Soham Grammarians - Mr WAG Burroughs

This story began in November 2014 with news from Dr Carin Taylor, Principal of Soham Village College that she had been given a painting, Blowing in the Fen (or Fen Blow), painted by WAG Burroughs.

The letter accompanying the painting explained that it had been painted as a retirement gift for Mr Jack Langford, who was Chief Clerk in the Education Department at Shire Hall. He reached this position having been taken on as an office boy on leaving school.

It was thought he died in about 1992. His widow died in 2013 at the age of 104 in her own home. The donor thought the painting was the last thing she took out of Mrs Langford's house as she could not bear to see it left. She also believed that there was a Langford connection with Soham.

Basically the painting is a brown field with high level ditch and waving trees but geographically it is true to the Fen. It is 20" x 16" in a white frame.

Blowing in the Fen: source Soham Village College (also the autograph below)

The painting was named Blowing in the Fen, signed by WAG Burroughs and dated 1971:

Dr Taylor was aware that WAG Burroughs had connections with Soham Grammar School. Research by the editor on the SG website shows that Mr WAG Burroughs was involved in at least the following SGS productions - most if not all were photographed by him (some photo credits need to be found):

1954 HMS Pinafore Make-up
1955 Yeomen of the Guard Make-up
1957 Pirates of Penzance Make-up
1958 The Gondoliers Make-up & photography
1959 Midsummer Night's Dream Make-up & photography
1959 The Bartered Bride photography
1960 Twelfth Night Make-up & photography
1961 Amahl & the Night Visitors Make-up
1962 The Winter's Tale Make-up
1964 The Memory be Green Make-up

Jill Human, née Burroughs (sister in law of Roger Human SG46 and wife of Maurice (Joe) Human SG51) has written about her parents, SGS and the Village College:

My parents were Marjorie and WAG Burroughs. Wag, as he was universally known in Soham, was actually William Alfred George. He died in 1978.

He arrived in Soham just after the great train explosion in the town in June 1944, looking for somewhere to house his family and earn a living as war ended. He rented a house and shop in the High Street and proudly put his name over the door - and it was from this that he, and the shop, were always referred to as Wag Burroughs!

When my father first rented the shop it only sold cigarettes and sweets. He added household goods, toys and cards etc. When he photographed public events, like the Bank Holiday Parade, he would put the photographs in the window so that people could come in to order copies. He also put portraits and commercial photographs in to advertise his work. He had a studio and darkroom in the house and as a teenager I used to help him do 'back room' jobs!

The shop at 44 High Street was opposite Bobby's The Chemists [Philip Bobby was SGS] and between the men's and women's outfitters run by the Lowes. (Barry Lowe went to SGS). I was living in Kenya when my parents retired in 1967 so I do not know who took it over.

He signed his paintings, but not that I remember, his photographs. Most of his photographs were destroyed when he left the shop and then later on his death. I have a few, as do other members of the family, but not many. What would have been really interesting were the ones of everyday life that he took in Soham for 20 years. The annual parades, fetes, church events, businesses, tragedies etc. He was always called upon by the papers when they needed a picture! It is just possible some were kept in their archives.

He was not a Grammarian, but my brother Ian was, from 1945. My sister Susan and I both went to EHS. [Jill was Head Girl of EHS 1960-61].

Burroughs' shop, 44 High Street Soham, in the mid 1950s: source Jill Human,

From my teens until I left home we had a lot of connections with SGS and later the Village College. My parents friends were the Fords, Rileys, Thomases, Wallers, and the Askems. Much time was spent in each others company. My father did all the photography for the drama productions during those years [many are on this website].

He was also responsible for most of the makeup on such occasions and probably had some input into the set designs too. He certainly did all those things as well for both Isleham and Soham Amateur Dramatic Societies. He learnt these skills as a young child by going with his father, who was an electrician in West End theatres, and watching everything from the wings! My mother probably helped with costumes.

Marjorie & Billy Burroughs in 1965, the year before he took the Fen Blow photo: source Jill Human,

I acted in a couple of plays at SGS - one probably in 1960 was an Old Boys' production, directed by Rex Waller [an OB production of Ten Little Niggers in 1959; The other a school Christmas play [Apostle Play by the Arts Sixth at the 1957 Christmas Concert] in which I first met my husband, Joe. The Bozeats were good neighbours to my parents for many years - I once went as a 'staff' member with Dick and two others on a SGS holiday to Austria in 1960/1 and my sister Susan was at EHS with Molly. It's a small world!

When the Village College opened we, as a family, were involved with many things there and my father for some time being Chair of the Adult Education Committee (or whatever it was called). There used to be one of my father's pictures of the College, taken when it was first built hanging in the entrance hall. In the 1960s my mother was a librarian at the College when it became the public library.

I was intrigued by the story of Fen Blow being returned to the College recently. That started, as so many did, as a photograph, taken the day after our eldest son was born in Ely. My parents drove through the blow to get to see us - and my father never missed a chance of a good picture! I still have the photograph and my brother has the original painting. I did not know that there was copy out there.

Fen Blow photo by WAG Burroughs, dated 24th March 1966 © The Burroughs Family: source Jill Human

The stamp on the back of the photo [some of those looking at this page may have photos from their Soham/SGS/EHS days which have this]

Jill adds: The painting of the Fen Blow received by Soham Village College has been changed a bit from this photograph - by artistic license! I like it, and it is somewhat different from the first one he painted. It is most interesting to hear who it was presented to. I knew nothing of that.

Here are three highly evocative winter photos taken by Wag on 23rd January 1959:

SGS - The Drive - 23 Jan 1959: © The Burroughs Family: source Jill Human

Soham Village College from SGS playing fields stile - 23 Jan 1959: © The Burroughs Family: source Jill Human

Soham Village College from SGS playing fields - 23 Jan 1959: © The Burroughs Family: source Jill Human

Can you add to this page with other WAGB photos or Soham/SGS/EHS WAGB related memories? Please contact the editor.

Page created 23 Jan 15: last updated 10 Feb 15