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Tom Bowker
Sheffield House Master
1958 - 1963

by

John Timmins

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Our historian uses this opportunity to inform readers that he grew up in Sheffield house under the care of the Bowkers. Respectfully he wishes to remind us that it is not the fabric of the buildings, nor the buildings themselves that made the school what it was, and is, but the staff themselves. What they personally put into their teaching and as house parents. Making those buildings home for nine months of the year for thirty young men.

Tom Bowker was a methodist lay preacher born on 5 April 1929 in the city of Sheffield. On completion of his school education he went to Cambridge University to study his first love, mathematics.

Tom did his national service in the Army with the Royal Artillery working on Radar for ack-ack guns.

 

Tom Bowker

Tom majored in mathematics and taught this throughout the school. He was instrumental in the development and setting up of the schools GCE "A" level Mathematics courses. Tom also developed both mechanical science and the car club.

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He was Officer Commanding the school's Army Cadet Force detachment and was also instrumental in the change over to the current Combined Cadet Force. Thus giving pupils the opportunity to experience any of the armed services cadet forces.

Tom was the officer commanding when the school's cadets were inspected at an annual camp near the officer training school at Sandhurst by Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery KG, GCB, DSO, PC. 1st. Viscount Montgomery of Alamein who spoke with Tom about Kingham Hill School.

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I should now explain for new comers visiting school for the first time that each house had three dormitories that could sleep ten boys. So boys would be split by age into three groups: Junior boys, Intermediate boys, and Senior boys - progressing through these groups during the average five years they spent at school.

 

Sheffield House 1961(click to enlarge image)

The house would have one senior boy, who was head of house, then two other senior boys. Invariably these three would be school prefects or monitors, and each would have the responsibility for a dormitory. Now I recall as a junior on Friday evenings after we had finished our prep (set pieces of home work we had to prepare each week day evening before a set lesson), that Jean and Tom, if we had been well behaved, allowed us to watch their own television.

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The Bowker family

We should remember that in the '50s and '60s TV was a luxury found in relatively few homes; compared with today where many houses have one in each room. Television was in black and white, and programmes commenced in the evenings round 7.0 p.m. So to watch TV was a treat indeed - and God help the boy who lost us this privilege through some misdemeanour inside the house, our home and theirs.

Tom met Jean when an undergraduate at Cambridge. Jean was also a school teacher in Mathematics. As house mistress Jean taught boys to darn socks, sew buttons on and use the iron to press clothes, to make themselves presentable and take a pride in their appearance. She went out of her way to be a mother to us, organizing for some in Sheffield a table tennis league.

John Timmins


Kingham Hill through the eyes of a House Master's Wife

by

Jean Bowker

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Kingham Hill was Tom's second job. We arrived, aged 28, with two sons aged 3 and 1, to make Sheffield House our home. It was quite a liberation for me. Most wives, then, did not work outside the home, but I was able to combine looking after my own young family while entering into the more varied world of 13-18 year old boys.

There were some difficulties - serving lunch on a Sheffield table, I used to stuff Smarties into the mouth of my toddler so he didn't shriek during grace. And he liked to roam around the Hill, and once locked the sewing lady in her room in the office block. I was not popular!

The sewing lady did the clever repairs, but I sewed on the name tapes (easy) and those stiff blazer-badges (tough on the fingers). Once a week, at break, I went up to Mrs Dean's clothing store to meet with whichever Sheffield boys needed new uniform. This was useful practice in judging sizes. I was expert when my own boys became teenagers.

 

 

Tom and Jean Bowker visiting Sheffield House with theirgrand daughter in 1993

The medicine cupboard was another of my responsibilities. Sticking plaster was often all that was needed, but I learned that a burn wouldn't heal without attention from Sister in the "San". A high temperature meant a bed over there. We had one boy with epilepsy, and his pills had to be kept in our sitting-room after one alarming episode when he hadn't taken his pills and he fell into a coma.

I enjoyed watching House matches and was disappointed when we lost. I was sorry for the boys having to jump into a cold bath every morning, and I campaigned to have the school uniform trousers changed from shorts to longs.

We had six day week. Wednesday was our day off after supervision of the morning cleaning. I remember those heavy bumpers for polishing the corridors. I used one in the Easter holidays to hasten the arrival of our third son, so that he was born before the boys returned! The Hill was a very close community.

We felt each other's difficulties. The brother of one of our boys was killed in a motor bike accident. Another boy's sister fell from a train. The 'Rohilla' tragedy was felt keenly by all. No Sheffield boy was on the boat, but there was the brother of one. (Brothers were in different houses).

Our fourth child was a girl so there was relief all round that there wouldn't be another Bowker boy having to be rescued from near the swimming pool. The Sheffield boys were wonderful at carrying the children back home, and very tolerant of what must have been little pests in the common-rooms!

I confess that I shed a tear as our car went past Bradford and out of the school gate on our way to Tom's next post. I didn't want to leave. But we still enjoy using some of the china tea-set we were presented with when we left the Hill.

Jean Bowker, February 2007

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