James Woolliams

Master of Norwich
and Plymouth
1961 - 1981


Nick Thompson



I was very pleased when John Timmins asked if I would contribute some words on James (JIM) Woolliams. (I still find it strange to address him as Jim) . . . . .

I was greatly influenced by him and still remember his mannerisms from school. He had a habit of banging his fists together to demonstrate how molecules behave.

My father had been in the RAF so I was interested in all things aviation. I was very pleased to know that a new master had arrived and that his previous job had been with the Gloster Aircraft Company!

It was in 1961 when James joined the teaching staff. I can remember him first as our physics master, as head of the Model Club, as the head of the Engineers' Club, as my form master when I was in VB and also in the CCF (Combined Cadet Force).



Preparing for takeoff Click photo to enlarge

James Woolliams (sorry JIM as he tells he is known by friends & colleagues) has had a fascinating life and it has been so interesting to be reading about it years after leaving Kingham.

I was very fortunate to bump into James & Margaret near Ashford, Kent, in the early 90s, about 30 years after I left Kingham.

It was remarkable that we even recognized each other! We then found out that we had been living quite close for a good few years. After this meeting I took him flying and he was at our local airfield in Kent when I went up for my first flying lesson on the Jet Provost (he had already spent many hours in the JP). Since this time we try to meet up when I am back in England.

Anyway back to the subject . . . . . .

James Harvey Woolliams


Jim was born in Folkestone on 20 th March 1930. His father was in the RAF, so the family travelled widely, not only in Britain but around the world.

I assume that at the time of his birth his father was based at Hawkinge.

His father was born in Adlestrop in 1898. His grandfather Woolliams worked at the then Kingham Hill Homes in 1893 (Clyde). The connection being his great grandparents, who knew the Founder (Charles Edward Bearing Young).

James's mother and father married in 1922 at Shotteswell, Banbury. His mother was born in London and was the daughter of a priest.

After Jim was born the family followed his father to his exotic and not so exotic postings with the RAF at - Hawkinge, Jerusalem, Wittering, Upavon, Stanmore, Kirton in Lindsy, Kirkton of Tealing, South Cerney and so on.

Jim was at school in Stanmore, Middlesex in 1939 and on the outbreak of World War II was evacuated to Cheltenham. However nothing much happened during the so called 'Phoney War', so he went back to Stanmore. When things did get serious, he was evacuated again in May 1940, this time to North Devon.


He then went on to the junior house of Bloxham School in September 1940 and it was during his time here that he witnessed the German bombing of Coventry. He could see the flak bursting in the sky and the glow from the flames of the burning city reflected on the clouds. He could hear the bombers flying overhead on their way in and on their return journey to the continent. He was familiar enough with both the British and German aircraft to know the difference in sound of the twin engine bombers (desynchronized German and more synchronized British).




Bloxham School, Oxfordshire

During his time at Bloxham in 1943, the very first secret experimental jet propelled aircraft, the E28-39 (now in the Science Museum, London) was being tested nearby.

The Gloster E28-39, the first allied jet aircraft.

Later in the war on a visit to Folkestone he witnessed the artillery bombardment from German guns in the Pas de Calais in France. He was also fortunate (or unfortunate) to witness the British fighters and 'ack-ack' knocking down V1 (Flying Bombs).

During this visit, a V1 was shot down and exploded nearby. Jim says it was the closest that he came to becoming a war casualty!

After the war Jim left Bloxham in 1947 and started an engineering apprenticeship with the Gloster Aircraft Company. He says that he was very much influenced by the fact that his father was in the RAF and the excitement of the first jet aircraft being flown while he was at Bloxham.

Jim completed his apprenticeship in 1952; however his deferment from National Service was extended as he was needed in the Research Department, to work on the development of the all weather fighter, the Javelin. The world was in the grip of the 'Cold War' at this time and the Javelin had been ordered into super priority production. Jim was considered to be of more use to the country at Gloster Aircraft Company than he would have been in the forces.

After being deferred for a further three years he did his two years mandatory national service with the RAF. As appears to be common during national service his experience with aircraft engineering was not utilized. In stead of engineering, he spent most of his time lecturing national service recruits on such things as RAF law, history and Queen's regulations. In addition to the lecturing he spent his time supervising their (recruits) well being during their initial eight weeks of 'square bashing' (drill instruction).

A national serviceman's job was held open for him during his absence, so Jim returned to Gloster Aircraft Company in 1957. Much had changed while he had been away, the Javelin was now in standard production, and the work on the thin wing supersonic version was cancelled. Therefore they were not making many complete aircraft, but building components for other companies. The main project at this time was the Blue Steel stand off rocket, a sort of flying bomb that would be launched from the Avro Vulcan and Victor 'V' bombers.

Blue Steel

One day while Jim was working in the warhead department, on quite a small warhead (large enough to vaporise London), he began to question what he was doing and also the precariousness of his employment. Basically there were too many aircraft manufacturers and not enough contracts to go round

Jim decided that he would go into teaching . . . . .

He completed a two year course at St. Paul's Teacher Training College in Cheltenham, followed by a one year course specialising in science and particularly physics.

After turning down a teaching appointment in Wiltshire and returning to Cheltenham, he was asked how it had gone. On hearing the answer one of the students said, "I think there is just the job for you at my old school". Unfortunately Jim can not remember the name of the adviser. As many of you will know Jim went on to take the job at Kingham and started there in 1961.

KINGHAM HILL SCHOOL - (My recollections of Jim Woolliams at KHS)

I was one of the fortunate boys to be taught by Jim Woolliams, or Bole Weevil as he was known by us boys. I can never remember where the nickname came from but I have a suspicion that there was a pop record of that name out at about this time. This has been confirmed by John Timmins from an earlier VB than I was in.

He was a very good teacher and held my attention by the way he had of 'getting the message across'.

Jim had a very practical way of teaching by experiments and good simple explanations. It was at the time of the NASA moon shots and he would show on the board how the rocket left the earth, headed off to the Moon, was then influenced by the Moon's gravity, and how it was sort of 'slingshot' back to earth. He also explained the difficulty of it all; by saying it was like trying to hit a golf ball in Chipping Norton with a .22 rifle from Kingham!

I can remember other experiments, turning water into its basic gases by electrolysis. He would put the gases into a plastic bottle (shaped like a rocket) and place a cork in the bottom. The 'rocket' would then be put on a launching ramp, the cork would be removed, a match lit and BANG, off the 'rocket' went leaving a film of water on a pane of glass placed behind the 'launch ramp'.

At about this time Christopher Cockerel had recently invented the Hovercraft and it was being displayed at the Farnbourgh Airshow. It was headline news and many of us boys were interested in knowing how it worked. Jim had built a very simple example out of a small piece of well sanded wood with a round hole in the centre, a cork stuck in the hole with a small hole through the centre of the cork and a balloon fitted to the top of the cork. The balloon was blown up, a finger was placed over the hole and the 'hovercraft' placed on one end of the lab bench. With the lightest of shoves the 'hovercraft' sailed down the lab bench on a 'cushion' of air until the balloon was empty. It was a simple and excellent example of how Jim got the message across to us thick boys.

Hovercraft SRN-1 at Dover

Another example of Jim's practical teaching was for the class to make slide rules out of cardboard. First we had to produce a graph and then draw down from the graph onto pieces of cardboard. The results were not very accurate, but were enough to teach us the connection between the graph and a slide rule.

At this time we were still using log tables for exams! Slide rules were considered cheating and there was no sight of a calculator!

I remember one day when my mother was at school for speech day or some such occasion and we bumped into Jim. My mother said, "So, Mr. Woolliams, I understand that you teach Nicholas'?

Jim replied - "Well, he sits in my class" . . . . . .

In those days masters were allowed to say such things, this was long before the influence of 'political correctness' . . . . . ..

I can also remember an end of term report on my progress in his form. It went something like this - 'If he can complete his pre-takeoff checks, throttle up his engines, rotate at V1, retract his undercarriage at V2, trim for climb, he should fly well' . . . . . My mother was not quite sure what it was all about, so I had to explain the aeronautical terms.

Jim was also a great influence in the CCF

Jim married Margaret in 1966, after I had left Kingham so I did not get to know Margaret until we met in Kent in the early 90s.

Margaret gave birth to a son Richard in 1968, while Jim was housemaster of Norwich.

Jim and Margaret Woolliams and son Richard

They stayed at Norwich from 1968 until 1972 and then moved to look after Plymouth House from 1973 until 1981.


After leaving Kingham in 1981, Jim did an eight month exchange with an Australian teacher. Their son Richard had just passed his common entrance exam and with a year in hand, they decided that the Australian experience would be good for him.

After returning from Australia, Jim took up a teaching post in Sussex. He wanted to try out an idea at his new prep school. During his later time in Kingham, an idea had evolved in Jim's mind that the new thirteen year olds coming to school in the late seventies had been 'under-taught'.

Jim did indeed find out that at thirteen, in the right environment, many children could be brought up to GCSE standard, which was very gratifying to him. He also found out that, at ten (when they first came to him), the basic three 'R's were still a problem. Another revelation was that there came a point when children realise that it is understanding rather than learning, that is the key to success. He said it was surprising how suddenly this dawned upon them, which raised their weekly marks from about 30% to 70% almost immediately!

Jim has now retired and lives happily in Kent (nearer to France than London), with Margaret.

I know that he is still heavily involved in various charitable works in his local parish, in Canterbury, with the Kingham Hill Association and many others.

Margaret and Jim Woolliams at their home in Kent

He considers that he has had a most happy life, despite having lived through over seven and a half most turbulent decades.

Jim says that much of this happiness was due to their two decades at Kingham Hill, for which he is most grateful.

As the old Chinese saying goes . . .

'May you live in interesting times' - Jim Woolliams certainly did!

I was very fortunate to be taught by Jim in class, to be in his Model Club, to be in his Engineers' Club at Kingham Hill, to be instructed by him in the CCF and to now know him as a friend years later. THANK YOU.

I am sure that there are many more 'Old Boys' who would echo my thanks to Jim Woolliams and many more who were in Norwich and Plymouth and would also like to thank Jim and Margaret Woolliams.

Nick Thompson - Principle C&C Consulting, Hong Kong(Ex Plymouth & Durham 1961-65)

Nick Thompson - as "intrepid aviator" . . . .

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