Norwich House Master
1981 - 1992


Lee Davis


David Roberts arrived at Kingham Hill in September 1981 and, fortunately for the writer, was immediately appointed as Assistant House Tutor in Norwich. There were four new masters on the Hill that year and having been forewarned that two, like me, were avid railway enthusiasts the process of elimination was not that great. Mr Roberts's appointment was the start of many an interesting conversation, the occasional afternoon exeat with his elder son Matthew to watch the action at somewhere like Swindon or Banbury, and the start of an association which has lasted more than a quarter of a century.



David Roberts 1984

David Roberts was born in the Black Country during the early years of the Second World War. He was educated at the George Dixon Grammar School in Edgbaston, Birmingham, the school named after a prominent 19th century Mayor of Birmingham and MP who was a major proponent of "education for all". (If the name sounds familiar to those of a certain age for other reasons that is because the school also gave its name to one of television's best known policemen - Dixon of Dock Green, the producer of which programme, Michael Balcon, was also educated there).

At the age of 16 David took his "A" Levels, ("ridiculously early" was his comment when preparing this piece!) Consequently, long before gap years became the norm, he decided to have a year out and went to work for a local engineering company. This was an experience he did not wholly enjoy, perhaps fortunately so for many future generations as it led to David making the decision that his future lay in education. Prior to this momentous decision, however, he was to continue his own education in 1959, attending Birmingham University where he was to gain an Honours Degree in Physics before moving on to the School of Education, again in Birmingham, to gain professional qualifications.

In 1960, whilst attending St. Paul's Church Youth Club in Blackheath, Birmingham he was to meet his future wife, Beryl.

David attended two job interviews in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, on the same day and was offered both posts. He turned down what was perhaps the better post at Bromsgrove School because it involved working on a Saturday, (had he but known..) and went to work at Bromsgrove County High School as the second in a strong physics department.

In 1970, with the education reforms of the Wilson government, grammar schools were no more in Worcestershire and the school became North Bromsgrove High School. At the same time the Head of the Physics Department moved to pastures new and David was promoted to take his place. All was not well, however and over the next six years he began to feel uneasy about the way things were going at the school. Changes were being made which were clearly unsettling him and some of his colleagues. It was time to start consulting the Times Educational Supplement, where his eye caught an advert for a "male physics teacher". As equal opportunities legislation was by now a reality this was very odd. Reading on he discovered that the post was in Bermuda. He applied, got the job and he, Beryl and their two young sons moved to the sunny climes of Britain's oldest colony.

By the early 1980's, with his two sons now approaching the age where their education was becoming a paramount consideration, the decision was made to return to the home country. So it was back to the Times Educational Supplement where he spied an advertisement for a physics teacher at a boys' school not that far from his native Black Country. A telephone call from Warden John Mash one Thursday found David on the Hill being interviewed the following Sunday for the post left vacant by Mr Commons' departure. David joined the staff at Kingham Hill in September 1981, was appointed as Assistant House Tutor in Norwich and Durham and he and his family moved into accommodation at Sarsden Halt. (For someone interested in railways, and particularly the Great Western, it is just a shame that the last train had been almost 20 years earlier).

As with even a good school such as Kingham there is the inevitable coming and going of staff. With the announcement that John Essame was to retire in the summer of 1982 David and Beryl were offered the post of Houseparents by David Shepherd, who had succeeded John Mash as Warden the previous year. The choice was between Norwich and Sheffield, which was also about to undergo a change at the top. At that time Norwich had a certain reputation, not undeserved, for the camaraderie and general cohesiveness of the boys who resided there, (or maybe it was "better the devil you know!") and so Norwich it was.

There is no doubt that John and Flora Essame had enjoyed a very high degree of both respect and admiration and there was a certain amount of suspicion about the "new brooms" amongst some of the older boys who had been in the house for three or four years. Nevertheless it took only a matter of a few weeks - perhaps a term - for David and his wife to earn that same respect. Yes, some adjustment was required but their own personal leadership qualities soon shone through and it was not long before this bunch of 35 or so boys came to respect them in the same way that they had the Essames. It was certainly the case that David Roberts was one of the few masters whom boys could refer to by his nickname in conversation and not worry if he was in earshot! He was also to introduce several more forward thinking ideas designed to make life just that little bit easier for the boys in charge, such as the house shop where you could request such things as soap, shampoo, tea bags and coffee and they would magically appear after the Roberts's next visit to Chippy.

Norwich House 1992. Beryl and David's last year at Kingham. The photo includes all the tutors the Robert's had during their ten years at KHS except for Mr Nicholson (several came back just to be on the photo).Staff (L to R) Dr AR Reed, Mr G Joachim, Mrs S Shorter, Mr DEH Roberts, Mrs BD Roberts, Mr DJP Gilmore, Mrs L Gilmore, Mr NE Randay

But all good things, it is said, must come to an end. By 1992 working permanent six-day weeks was beginning to take its toll on David and Beryl. With the transformation of KHS into a co-educational school it was likely that the "Norwich Nomads" would be on the move again, as indeed proved to be the case, in order for the House to revert to its pre-1981 identity of Severn and become the second girls house. Rather than face the upheaval and with his sons now grown up, David chose to make a clean break and leave Kingham for pastures new. He and the family moved to a small village in the Lincolnshire countryside outside Spalding where he could easily indulge two of his greatest interests - singing and bird-watching. He has been a life-long devotee of choral music and sung in the Choir of St. Martin's in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, at the time acknowledged to be one of the best church choirs in the country. During the seventies he took part in several Three Choirs' Festivals and was then involved in a lot of music making in Bermuda. Although his choral activities were somewhat restricted whilst at Kingham Hill, due to lack of time, he still found occasion to sing with the school choir and with the Kingham Choral Society - an organisation which was largely Hill-based at the time. Having moved to Lincolnshire he continues to sing and now also play the organ in two village churches.

David Roberts together with his wife Beryl in Front of Notre Dame de Paris, summer 2007.

David's first love, however, is "twitching", (bird-watching, for the uninitiated!). He has travelled all over the British Isles in the hope of recording new species, including recent visits to the Scillies and, at the opposite end of this fair island. Fair Isle and the Outer Hebrides. At the time of preparation of this article he is hopeful of reaching his personal target of 500 different species before much longer.

Article written and submitted by Lee Davis in April 2008

Lee Davis in the early 80s

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