15 years on the Hill
From September 1973 to July 1988
Godfrey Nicholson was another remarkable addition to Kingham Hill's staff. He totally understood the school's ethos and fitted in with remarkable ease and speed. Godfrey together with Geoffrey Leake, the head Mathematics teacher, coached many a boy through 'O' Level, CSE and GCSE Mathematics courses. Godfrey was characteristically modest about his teaching abilities, but with great patience he would explain complex things for as many times as it took for them to sink in. Between them, Godfrey and Geoffrey transformed Kingham's rather lacklustre reputation in Maths. Some people needed 'O' Level maths for various jobs, and with Godfrey and Geoffrey's support, they were able to take the exam until they passed it. Now that was teacher dedication! I would love to know what the record was for re-takes!
Godfrey was also a great supporter of Donald Service in the running of various Christian groups. He knew his Bible backwards. I remember swearing on one occasion in front of Godfrey. He immediately took hold of my hand and raised it until my wristwatch was over my mouth. Then he said: "Psalm 141, verse 3: keep watch over my lips, O Lord!" Any other master would have awarded you with an immediate detention for bad language and probably a clip round the ear for good measure.
His refereeing skills were also much appreciated. He didn't miss a trick on the field. You played fair or you got sent off. Like so many other teachers, Godfrey's faith was a yardstick to measure his impact and the respect he garnered. On various occasions, he would take Kingham Boys to Shrivenham College for Bible Studies and to the Methodist Churches where he preached.
Godfrey drove a rather battered Triumph Herald at speeds that set records along numerous Cotswold roads, although I don't think he was ever stopped for going too fast, the words 'excess speed' sum up Godfrey. Though he had a very quick and agile mind, he was never too quick to pass judgment. Suffice it to say, that it proved almost impossible for any person who came into contact with either Godfrey or Donald Service to remain either an atheist or agnostic for very long. For many Kingham Hill boys, the seeds they planted did not bear fruit until many years later. But when they did take root, the boys certainly remembered who had planted them.
Godfrey Nicholson recollects The Hill
I came to the Hill in September 1973, little imagining how significant a part of my life it would become. I had spent three years at the Royal Military College of Science on the research staff, having completed a degree in Mathematics and Physics there. I had anticipated going into the Forensic Science service, but that did not happen. The school were looking to appoint somebody full-time, to take on the Mathematics teaching that Mrs Elizabeth Mann had been doing part-time, while other members of staff had filled in the rest of the timetable. Despite advertising for most of the summer term, no appointment had been made when I re-discovered the advertisement. I wrote to Teddie Cooper to ask for more details, and instead was invited for interview. I made as clear as I could (not that anyone as shrewd and perceptive as Teddie needed it) that my experience of 'teaching' amounted to an odd lecture, leading a Bible Class, and being a lay preacher. In his characteristic fashion he told me that he subscribed to the view of Roxburghe of Stowe (a famous Public School headmaster of former days) to the effect that anyone who had trained as a teacher took two years to get the training out of their system, so they might as well spend those years learning how to teach!
Hesitantly I accepted the invitation to join the staff, wondering what I had let myself in for, and also whether several classes would perform dismally at Mathematics to demonstrate that I could not teach. When I began I made my mistakes and I have my regrets. Certainly there are aspects of teaching that I would have done very differently in the light of experience (always the greatest of teachers). Nonetheless it was a privilege to work on the Hill for fifteen years, still primarily teaching Mathematics, and helping on the Games Field. I had endured rugby at school, and had to learn as I went along some of the finer points of the laws. I had played soccer for my college, and knew the game well. During my time on the Hill I got my refereeing qualification and refereed several matches on the local leagues. (I recall one boy's disappointment that I was to referee his house match, on the grounds that I was too fair and also knew the rules). We managed to arrange with the Oxfordshire FA for boys to do the basic course and qualify as Class 3 referees, which approaching a hundred did over the years. My cricketing skills developed over the years that I coached the U-14s, and I enjoyed some success for the staff XI. Several outstanding cricketers went through the school while I was there, and I saw three of them score centuries.
I already had connections with the Crusaders' Bible Class organization from my schooldays in Darlington and as a leader in Shrivenham, and joined Donald Service in leading the group, continuing after he returned to parish ministry around 1979. I was also able to continue as a Methodist lay preacher, and in the last few years of my time on the Hill there were a number of the local churches who were very pleased if I also took a car full of boys with me: their warm welcome extended to offering a tea which was rather more attractive than the Dining Room offered, so volunteers were not hard to find.
Even before I joined the school I had sensed God's call was ultimately into full-time Christian ministry, but was neither ready nor sufficiently experienced back in 1973. I had thought I might stay for some three to five years.. By 1988 the call was no longer to be refused. Although I was not sorry to leave some of the hassle behind, it was still a great wrench to move away and into the ministry. I served for three years in Kidderminster before having two years in college in Cambridge. Subsequently there were six years in Eccles in Greater Manchester (where I met and married my wife, and our daughter was born) and I have been in Derby since 1999 (and added a son).
My time at the Hill saw the end of an era, with Teddy Cooper's retirement and also Harry Wilkinson's as much-loved chaplain, followed a few years later by Donald Service's. Other long-serving members of staff also moved on. During John Mash's brief tenure of Wardenship a major programme of refurbishment began, which saw some rather primitive accommodation upgraded and civilized, for boys and for house staff. After some rather fraught times David Shepherd was promoted to be Warden and the school entered distinctly calmer times.
I remain proud of some changes I helped to implement. When first I was Duty Master I found it embarrassing that my breakfast contrasted so greatly with what was served to the boys - both in quantity and quality. I successfully campaigned for staff to have the same as the boys (to Reg Ham's evident disgust!). The mass cross country, which few admitted to enjoying, had been very predictable, since only the first six finishers from each house counted. This meant most runners contributed nothing, which was insulting and frustrating. I suggested that if the first twelve for each house counted, the race would become much more open, and even those who were not in the first twelve might displace later finishers from other houses. It certainly gave a greater incentive for most runners (though there were always a recalcitrant few). On Sports' Day I had suggested a relay race made up exclusively of those who had not competed in any other event. At first this was treated with some contempt, until it was realized that someone who might have come eighth in the shot put (scoring nothing) might help his house come second in the relay. Then it was taken seriously. Both these innovations were intended, successfully, to help more boys feel that they had a significant contribution to make to their house and its achievements.
I still enjoy Mathematics, and occasionally teenagers in the churches will ask for help in understanding their work. I'm glad to give that help. My sport, however, has reduced to an annual game of cricket - perhaps when my son is a little older I can relive some of the glory days from the soccer field!
Godfrey (right) talking with Peter Morris QC at the reunion on The Hill, October 2007