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In memory of John Guthrie Essame

Address by Peter Wynne-James

at St Nicholas Church, Lower Oddington,

Friday 16 th May 2008

In memory of John Guthrie Essame

1926 - 2008

'Benevolence is like sound health, the full value of it seldom known until it is lost'.

Our loss today is John Essame whose life which was largely devoted to the benefit of others, sadly came to an end on 6 th May at Horton Hospital in Banbury at the age of 81.

As we are gathered here today we can do two things - we can remember together and we can thank God together.

In remembering John our many different recollections are likened to the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which, as they come together, form a total picture of his life. In completing John's jigsaw I am indebted to Paul Harvey (a life long friend of John), Jim Woolliams, Housemaster of Kingham Hill School, and the Old Boys.

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John Essame at Kingham Hill School

John was born in 1926 the son of the Revd W G Essame (whose Living was at St Leonards on Sea). At the age of 9 he was sent to Westerleigh Preparatory School in St Leonards. John had one sister Mary who died in 2003.

At the outbreak of war John was sent to Eastbourne College which had been moved inland to Radley for fear of German invasion. He was at School House from 1940-44. He was a School Prefect and in the School first 15.

On leaving Eastbourne in 1944 John was selected for Officer training in the Royal Marines and attended Deal, Lympstone and HMS Unicorn in Plymouth, a UK light fleet Aircraft Carrier which had been in service from 1943 until the Japanese surrender. However, on completion of his training John decided to change course and applied for a place at Cambridge in 1947, following in his father's footsteps to Emmanuel College.

After obtaining a degree in Natural Science and Geology John left Cambridge in 1950 and spent the next 4 years in Australia working as a Surveyor for the National States Rivers and Water Supply Team.

He returned home in 1954 to take up a new post with the National Coal Board working as a Surveyor on their open cast mining operations in Wakefield. He then moved to Warwick County Museum as Assistant Curator for Natural History. It was here that he met Paul Harvey who described his first meeting with John. "I was then assistant archivist in the Warwick County Record Office, which had close links with the museum. When we heard from Miss Morris that she was coming over to introduce her new assistant called Essame it was a name unknown to anyone in the record office and we all assumed that it was Indian, pronounced with three syllables Ess-Ah-Me. It was quite a shock to be confronted with this very tall figure of uncompromisingly Anglo Saxon appearance".

Paul continues - "John and I and a fellow school friend soon shared a house and John's deliberate and laid back manner was a wonderful foil to our landlord's very different temperament."

After two years as Assistant Curator John decided to rejoin the National Coal Board although it was clear that he was not entirely happy with its policies. In a way he had reached the cross roads of his life, having spent eight years in industry. He was clearly searching for an opportunity which could satisfy his benevolent nature. Wayback in his Cambridge days of researching fossils John had always felt he would like to become a teacher. The opportunity came from a vacancy to become a master at Kingham Hill School.

The school had been founded by a philanthropist in 1880 where they literally took homeless children off the streets in London to provide what was the equivalent of a Public School education with no fees.

On arrival on the "hill" in 1959 John was appointed Tutor at Clyde House.

As one Old Boy has written "With the arrival of Mr John Essame our biology lessons came alive with field trips to look for fossils, exploring Sarsden Brook and dissecting large mammals. I have recollections of being one of the biology students who assisted on the farm at lambing time - washing hands and arms with carbolic soap and gently pulling the lambs from the womb, then presenting it to the mother to clean off after the birth. So, yes - John Essame "his lessons literally came alive".

Another Old Boy writes "Us lads knew very little about this new teacher when he joined. I recall him being very tall, erect, a ram rod like gentleman who would have graced any international rugby team's scrum for a line out. However, the size of his gym shoes also gave me some concern not to be on the receiving end for some petty schoolboy misdemeanour".

Jim Woolliams remembers one particular story about John "After the last morning session John's class seemed unusually reluctant to leave for lunch - after a while as John (the gentle giant) cleared his desk he shouted to the boys "Hurry up or you will be late". There was still no movement from the boys and as John strolled over to the boys calling "what's going on?" a small voice said "Please sir, I'm stuck" - indeed the boy was, having put his finger through a notch-hole in the desk. The finger had swollen with blood so that the boy was firmly attached. However, John being John simply lifted the whole desk above the boys and his own head. The blood drained, the finger slid out and lunch was made with seconds to spare.

At that time Flora as a nurse was in charge of the school sanatorium. It was not long before John and Flora were married. Shortly afterwards John was appointed Housemaster of Norwich House (40 Boys strong) as successor to Jim Woolliams who had retired. John and Flora ran the House for a further eight years before they retired to live locally in Lower Oddington.

After retiring John's main interests were the Church, Geology and particularly fossils. Flora always referred to the fact that she was one of John's fossils. Over the past 15 years John surveyed most of the Gloucester GeoConservation Trust's quarries encouraging children to learn about Geology through regionally important sites. John was also a member of the Stow in the Wold British Legion for 35 years.

During the last week I have consulted many friends of John to provide me one word which described him. These include the following: Honourable; Extremely Concientious, Intensely Self-Critical; Considerable Social Conscience (he supported numerous charities throughout his life); Patience and never having an ounce of ill-feeling. He possessed so many of these fine qualities which most of us struggle to adopt today.

Paul Harvey writes - I have a vivid recollection of John saying in 1956 "fancy me being 30!" and it was a great pleasure to remind him of this when he said "fancy me being 80". What turned out to be almost his last words to me were wonderfully characteristic "I don't like making personal remarks (said John) but that shirt you are wearing (it was grey) and that tie (it was yellow) - they are a bit BBC". Paul continues "I felt the passage of the years had not changed him one IOTA!"

John was always grateful to all his family and friends for their care and attention as he was to the girls of the Social Services who looked after him more recently and particularly to his wife Flora who for the past 6 years has nursed and looked after him.

In reviewing John's life at Kingham Hill there is undoubtedly an essence of Mr Chips. I took the opportunity of viewing the synopsis of the film on Google and even found a Flora in the script. I quote from the story "When Chips does retire he maintains a cottage near the school and continues his contact with the boys, entertaining them after school and listening to their troubles". Chips dies dreaming of all his past students and the youngest of a family of boys whom Chips had taught through the years, waves to him and calls out "Goodbye Mr Chips"

Sadly today it is a question of "Goodbye John".

John Essame at Kingham Hill School

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