David Roberts

david roberts

David Roberts

1940 - 2011

Norwich Tutor and House Master 1981 – 1992

David Roberts was born in the Black Country in December 1940, the son of a manager in a local engineering company. He was educated at the George Dixon Grammar School in Edgbaston, Birmingham, the school named after a prominent 19th Century MP and Mayor of Birmingham who was a major proponent of "education for all". (The school also gave its name to one of television's most famous policemen – Dixon of Dock Green).


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He went on to Birmingham University where he gained an Honours Degree in Physics before attending the Birmingham School of Education. On leaving, he attended two interviews for teaching posts in Bromsgrove on the same day. He took what he once described as possibly the less prestigious because it involved working on a Saturday – had he but known what was to happen less than twenty years later!

In 1970 David, by now married and with a young family, was promoted to Head of Department, then six years later moved to Bermuda where he continued to teach. Family considerations led to the decision to return to the UK in the early 1980's and he saw an advertisement in the Times Educational Supplement for a physics teacher at a boys' school not very far from his native Black Country. He was invited to interview at Kingham Hill on a Thursday, was seen by Warden Mr Mash the following Sunday and by the time he arrived back in Bermuda had a job offer waiting.

Mr and Mrs Roberts and their family arrived on the Hill in September 1981 and took up residence at Sarsden Halt. This was rather an appropriate location for a railway enthusiast, and particularly the GWR. It was just a shame that the last train had run almost exactly 17 years earlier in September 1964. At the same time as he commenced teaching David was appointed assistant house tutor for both Norwich and Durham. The following year the announcement that Mr and Mrs Essame were to retire at the end of the summer term left an opening and so, from September 1982 Mr and Mrs Roberts became the house parents in Norwich.

Whilst there were no earth-shattering changes, as with any "new broom" they brought their own ideas. One of their most successful innovations was the house shop where boys could top up on toothpaste, tea and all the other little necessities of house life.

Always interested in anything scientific, the writer can remember visiting Norwich after he left, to find the front of a Christmas Card he had given the Roberts family some years earlier – one of the first mass-produced holographic cards – still proudly displayed on the wall.

It was also true that David Roberts was one of the few staff on the Hill whom you could refer to by nickname and not worry if he was in earshot. (The writer also recalls one incident where he was particularly fortunate for this forgiving nature. Having made an ill-timed, but not derogatory, comment about "Turtle" in the Senior Common Room one evening he was greeted with a drawn-out "Hrrrrrrrumph!" from the corridor outside-just a warning not to go too far).

Norwich had for many years been known as the "Nomads". In 1981 the house had moved from the building nearest the Warden's House to Severn, taking the name with it. In 1992, with the advent of girls houses, another move was on the cards to allow the 'new' Norwich to revert to its' former name of Severn. As their sons were now grown up Mr and Mrs Roberts chose to move on . The family moved to a small village outside Spalding, Lincolnshire where David was able to use his increased spare time to indulge two of his greatest interests: singing and bird-watching.

David was a life-long devotee of choral music, as a young man had sung in the choir of St. Martins-in-the-Bull Ring, Birmingham , one of the best choirs in the country. More recently he had sung both in the Kingham Hill choir and Kingham Choral Society which, at the time, was largely school-based, but his many school responsibilities had often led to these interests taking a back seat. Now they came to the fore and he enjoyed singing with the Holbeach church choir and the South Holland, (a district of Lincolnshire), Singers. He also taught himself how to play the organ and, typically, did so to such a standard that he played at two village churches.

David's first love in later years, however, was "twitching" or bird-watching and he travelled all over the country, often at short notice, in pursuit of his interest, visiting points as far apart the Scillies and the Scottish Islands. It was on a holiday on Fair Isle with his elder son Matthew that David was taken ill, resulting in them being evacuated by Air Ambulance to Shetland and subsequently flown to RAF Coningsby. Dramatic to the end, the RAF even had to keep the air base open later than would normally have been the case, in order for the helicopter to land.

David Roberts passed away peacefully at home on 25th September 2011. Perhaps, from the point of view of those who were educated by him at Kingham Hill or, like the writer, were in Norwich under his stewardship, the most fitting farewell he could have given us is his last sighting of a "new" (for him) bird species: An Oriental Turtle Dove, seen in a tree near Chipping Norton...

(This tribute was written by a Norwich House pupil from the early 1980's who, since leaving the Hill, had kept in contact with Mr and Mrs Roberts, with whom he had built a long friendship).

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