David Shaw taught physics in the Boys’ Division from 1964 to 2002. He was Harwood Housemaster, Third Year Block Master, Senior Master and for his last 17 years Deputy Headmaster. He is the joint author of Bolton Boys in Focus.
Below you can read David’s memories of his time at Bolton School, taken from The Best of Both Worlds, followed by a brief pen portrait.
Arriving at Bolton School straight from university at the age of 22 I found the perfect environment for my teaching career – classes that were more inspiring than those I had been brought up in, friendly, helpful and informative colleagues, opportunities in sport (I had always been “sports-mad”), fell-walking (I had started youth hostelling with friends at the age of 14) and singing which had been a new interest since my last year at UCL. Under the Headmaster, Richard Poskitt, a new teacher soon became immersed in the Bolton School ethos: know every boy in your class, their strengths and weaknesses, potential, application and above all their personalities.
There were lots of opportunities to contribute to the development of the rounded young man we hoped would move on from School. I was soon recruited by Bill Brown, then approaching retirement, to help in fell-walking which he had nurtured with such enthusiasm. My first experience was a four day trip to North Wales with around 10 boys and Colin Hamer who frightened me half to death by walking along the crest of Crib Goch with his hands in his pockets. Then, as in many subsequent visits to the Lake District, we stayed in Youth Hostels which we reached by public transport. The 4.00 Friday double-decker from Bolton to Ambleside, Grasmere or Keswick became a symbol of regular weekend trips, typically with 16 Middle School boys of varying ages, two Sixth Formers and two staff. We inherited a well-tried pattern of a long and high Saturday walk followed by a shorter one on Sunday which culminated with egg and chips at a local café. Bill Brown introduced me to my favourite British trip – a week in the Isle of Arran in the Easter holidays – just that bit more exotic, sometimes sunny and spring like, sometimes in the grip of wintry snow and ice. I shall never forget my three trips to the Austrian Alps with Howard Northam. Two weeks were spent in Alpine Club huts at around 9000 to 10000 feet and the mountaineering was all in snow and on glaciers and peaks. The parties were in the 15-18 age group and the experiences were magical.
Sport played a massive part in the life of the school as it still does. Like many of the staff I was heavily involved with teams, at inter-school level in badminton and at House level in most sports. I was always very competitive by nature and though not that adept in any sport other than badminton, I always wanted my teams to win. I suppose it was the real-life forerunner of modern team-management computer games! Several times we won county badminton titles and Harwood House (which no longer exists) won the Lyde Cup in six consecutive years.
So far, hardly mentioned is the most important aspect of all: the teaching. Inevitably over 38 years the demands of curriculum style and content were going to change, and so they did. However there was a constant factor: the quality of the boys. They were always able to surprise and to brighten any routine day with a flash of insight or an amusing aside. It wasn’t just the assiduous high flyers who “ticked the box”. I had to acknowledge (to myself at least) the ingenuity with which the idlest boy I ever taught could side-step a task while still apparently fulfilling it. One immense step forward in Alan Wright’s headmastership was the change from addressing boys by their surnames to the use of given names, something that felt very comfortable and did not lessen discipline as some had feared. My first Sixth Form to which it applied did cause me a minor problem, containing as it did six Johns in a class of 15! Having been involved with the Old Boys’ Association for many years it has always been a pleasure to meet up with the adults that these boys turned into. I was delighted, when working as OB Liaison Officer after retirement, to receive messages from far-flung corners of the world.
Every year for 34 of my 38 years in School saw the annual visit to Saundersfoot Camp in Pembrokeshire to spend ten days under canvas. David Allen ran the event which his father-in-law, Bill Brookes, had started in 1947. The camp fitted in perfectly with the previously-mentioned Bolton School ethos. Boys got to know each other and the staff, personalities blossomed and a good time was had by virtually all. There were so many memorable activities but my favourite was always the camp-fire evening and my annual task of thinking up and delivering a ghost story.
Finally I must mention the School choir which was always liberally sprinkled with staff. The weekly lunchtime rehearsals were a good relaxation and the concerts and Christmas music eagerly looked forward to. Involvement in such inspiring music was just the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle of my Bolton School experience which fittingly ended in the climax of a concert in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.
When, in which Division and what subject did you teach at Bolton School?
I was a Physics teacher in the Boys Division from 1964-2002 and then Deputy Headmaster for the last 17 year
What extra-curricular or other activities did you take part in as a teacher at Bolton School?
I ran School Badminton for 38 years and, after retirement, I ran Greater Manchester Schools Badminton for another 12 years. In my younger years I ran fell-walking trips in the Lake District and the Isle of Arran and helped run trips to Austria.
I went to the Year 8 camp at Saundersfoot 34 times (all the ones I missed were for family reasons in the 70s) and I sang in the School choir for 45 years. Also, like many of the staff, I was a policeman in The Pirates of Penzance.
What did you enjoy most about your role here?
It is impossible to choose, but generally the activities involving the pupils were the best.
What would you say is your fondest memory of your time here?
I couldn’t choose just one memory, so I will have to give a few:
- Reaching the summit of the Wildspitze in Austria in 1964
- The first time my badminton team won the Greater Manchester Schools knock-out
- Harwood House winning the Lyde Cup six years in succession
- Campfire evenings at Saundersfoot
- Singing in the Mozart Requiem
- Teaching Newton’s Laws of Motion to a Year 9 class with the aid of a boy on roller skates
How would you describe the “typical” Bolton School pupil in three words?
Lively-minded; friendly and responsive.
What do you think is the most important thing that a Bolton School education gives to its pupils?
A sense of worth in themselves as well as in other people.
What do you think sets Bolton School apart from other schools?
A relaxed, friendly atmosphere in which to achieve.
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
I started at the School in the days before independence when over 50 in each intake of each Division came on free places. Anything which allows access to the School even if it is impracticable to approach those numbers must be worthwhile.