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News > Memories > J F Tilley: The final piece of the jigsaw! Part 1

J F Tilley: The final piece of the jigsaw! Part 1

John F Tilley ('Purdy' to us all in the fifties) was himself a pupil at Oswestry School during the early 1940s.
9 Sep 2021
(L-R) J F Tilley, D G W Felton, Frankland, David Lewis
(L-R) J F Tilley, D G W Felton, Frankland, David Lewis

Both he and his parents, who owned a shop/bakery in nearby Whittington, were well known to Ralph Williamson. The canny Headmaster had most likely spotted the potential of JFT whilst at school, and on leaving Cambridge University John returned to his alma mater where he taught geography and history. 'Woof/Wilf/Ginger' Williamson would not be disappointed with his appointment of the young Tilley as this dedicated graduate from Queen's College Cambridge remained as a Master at the School until his retirement from teaching, maintaining close contact with the School until his passing. The spine of the School was now in place. Mr Williamson had his 'dream team'.

Other masters of quality would arrive from time to time to augment the above trio, but apart from Chris Symons who arrived circa 1970, I cannot think of any with the longevity of these dedicated teachers who gave the school certain stability and continuity for many years. I would even venture to suggest that it was, in part, the steadfastness of the aforementioned group that enabled the school to ride out the stormy period of the Frankland administration and move on into calmer waters.

Of the three very different characters who formed the backbone of the school John Tilley was the youngest, having arrived fresh from Cambridge in 1946. Perhaps the Headmaster was trying to infuse his teaching staff with a younger element who would have a slightly more modern outlook on life and who would be able to resonate more readily with the pupils. J F Tilley was certainly the most outgoing and gregarious member of the teaching staff, mixing easily with fellow colleagues, parents, and pupils alike.

It is true to say that unlike 'Stoker' and 'Fattie', whom we found intimidating, not one of the boys was the slightest bit afraid of 'Purdy' who, for the most part, was a figure of fun. Nonetheless, despite making him the butt of our humour from time to time, we were quick enough to accept an invitation out to his home in Whittington for afternoon tea on a Sunday; how fickle and two-faced we were!

JFT undoubtedly had his favourites and those of us who were invited to tea and 'Purdy' cakes were ragged mercilessly, and laughingly given the collective name of 'The Tilley Boys'.

I thoroughly enjoyed John Tilley's hospitality and he was very interested to hear that our parents ran a general store and bakery and that mother was a 'Master Baker and Confectioner'. My brother and I, probably more than most boys, missed mum's fine home cooking, and a trip to Purdy's somehow reminded us of home.

Our boyhood sledding track alongside the bakery

Just like mum used to make!

Christopher Symons was a Master at the school in the 1970s and in his very readable book "Oswestry School: A Commemorative History 1407-2007", Chris says of Tilley that he was a raconteur, bon viveur, railway enthusiast, dedicated cyclist, loyal organist at Holy Trinity Church, and more. As a pupil at Oswestry in the fifties, I was witness to all these attributes which made him the personality he was.

Christopher Symons' Book. Thoroughly recommendable!

As Chris says, Tilley could talk for England, but so can my brother, and noting Bernard's loquacious propensities in the classroom Tilley rather scathingly dubbed him 'Radio Lancashire'.

I had few personal issues with JFT, but there was one particular area of contention where we clashed, and it was the thorny topic of bathtime! In an earlier episode, I mentioned taking Stoker to task about the lack of hot water for the Seniors, but in reality the blame lay firmly with 'Purdy' who, when on evening duty supervising the Juniors, would insist on filling the three baths with very hot water whilst we hung about waiting for the contents to cool down. Little wonder there was often no hot water when the Seniors came for a bath and I told him as much. It fell on deaf ears.

John enjoyed good food and wine and could often be found in The Coach and Dogs or The Wynnstay where he was a well-known character, exuding charm and bonhomie.

The geography teacher was also a keen cyclist who toured the length and breadth of the country by train and bicycle during the school holidays collecting postcards along the way, which he put to good use in the classroom. I never saw him drive a car and I was told only recently by a close friend of his that he was epileptic and afraid of experiencing an attack when driving. Nobody at school was aware of this as far as I know, but it explains a lot. He went everywhere by this mode of transport, cycling to school daily from his home in Whittington come rain or shine. 

I am not sure whether the meanderings on his bicycle took John beyond these shores, but he certainly enjoyed continental travel by train and part two will resume with my recollections of the school trip to Bavaria in 1958 which was organised by JFT and 'Mitch' Mitchell.

Typical of the types of postcard JFT would buy on his travels:

A cirque on the Grossglockner

The Grossglockner glacier - the longest glacier in Austria


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