The Headmasters

TOM W. TAYLOR Headmaster 1946 - 1973

Many headmasters have been legends in their own time and become mythical figures to later generations. Dr Arnold is the classic case. Headmaster of Rugby School for barely fourteen years (1828-42) he was so effectively immortalised by Dean Stanley's Life and Correspondence of Dr Arnold (1844) and Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's School Days (1857), that even Lytton Stracey's brilliant Eminent Victorians (1918) was unable to destroy his reputation. Legends obscure and myths illuminate our understanding of Dr. Taylor and his achievement. Schoolboy legend held that "Spud" Taylor knew so few boys by name that he wrote "Persevere" on reports at random, but gave a half holiday to celebrate the birth of his sixth child. Staff myth holds that Tom revived the School after the War, accomplished its move from Hampstead to Elstree, and sat disconsolate in his study in Aldenham House unable to face retirement.

Dr. Taylor was a very able man. He had gone up to Christ's College, Cambridge, on an open scholarship in Classics, graduated with a first, won the Burney prize for Philosophy, and been awarded a PhD. He had spent a year at Frankfurt University, and in his spare time took a Bachelor of Divinity degree from London University. He was widely experienced. He had taught Classics to the Sixth Form at Bradford Grammar School and Worksop College, and had spent six years as the Headmaster of the City of Bath School.

He was energetic, enthusiastic and innovative. He took over as Headmaster of Haberdashers' at the start of the summer term in 1946, and within weeks had promoted school music, organised a sixth form dance, and made himself readily accessible to pupils and staff alike.

It soon became clear that his aims were to further raise the School's academic and cultural standing, and to use its metropolitan base to establish a national reputation.

At first the War cast a shadow. In July 1947 Fusilier P.J. Stevenson recorded in "Skylark" that the Intelligence Section of the British Army of the Rhine was identifying material "which might be used in a German rising" : Reconstruction of the bomb-damaged buildings at Hampstead did not begin until the summer term of 1948, and continued rationing ensured that the ninth Harvest Camp was held during the summer holiday. In October the Old Boys presented the Book of Remembrance to the School.

The shadow was soon shortened. In September 1946 Dr. Taylor had begun Subsidiary and General Studies courses, and appointed a Director of Music. During 1947, he had taken on a full-time Chaplain, transferred the carol service to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and inaugurated Commendation Day at the Guildhall, besides again widening the curriculum.

School activities multiplied. In 1947 five boys had visited France. In 1948 a large group went on a ski trip to Switzerland, in 1949 Mr. Dudderidge and A.J. Woolford appeared on television; in 1954 an exchange party left for Emden, in 1955 the 1st. VIII competed in the Heidleburg Regatta, and in 1956 Dr. Taylor took the School's production of "Julius Caesar" on tour to Western Germany.

Haberdashers' had Direct Grant Status under the terms of the 1944 Education Act, receiving financial support direct from the Ministry of Education in return for admitting scholarship boys. Consequently numbers were growing rapidly and in 1947 Dr. Taylor moved the Preparatory Department to Chase Lodge (and in 1953 to Flower Lane) to gain space at Hampstead. As the 600 boys of 1948 approached 1,000 a programme of new building endeavoured to keep pace and during Commendation Day in 1958 Sir Edward Boyle, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, recognised the result by calling Haberdashers' "one of the first flight of Direct Grant Schools".

The Governors sold the Hampstead site to the London County Council, which turned the buildings into a comprehensive school, and the thousand-odd Haberdashers left in July 1961. The new buildings at Elstree were officially opened by the Lord Mayor of London on the 11th of October, when closed-circuit television was used to transmit the ceremony from the hall to marquees in the grounds.

Preparations had been well-made. During 1959 Dr. Taylor had bought a famous Willis organ from Hove Town Council. In 1960 he had announced that in future all boys would receive an even sounder education by entering the sixth form after five rather than four years. When Mr. Oliver ("Pop" to the boys) retired Dr. Taylor split his duties between a Second and a Senior Master; the former to discipline the boys, the latter to manage the masters. Mr. Cheney was appointed as the School’s first full time Librarian, and Mr. Irving-Smith given the task of organizing General Studies. Without Mr. Rolfe’s work as Transport Officer most boys would not have reached Elstree at all.

The new school was organised on a House basis, each House being regarded as a forum for activities and haven for pastoral care. Each House had its own double room for meetings and lunches, some had their own and some shared cloak-rooms, and each encouraged its members to join its teams and accept positions of responsibility. A Boarding House was set up in Aldenham House itself. The Preparatory Department rejoined the main school, but was given a building of its own; usually called the prep. block, but sometimes known as the B.B.C. Block, a reference to its construction and use by the B.B.C. during the War.

Changes were legion. The annual Gilbert and Sullivan opera withered in the rural air, but school music and drama luxuriated in their new facilities and grew ever more polished. Rowing, fostered by Dr. Taylor in 1946, was ultimately a casualty of the move, but most sports, freed from the tiresome journey between Hampstead and Chase Lodge, benefited enormously. Not all the many new initiatives endured: extensive archaeological excavations led by Professor Swinnerton (Dr. Taylor's father-in-law) were eventually abandoned, bee-keeping was ultimately deemed too dangerous, and the School Press did not long survive the departure of its mentor, Mr. Broderick.

The new buildings were themselves soon supplemented. In July 1967 a mammoth fete opened a building appeal so successful that the foundation stone of a new library was laid in September 1968. During May 1969 Princess Margaret (an Honorary Freeman of the Haberdashers' Company) toured the School and the library was opened in September. Building continued and in September 1971 Mrs Thatcher (the Secretary of State for Education) opened what is still prosaically called Phase III. (The original Library became the Sixth Form Common Room, and the "new" Library is now the Modern Languages Centre, having been replaced by the Bourne Library.)

The 1960's saw important changes amongst the masters. Encouraged by the 1963 Robbins Report, which recommended the rapid expansion of higher education, Dr. Taylor made a point of appointing teachers who could specialise in Sixth Form work and coach the growing number of Oxbridge candidates. When Mr. Crossman and Mr Pask retired in 1964 Mr. Lewin and Mr. Barling became Second and Senior Master respectively. When Mr. Lewin died suddenly in 1968 Mr Barling ("Taffy" to the boys, "Dai" to the staff) became Second Master, a post which he held until his retirement in 1982.

The Sixth Form was influenced by the political and social changes of the 1960's. The campaign for Nuclear Disarmament attracted the support of many boys, and at Commendation Day in 1962 a group of Sixth Formers heckled Air Theodore McEvoy, an Old Boy who had returned to remind them of the Soviet threat. Towards the end of the decade many of the sixth form grew more and more hirsute and demanded the relaxation of the dress regulation. Some boys were said to pull on short haired wigs as they approached the School and others held a lunch-time demonstration in the Quad. Dr. Taylor, who kept resolutely to the "short back and sides" fashionable in his youth, responded by setting up three Advisory Councils which voted to support traditional styles of appearance, a vote soon honoured more in the breach than the observance. In the early 1970's it was even rumoured that an Old Boy was a member of the self--styled Angry Brigade which bombed the Home Secretary's house in nearby Hadley Wood.

When Dr. Taylor retired and he and his wife Margaret left the School in July 1973, it was after a series of tributes and presentations which had begun in March with a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall, and which marked the atmosphere of mutual respect and goodwill in which he completed his twenty seven years as Headmaster. It was a fitting tribute that in November the School gained its best Oxbridge results to that date, 26 Scholarships and Exhibitions compared with the 10 of 1960. Mr. McGowan, who had taken over as Headmaster in September, told the boys that Dr. Taylor might properly be regarded as the School’s second founder, and announced that he would be commemorated by the T.W. Taylor Music School whose construction was to begin in 1974.

Like all Headmasters, Dr. Taylor had not been free from criticism. In the late 1940's some older staff wondered why a German-speaker had apparently done no war-work, in the 1950's, some grumbled that he was reluctant to discipline the boys, and in the 1960's considered that he devoted too much time to his many out of school commitments. The majority, particularly the younger staff whom he had appointed and encouraged (and often inspired), appreciated his individuality and verve. They look back to a more relaxed time when Tom seemed capable of bearing almost any burden and solving almost any problem, when a quick and rhetorical "All well?" from him might be followed by a welcome promotion or salary increase. Perhaps Old Boys remember him best opening his letters at the table on the stage before Morning Assembly began, smiling alertly and enigmatically as they sang "Jerusalem" and "To be a Pilgrim" in excited and stifling end-of-term Assemblies, or shaking hands with Sixth Form leavers.

Dr. Taylor was a shy but gregarious man with a quick-silver mind, detached but humane, fully-known only to a few intimates, but with a wide circle of friends and admirers who gave him their confidence and to whom he gave wise advice and counsel. He was an academic administrator of the greatest distinction. He believed that civilised behaviour followed from the pursuit of academic and cultural excellence. He benefited from the opportunities offered by the 1944 Education Act and the 1963 Robbins Report. He could not have moved the School from Hampstead to Elstree without the support of the Haberdashers' Company and the loyalty of his staff, but that great achievement was the turning-point of his life's work, for it so accelerated Haberdashers' development that it enabled the School to challenge and soon to overtake the long established and nationally-known public schools.

Haberdashers' as it is today - with its magnificent grounds, superb facilities, and high standards - remains recognisably Dr. Taylor's creation. It was not necessary for Dr. Taylor to be immortalised in words as Dr. Arnold had been, since the School itself is Dr. Taylor's living memorial.


John WIGLEY.

(Taken from the OHA Magazine 1997-1998)

From Christopher Drew:

I read with interest the (above) appreciation of Tom Taylor. I first met him at entrance exam interview - and found him somewhat frightening. The sense of nervousness he induced did not reduce much over my years at school.

Yes indeed John Barker of the Angry Brigade was an Old Haberdasher. I recall he was sentenced to 10 years (or maybe more). He defended himself and was commended by the judge for the quality of his defence.

My recollection of the Air Vice Marshal prizegiving is slightly different. There had been rumours of possible intended disruption - but the actual event went quite smoothly. A stunned silence is the most apt description - with very muted applause. Several masters commented the next day (to my form and sets at least) that they were surprised by the lack of response - but impressed by the school's good manners.

BRUCE H. McGOWAN Headmaster 1975 - 1987

Bruce McGowan died 24th May 2004

Not one but three articles about Mr McGowan's years at the School, starting with John Wigley's account

Although Mr. McGowan told Skylark that “a headmaster is not an autocrat with total power” a headmaster and his staff often behave as if he is. When an old headmaster leaves and a new head arrives most teachers want to get “in” with the new man. To do so some tell him what they think he wants to hear, others identify their own interests with those of the school, and advise him accordingly. Confused by these courtiers a head, particularly one confident in his own judgement and firm in his principles, can take decisions which make or mar any pupil's education and any teacher's career.

Born in 1924, Mr. McGowan attended King Edward Vl's School, Birmingham, where his zeal as school captain earned him the nickname "Nimrod" (the mighty hunter). Between 1945 and 1946 he was with the Royal Artillery in India and Burma, and in 1947 took his B.A. at Jesus College, Cambridge. From 1949 he taught history and Latin at King's School, Rochester, and in 1953 became head of History at Wallasey Grammar School. In 1957 he was promoted to be headmaster of De Aston School, Market Rasen, and in 1964 moved on to be head of Solihull School. From 1968 to 1970 he was also a member of the Public Schools Commission.

Thus when Mr. McGowan left Solihull and arrived at Haberdashers' in September 1975 he had a wealth of experience at his disposal, but faced a peculiarly complex institution. Most heads of department were younger men who had been appointed by Dr. Taylor and they were slow to accept his successor. Only two left in Mr. McGowan's time, so he found it difficult to exercise his full authority over departments. Most housemasters and the head of lower school were of a slightly older generation, but their position had been eroded by Dai Barling, the forceful Second Master, who had gathered disciplinary and pastoral responsibility into his own hands. Here Mr. McGowan had more success: little by little he appointed younger housemasters, and when Dai Barling retired in 1982 some of the Second Master's many duties were devolved to the new post of Head of Middle School, which was intended to coordinate and support the efforts of hard-pressed form teachers.

Mr. McGowan enjoyed patronage. Clever Solihull old boys were appointed to teach English, history, and religious studies. Able Jesus men were promoted to be head of careers, and of Lower and Middle School. At least three of his other appointees have eventually become headmasters themselves, one at Adams' Grammar School - another Haberdashers' school - against which the Elstree School has competed at rugby since the highly successful annual Fraser Bird Rugby VII Tournament was inaugurated in 1974.

The Haberdashers' staff changed in character and style. Seventeen new teachers arrived at the same time as Mr. McGowan, and neither their ideas nor their personalities were easily absorbed. David Scott, the charismatic new chaplain, alarmed some established teachers but achieved distinction by winning the Sunday Times national poetry competition. The School lost a unique fund of ability and wisdom as men who had fought in the Second World War retired. “TEC" Carrington, Nick Clarke-Lowes, Tommy Sanderson, Frank Smith, and "Auntie" Willatt. The number of women teachers in the main school (one in 1973) slowly rose.

The boys changed too. The cultural upheavals of the late 1960s had run their course by the late 1970s: long hair and loud music had been assimilated into conventional suburban life. As Mrs. Thatcher rallied the Conservative Party and led it to victory in 1979 the few sixth form radicals were overwhelmed by the hard-headed values of Grantham and Finchley. Continuity remained in the form of a deceptively casual attitude to work; and the presence of many boys of outstanding academic ability It is no coincidence that the admissions tutors of at least four Oxford Colleges are Old Haberdashers. School drama; music and sport flourished more strongly than ever before. Under Stephen Wilkins1 direction school plays rivalled West End productions in quality. After the T.W. Taylor Music School was opened in 1976 Alan Taylor rapidly extended his musical repertoire, an achievement acknowledged in 1982 when he was appointed M.B.E.. As head of P.E. David Davies coached the Ist. XV to 65 unbeaten matches from October 1973 to December 1977, a record which will surely never be equalled, let alone overtaken.

Mr. McGowan gave his full support. Teachers recall that he attended almost every play and concert, and afterwards entertained convivially and generously, enthusiastically assisted by his wife Pat, in the seemingly ever-open Headmaster's House. Old boys remember that in Monday assemblies he paid close attention to the games announcements and copied the results into his fixture card. A number of rugby players reminisce about his participation in one of Doug Yeabsley's memorable sports tours to the Far East.

Amidst all this activity, Mr. McGowan knew that the foundation of Haberdashers’ local and national reputation was its academic success. After the Girls' School moved to Elstree in 1974 time-tabled co-operation was confined to sixth form General Studies. When the labour government ended the direct grant system in 1976 Haberdashers reverted to full independence and the two schools organised a joint appeal which raised £420,000 to provide bursaries. In 1981 Mr. McGowan welcomed the Conservative government's Assisted Places Scheme, and in the same year Haberdashers' topped the only schools' league table which existed at that time, the one for exhibitions and scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Mr. McGowan believed that one of the foundations of continued academic success was good administration and organisation. He issued a new prospectus to attract more applicants, ensured that reports were printed on both sides (to allow teachers to give fuller advice), separated the 6B from the 6A Parents' Evening (to the same effect), and put the master in charge of General Studies in charge of Subsidiary Subjects as well - to improve attendance. After appointing John Carleton to succeed Dai Barling as Second Master, Mr. McGowan supported John's policy of clarifying the pattern of assemblies to reduce early morning confusion, and producing a staff handbook to establish basic professional requirements and standards.

Mr. McGowan's years as headmaster coincided with those of the anonymous donor's extraordinary generosity to the School. In 1977 two squash courts were opened, and in 1978 the little-used fives court was replaced by a climbing wall, partly financed by a parent. During 1979 the Sixth form Common Room was equipped with a cafeteria; and in 1980 Princess Margaret opened the Bates Dining Hall (which ended the practice of serving lunch in the House Rooms). The anonymous donor’s generosity continued as he provided the resources for the Sime Preparatory Department, which the Princess opened in 1985, allowing the former Prep. Block to be reconstructed as the Design Centre, which was opened by Sir Monty Finniston in 1984. The anonymous donor also made a major contribution to the Sports Centre, which was opened in 1986 and named after Mr. McGowan. Thus although the boarding house had succumbed to Mrs. Thatcher's recession in 1983, Haberdashers' facilities had been greatly enriched, to the benefit of pupils and teachers alike.

During 1985 Mr. McGowan was Chairman of the Headmasters' Conference, a prestigious position which marked the peak of his career. Then, early in 1986 he announced that he had decided to retire during 1987. There is no doubt that his commitment and hard work had enabled Haberdashers' not only to survive threatening political and economic circumstances, but to emerge stronger and more successful than before. Those of us who remember him know that he deserves our gratitude and thanks for that.

John WIGLEY.


(Abridged from the OHA Magazine 1998-1999)

On the Retirement of the Headmaster

An appreciation by Leo Guidon, Skylark 1987

MR MCGOWAN retires from his post as Headmaster at the end of the summer term, leaving the school deeply indebted to him for fourteen years of dedicated and inspiring leadership.

When he came to Haberdashers' he was already an established Headmaster, and early acquaintance allowed us to glimpse a number of the expected headmasterly qualities. Evident from the first moment were the warmth of his personality and the real enjoyment which he experiences in meeting people. His interest in others and his concern for the well-being of those in his care have proved to be guiding principles in his years in office.

A fuller picture emerged as time went by. A committed Christian, who respects the faiths of others; a man insistent on justice and openness, and determined upon efficiency in administration; a man with an ever-alert sense of humour, and when occasion allows, an endless fund of anecdotes; and, it became increasingly clear, a man with very special gifts in the area of communications and public relations. Parents will know of his prowess on the platform on formal occasions, and members of staff have evidence daily of his ability to express his thoughts in discussion and his skill as a chairman of meetings. Time and again those working with him have admired the sure touch with which a difficult letter has been drafted without hesitation and a potential emergency dispelled.

The tireless dedication and enthusiasm with which the Headmaster has supported school activities have been unparalleled. Sporting teams have come to rely on his presence on the touchline week after week; organisers of concerts and plays know that he expects to be present at rehearsals and at every performance, and to offer hospitality on their behalf afterwards; mountaineering trips, prep camps, naval cadets working in Gibraltar, exchange groups visiting the USA and sporting teams touring the Far East have all seen him looking in to take an interest in their progress. The Old Haberdashers' Association has enjoyed his full support; he has been their guest on innumerable occasions and took office as President for the year in 1978. All these activities, in addition to the relentless pressures of a demanding post, might seem a daunting task to many people. The Headmaster has welcomed these commitments with open arms, revelling in the opportunities presented for meeting people and making new friends.

Mr. McGowan's own schooldays were spent at King Edward's School, Birmingham, where he was School Captain. He went up to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1943, but his studies were inter-rupted for war service in the Royal Artillery until 1946. Returning then to Cambridge, he married Pat, his companion since their schooldays, and took his degree in 1947. His first teaching post was as an assistant master at King's School, Rochester, and then he was for four years Senior History Master at Wallasey Grammar School. In 1957 he was appointed Headmaster of the De Aston School, Market Rasen, Lincs, where he stayed for seven years before becoming Head of Solihull School, a large independent day and boarding school for boys.

When he was appointed to Haberdashers', he spent some time studying the working of the school, and then first turned his attention to the way in which the school recruited its pupils. A new prospectus was commissioned, meetings were held for Headteachers of local preparatory and primary schools, and an Open Day for Prospective Parents was instituted as an annual event in November.

The government's decision to abolish Direct Grant status in 1976 presented a major problem. We were fortunate to have an experienced captain at the helm; the decision to become fully independent was taken, problems were resolved and the transition smoothly accomplished.

Developments continued apace. For better management the school was divided into three sections, each with a Master in Charge. A Steering Committee of the Academic Board was established, induction meetings arranged for new members of staff, and discussion sessions held for other groups. Links between teaching staff and the governing body were strengthened and formalised. Conditions of service for teaching and non-teaching staff were improved. Both categories of staff indeed now feel that their efforts for the school are highly valued, and that in many ways they have become one team. A number of social events have helped in this direction and celebratory moments in the year such as the Christmas Dinner have become family occasions to which everyone working at Elstree is invited.

Simultaneously, an ambitious building programme was maintained. Under the former Headmaster, Dr T W Taylor, the school had made the vitally important move from Hampstead to Elstree, but much remained to be done in the expansion of the facilities on the new site. The Headmaster launched building appeals at intervals and a series of projects was put under way. In 1975 the Music School was completed, named after Dr Taylor to commemorate his support for the arts, and then in 1980 the Bates Dining Hall was constructed. In 1983 the Sime Preparatory School was formally opened by HRH Princess Margaret, and the former accommodation of the Prep was completely restyled as the Design Centre for Art, Craft and Technology. A new Centre for Maths and Computing was created, a specialist area set aside for the work of the English Department, and a School Chapel of fitting size established in Aldenham House. The most recent project was the construction in 1985 of an indoor Sports Centre. As a tribute to the Headmaster's enthusiasm for sport and physical fitness (he was active as a Society rugby referee for many years, and, as well as being a tireless supporter of teams, has found time at Elstree for jogging and latterly swimming) the governors resolved that the new building should be named the Bruce McGowan Sports Centre.

The last few years have been no less busy. New examinations have had to be assessed and absorbed, with the corresponding review of the curriculum. Changes in career structure and salary scales for teaching staff have had to be assimilated, and factors such as professional appraisal have needed much consultation. Links with universities and industry have also engaged the Headmaster's close attention. Oxford and Cambridge have changed their methods of entry, and Mr. McGowan has been prominent in maintaining a dialogue with the colleges and discussing with them their new requirements. With regard to industry, he has been instrumental in promoting the appointment of an Industrial Fellow at Haberdashers', who has already made a major contribution by establishing a programme of work experience for the Sixth Form.

It is not only at Elstree that the Headmaster's expertise in educational matters has been appreciated. The Headmasters' Conference has welcomed his services in many capacities. He was chairman of its Community Service Committee from 1976 to 1980 and of its Political and Public Relations Committee from 1981 to 1984, and then was honoured with the invitation to be chairman of the Headmasters' Conference for 1985, a role which further widened his knowledge of the educational scene. As a champion of independent schools, he has been a keen supporter of the Independent Schools Information Service since its foundation, and he has been an active member of many other professional associations and a popular speaker at conferences. He was a member of the Church Assembly for several years, and of the Public Schools Commission of 1968-70. He is a governor of several schools including St George's School, Harpenden and Bristol Grammar School, his father's old school. Even in retirement he will undertake some work in education for the Church Schools Company.

A principal interest outside school for the Headmaster and his wife has been foreign travel. In the last fourteen years they have visited many countries in Europe, and have made frequent trips to the USA and Canada. Longer journeys have taken them to the Far East twice and to Australia and New Zealand. In the USA, Mr. McGowan has been keen to foster the exchange link between the Haberdashers' Schools at Elstree and the Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey. Parties of pupils make exchange visits every year, and several members of staff have taught for a year in the exchange school. On the Headmaster's trips, rarely is a chance missed to look up old friends, and many former pupils have been delighted to be remembered and visited at a considerable distance from Elstree. Education cruises have been another interest, and Mr. McGowan led parties on these for some years. When the moment arrives for a holiday of complete relaxation, Mr. & Mrs. McGowan often choose to go camping in the country districts of France, a pastime which has long been one of their favourites.

The school has reaped the benefit of a period of wise and settled government under Mr. McGowan, and full advantage has been taken of the possibilities for development. Academic standards, always high, have risen still higher; other activities, pastoral, cultural and sporting have all flourished. The school's reputation stands high nationally; rolls are full and there is keen competition to gain admission. On the personal plane, boys and staff have known that they are in the hands of someone who is genuinely interested in them as individuals, and who values them whatever their talents may be.

To those working with him, the Headmaster's company has lightened many hours. The emphasis on efficiency in administration has never restrained for long his own sense of humour, which has bubbled to the surface regularly, dispelling the tedium of relentless routine or the gloom of apparent disaster. The Headmaster's own hoot of laughter has indeed been a kind of leit-motif to his years at Elstree, a sound instantly recognisable to boys in a darkened auditorium or to colleagues across the room at some hospitable gathering.

His wife, Pat, has been his staunch companion and support during these hardworking years, by his side whenever possible on school and social occasions, and conceding nothing to her husband in her own enthusiasm for meeting people. She has been a marvellous hostess and ambassadress for us on many occasions, and we thank her most sincerely. The McGowans have a family of four children, three of whom are now married, and currently have two grandsons in America.
Mr. and Mrs. McGowan plan to spend a good deal of time travelling in their retirement, but will make their home in the house in Woodstock which they have owned for some time. They hope to see many old friends there.

As they leave us, we offer to them both our congratulations and thanks for what has been achieved and our warmest best wishes for a long and happy retirement

L H Guidon, Skylark 1987

A Farewell Interview with the Headmaster

"The headmaster, first of all, is not an autocrat with total power."

Having exploded the popular myth, he continues: "Like the rest, he's subject to someone else." Yet there isn't one thing that happens in the school for which he isn't ultimately responsible. So much so that he must delegate. "A headmaster must not do any job he can persuade someone else to do." Nevertheless, he works a busy schedule - very much more than merely nine to five, Monday to Friday, more often than not spilling over into the weekend. Much of his time is spent interviewing boys, appointing staff and meeting with parents ("our paying customers"), and supporting a host of school activities. There's a lot of public relations involved, though it's a leadership role in a way that mere PR is not. "Personality is immensely important. It's as much what you are as what you do."

Despite the immense pleasure and excitement he has derived from his role as Headmaster at Haberdashers', Mr. McGowan sees it as vital that a headmaster should not limit himself entirely to his own campus. "He's got to reach out into the world of education. I see education as a unity, a great national enterprise necessary for the benefit of all young people in the country." He particularly values his influence as headmaster of a leading independent school. "Those in positions of responsibility must help to defend independent schools. We have, after all, political enemies who'd like to see us disappear in a puff of smoke."

How, then, does he perceive the relationship between independent and state schools?

"I don't see the two as opposed, but I do feel that both should have the right to exist. I believe in freedom and parental choice." He feels a great sense of sadness that the state sector is currently in such disarray. "But I can't help feeling that their staff have behaved in an unprofessional way. I mean, which do you put first, yourself or your pupils? Teachers have always been underpaid, as I know from my own experience in the state system. But I don't think it's justified to penalise your pupils to fight your own battles, and that's what the big battalions of teachers' unions have been doing."

When the headmaster took over at Haberdashers' fourteen years ago, it was still a Direct Grant school. In fact, it was not the wish of the board of governors that the system should be ended. "That was the work of a Labour government. After the change to a fully independent system, we worked very hard to provide bursaries for those who couldn't otherwise afford the fees.

The introduction of the Assisted Places Scheme in 1981 has helped, and much to my surprise the academic level after we went independent in 1976 did not go down."

Has it, though, affected the social background of the school's intake?

"I think most people would probably take the view that the social mix isn't as broad as it used to be. But then it always has been a fairly middle-class school. We may not have sons of the aristocracy, but we certainly have sons of some extremely wealthy people. And that, I think, can present some problems among boys."

Another significant feature of the school in the headmaster's eyes is its isolated location. "We're unique among the great day schools of Britain in not being attached to a city. That gives us the advantage of not being troubled by local politics or the local movements of fickle opinion. We're neither boosted nor pilloried by the local press. But on the other hand we are rather segregated from the rough and tumble world of a large urban area. I do think there's a tendency for us all to be a bit inward-looking and too single-mindedly concerned with the pursuit of grades. We might be more broad-minded people if we were more concerned with the world outside."

But on the whole, the headmaster envisages a rosy future for the school. "Barring some Act of Parliament totally abolishing public schools, the future of Haberdashers' is secure. How far it will change I can't say, but I think at 62 it's time to make way for someone else."

Toby Robertson and Matthew Brown, Skylark 1987

A. KEITH DAWSON Headmaster 1987-1996

Just as many class room teachers are tempted to adopt a protective persona, so many modern headmasters are tempted to present themselves less as men than as managers. As a former Haberdashers' teacher, Mr. Dawson faced both temptations. His Skylark interviewers noted that he “refused to be drawn into any comments about himself”(1996) and realised that “there was no doubting he was in control” (1990).

Born in 1937, Mr Dawson was a pupil at Nunthorpe School near York, read History at The Queen's College. Oxford, was awarded a Diploma in Education with Distinction, and in 1961 began to teach at llford County High School. He joined the Haberdashers' History Department in 1963, was made its Head in 1965, and in 1971 left to become Headmaster of John Mason School in Abingdon. By 1979 he was principal of Scarborough Sixth Form College, and by 1984 was principal of King James College in Henley, from where he returned to Haberdashers' as Headmaster in September 1987.

It was a potentially difficult position. After sixteen years significant changes had taken place, but twenty two of Mr. Dawson's former colleagues were still teaching at the School. He would have to establish a new working relationship with them and with the rest of the staff, if possible without prejudice to either group.
His friends stressed his humanity and his professionalism. During morning assembly he had read his mail on the stage, at lunch time he had eaten early to secure a place on the billiard table in the staff Common Room, and it was even rumoured that he had smoked and drank. He had been an inspiring History teacher, innovative yet a stickler for disciplined hard work from pupils and teachers alike. Outside the class room he had coached cricket and hockey, directed school plays, and starred in the legendary staff play, Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest".

All this augured well. Between being appointed in 1986 and taking up his position in 1987 Mr. Dawson visited Haberdashers' many times, sometimes formally interviewing Heads of Departments and Housemasters, and sometimes informally, meeting staff, pupils and parents. In September 1987 he quickly resumed his high level of activity and involvement. He spent hours on the touch-line and boundary, supporting players and their coaches and talking to parents. He attended almost every single performance of every play and concert, and visited rehearsals as well. Nor was his interest confined to events at Elstree, for he visited school parties elsewhere in the United Kingdom and on the Continent, often making long detours from his family holiday in order to do so.

In 1990 the School's Tercentenary year encapsulated many of Mr. Dawson's enthusiasms, a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, a Families' Art exhibition, a grand Sports Day, a special Charity Appeal, and a veritable feast of school music and drama - a junior entertainment, a School play, and a staff play - "Tartuffe" - in which he took part. Skylark applauded his "gem of a performance" as Monsieur Loyal.

Mr. Dawson had a particular interest in school music and drama, A cello player himself, he often invited pupils to repeat an evening "Music in Miniature" piece at a morning assembly. He ran a number of very successful "Young Professional” concerts on Sunday evenings, providing a venue for musicians, many of whom were former pupils, and raising money for charity. In 1996 he was to join Mr. Wilkins in producing the School play: Skylark recorded that they directed "with an exquisite eye for detail”

To encourage pupils to participate in and value cultural events, and school and community service occasions such as Mencap Funday and the Old Folks' Christmas party, he instituted "Honours Ties" and "Certificates of Merit", modelled on games colours but awarded for exceptional endeavour in areas of extra-curricular activity where awards had not previously been given.

Mr Dawson took an early decision to give a member of staff the task of co-ordinating European awareness throughout the School. Another innovation was to appoint a long-serving teacher to support parent social activities at the School and to liaise with former pupils. In 1992 he fostered the formation of a parents' social Committee to gain support for parents' activities and to help at School functions. In 1995 he became President of the Old Haberdashers' Association and worked to strengthen its links with the School, besides improving its somewhat precarious financial position.

Mr Dawson was aware of future difficulties facing Haberdashers'. He accepted that the 1961 buildings had been given a life span of only twenty five years, so needed refurbishing or replacing. He believed that educational needs in the twenty first century would centre on information retrieval from the printed word and electronic sources, He considered that each academic department needed its own dedicated and well equipped teaching rooms. Thus with Mr. Dawson's vision, and the drive and energy of Mr. Gordon Bourne, the Chairman of the Governors, and the generosity of many donors to an appeal, work began on a major new building in July 1991. Many of us remember toasting Mr. Bourne as he coaxed a bulldozer into cutting the first piece of turf.

To the admiration and surprise of everyone in the School work progressed so well that the appropriately named Bourne Building was declared open by H.R.H. the Princess Margaret in October 1992. The complex houses a magnificent new School Library, a specialist Careers Library (partly financed by K.P.M.G.), an Information Technology Department, and (on the ground floor) the Classics and History Departments, plus a large foyer where pupils' creative work can be displayed. A kitchen and servery facilitate entertainment at concerts and plays held in the upgraded Hall.

Other developments followed in the wake of the Bourne. The former Library became the Modern Languages Centre, and was opened by Sir Leon (now Lord) Brittan, in 1994. English, Mathematics and Religious Studies were provided with fully self-contained teaching areas, and two Houses - Meadows and Hendersons - moved to newly-positioned House Rooms.

Mr Dawson appreciated the importance of the School's catering arrangements. He re--established a kitchen in Aldenham House and brought the old Refectory into use for evening dinners and meetings. Similarly, he re-established the practice of serving cricket teas in the pavilion, greatly enhancing the social side of matches. Early in 1995 Chartwells took over the administration and provision of catering, issued "smart" cards for use in the Bates Dining Hall and School shop and increased the variety of food and drink on offer, In March 1995 David Thomas (Head of Physical Education, 1948-1968) opened the Astro-Turf all weather playing surface, for hockey and soccer in winter and tennis in summer, perhaps it will eventually gain a pavilion of its own.

The academic curriculum was an area of actual difficulty. Haberdashers' had had essentially the same curriculum since 1961. It now had to cope with the demise of Oxbridge entrance examinations, the impact of G.C.S.E., and the introduction of a new pattern of Advanced level exams. To assess these developments Mr, Dawson set up his Renaissance Committee, a name which implied that Haberdashers' needed to undergo a revival of learning. Staff reaction was mixed. Some staff believed that his subsequent committees and working parties were devices to secure consent for his own views. Some that they provided an opportunity to push themselves and lobby for their own views.

Others feared the neglect of what they felt to be important issues and problems: appointment procedures, salary structures, teaching burdens, pupil numbers and quality, the rather uncoordinated rise of modular "A" levels, etc. After having been encouraged to discuss, a number of staff resented, as, they saw it, being excluded from decisions.

Comparatively few staff took the opportunity to discover what was going on in other class rooms and departments, or to reflect upon their own teaching methods and professional position.

Perhaps that was why Mr. Dawson eventually persuaded them to accept the Governors' decision to implement a form of appraisal, although not the variety which had aroused so much hostility in the state sector. Their reaction was equivocal. Those who saw appraisal as another chance to push and lobby eventually became frustrated. Those who suspected that the time involved would produce little of any consequence argued that institutionalised introspection might be a substitute for action. They believed that the sources of the staff’s dynamism and of the School's spirit were elsewhere.

In some respects a school exists independently of its headmaster. Pupil ability, ambition and energy have long created a common educational experience at Haberdashers'. Much of the School's depth and richness is provided by concerts and plays, C.C.F. camps, sports tours and ski-trips, and by the multitude of clubs and societies, Some of them are semi-secret enclaves in which are forged bonds of friendship and loyalty, and occasionally enmity, hidden from other pupils. One wonders what Saul Barrington meant when he told 'Skylark' that the 1987-88 Cricket and Rugby tour to the Far East “Was all rather crazy and wild”.

However, pupils do change. For many years Haberdashers' had had a mixture of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Jews, with very small minorities of Roman Catholics and boys of oriental background. In Mr. Dawson's time the School's ethnic and religious diversity broadened, pupils of Asian origin accounting for approaching one third of the School community. He responded by instituting a range of religious assemblies on Thursday mornings, and it may be that they have contributed to a greater awareness of cultural and social individuality amongst the pupils.

Long-serving teachers provide a School with educational and personal continuity, but teachers also change. In the words of the once well-known hymn “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.” In 1988 Leo Guidon and Barry Goater, in 1989 Basil Flashman, in 1994 Keith Cheyney, Roger Wakely and Mike Anderson, and in 1995 John Rolfe each retired from full time duties, in every case after working for over thirty years at Haberdashers'. To commemorate their outstanding contribution to the School Mr. Dawson founded "The Termites", a dining club for those who had served for at least one hundred terms. To make it easier to fill their places he had several bed-sits and flats installed in Aldenham House, and made available to new teachers.

Headmasters, pupils and teachers have different roles and responsibilities, so do not always see eye to eye. Occasionally teachers did wonder if Mr. Dawson related to them as a man or a manager, if they detected an impatient stare, or if he was too deeply wedded to the personal and professional attitudes and friendships which he had formed during his first period at Haberdashers'. Occasionally, too, they noticed a dichotomy between their view of the Headmaster and the pupils' view: whereas they felt him inclined to give pupils the benefit of the doubt, some pupils felt that their teachers' intercession was necessary to protect them from his justice.

During Mr. Dawson's final year it became clear that he regarded his two periods at Haberdashers' as the high points of his career. For all the tribulations which it was capable of causing, he loved the School. He had vastly improved its many facilities. He had proved to be a man of warmth and compassion, always willing to see good in others, and agonised over difficult decisions lest a wrong one be made. He had rendered to no one evil for evil. He had been well-supported by his wife, Marjorie, and together they had extended the hospitality of the Headmaster's house to staff, pupils and visitors to Haberdashers'. They had confirmed the School's reputation as an educational, a cultural and a pastoral community, one in which staff and pupils could develop and flourish, the latter whilst preparing to enter the wider world.

When Mr. Dawson retired at the end of the Summer Term 1996, Haberdashers' saw the departure of a distinguished generation: the Headmaster himself, David Davies (1959), Antony Clark (1960), Alan Taylor (1961) and David Griffiths (1968). The 1960s were finally over at Haberdashers'. What would the future bring?

John Wigley

JEREMY W. R. GOULDING Headmaster 1996 - 2001

A large, confident and successful school is like a great ocean liner - very slow to turn. A headmaster is in the exposed and risky position of its captain; accountable to the owners, responsible for the passengers, and in command of the crew. They, in particular, are anxious to know if he is in the mould of captain Ahab, Bligh or Cook: will his obsession destroy the vessel, will his discipline provoke a mutiny, or will he meet his death as he does his duty?

Mr Goulding set several “firsts” at Haberdashers': the first Roman Catholic headmaster since the School's foundation in 1690, the first from Magdalen College, Oxford, for two centuries, the first since 1919 to leave to become headmaster of another school, the first ever whose wife has taught in the School, and the first since Dr. Taylor to have children of school age, one of whom has been a pupil at Haberdashers'.

Like his predecessors, Mr. Goulding was well prepared for the post. Educated in Classics at the Becket School, Nottingham, he had read Philosophy and Theology at Oxford, where he rowed for Magdalen, and in 1974 began his teaching career at Abingdon School. In 1978 he moved to Shrewsbury School, where he was Head of Divinity and a boarding-house master, and in 1989 became head of Prior Park College, Bath. The School's first lay head, he further improved its reputation, raised its pupil numbers, and guided it through the aftermath of a near-disastrous fire.

His appointment as headmaster of Haberdashers' aroused the mixture of apprehension and curiosity common to such events, Some parents murmured about Pius XII and the Vatican, ignoring the fact that for four hundred years Catholics had been a persecuted minority in Britain itself. Some members of staff muttered about the School's Anglican origins, although most of them never attended church, let alone knew a ciborium from a monstrance. Kinder souls quoted from the speech which Montgomery made when he took command of the Eighth Army in 1942: "I want first of all to introduce myself to you, you do not know me, I do not know you. But we have got to work together."

Between Mr. Goulding's appointment in 1995 and arrival at Haberdashers' in September 1996 he visited the School many times and was watched for signs of his ideas, personality and policies. He was watchful too, for although he had emerged triumphant from three interviews with the governors, he had met neither pupils nor staff. As a Classicist he might have recalled Aeschylus's words, "I took pains to determine the flight of the crook-taloned birds, which were to the right by nature and which to the left, and which were their ways of living, each after his kind, and the enmities and affections that were between them, and how they consorted together," (Prometheus Vinctus, 486-492).

At the end of his first year he gave Skylark his impressions of the School; its "sheer size", its "speed and pace", its "powerful sense of community" and its "sense of friendliness and generosity". He declared that "My aim is to sustain this as a thriving school, balancing the academic results, which are so important, with the vast array of activities and opportunities available here."

Little by little he built up his team, from September 1996 working with the new Bursar, Malcolm Gilbertson, and from September 1998 with Simon Boyes as second Master and Jon Corrall as Senior Master. Men whose contrasting abilities and qualities so well complemented his own. But however much he relied on their experience and expertise to provide him with wise advice and detailed information, he knew that it was his role to take the lead; to solve immediate problems and to seize fleeting opportunities, besides being the School's ambassador and long-term strategist.

Early in 1996 the previous headmaster had produced a Development Plan, intended in part to explore the probable end of the Assisted Places Scheme. When the Labour government, elected in 1997, abolished the A.P.S. in 1998 the governors immediately replaced it with a system of Bursaries linked to financial need and academic potential, and by 1999 Mr. Goulding had achieved almost all the 1996 Plan's objectives. Indeed, in 1997 he had initiated a Pastoral Review of P.S.R.E. (Personal, Social and Religious Education) and of pupil and staff welfare and the governors had approved a five year Building Development Plan to provide new changing facilities, a new science block, and an extension to the preparatory school (the latter of which was completed at Easter 2001). Thus by 1999 the way was clear for Mr Goulding to produce his own Development Plan and to enlist staff support for its implementation. Some seventy-three members of staff operating in twelve working groups gathered evidence and took soundings on almost all aspects of the school curricular and community life and reported in June 2000.

Their work coincided with the first full-scale inspection of Haberdashers' held in living memory; during October 1999. Mr. Goulding's preparation was meticulous, calming the nervous, drawing on his own experience as an H.M.C. Inspector, and explaining that he hoped for "business as usual" during inspection week, an aspiration which some departments honoured as much in the breach as in the observance. The Lead Inspector, Mr. Brian P. Fitzgerald, was both an old pupil and a former teacher of the School so he knew its ways and wiles, and his report was entirely objective. “This is a very good school with many strengths and the headmaster is vigorous and enthusiastic and leads in a refreshingly purposeful style.”

Pastoral Review, Development Plan and Inspection Report all helped to crystallize Mr. Goulding's ideas and policies. He noted Haberdashers' aims as published in the prospectus: “To challenge bright boys to achieve the highest standards; to develop a sense of community and shared values; to support parents in preparing their sons for a fulfilled life”. He concluded that "We must offer the best possible school curriculum and foster a sense of community." Neither would be easy to achieve. The Middle School curriculum was a notorious minefield, as a complex options system, designed to give pupils a broad education and to avoid premature specialisation, and was in conflict with some departments' covert plans to attract more pupils. The School's ever-widening catchment area and its increasing ethnic diversity, perhaps even its increasing ethnic self-awareness and identity, posed a conundrum for advocates of community.

In August 1996 Haberdashers' had topped the Advanced Level League Table in The Times. Like share prices, examination results normally go up and down but in this case they could not possibly go up so the School has struggled to maintain its lead. Many teachers have argued that G.C.S.E. work, with its emphasis on technique rather than content, allowed quick-witted pupils to make a last minute effort and still gain high grades, an experience which unfitted them for "A" Level work. Other teachers suspected that the recession of the early 1990s had reduced applications and thus the quality of their pupils. Mr. Goulding gave his full support to departments which found it a challenge to secure the very best results, monitoring pupils' progress and requesting their parents full cooperation. As a result some pupils were awarded better results than they perhaps had a right to expect.

To some extent the government took responsibility for the curriculum out of Mr. Goulding's hands by introducing the A/S plus A2 system at 16+, according to which A/S is a transition from G.C.S.E. to "A" Level standard at A2. Since September 2000 most Haberdashers' pupils have taken four A/S courses in the Lower Sixth and from September 2001 most will take three A2 courses in the Upper Sixth, many sitting some twelve papers at the end of each academic year. That is a welcome simplification of the previous system of modular exams scattered throughout the year but it may place pupils under pressure, especially since the standard required is by no means clear. We await the results.

The 1997 Pastoral Review had wondered if the interaction of Form Tutor, Housemaster and Head of Section was always as pastorally effective as it might be, and the Inspection Report recommended a further review of the School's pastoral arrangements. Thus Mr. Goulding proposed and secured support for a new Middle School Pastoral Structure. Historically, the composition of Forms in the Middle School had been determined by academic setting, which had placed pupils in a large form located on an all-too-obvious ladder of esteem, and which obscured the easy link between Form Tutors and Housemasters which existed in the Junior School. From September 2001 there will be no direct connection between new Tutor Groups and academic setting in the Middle School. Each third year house group will be split into two Tutor Groups, each of about fourteen pupils. The fifty or so fourth and fifth year pupils in each house will be split into three mixed fourth-and-fifth year Tutor Groups, each of about eighteen pupils, Thus Tutors will form a house team, and fourth / fifth year Tutors in particular will have the opportunity to provide advice on career planning, subject choice and work-experience.

Throughout these changes and preparations, the School's every day activities had flourished like the Mississippi, they kept on “rollin' along”. As Skylark put it in 1997 "life continues in a certain timeless fashion around us", art, drama, music and sport, exchanges, mountaineering, ski-trips and C.C.F., carol service, Mencap Funday, Old Folks' Xmas Party and staff concert, assemblies, Houses, societies and arrivals and departures. Pam Bryant, Michael Levin and Michael McLughlin retired in 1997, John Carleton and Derrick Swann in 1998, and Douglas Whittaker and Stephen Wilkins in 2000; every one after more than twenty years service at the School, with John and Douglas after a remarkable thirty-eight and thirty-six years respectively.

Mr. Goulding has accepted an invitation to return to Shrewsbury as headmaster, and so has served Haberdashers' for only five years, but he has certainly made his mark.

At first, seemingly pre-occupied in manner and tentative in approach, he quickly warmed to accomplished and confident individuals who readily accepted and welcomed him, and soon understood the merits of those who concentrated on bearing the burden and the heat of the day. One suspects that he reserved judgement on some.

A family man, he knew the problems which pupils and parents can cause for teachers. When dealing with pupils, parents and teachers alike he valued the facts, sought the truth, and strove for just solutions. He did not take the easy option.

That the pupils who knew him best appreciated his efforts was apparent from his welcome to the Prefects' Dinner at the start of the Summer Term and from the generous presentation made to him. The staff appreciated his attention to detail, his diligent hard work, his diplomacy and his vision for the School - curriculum and community. The new Pastoral Structure, which will begin to operate as he arrives at Shrewsbury, will be his principal legacy to Haberdashers', and is perhaps the most significant change made to the School since its move to Elstree in 1961.

The new structure reflects his dedication to high academic and personal standard and a certain inner firmness and toughness which has won the respect of many pupils and staff. One suspects that he rejects the analogy between crime and illness drawn by a Shrewsbury old boy, Samuel Butler in the now little-known Erewhon (1872) and believes that behaviour is ultimately the individual's own responsibility, so deserves reproof and punishment. Without that belief an effective curriculum and an effective community cannot exist, for there is no distinction between right and wrong, good or bad.

Many of us will remember Mr. Goulding in the Spring Term Concert: a man at ease with himself, playing the cello, supported by his wife and younger son as fellow musicians, supporting the School extra-curricular life, contributing to its sense of community with an apposite and fluent speech, and then helping to entertain the throng with his customary mixture of gentlemanly courtesy, humour and tact.

There lies an example which Haberdashers' would do well to emulate. Our loss certainly is Shrewsbury's gain. We wish him, his wife, and their family, every happiness and success in their new life.

John WIGLEY.


(First published in the OHA Magazine 2000-01)

PETER B. HAMILTON Headmaster 2002 -

The Summer Term 2002 saw the arrival of a new headmaster at the School, Peter Hamilton, who has moved to Elstree from the headship of King Edward VI School, Southampton (September 1996 - March 2002).

Peter was educated at King Edward VIth Grammar School, Southampton and read modern languages at Christ Church, Oxford. He taught French and German for six years at Radley College, Abingdon, and became Head of Modern Languages and Housemaster of Wren's at Westminster School, London.

He has been a governor of three Hampshire preparatory schools and is, at 44, the youngest headmaster at Haberdashers since Dr Taylor brought the School out to Elstree in 1962.

He is married to Sylvie, who is French, and has two daughters. His interests include canoeing, karate, mountain walking, racquet sports, riding, sailing, classical music, comparative literature and European cinema.


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