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Thornes House Grammar School

Some memories of the Staff 1940 - 1953

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Rowland Henry Hill by J.R.Davies from "The Stork" July 1957

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Many years ago, I was introduced by the first Headmaster of Thornes House, the late Mr. G. E. Liddle, to the senior master, Mr. Hill, a brown-faced, dark-haired, mercurial young man. He made me welcome, as he has made many more welcome since that time, and over the period of the years I have grown to know him well, to admire his qualities, and to respect his wisdom.

I soon learned, by listening, to spot the room where he was impressing French upon his pupils in an apparent frenzy - which they all seemed to enjoy; and I found that if I occupied a classroom after him I would have to rub a huge S from the board. The significance of this is lost in the mists of antiquity.  Let no one imagine, however, that French was his only interest.

On the field of a Wednesday afternoon, with four or five of the staff playing in the senior football game, he showed us what a brilliant player he was - a veritable "twinkle-toes." And he had plenty of breath left to pass judgment on any budding forward who misused his pass. His stentorian, "Let the ball do the work, boy," was a feature of our games. Yet he seemed to have in him a streak of pessimism: his class, "a poor set of tools"; his team, "blockheads"; and his House was dismissed with a significant shake of the head. No one was deceived, and his nickname, "Hillie", was one of affection.

We were a young and a raw staff in those days, and we respected his words of advice, as much as we enjoyed his tales - graphically told - of service in the desert - of lance corporal Silvertop, of his schooldays in Sheffield, of George the ventriloquist's doll, of the headmaster who "popped" the school piano. How quickly the dinner hour passed when we could get R.H.H. and G.F.P. to spin a yarn.

His interests did not end when school broke up, and he came along to camp with us: many old boys will remember the good times we had in those small pre-war camps near Cader Idris, and when war came he joined fully in our Forestry and in our Farming Camps, where we discovered another facet of his character, his great love of the countryside, country people, and country lore.

Those were happy days, and many old boys will remember the fire on the engine, the bonfires at Jubilee Wood near the foot of Snowden, the nightly call from the police to put out peat fires, ending in a whole mountainside on fire, and a providential thunderstorm. Many will remember burning "brash" in the Caerwys forest, where some "nincompoop" had left a jacket lying about and sparks had set it alight. Even R.H.H. was taken aback when he realised the identity of the witless one! He wore that half-jacket proudly for the rest of the camp. He may have it still.

In 1940 came the retirement of Mr. Liddle, and the amalgamation of the two Thornes House Schools. Inevitably this meant much work for Mr. Hill, but he took it all in his stride, and was very soon on the same terms of complete confidence with the girls as he always had been with the boys. He it was who introduced us to our new Headmaster, Mr. Yorke-Lodge, and Mr. Bracewell, when Mr. York-Lodge left. It was he who, in a very moving speech, received on behalf of the school the ceremonial furniture given by the old students in memory of their school friends who had lost their lives in the war. In a very special way they were Mr. Hill's "boys" for he came to the school when it was opened in 1923, and he knew and had taught them all.

He has been a very good friend to the Old Thornesians' Football Club, and to show their appreciation they took him to Wembley to see the Amateur Cup Final. It was a much more comfortable trip than one he once had from London to Wakefield by road, in midwinter, in a car with a broken windscreen. Blessed as he is not only with a cheerful heart, but with good health, we have taken his attendance at school for granted, and if he is not there to welcome us in the morning, we feel like a primitive tribe when the sun is eclipsed. In all the long years of his service I have only known him to fall from grace twice, and the tale is worth telling.

One fine summer's day, after a very satisfying school dinner, he sought the sun in the long grass at the top of the field, and time ceased to matter for him. The bell went, and soon the school was in a turmoil, for the senior master was missing. Meanwhile he woke up in a suspiciously quiet world, looked at his watch, and crept to school from tree to tree, only to be met by a very relieved Headmaster. And there the tale might have ended had this sun-worshipper learnt his lesson. Again it happened, but this time he strode boldly into his class through the French window. The amused Headmaster was supervising his class.

He has, of course, his little habits, such as his fondness for picking up pieces of string, odd bits of paper, and his colleagues' marks registers. At one war-time camp, when one could not even buy a sardine without surrendering points, a large block of them (points, not sardines) was lost for three weeks, and was finally retrieved - a crumpled piece of paper - when Mr. Hill turned out the pockets of his working jacket before returning home. But he has the habit, too, of doing more than his fair share of any work that is going, a habit for which he has never been given sufficient credit either by pupils or by staff - for he does it without fuss.

Not a great singer, he loves singing. At one time he used to be very fond of singing about " the little faded flowers," but became discouraged when Miss Markland's choir stole his thunder. As an actor he could hold his own on any stage, as a teacher he is second to none, and it is a privilege to have been his pupils, his colleagues and his friends. To one who was present when Thornes House was first opened, it must have been a bitter blow to have seen it burning down, but Mr. Hill has happily seen us into our new school, and has smoothed over for us the transition period.

He is still brown-faced - grey-haired now, but still mercurial, and when he retires he will leave a gap that will never be filled in quite the same way. We hope to see him often, and to have his friendship for many years to come. In wishing him well, I would add, Please, Hillie, get down to writing that lecture on your teaching experiences. We'll all come.



Last revised: 09 March 2013