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Brian Clayton, 2008
Brian Clayton - Memories of School Days

It All Began in Early Summer 1949

It all began in early summer 1949. Mr Ash, the then headmaster of Rushden South End School, announced at the morning assembly that a number of pupils had passed the 11+ examination. I was in that group, although I was not sure quite what the implications were as the lead up to it was fairly downbeat, if that is the right word when referring to Polly Scott’s class! We were told to go home at lunchtime and tell our parents the ‘good news’. Somehow, I and several of my friends interpreted this as meaning the rest of the day off. Although my Mother had her doubts she had no telephone to use to check on accuracy. We decided to play some football ‘down the Rec’ and generally hang out. Bad decision! The following morning Mr Ash issued a severe dressing down along with a warning that Mr Wrenn (who was he?!) would not take kindly to this behaviour. Clearly, it seemed to us that Wellingborough and the Grammar School had rather different views on football to those held by the ‘Russians’ supporters. I pacified my Mother with a slightly different version of events. I was about to enter on a ‘first of the family academic adventure’ beyond my wildest dreams.

In school uniform 1957
In the forties, travelling was a real event and one tended to go to the same place because it was familiar. We had no car and so used buses and trains. I was a seasoned traveller as most of my relations lived in Hastings, on the South Coast, where my Mother was born. London held no fear for me; I had experienced London Transport since I was 5 months old. BUT, Wellingborough was quite a different matter. We only went to the long disappeared market because Rushden did not have one. Two challenges arose; where was the Grammar School and where was Warwicks or Dixon-and-Parker (the alternatives for purchasing school uniforms)? A special expedition on United Counties was made to find these icons having obtained directions from the Conductor who, it seemed, ruled with a rod of iron on the School Bus. The school looked enormous and so did some of the students. Mum selected the blazer, tie, shirts, sports gear etc (according to the list that arrived in the post) naturally oversize so that I could progressively grow into and then out of them. Dad stumped up the cash, which was a major outlay for a John White’s clicker.

And so, in September 1949 I became a pupil of Wellingborough Grammar School. I found it difficult to settle to the expected academic rigour but soon realised that this was the world in which I could thrive. I was a Dragon and in due course became Head of House for several years. I relished mixing and working with the stars of the day; Johnny Hyde and Geoff Butterfield, both international rugby union players and great sportsmen and, of course, the unique David Frost. I recall agreeing with David that we should do something spectacular as we prepared one evening to take our parts in the school play Macbeth. We dressed in full gear including false beards and rode on bikes at high speed down the hill past the Swanspool and burst into Vic Huckle’s barber shop. We flourished our swords over the client’s heads inviting them to take a special haircut. We then rode back, did the play and waited for the ‘call’ in the morning. The Headmaster, Dick Wrenn, had been informed and asked for an explanation while at the same time finding it difficult to keep a straight face. He asked us not to do it again and then said he wished he had been a fly on the wall. Indeed, it was Dick who had the vision and intellect to develop WGS as an academic powerhouse. His drive was accompanied with passion, wit and humanity when engaging with the individual, whether a member of staff or a student. During the fifties the School was visited by icons such as Sir Alexander Fleming (penicillin) and Sir William Penney (nuclear power) and I was able to speak to both at some length; what an experience.
Wellingborough Grammar School 1st XV 1956-7
WGS 1st XV 1956-7
Back row (l-r): D M Wilson, J O Greenhalf, B R Clayton, R King-Underwood,
P A Tear, J Sharman, D Sparkes, R Miles.
 Front row (l-r): R Orton, R R Atley, B H Whitney (Vice-Capt), A E Bean (Capt), S C Norsworthy (Hon. Sec), B Tunney, J M Clarke.
5 are from Rushden and 1 from Yelden.
Wellingborough Grammar School 1st XI 1957
WGS 1st XI 1957
Back row (l-r): D N James, D M Wilson, B R Clayton, A Young,
R Tomlin, D G Powell.
Front row: R R Attley, J T Sharman, A E Bean (Capt),
D P Frost (Hon. Sec - now Sir David), D G Hodson.

I went on two School holidays (Switzerland, 1953 and Austria, 1954) and to do so I took on a paper round for Holyoakes (is that how it is spelt?) in Purvis Road and a Saturday morning bread delivery round for Tilley’s bakery in Wellingborough Road. Does anybody remember me pushing round the bread cart mainly in St Margaret’s Avenue and Highfield Road area during the mid-fifties? I was appointed a prefect for almost 3 years and part of my duties was to ensure all boys got on the bus at the ‘Lightstrung’ in an orderly manner. I lived some way off and the papers took a long time to deliver and so not infrequently I had to run up the hill to leap on the bus running board, much to the amusement of my supposed charges!

Brian achiieved his PhD in 1965
PhD in 1965
B Clayton BSc (Eng)
I have always felt that I was blessed in many ways in respect of WGS. The highly experienced staff members at WGS were the salt of the earth; education for them was a vocation not just a job and they also gave up much of their spare time to ensure that the extra curricula activities were fully supported. I know that times have changed but that environment suited me. It was also during the lead up to O-Levels that I decided I wanted to enter teaching which then further took root in teaching and research in the higher education sector. My Dad was a very intelligent man (self-taught) who recognised the huge benefit of a good education which he, through force of circumstances, could not undertake. He and my Mum supplemented my grant in difficult financial times until I graduated from University College London with my first degree in 1960 and with a job I became, sort of, self-sufficient, as indeed I was when I returned to UCL to complete my PhD in 1964.
Brian (centre), with his wife Sonia and Lord Dearing
Brian (centre), with his wife Sonia and Lord Dearing, was awarded a DSc in 1995
After some time in industry and a Government research establishment I returned to the staff of UCL in 1968. In 1974, I and my wife Sonia with our two children moved from Colchester to Wellingborough (!) and I continued to commute to London during the misery of electrification, new tracks, new signals, new stations etc. It was tough on us all but in 1989 I was appointed the Hives Professor (named after Lord Hives the then chairman of Rolls Royce) of Mechanical Engineering and Head of Department at the University of Nottingham and lived only eight minutes drive from my office. Bliss!!

In 1994 I was awarded a DSc in recognition of the internationally recognised quality of my research and in the same year was elected Dean of Engineering while still holding my Headship. In 1998 I was appointed a Pro-Vice Chancellor (a deputy for the V-C; cf a senior director on the board of a major company) for five years, the last two as the full-time Vice-President and CEO of the newly established Malaysia Campus of the University of Nottingham which took me to retirement and the award of the title ‘Emeritus Professor’.

During my university years I travelled the world and met many famous people but, with apologies to Wordsworth:

‘…when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
The following flash upon that inward eye…’

My parents, Sonia, Ian and Elizabeth and their families

Rushden people and friends, WGS pupils and staff of the forties and fifties

Past and present colleagues at UCL and the University of Nottingham

To all of you, this Rushden lad offers his sincere thanks for your support and friendship.

Brian in 2003
2003 after Chairing
a degree ceremony at
Nottingham University

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