Soham Grammarians - Mr AE 'Punch' Lawrance
MSc (Nottingham) BSc (Lond)

SGS Mathematics 1952-64
Warden SVC 1972-84, died 1 October 1989

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 1964

Mr Lawrance, under whose leadership the Mathematics Department has won great academic distinction and an enviable reputation for modern methods, leaves Soham for a similar post at the Cambridge Grammar School for Boys.

During his twelve years at Soham, Mr Lawrance has brought his great energy and organising ability to bear on such varied activities as careers, school visits, GCE administration, and the Parents' Association; he has also been a meticulous time-keeper on Sports Day and auditor of the School Accounts.

It is fitting that his last term at Soham sees him holding the purse-strings for the Summer Fair.

Punch/Bert, back at the 1968 Summer Fair
source: Haslam

From the School photos (AEL was not in the 1956 school photo):

from the 1954 School photo

from the 1960 School photo


By Claire Brown
July 1984
(source not given on cutting, provided by Mrs June Lawrance Aug 2005)

Two well-known headmasters retire from Soham schools at the end of the summer term tomorrow.
Mr Albert Lawrance says goodbye to the Village College after 14 years as Warden, and Head of the Shade Junior School, Mr Basil Field leaves after 11 years.

Mr Field, who is 58, will retire to his home at 34 St Andrew's Way, Ely. His wife, Barbara, was an assistant at the city's Palace School for the handicapped until its closure last year. Mr Field was educated at Bradford Grammar School and entered teaching 35 years ago. The couple have two married daughters.

Retirement for Mr Lawrance marks the end of an era spanning over 30 years in teaching. Although his decision to leave the village college at the age of 55 follows a period of illness, he says his health was not the major factor governing his decision.

"I made the decision not because I have been ill, but because I was ill and it gave me time to think and I felt there were still so many things I wanted to do."

"The warden's post is a very demanding job. You cannot do it in seven or eight hours a day, as you might in an ordinary school. I have been teaching 15 periods of maths a week as well as running the college."

"My style has been one of involvement in everything, I like to be involved in everything at every level - it is bad perhaps, but it is my style. My work has been my life."

Mr Lawrance is a graduate of London and Nottingham Universities. He worked as a mathematician for Bristol Aeroplane Company and got an M.Sc. in aerodynamics from Nottingham University. His first teaching post was at the King Henry VIII School in Coventry. He left after two years when he was appointed senior mathematics master at Soham Grammar School in 1952, a post he held for 12 years.

From there, he went to Cambridge Grammar School as head of mathematics before returning to the town as Warden of the Village College in 1970. One of the most important landmarks during his years as warden was the amalgamation of the Village College with the Grammar School, following the introduction of the comprehensive system in 1972. "It is fair and I do not think standards have fallen. Children are leaving with 12 O-levels - something not often seen even in grammar schools. And despite the changes, I have not let the ethos of the grammar school go".

As well as supervising the day-to-day life of the college - with 950 pupils and 52 teachers - Mr Lawrance has embarked on a series of external interests in the subject he loves. For the past 18 years he has been chief examiner for the GCE, CSE and 16-plus examinations.

source: Anne Lane

End of an era

no bye-line
July 1984
(source not given on cutting, provided by Mrs June Lawrance, Aug 2005)

It can be nothing short of the end of an era at Soham Village College tomorrow (Friday) as Warden Mr Albert Lawrance, doyen of the school's heady grammar school days, retires after a career spanning more than 30 years. In fact, Mr Lawrance had six years away from Soham during the sixties, but his influence on the school has been so great that it seems as it never went away.

And even as he retires, Mr Lawrance says his spirit will always remain in the historic halls of the Beechurst building - the only school buildings the Grammar School had when he was appointed Senior Mathematical Master in 1952.

AEL on retirement 1984: source Mrs June Lawrance, 2006

His 12 years as a grammar school master had a great bearing on the way he was to run the new Soham Village College when he returned to the town to take the helm in 1970. His style of headship was criticised as old-fashioned by many of the new school and ironically it was to he this grammar school-based ethos which has led to his retirement at the age of just 56.

He was forced to miss a sizeable portion of the current school year because of illness and despite making a good recovery - to the point where his doctor advised him to stay at work - he felt he could no longer run the college in the way he wanted.

"I have tried to be involved in everything at every level and I like to know everything that is going on," he said. "That might be considered old fashioned by those who believe in a management structure but it was the way I wanted to run the college."

And he said it was simply not possible to run a school by that system in seven or eight hours a day. "I am afraid I cannot work a three-session day any more," he said. "I could manage a two-session day, but that would not enable me to do my job here properly."

Despite the so-called old-fashioned leadership, Mr Lawrance believes the college has changed and evolved into a "good and healthy school". The comprehensive system, introduced in 1972, had brought with it a whole new set of opportunities, but Mr Lawrance said the criteria for a successful school remained the same: Is the place still doing the best by the best children, while also bringing out the full potential of children throughout the ability range.

"We ought to be preparing children for life, but we cannot be fathers all the time," he said. "There are things that parents have got to do and I think we have got the balance about right here. I have tried to emphasise to new parents every year that the time they lose interest in their child's progress is the time he needs them most," he added. Parents are always telling their children that they wished they had been offered the same opportunities in their childhood, but Mr Lawrance believes that pressures of the modern world - financial, through advertising, and through the media - made life much harder for the modern youngster.

But the college's job was always to offer the child the best chance to make his way in the world, "You can only be pleased when you see a child doing a bit better than you thought he would," he said. "The disappointment is when people fail to achieve what they are capable of."

Mr Lawrance knows there may well be radical changes at the school once his successor is appointed, but he is not disturbed by the prospect. "I have run this college how I wanted it to be run, but if changes are introduced and the place still does things right for the children that is all that matters," he said. "I am the old broom and the place needs a new broom. It's just that the old broom still knows where some of the dirt is."

"Nostalgia is fine for remembering happy moments, but you should always be looking forward for the good of the school," he added. "And I hope this school will continue to develop and grow."

Despite his list of personal achievements - he is a mathematics graduate and has an MSc in Aerodynamics, he has been Chief examiner of the GCE, CSE and 16-plus boards and a member of numerous distinguished boards of mathematics - he is quick to say he would never have achieved the success he has had at Soham without his wife June. "You just could not do this job without the support of a wife and my wife has been always there behind me," he said.

Now the search is on for the successor to an irreplaceable village college character. It is one the board of governors are not taking lightly and chairman Mr Chris Taylor has already said they will consider themselves fortunate to find someone even half as good. And to give themselves the time they need Mr Lawrance's deputy, Mr William Arnott, has been appointed acting Warden for the first term of the new school year from September.

extract of caption: Soham Village College Warden Mr Albert Lawrance said he would never leave the school in spirit as he retired after a connection with Soham stretching back to the grammar school days of 30 years ago.

But the governors of the college made sure his influence would never leave Soham either by commissioning a photographic portrait which will hang in a place of honour of the school.

And at a mammoth presentation ceremony at the school's final assembly, an overwhelmed Mr Lawrance was also presented with a photograph of himself and his wife June standing outside the historic Beechurst building and a Fen landscape painted by top Wicken artist Anthony Day.

Ely Standard, Thursday October 5th 1989; reproduced verbatim though there are obviously errors - is there a more accurate obit available?

Albert Lawrance

Soham's county councillor, Albert Lawrance, died on Sunday. He had been ill for some time.

Mr Lawrance (61), of Newton's Lodge, College Road, Soham, was Warden of the Village College from 1972 until his retirement in 1984.

Although never a parish or district councillor, he was elected to Cambridgeshire County Council on a Conservative ticket in May 1988, and was re-elected this year.

Mr Lawrance was born in Harston. He gained an MSc in aerodynamics from Nottingham University before becoming head of mathematics at Soham Grammar School in 1952.

He left for Cambridge Grammar School in 1964, returning as headmaster at Soham in 1970. Mr Lawrance oversaw the amalgamation of the grammar school with the village college, which was completed in 1972.

He served on numerous committees but found time to enjoy watching cricket and rugby and playing croquet during his retirement. There is to be a private cremation, but a thanksgiving service for his life is to be arranged. Mr Lawrance leaves a widow, June, and daughter, Gaye.

cutting via Gwyn Murfet

Form 1 Algebra Exam Summer 1957, set by Punch

Do you have any photos, appreciations or anecdotes relating to Mr Lawrance? please contact the editor

21 Dec 2009 David Hobbs 49 A.E.Lawrance – an appreciation. September 1952. The school year was starting. There was a new Senior Mathematics Teacher, Mr Lawrance, and he was to be form master of Form IVa (Year 10 in current terminology). It was clear from the moment Mr Lawrance entered the room that he meant business. He was a firm disciplinarian: “No talking. Tidy up this room: line up the desks along this floorboard. Do it quietly. NO TALKING.” He was a big man with presence, smelling of carbolic soap, in need of some sartorial assistance. (As I discovered later, he was only ten years older than the members of Form IVa.) His prominent nose soon led to the nickname of Punch (probably not for the first time).

Form IVa’s mathematics was not good – the former Senior Mathematics Teacher had departed under a cloud during the previous Autumn Term and had been replaced temporarily by an elderly man, Dr Turner, who was no disciplinarian. He had learned his theorems in Greek when he was at school in the nineteenth century and could not understand our difficulty in learning them in English.

Mr Lawrance set about knocking us into shape. His teaching was logical, his board work was clear, and woe betide anyone who did not hand in their homework! He worked hard and expected others to do the same (which was not to everyone’s taste!). He put up posters (which he had made himself) showing how to construct regular polyhedra. I had already developed an interest in mathematics, in particular recreational mathematics (about which Doc Turner was very knowledgeable – I was probably the only boy in the class who learned anything from him). But it was Mr Lawrance’s polyhedra which reinforced my interest and showed me that there was more to mathematics than appeared on the school syllabus.

Incidentally, the form room, next to the assembly hall, was elegant – it had an Adams fireplace. Some time later during a school holiday it was painted pink. At an assembly the Headmaster described it, to the amusement of the school, as “Mr Lawrance’s boudoir”.

At A level, due to staffing shortages, the Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth were timetabled together. Each lesson, Mr Lawrance had to set work for one group while he taught the other. During my first term of A level I chose to give up Chemistry and do Further Mathematics instead. I was the only taker and this meant that Mr Lawrance had also to find time within the lesson to teach me. He gave up free periods and lunch breaks to give me more tuition. With his encouragement I obtained a place to read Mathematics at Cambridge University.

Like most of us at SGS Mr Lawrance came from a relatively humble background – his father was the blacksmith at Harston. From Cambridgeshire High School for Boys he went on to do a BSc at Nottingham University and an MSc at London University. After working in the aeronautical industry he taught in Coventry for two years before becoming the Senior Mathematics Teacher at SGS at the young age of 24.

Mr Lawrance became well-known in the world of mathematics teaching. He was an active member of The Mathematical Association and of The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. He organised courses and conferences on teaching mathematics. He examined at A level, was a Chief Examiner at O level, and served on committees developing a common system of examining at age 16 (now known as GCSE). Having myself pursued a career teaching mathematics in schools and in higher education, our paths crossed professionally on several occasions.

When at Cambridge I recall cycling out to Harston to visit Mr Lawrance and his wife June (who had by then provided sartorial assistance). I took a lollipop for their daughter, Gayle, who was about three years old, after which I was referred to in the Lawrance household as “Lolly Hobbs”. In later years when I visited my parents in Burwell, I often took my family to Soham to see Albert (as he had then become) and June. They always welcomed us and followed my children’s progress with interest. I have a photograph of Albert, taken not long before his death, giving a ride on his lawnmower to my younger son, aged about eight, both smiling broadly.

My father died in July 1989 at the age of 90. Albert, having seen the notice in the local paper, wrote a letter of condolence to me. Three months later Albert died too at the early age of 61 and I found myself writing a letter of condolence to June. Since then June has continued to welcome us – she kindly gave my wife and I accommodation for the night of the reunion dinner a few years ago.

It was through Albert Lawrance that I specialised in Mathematics at A level, went on to University and became a teacher. He kept in touch throughout my career. I have much to thank him for, as do many others who passed through his hands at SGS.

24.10.09 From Alan Frost 54: I owe a great deal to Punch. In the Science Sixth we always referred to him as Lawrance which I think was a way of according him more respect than a nickname. Similarly EA we always referred to as Armitage. Perhaps subconsciously we were realising that here were a pair of thoroughly professional and effective schoolmasters.

A.E. Lawrance more than anyone nurtured my interest in Maths and Higher Education which led to a degree and my subsequent career. As a Mathematics teacher he got superb results. Rumour had it that up until the year before my year he had never had a pupil fail A-Level Maths, which I can well believe. He had, I felt, a great love of the subject and always brought in and went through with us a mathematical digest - Mathematical Pie - published I think for schools.

As members of the Science Sixth we had a homework time-table, which he totally ignored. We KNEW that we would get a considerable amount of Maths homework EVERY night, plus "something for the weekend" as barbers used to put it. I think he also issued a considerable amount of homework for the holidays but memory may be failing me here. As he was quite a disciplinarian this meant one did one's Physics and Chemistry homework if there was time.

The result was that when pupils throughout the UK eventually sat down to feared A and S Level maths papers, those from SGS were thinking "I'll have probably seen and completed half the damn questions already for Lawrance." In my year I believe at least five of us achieved not just a grade 1 but a grade 1 on every paper.

He was also an effective careers master and as someone who had worked in industry, a realist. I remember him telling us not to totally ignore salary. "If you're not happy on 25 a week, you're not likely to be happy on 15 a week." Truer words than most in the politically correct 2000s would admit. He took this job seriously, kept a large set of files on careers and was always happy to advise.

He also ran the chess club which caused me a bit of pain when he overheard me trying to imitate his very distinctive voice as he issued the chess sets. However although I got a pretty sore caned hand (par for the course in 1958) he at least asked me to remain behind afterwards and did not administer it in front of the ranks - in my opinion the right way of going about these things.

I don't think those without some skill in Maths would remember him as fondly as most of us in his Science Sixth but I think they would acknowledge the effort he made in getting everyone a minimum of at least a pass in Mathematics whatever their gifts.

There was also a great deal of humour associated with Lawrance and his lessons but most of it requires, for full effect, the skills of the many superb imitators of his distinctive voice (of whom I am not one ) and which in any case is not possible to commit to the internet.

Frank Haslam '59' writes: Albert or Punch was one of those people you don't forget - even if the theorems we had to learn have, at least in my case, faded away. I expect most who were taught by him recall what happened if you failed to know this week's theorem. Discipline was rarely a problem though on at least one occasion a battered PE shoe of Punch-like dimensions was impressively wielded with resounding and furniture moving effect on a desk.

For me he was effective as he made me work at maths. Some he reduced to a state of terror. However there was often humour and always interest - did he not work on the Brabazon project? His evident enthusiasm for 'modern maths' provided variety.

He must have been, well, interesting to work with, though I suspect he continually drove himself harder, and to higher standards - and expected the same of others.

There must be many like me who are grateful to have been taught by him.

Peter Smith 59: "Smith sits there like a sack of potatoes" - I guess I was not participating in his Maths lesson!

see also Peter Pryke 52

last updated 24 Oct 2009