the digs said to me "Would you be interested in taking a party to Switzerland at Easter?" I was in my first term of teaching and said "Oh yes, I'll do that, no problem." Anyhow we assembled this party - 52 pupils and I think they aged from 11 to 19. The eldest was a lad called Davis, I remember him because I thought he was a member of staff for ages ... he never a wore a school blazer, he was too big and he always wore a sports jacket. It took me some time to realise he was a member of the Upper Sixth. I can't recall who was the youngest.

We took 52 pupils by public transport to just outside Interlaken on Lake Brienz; we took two members of staff - I think today we would be hung, drawn and quartered for attempting it. Getting them across London on the Tube in one piece was enough and then getting them on and off the boat. Half of them had never been abroad before. I recall we got settled into an overnight train down to Basel, having managed to get through Paris with everybody still intact.

I had a group of eight in my compartment and we decided in order to settle down to have a reasonable night we'd put all the luggage in the space between the two seats. The two smallest went up in the luggage racks and the rest of us lay across the luggage and the two seats. We'd settled down nicely when all of a sudden one of the lads started rustling about, ferreting about amongst his luggage. I said "What the devil are you doing?". It was a lad called Robin Bailey I think, he came from Broomstick Corner, Cheveley or was it Kirtling? "I've just remembered" he said "Mum packed up some suet pudding and I wondered if you'd like some" .... Needless to say I didn't think much of that!

After that we went on numerous visits, Peter [Askem] joined us afterwards, we went to Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia - I could tell you any number of stories - our trip to Italy would fill a book, I think. The things that went wrong, the windscreen on the bus broke halfway down the autobahn towards Koblenz, we had to survive with that. We had to get a new screen flown out from England because they hadn't got one in Germany that would fit, then we got some people to fit it that couldn't fit it and we ended up having to do it ourselves ... well I remember holding it up. We should have left Koblenz at about 8am to make our next stop in Interlaken and we left at about 6.30pm.

Czechoslovakia proved an interesting place to go in those days, about 1963, it was under Dubcek, just beginning to liberalise the country a little, before his fall. On the way back we had to change trains at Nuremberg, we had a two hour wait and one lad came up, Richard Dean I think it was, he'd got all pains in his stomach. What could we do? We had Mike Ades with us, now sadly passed away, he was a music teacher and was the only one who could speak any German. We collected together what little currency and money we had and gave it to him and he took Richard Dean off to the hospital. It turned out to be appendicitis and they spent the next several days in Germany while the rest of us continued home.

Most of my time at Soham outside the curricular work was spent with games, weekends and Wednesdays were the principal days we'd be playing other schools. I can't really mention games without mentioning George Phelps .... George was an institution as you well know. He was the groundsman or he thought he was, but George did what Peter [Taylor] told him.

Occasionally it went wrong. I remember when George was asked to produce some wickets for house matches, I think. George thought "I know how to do this" and he'd marked them out on existing wickets but to cut out the worn parts he’d marked them from the batting crease and so we'd got wicket to wicket of about 18 yards. You can imagine Peter blew up over that. The result on this occasion and indeed on fairly frequent altercations with Peter, was that George would threaten to resign. He'd say "Well I'm goin' to resign sah!". Peter would say "Well piss off, you know where the door is " ....

Well anyhow I was out there one day, we'd got a match in the afternoon and Peter said let's go and see what the wickets are looking like and we went out there. George was out there. Peter found plantain on the wicket and got his knife out to remove it. He had a go at George about the wicket. George said "I'm goin' to resign", and it was the same procedure, Peter said "Piss off".

George went off and Peter said to me "Here, you watch him, he'll go as far as the Memorial Gates, he'll take his cap off, scratch his head, he'll stand there for a few minutes, turn round and he'll come back." Sure enough he walked to the gates, took his cap off, scratched his head, waited for a few minutes, and came back. "I’ll give it another try sir." He never did resign as far as I remember.

You have probably all heard the story about George when Peter first came here. Peter would come in from Linton, the capital of SE Cambs ... , and for a while he couldn't fathom out why he could see George cycling towards Newmarket and yet, when he got here, George was here ... It wasn't until he realised that George had got an identical twin called Harry that he worked it out.

I think one of the funnier instances regarding George was a Sports Day, which as you know was a semi formal occasion. The staff got dressed up in their blazers and parents were invited to come along. We were about to start, people were gathering when Mr Armitage came over to Peter; "Taylor, have you seen Phelps's tie?" "No" "You must do something about it." So Peter and I walked across and George was standing on the apron outside one of the tractor sheds which was his domain, dressed in his Sunday best, with a cap with a button on top ... and his Norfolk jacket and he'd got a large kipper tie. It wasn't the kipper tie, it was the biggest nude lady on the tie ..... Peter had to prevail upon him to do something about the tie as it was offending certain people.

Enough said of George, we all remember him dearly. He roasted my football boots on the incinerator up there, drying them. When I put them on the soles fell out. Peter had said when you want to dry your boots, George'll dry them for you ... he dried them!

Autumn Term as you well know was football, soccer and we had matches on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but some matches mattered more than others. I always remember, Peter was talking to me generally and his philosophy, as far as sport was concerned, was that you tried to win. Win fairly, but you tried to win and if you couldn't win, you drew, but you never considered losing, that wasn't part of your vocabulary ... you drew, but you won at all costs.

Now some matches mattered more than others and I suspect if I were to ask you, you could tell me which one amongst the soccer season mattered most - yes, Newport. Newport, for those who don't know, was where Peter's elder brother taught and was also head of games, Spud Taylor. It was more than a match, it was, I suppose, war!

Usually Peter would try and have someone else refereeing the match so that he could give full vent to his feelings. Spud would stand on one touchline, Peter on the other and a fair amount of invective would flow and I suppose the only fair result at the end of the day was a draw, so that they could both go away holding their heads up high, but it didn't always happen.

Summer term was cricket and once again Newport figured amongst the most important fixtures. There were others but it was Newport again. I recall two occasions, one was a Wednesday, terrible weather, pouring with rain. Peter said to me "What are you going to do boy, I think we'll have to call it off?" I said "Yes, but let's see if it clears up, the ground drains pretty well, then it'd probably be on." So we rang up Mildenhall to see what the weather forecast was like. It was fairly favourable, clear up by 10, fine for the rest of the day, so we decided not to call the match off.

Newport duly turned up, Spud in charge. We won the toss and put them in. This was the 1st XI. In those days we had a lad called [Martin] Shalders from Little Downham who was a spinner, and a drying wicket was his gift. He didn't completely bowl them out on his own but was largely responsible for them being bowled out about ten minutes or quarter of an hour before official tea-time. We all came off and decided we'd have tea and walked towards the dining hall and had reached the Memorial Gates when a bellowing voice came "Where do you think you're going?" So everybody turned round and it was Spud calling out to his team. "You're not having any bloody tea, you're coming with me to these nets and I'm going to show you how to play spin bowling!" They spent the whole of the tea break being bowled to by Spud. Unfortunately for him we managed to win that particular game ...

The other occasion up at Newport, I was up with the UXIV side, Peter with the First XI. The UXIVs had been defeated. I remember they [Newport] had the biggest UXIV bowler I think I have ever seen, he was as tall as I was. On an ill prepared wicket the ball was coming off a length and going at your eyeballs among the lads. I remember Bruce King on that particular occasion, he stood there and played one of the bravest innings I have ever seen by a schoolboy at cricket. There were tears rolling down his face with the fact that he was being hurt and I said have you had enough, wanting him to sort of ... "No sir, I'll carry on." He carried on but it was to no avail, we lost unfortunately.

We were then watching the First XI game. Our First XI were doing rather well, Newport were batting. Anyhow it got to 7pm and Peter called me over and he said "I've got to go, I have got a meeting in Cambridge, can you finish off umpiring the match?" It wasn't due to last for much longer because Newport's last man was in, so I went on to umpire and was standing at square leg. The bowler came in to bowl at this young lad, only about 15 which was unusual as they were usually sixth formers in the First XI. He played forward, took an outside edge, Rosbrook at short leg took a very smart catch. Everybody appealed - nothing. Spud stood at the other end and glared, just stood there. Eventually this lad who was batting said "Am I out sir?". Spud looked at him, pointed his finger "Piss off". That was cricket at Newport.

One further mention of cricket, this concerned our match at Kings Lynn, an all day match, we looked forward to it, going up there. On the way Bob Barber, from Fordham, he was violently sick. We had to stop the bus and he got out, poor lad, he was as white as a sheet. We got to Kings Lynn and won the toss. Bob was one of the opening batsman. Peter asked him if he was up to it "I'll give it a try sir". At lunchtime he'd made 50 and after lunch he completed his 100, so he obviously felt much, much better. Hundreds were few and far between at school cricket in those days, it was quite a feat. We went on to win the match.

Athletics took up the early part of the Spring term, there was the Fenland Schools Sports and we used to have other matches against other sides. The days in the mid sixties when I was here we were very lucky as we had 'bankers' in two or three events. We were not going to lose. We had George Willett who putt shot and threw discus and represented the county at the All Englands; similarly, a lad called Houghton who also represented the County at the All Englands in the high hurdles.

On one occasion we were at Bury St Edmunds, there was King Edward VI at Bury, Saffron Walden Friends School, Holbrook School and ourselves. There was this lad warming up with the discus. Peter said to me "Have a look at him, George has got some competition today." This lad was throwing the discus about 150ft, about the distance George was throwing it in the All Englands. So I called George over and said "You've got a bit of a problem today George, it looks as if you have got some real competition." George said "Don't worry sir, that's the junior discus. I can throw that 200 ft" ....

Cross-country [moans], yes ... the Spring term when the fields were too wet or frozen, that was when we had cross-country, you can probably remember the course now: the playing field, over the next field, over the railway crossing, across the Horse Fen, up the Wicken Road, along the top, down by the railway, back over the Horse Fen and back to school. It was surprising that when cross-country came on the scene, the number of notes you had .... every illness you could think of ...

The runners would proceed - and one thing that puzzles me to this day, maybe there is someone here who can tell me why they did it - they thought they were getting one over on us - on the coldest days they'd run out over the Horse Fen and when they got to the other side of it they'd 'dyke dump', disappear into the dyke. They preferred to sit in there for the best part of twenty minutes to half an hour, freezing you know what off whilst the rest ran to the Wicken Road. They couldn't join the runners again too early as it would be obvious, they let a good half of the troop be gone and then rejoined. I don't know that anything was ever said to them, because we thought that they had punished themselves enough ....

But the other thing was those who dismissed themselves from being fit enough to do it, they were the walkers. Peter had a strong belief that he could cure anything. This day of allergies and asthma, God, he would have been in his element. He said you give me a boy with asthma and I'll cure him ... the Wicken Road , along the top ... Anyhow, the walkers would assemble after the main gathering had gone and we'd walk them out up on to the Wicken Road and when we got to the top, Peter would say to them "It's now 3 o'clock, you know when your bus goes ... and you can go that way, or that way, to doesn't matter which, they are equi-distant." After that he'd get in Mr Saunders' car and come home. The next time there was cross country there were fewer absentees. Anyhow, enough of games. It was competitive and very, very enjoyable.

I came to Soham with the intention of stopping for two or three years and then moving on. I remember going to see my old Headmaster at Ramsey and he said to me "When you start teaching, go to a school for a couple of years, make your mistakes, and then I'll be pleased to employ you."

I came for two or three years and I left after 34 years, so there must have been something there. I look upon my days at Soham Grammar School as the best and happiest of my teaching career, no question. Then in '72, comprehensive education took its toll, we became a comprehensive school. Some time afterwards someone said to me, talking about days past, how would you sum up your days at Soham Grammar School? I thought for a while, and I still maintain this - I gave up a way of life for a job.

I think the fact that over a hundred of you have turned up tonight is strong testimony to the lasting qualities of what I consider was a great school. May you continue for years to come.

Thank you.


2005 Dinner photos
Sports photos
In Memoriam - e.g. RAT (including Spud anecdotes), EA, TLR
Mr Phelps, Mr Hobbs
School Trips
Terry Day MBE BSc

last update 25 Nov 2005