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News > Memories > An appreciation of Headmaster R Williamson MA, with personal memories: Part 2 - Life during the 50s

An appreciation of Headmaster R Williamson MA, with personal memories: Part 2 - Life during the 50s

Mr R Williamson was the longest serving Headmaster in the history of the School, even outstripping the term of the much revered Rev Dr James Donne (1796-1833).
22 Jun 2021

What he achieved over thirty eight difficult years was nothing short of a miracle, culminating in the visit of HRH the Duchess of Kent in 1957.

I do not think any of us who were at Oswestry during this time regarded 'Woof' as a towering, dramatic figure of a Headmaster; quite the reverse in fact as he seemed a kindly, reserved man with few words to say to us outside of the classroom or morning assembly. However, he would not shrink from exercising his special form of discipline if he thought it necessary and on several occasions I was at the receiving end of the large cast iron boiler room key he always carried in his jacket pocket, and was once given a very personal and painful introduction to the cane we knew as 'Rupert'.

Very few boys seemed to have had one-to-one conversations with this withdrawn figure who left the day to day running of the School to his chief lieutenants. He had his own style of running things and on the day of my appointment as Captain of Football I found out, not from Mr Williamson himself, but from one of my classmates who told me he had just seen the announcement on the school notice board. On bumping into the Headmaster later that day in the long corridor I thanked him and he said simply, "I know you are capable; enjoy it and just do your best." End of conversation!

A succinct announcement on the School notice board

On another occasion I was summoned to the Master's common room by 'Stoker' who told me that the Head wished to see me in his study. Wondering what I had done I approached the hallowed turf with a feeling of trepidation but on entering the study I was quick to notice that the Old Man was smiling as he invited me to sit down. He told me that he had been approached by Mr Hughes, the superintendent/coach at Oswestry town baths, who wanted permission to discuss diving tuition with me which would take place outside of school hours, and he asked if I was interested. I enjoyed diving, but upon hearing it would necessitate being at the pool by 6.30am several mornings per week I declined gracefully as, in all honesty, I could not see it leading to anything significant.

Such interactions were few and far between in my recollection and I think we were all a little in awe of our Headmaster.

During my time at School I do not recall ever seeing Mr Williamson at any of the School football or cricket matches. He was a rather reclusive figure who preferred to operate behind the scenes, whereas Mrs Williamson was in her element serving out tea on the lawn to visiting cricket teams on balmy summer afternoons.

Tea on the lawn under those beautiful trees

By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that the Williamson tenure of office was a golden era for Oswestry School as there were too many factors mitigating against this, not the least of which was the outbreak of World War Two which, lasting from 1939-1945, came just as the School was getting back on its feet. Nevertheless, pupil numbers were rising steadily and by the time my brother and I arrived in 1952 the numbers had more than trippled since its low ebb of forty and there must have been about 140 boys, mainly boarders. Money was evidently still in short supply and whilst from the outside all the buildings appeared in good order, walking into a classroom, dormitory, or even the dining room felt akin to being part of a Dickension novel.

Rationing was still in place and food, what little there was of it, was distinctly unpalatable. Unlike the famous Oliver Twist I never heard any boy ask for more apart from at tea time when loud cries of "Bricks, bricks!" resonated around the dining room as boys on duty from each table boomed for more supplies through the serving hatch in the corner of the room which led down into the kitchens below. 

The dining room

For the most part our evening meal consisted of thick chunks of freshly baked bread (bricks) and it was left up to the ingenuity of the boys to find something suitable to plaster on top. One of my favourite toppings was Nestles Condensed Milk, a thick, sweet, gooey liquid which we sometimes sucked straight from the tin.

Through the fifties life at Oswestry was quite spartan as Mr Williamson strove to consolidate on the strides he had made in securing the future of the school by building up its finances and there were few frills for the boys. In the early years we were occasionally treated to a visit to the cinema which included an ice cream, and every now and then at Sunday tea time 'Ma Tudor', the cook, delighted us all by serving up jelly and cream.

By the late fifties Mr Williamson had decided to stand down from his lifetime's work more than satisfied that he had built a firm springboard from which future guardians of Oswestry School could move forward with further developments, and he and his wife left Oswestry in the summer of 1958.

 The Headmaster's long and distinguished reign culminated in 1957 with a dramatic flourish which seemed so out of character for this understated personality. The visit of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent to celebrate the 550th anniversary of the School was the piece de resistance for Mr and Mrs Williamson and more than one thousand parents, friends and pupils gathered on the playground to hear her speak. The visit was a huge success and the look on the face of the Headmaster as he escorted HRH down the drive on the eve of her departure speaks a thousand words.

The end of a perfect day 

This was the crowning glory for the likeable Mr Williamson at the end of a distinguished career and he can be rightly proud of his achievements. It takes a certain kind of quality to be a successful Headmaster and R Williamson was the real deal. Teacher, diplomat, astute business man and accountant, judge of character, and, last but not least, staying power were all skills posessed by the Old Man who must surely deserve a place in the pantheon of great headmasters of Oswestry School.

Since his retirement in 1958, as far as I am aware, there has been little or no mention of this person who dedicated so much of his life to the stewardship of our school. If this is the case, and I hope I am wrong, this is a sad omission which ought to be put right.

 A simple memorial to R Williamson in the chapel, paid for by his children, is all there is to remind us of this charming man.


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