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News > Memories > Duncan Felton: A lifetime devoted to Oswestry School - Some personal memories!

Duncan Felton: A lifetime devoted to Oswestry School - Some personal memories!

The arrival of Mr DGW Felton at Oswestry in 1920 along with Ralph Williamson MA, after seven very successful years at Hereford Cathedral School, heralded an upturn in the School's fortunes.
26 Jul 2021

Duncan could never have anticipated that this would be his last teaching post and that he would become a prominent figure at the school for forty years until his retirement in 1960. The longevity of Mr Felton's career at Oswestry was an achievement in itself, and the announcement of his retirement just a few years after the visit of HRH the Duchess of Kent on the 550th anniversary of the School was a sad day for this ancient place of learning.

In the early fifties I had little direct contact with Mr. Felton, viewing him from afar with some degree of trepidation as he had the reputation of being a rather gruff and unapproachable personality, and it was not until later, on the field of sports, that I got to know him much better. However, I do recall a direct interaction with Duncan during my first year in Upper School when we were playing 'quad cricket'. If you look closely at the photograph below you can just make out a set of cricket stumps painted in white on the laboratory wall to the left of the lab door.

One morning before the start of lessons I was batting as he arrived on the playground in his car, and I inadvertently planted the tennis ball with considerable force onto the windscreen. He was none too pleased about it and let me know in no uncertain terms; it must have made a lasting impression on him because he remembered the incident years later when I was having a run of ducks. Teasing me about it he said, "Oh for the carefree days of quad cricket, David!" Trying to console me he went on to say that he had experienced periods of poor form himself in the past and that I should not worry about it too much as my form would return.

His reassurances had a positive effect and he taught me sometime later that negative criticism was largely counterproductive and that most boys responded better to praise and an arm around the shoulder. Although, in his youth, Duncan had been a talented footballer he was more interested in cricket at Oswestry in my day, and he was firmly convinced that good field placement and keen fielding could win matches. He was a purist who considered stopping the ball with your foot to be bad practice, and 'fishing' at balls outside the off-stump was anathema to him.

The extract below, which appeared in The Herefordian magazine, reminds me of an episode during a 1st XI cricket match when things were not going too well. At the drinks break Duncan wandered over to me and casually asked if I had considered bringing on a certain underused bowler. A couple of overs later I brought him on and the next four wickets fell for three runs. We won the match and, as we were all gathered together on the coach for the homeward journey, 'Fatty' turned and said to me with a knowing look, "That was an inspired decision, David". I smiled acknowledgment of this completely unwarranted compliment, basking in reflected glory, but I knew who was the real inspiration. This was typical of DGW Felton, doing his best to boost the confidence of a rookie captain.

Excerpt from a tribute to DGW Felton in the 1921 edition of The Herefordian

In 1957 Mr Felton became my Form Master and, as you can see from a copy of one of my reports, he taught our class French and mathematics.

1957 turned out to be a good year for me in some ways and I went on from there to study A Level French, history, and geography, but sadly only managed to pass my French exams. The blame for this lies firmly on my shoulders, but the toxic period of the Frankland years proved to be very disruptive, and the disharmony at school was not conducive to good studying.

Every year early in November Duncan's booming voice could be heard throughout the school as he trawled from classroom to classroom raising money for the Royal British Legion's annual Poppy Appeal. He would badger and cajole us to put our hands in non-existent trouser pockets for money we could ill afford to part with, pitting one class against another for the honour of raising the most cash for this deserving cause. Perhaps stemming from his time as Officer Commanding Hereford Officer Training Corps he made a big effort on behalf of the school to support this worthy annual appeal.

Remembrance Day at The Cenotaph

Another organization dear to his heart was the Old Oswestrian Society, revived during the early years of Ralph Williamson's Headship, and he retained an interest and involvement with the Society long after his retirement from teaching. Both Ralph and Duncan felt that the more successful schools had healthy 'Old Boy' networks, as indeed is evidenced today, and I recall that when a group of us from the Northwest requested permission via Mr Felton to set up a Northern Branch he was delighted to help in its formation.

Excerpt from the January 1957 edition of The Oswestrian

At an Old Oswestrian Dinner held at The Wynnstay Hotel in 1956 Mr KW Benbow, in proposing the toast of the Society, spoke warmly of the work of DGW Felton and others on the committee, and I have included a clip taken from the pages of The Oswestrian, which is self-explanatory. My good friend, John Robbie, who was awarded the Gibbs Cup in 1957 and who sat next to the Duchess at the Anniversary Lunch, pointed out to me that the Mr Campbell mentioned in the said article can be seen in the opening photograph behind HRH.

Until mentioned by Barry Gibbs, whose parents donated the Gibbs Cup (awarded for citizenship), I was unaware of the Birmingham obelisk commemorating Col. Fred Burnaby OO. This Victorian army officer became famous for his madcap adventures and London Society of the time adored him. He even stood for Parliament in 1880, pitching himself against Joseph Chamberlain in his Birmingham constituancy; Fred lost but ran an unforgettable campaign.

Obelisk, in memory of Col. Frederick Burnaby

By pure coincidence, I have only recently made contact with Barry Gibbs via Oswestry Connect, and he very kindly forwarded a photograph of the Old Boys' cricket team of 1950 in which he is seated on the far left. Interestingly, the follically challenged gentleman on the back row is NT Hughes who is also named in the article above and is the father of RA Hughes, one of my classmates, and I think I am also right in saying that Norman was the Treasurer of the Society at about this time.

The Old Boys' team, 1950

At the end of the summer term 1960, I walked out of the school gates and headed for Oswestry Station to catch the train for Manchester. After eight years at school my student days were over, but there was one last call I wished to make and I was soon knocking on the door of the Feltons' house. Duncan was in a reflective mood as I thanked him for everything he had done for me and I said I would be back to see him soon. Wishing me all the best, the last thing he urged me to do was to join the OO Society and keep in touch with the School. I was not at all surprised to learn on the grapevine several months later that he had decided to retire from teaching, although he would continue his involvement with the OO Society. However, that is not quite the end of the story as Duncan agreed to return and take up the interim position as acting Headmaster for the Michaelmas Term of 1961 until Richard Sale could take over as a replacement for the departing Franklands.

Richard Sale, MA

For many years to come one of my first ports of call when visiting Oswestry was the welcoming home of Mr and Mrs DGW Felton. I was not alone in this respect and many of my contemporaries were also drawn to this wonderfully charismatic character, like moths to a flame, and in his passing he was sadly missed by us all.

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