Soham Grammarians
Mr Freddie Hobbs & Mr George Phelps

Here is Fred Hobbs (photo Rob Hinze) draining the flooded games field, probably 3 June 1958 - see also
Neil Holmes (1952) writes: George Phelps was School groundsman and Freddie Hobbs was School Caretaker, and general odd-jobs man. Freddie was best known for his extremely slow pace whilst going about his daily duties, and his reluctance to work at a productive pace earned him enormous ridicule from the ever spiteful and aggressive Slug Riley. Freddie was a delightful man, whose simple irreverence towards the petty dictatorial attitudes of Armitage, Ford, Riley and others, provided much needed light relief for my immediate group of colleagues during our 6th form years (1957-1960).

George Phelps provided similar diversions, including providing certain 6th formers with the opportunity of having a relaxing smoke in his very scruffily furnished 'shed'. Riley suspected that this was going on, but in my time at least, he was never able to apprehend anyone.

Mr Taylor and his groundsman George Phelps enjoyed a mutual 'love/hate' relationship. Mr Taylor referred to George as being like a favourite pair of old shoes - irreplaceable. George Phelps always bemoaned Mr. Taylor's habit of cadging fags from him (Mr Taylor was forever 'giving up' smoking). George was forever resolving to take a firm stance over the constant drain on his packets of Woodbines. 'Next time I shall say "no Mr Taylor, buy your own fags Mr Taylor". But he never did.

Robert Hinze (1952) writes: Mr Phelps was a real character - at least to us boys. He smoked Weights, Woodbines or roll-ups - enough said. He introduced me to the charms of a Fordson Major (tractor!).

28 Nov 2008 John Perkins 53: I have enjoyed reading the tales about Messrs Hobbs & Phelps supplied by Neil Holmes and Rob Hinze. I well remember during 1957/8 being in the Technical class (not suitable for either Arts or Science) spraying the greenhouse beds with formaldehyde and the only protection offered was one's own handkerchief over the nose and mouth. If I recall accurately we were only spraying for some 20 seconds each time before exiting for fresh air, prior to repeating the exercise. Messrs Hobbs & Phelps were assisting/supervising us together with a teacher or two. I have many happy memories plus one or two disappointments from my time there.

12 Oct 2009: John Gothard 53: My memory of Fred Hobbs was that on cold mornings, there would be a tap on the door and Fred would appear in the classroom wearing his customary cap and say "just testing the radiators", noisily proceeding to adjust them if necessary.

Anybody remember RAT Taylor's "press gang" - rolling the "holy of holies" (the cricket square, now under a primary school) at lunch time? George Phelps would supervise, saying "this excercise is good for you" at the same time upping his nicotene content!
Happy Days.

22 Nov 2009 David Hobbs 49: At the Beechurst end of the woodwork/art building there was a lean-to greenhouse in which Fred Hobbs (no relation to me) took his breaks. Bob Cropley and I (respectively School Captain and Vice-Captain, 1956 - 1957) were in the habit of calling in to see Fred, knowing that the most important person in any educational establishment is the Caretaker.

Growing in the greenhouse there was an enormous pumpkin, which had been carefully nurtured by Mr Riley - it was his pride and joy. One day when Bob and I went in to see Fred, the pumpkin was sitting on a bench with a large crack in it. "Fred, what's happened to Mr Riley's pumpkin?" we asked. "Well," said Fred, "oi was a walkin parst carryin sum boxes and my elber cort the pumpkin an knockt er off the bench where she was a growin." "Did you tell Mr Riley what had happened?" "Oi dursnt. Oi dursnt tell im." (He knew that Mr Riley was not called Slug without good reason.) "Oi sed: Well Mista Roiley, oi recken she grr an she grr until she bust."

On another occasion Fred recounted his first week as Caretaker. "On moi second day oi found harf a crown on the flaw near the eadmarsters room. Oi took it to Mista Ford. Then a cupple of days arfter there was a pound note on the flaw not far away. Oi new what Mista Armitage's game was. Oi went strait inter his study an slapt it down on his desk: Oi'm an onest man Mista Armitage and oi don't want ter find any more money on the flaw."

One hot day Fred was holding his wrists under the cold tap in the greenhouse. "When oi worked in the Fen if oi got hot, oi yewst ter foind sum runnin warter in a ditch and put moi rists init for a cupple a minuts. That ud cool moi blud down." I have often found this tip from Fred helpful (using a tap rather than a ditch!).

If you have anecdotes or photos of Mr Phelps and Mr Hobbs, please contact the editor
page last updated 7 Apr 2010