Recollections of an Old (but young at heart) Oswestrian, circa 1952 - EPISODE 47, MEMORIES FROM SCHOOL THAT MAKE ME SMILE

Painting showing the presentation of the Senior Wrangler to the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University

Senior Wrangler is the Top Mathematics Undergraduate at Cambridge University, a position which has been described as 'the greatest intellectual achievement attainable in Britain'.

Headmaster Ralph, Wilf, Woof, Williamson was a Senior Wrangler, but not one to be confused with the cowboy version as depicted below, and he did his best to instil in us a modicum of his skills as a mathematician.

This tall elegant man took us for maths twice a week and he commanded our attention without the menace of Dai Lewis, or the gruff bark of 'Fattie' Felton. There was an aura about him that demanded we behaved in his presence and everyone was a little in awe of this quietly dominant figure as he tried to impart some of his mathematical wisdom. 

He had a dry wit, and when it came to that part of the syllabus at which we began learning about the Principle of Moments, he was waiting for an opportunity to drop in a wisecrack he no doubt delivered to each and every one of his classes. At one point during the lesson I unwittingly provided him with this opportunity by putting my hand in the air to ask him a question. Without batting an eye he dismissed my hand with a flick of his wrist saying "Just a Moment!" The whole class groaned in unison at the Old Man's attempt at humour and, with a wan smile on his lips, he gesticulated he was ready for my question and the lesson resumed.

Headmaster R Williamson in 1957,
the year of his retirement

I think it could have been the year before the photograph to the left was taken, in the summer term, that during a Saturday morning assembly the Old Boy said that there would be cricket as usual on the Maes-y-Llan, adding half jokingly, "Unless that is, if it snows." 

Surprise, surprise, we did not play any cricket that day... instead we all ran round The Steeplechase course which had become blanketed in a layer of fine, powdery snow.

That freak of nature was undoubtedly a one off, and summers back in those far off days seemed to be endless and full of sunshine. The summer of 1960 was particularly kind to cricketers, and our 1st XI had one of its best seasons for many years winning eight of twelve matches and losing two of the others by the narrowest of margins. For me, personally, it was probably the worst season I had ever had, but despite my dismal performances with both bat and ball the team more than made up for it, playing magnificently as a whole. The boys of 1960 well deserved the fruits of their endeavours.

Most pleasing was the fact that we prevailed in the two most important matches of the summer. We beat the Old Boys and I was at least able to contribute something to the win by hitting the sticks and running out 'Pip' Narroway. Shortly after that my friend, and former team mate, George Roberts-Jones, suffered a similar fate and we went on to win quite comfortably.

The day ended with alcohol fuelled fun and games on the quadrangle as the Old Boys' Dance was in full swing in The Memorial Hall, and Stoker was pretty tipsy as he staggered back to his room at the end of the evening. We escaped from School House by the usual route and listened to Elvis and Cliff Richard under the trees near Bagwash's garden finally climbing back into school via the lower common room window some time after midnight.

Almost three weeks later the team and the whole of school were cock-a-hoop when, on 20 July, we managed to put one over on the 'Cabbages' in the extremely hostile environment of their own patch, and Fattie Felton, our sometime coach, was delighted. It had been six long years or so since our last victory over the Boys' High School and, at last, Holbache boarders and day boys could hold their heads up high as they ambled through Oswestry on the way to school. The boot was now on the other foot and the taunts and jibes could flow the other way.

D G W Felton had played cricket for one of the minor counties in his youth and I invariably consulted him when drawing up the squad of boys available for selection in school matches. His no nonsense approach was very direct and whilst he did not spend as much time coaching us as I would have liked, his background and experience of first class cricket proved very useful. Whilst being extremely sympathetic to my loss of form during the summer of 1960 he nevertheless teased me mercilessly about it telling the rest of the team, midst an infectious chuckle, that I was trying to build up a fine collection of 'ducks'.

His daily arrival and departure on the playground in his tiny car was a source of amusement to us all as he seemed to have little idea of clutch control, and to the accompaniment of high revs the car would kangaroo its way across the quadrangle scattering boys in all directions. 

Duncan, as we came to know him in later years, was a very popular figure with Old Boy boarders in particular and his house would always be one of our first ports of call when returning to school for Founder's Day celebrations. For years following his retirement in the early sixties we would descend en masse to Chiltern House on Ferrer's Road where we would be entertained and made really welcome by himself and his charming wife who were always delighted to see former pupils. We were all very saddened by the deaths of Duncan and his wife, and there was suddenly a void when this popular larger than life couple finally ended their days and moved on to another place.

D G W Felton and his wife during the visit of HRH the Duchess of Kent in 1957