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   Lawrence Victor Walker MA (Cantab) - Mathematics Master Supreme - Prince of Wales School, 1952-63

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    Lawrence Victor Walker MA (Cantab)

    Mathematics Master Supreme
    Prince of Wales School, 1952-63


    Many will remember Lawrence ‘Johnnie’ Walker, affectionately known as ‘Amoeba’, who taught Mathematics at the school from 1952 until 1963. He will be remembered not only as a first class mathematician, but also as a gifted teacher who undoubtedly had an important influence on many of us during our time at the Prince of Wales School.

    John Davis (Grigg 1956-1960) wrote this article in collaboration with Mr Walker’s daughter Liz (known as Betty) who kindly made available extracts from his diary and other papers covering his early life in England, his school years, his time at Cambridge University and teaching posts in Barbados, Trinidad and Kenya.

    Early years
    Lawrence Victor Walker was born on 14 February 1915 in Brierley Hill, West Midlands. He was the eldest of seven brothers and sisters and right from an early age he recalls that the atmosphere of the church he attended with his family made a great impression on him. He was a member of the choir and sang solos, and wrote that he enjoyed filling the church with the sound of his voice. It was at this time that he acquired a great love of church music which stayed with him all his life.

    A young Lawrence Walker as a choir boy at Brierley Hill Church

    In 1925, when Lawrence Walker was 10 years old and a pupil at his local school in Brierley Hill, he applied to take a scholarship examination as part of a competition for a limited number of free places at the local Grammar School, King Edward VI, in Stourbridge. The exam had an entrance fee of one shilling which his father refused to pay. He feared that if successful his son would stay at the school until the age of 16 years, rather than the normal leaving age of 14 years, which would prevent him going to work to support the family. This issue clearly caused great trouble between father and son. The closing date for the entrance exam was getting closer and when the young man asked once again for the shilling entrance fee there was a frightful incident which ended up with a neighbour intervening and offering to pay half the fee if the other half came from his father. The deal was done and in due course the entrance interview took place at the school. He recalls in his papers that one question was ‘if a donkey stands with his head facing north east, which way does its tail point?’ This was thought a trick question, it being so easy, so the answer given was ‘towards the ground’ which caused the examiners great merriment – obviously evidence of lateral thinking common to all good mathematicians was present at a very early age.

    Young Lawrence passed the entrance exam with flying colours and was awarded a scholarship. To celebrate the news the Headmaster of his primary school, one ‘Daddy’ Davies, ordered that the pupils would have a half-day holiday. Mr Davies also visited father Walker and persuaded him that the scholarship was a good thing which not only covered the school fees but included grants for books, travelling expenses and funds to purchase the school uniform.

    King Edward VI Grammar School
    In September 1925, Lawrence Walker became a Grammar School boy and, to quote from his papers, he was looked upon by boys he grew up with as ‘a social misfit in the rough and tough Potter Street crowd’ which certainly did little to boost the young man’s confidence. He also found Grammar School daunting. He was a year younger than the others in his form and found it difficult to settle in to the new routine which was tough by any standard. His general nervousness led him to produce untidy work for which he was punished – usually by being caned on his hands which, no doubt, could not have helped the situation!

    Nevertheless, he progressed through the school and when he was 16 years old gained his School Certificate and began to look for a job. But this was the time of the great depression and jobs were scarce. So he returned to school and in 1932 took the Cambridge Higher School Certificate whilst a member of what was called the Mathematical Sixth, gaining distinctions in Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Physics. An entry in his diary states rather modestly that he also passed scholarship papers in these subjects as well. A letter from his form master confirms that ‘he was a very able and industrious pupil and in December 1932 gained an Open Entrance Exhibition to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In March 1933 he obtained a Staffordshire County Major Scholarship and in July of the same year he was awarded a State Scholarship on the results of the Cambridge Higher School Certificate, in which he obtained distinctions in Advanced Mathematics and Physics’. It is interesting to note from his diary that around this time he found time to play the organ and once played at the church in Brierley Hill when the organist was ill.

    Cambridge University
    So in 1933, it was off to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he noted rather forlornly that ‘once more, I was reduced to the status of a small fish in a large pond and was rather unhappy for some time’. He writes that his clothes were ‘all wrong’. His mother had provided him with what appeared to be rather cheap and shoddy suits which made him stand out from the rest who wore the latest-style sports jacket and flannels which were the standard undergraduate garb in those days.

    Lawrence Walker as an undergraduate in Cambridge

    First-year accommodation was spent in ‘digs’ in New Square where he recalls that he had to walk nearly a mile to the College baths. For his second and third years he had rooms in the Hostel inside College and in those days each student had two rooms and shared with others a ‘gyp’, which was a small scullery. Breakfast was delivered each morning from the College kitchen. Lunch and tea consisted of bread and cheese although one could eat in Hall if desired – but at extra cost. He noted that coming from his background he found the food excellent.

    During his first year he took part in the Head of the River race from Mortlake to Putney as cox in the College’s first boat, an interest he continued whilst at Cambridge. During 1934 and 1935 he variously coxed the College second and first boats in the Cambridge Head of the River races and during the Easter vacation of 1936 coxed the first crew in the Thames Head of the River race, but because of other commitments was unable to go to the Henley Regatta that summer.

    He found lectures enjoyable and the work reasonably easy as much of it had been covered in the scholarship classes at school. Also he thought cycling between lectures was all part of the fun. Tutorials were conducted in groups of six and one of the students in his group was Fred Hoyle (later Sir Fred Hoyle FRS the distinguished astronomer). In June 1934, Lawrence sat Part I of the Mathematical Tripos and had no difficulty in obtaining a First. He then started work on Part II, which must have been more challenging as he noted in his diary ‘I began to be stretched’.

    Lawrence Walker proudly poses with his MA

    Leaves Cambridge
    Lawrence Walker came down from Cambridge in the summer of 1936 with a Class II, Division I degree with the title Senior Optime. He began to think about a career in teaching which had been an aspiration since quite an early age. He was advised by his College tutor not to do a teaching diploma but to take Holy Orders the view being that one could teach Mathematics and be school chaplain in a public school. This was a rather old-fashioned idea even in those days but he knew that he had little or no chance of teaching in a public school since he felt his accent would be against him. So he successfully applied for his scholarship to be extended and went on to Birmingham University for a one-year post graduate course.

    Off to Barbados In September 1937 he sailed from Dover in the SS Venezuela bound for Barbados where he had been offered a three-year teaching post at the Lodge School, Bridgetown. This appointment turned out to be twelve very happy years at the school which had about 80 boarders and 70 day boys; although by the time he left the school this had grown to some 450 boys. His annual salary was £200, rising eventually to £400. It is interesting to compare the daily routine with ours at the Prince of Wales. Prep started at 0700hrs and lasted until 0830hrs; breakfast was at 0900hrs. School began at 0945hrs; a short break for lunch and then afternoon classes until 1600hrs followed by games (usually cricket) every weekday. Dinner took place at 1900hrs followed by prep until lights out at 2200hrs.

    It was during this time that he married Dorothy Hampton, always known as Dot, whom he had known from his home town since he was a teenager. Dot had joined Lawrence in Barbados in 1939 after the outbreak of war – a journey which proved particularly hazardous with four of the ships in the convoy in which she was travelling being sunk.

    Dot and Lawrence on their wedding day in Barbados

    Lawrence, Dot and elder daughter Heather on Bathsheba Beach, Barbados

    On to Trinidad
    In 1950 Lawrence and Dot, now with two daughters Heather and Betty, left Barbados for Trinidad where he took up a post as Head of the Mathematics Department at the Queen’s Royal College, Port of Spain.

    In 1952 the family came to England on leave and whilst there an offer of a post at the Prince of Wales school was received from the Crown Agents. This was accepted and plans were immediately put in place to travel to Kenya without returning to Trinidad. This was at the time when the Emergency had been declared in Kenya and much concern was expressed by family and friends in England about the intended move to Kenya.

    Prince of Wales School
    On 11 November 1952 the Walker family sailed from England for Kenya on the Union Castle liner SS Dunnotar Castle – armed with a Swahili phrase book. They boarded the train at Mombasa and were overwhelmed by the beauty of Kenya, its wildlife and the sense of adventure. They arrived in Nairobi the following morning and were met by Mr Fletcher himself who drove them to the school – their luggage following on later in the school lorry.

    An extract from Lawrence’s diary describes the first days: ‘On the way up, Mr Fletcher explained to us that we had to stay with him for a couple of weeks until a house became available. It being a boarding school, with eight Houses, almost everyone on the staff had boarding duties and lived in a house attached to one or other of the Houses. So I became Assistant Housemaster to Junior House in the following January. In the Headmaster’s house we all lived [with wife Dot and daughters Heather and Betty] in one large room. We ate breakfast and a light lunch together. This was all quite a strain, especially as Christmas approached. We got a small Xmas tree and put it up in our room, decorated with a few lights. The Headmaster must have sensed how unhappy the children and their mother were because one day we found on our bed some totally unsuitable presents for the girls – I forget exactly what they were, possibly books of some sort.

    At that time the school had about 650 boys and some 40 teaching staff.

    The Walker’s first home at the Prince of Wales school which was near Junior House – with no flush loo!

    And the Walker’s second home near Entrance B – much better accommodation to suit a Senior Master and his family

    Lawrence recalls impressions of many of the staff and one member in particular who apparently made his own electric blanket which then proved faulty and set fire to his bed! Not surprisingly because of his love of music he got on well with Jack Lockhart, our music teacher, and mentions as good friends Christopher Hurst and Bob Hopkin – the latter being the Public Services Instructor appointed to run the CCF but who later took on teaching duties. He regarded some of his fellow staff as rather snobbish and wondered if this was an illustration of the public school versus grammar school divide that was prevalent then. Certainly this was confirmed when he overheard one master announcing that there were too many grammar school boys on the staff. But he got on very well with Mr Fletcher, also a fine mathematician, and they both worked together constructing the class timetables for each term – a daunting task indeed.

    Many of us will remember Lawrence Walker as Assistant Housemaster in Junior House where Don Minette, who taught French, was Housemaster. One of his duties was to keep a record of the boys’ pocket money and he kept a small black book which showed the state of (or lack of) each boy’s account. He also organised the Shopping Lorry trips to Nairobi each week. He drove a Morris Minor, registration number KBP 362, and the story goes that on one occasion he changed the engine oil failing to secure the drain nut in the sump. His wife then drove the car to Nairobi spilling oil as she went which resulted in the engine finally seizing in Delamere Avenue.

    Lawrence, Dot, Heather and Betty at Brakenhurst with the family’s Morris Minor

    It was his teaching of Mathematics which will be so well remembered – not least because of the artistic way that mathematical expressions were written on the black board and the quaint way words like ‘if’ were pronounced as ‘eeef’. Hence when explaining some Applied Mathematics equation one would hear a statement such as ‘eeef it is in equilibrium then …’ but the message was always clear and encouraging to those of us who had a particular love of mathematics.

    Involvement in teaching outside the Prince of Wales
    Lawrence Walker was closely involved with the Education Department and was appointed chief examiner in mathematics for the Kenya Preliminary Examination – or KPE as we knew it. He set the papers which were then discussed and agreed by a committee chaired by a Miss Holland who was Inspector of Schools. Because Mr Walker’s involvement in this work was so highly thought of he was given several other important tasks such as making recommendations on the adoption of standard methods to be taught in mathematics, being invited to chair a committee to revise the primary school syllabus in mathematics and to organise the marking of the Civil Service examination. Later, he taught a foundation course in mathematics at the new University College of East Africa for students of architecture and spent a week at Makerere College in Kampala running a course for A-level Mathematics teachers. One of his proudest achievements was his involvement in establishing the Kenya Mathematical Society in 1962 which had some 100 members and he was its first Chairman.

    Back to England
    The Walker family left Nairobi in January 1964 and sailed from Mombasa to England. Mr Walker’s dairy notes that ‘practically all the passengers were, like us, leaving Kenya for the last time and none was very happy about it. Not even the crossing the line ceremony roused any cheerful spirit!’

    Back in England he followed up applications for teaching posts but decided eventually to go into further education. With that in mind he applied to three colleges and was successful in obtaining a post at Brooklands Technical College, Weybridge, where as Senior Lecturer he taught A-level mathematics and computing with a staff of 12 assistants. He and his wife lived in a house called ‘Kwetu’ in Sendmarsh, Surrey. Sadly his wife Dot died in 1974 and he finally retired in 1981 moving to Dulwich to be near his daughters.

    Mr Walker attended several Old Cambrian Society reunions in London and the last time many of us saw him was at the reunion at the House of Lords in April 2001. He passed away on 17 December 2001 and is buried in Goudhurst Cemetery, Kent.

    Lawrence in his later years enjoying a favourite glass of Guinness at Kingsbridge, South Devon

    Staff comments in appreciation of Mr Walker

    Mr P. Fletcher, Headmaster, wrote on 5 September 1961: ‘I knew him for seven full years. He settled in quickly and proved himself to be a very enthusiastic and painstaking teacher of Mathematics, and a competent Head of the Mathematics Department. His pupils obtained good results at both O and A levels, and the best boys took some of the papers of Further Mathematics.

    Mr Walker was Deputy Housemaster of Junior House. This consisted of 84 small boys of 12-13, ruled over by 6 carefully selected prefects from seven Houses. On several occasions he was acting Housemaster. Here his good sense and exceptional reliability made him very valuable. He was also a most faithful member of the Chapel Choir and of the School Choral Society.

    About 100 boys each year reached a good standard at O Level and about 25 went on to A level of whom the best proceeded to English Universities. He was a most valuable, much respected and well liked member of our staff.’

    Mr F. H. Goldsmith, Vice-Principal, wrote on 12 December 1962: ‘In recent years he has been largely responsible for the making of the timetable for the school, a complicated one, which, owing to the colonial leave system, has to be entirely re-made each term. His expert guidance and help has become indispensable. Mr Walker has shown himself to be not only a most efficient member of staff but a very helpful and kindly colleague.’

    Mr K. N. Maudsley for Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education wrote on 19 November 1963: ‘His services as a teacher of Mathematics up to A level have been of the highest order and it can be stated without hesitation that Mr Walker is a first rate mathematician and an extremely able teacher. His contribution to education did not end within the walls of his school. For many years Mr Walker made a valuable general contribution to the teaching of Mathematics in Kenya by setting examination papers for secondary school entrance ..... he can be recommended with every confidence as a teacher of Mathematics at the higher levels. He is a modest man and a conscientious teacher who would undoubtedly be an asset to any school which has high traditions to maintain in this subject. He has made his mark in Kenya and has much to contribute to education in England when he retires.’

    Comments by Old Cambrian and other Readers
    (Received after the Walker article first appeared on the
    Old Cambrian Society website on 9th August 2009)

    Brian McIntosh (Rhodes 1953-59)
    Congratulations to John Davis and Elizabeth Scoble-Hodgins for this excellent article on one of the great masters of the former Prince of Wales School.

    I can’t remember being taught by Mr. Walker; I was never bright enough at maths to be in one of his classes. I do however vividly recall the pipe jutting from his jaws, the brisk pace at which he traversed the campus, and the astonishingly powerful choir voice coming from a man we affectionately nicknamed “Amoeba.”

    The article notes that the Walker family sailed to Kenya in November 1952 on the SS Dunnotar Castle. Coincidentally, my family took the same ship on its homeward voyage via the Cape in early December of that year for our first home leave.

    I particularly like the picture of the Walker family with their Morris Minor. It brings back poignant memories of Heather, the oldest daughter, now deceased, whom I knew quite well in the years 1958 to 1959. She and Roy Ashworth (Rhodes 1953-58), along with me and another “Boma” girl, would often make a foursome in the holidays and go to teenage dances organized by the East Africa Women’s League. I remember Liz as being a bratty (but adorable) younger sister and Mrs. Walker as being kind and welcoming towards her daughters’ friends.

    Readers might enjoy reading Liz (Walker) Scoble-Hodgins’ comments in the memories section of the Philip Fletcher article for her complementary account of Christmas spent at the Head Master’s house and the escapades in which she and Heather were apprehended by none other than “Jake” himself.

    I would also like to refer readers to the “Staff Nicknames" article, there to appreciate a perfect cartoon drawing of Lawrence Victor Walker by a very junior boy from 1a, C.D. Beyer, which appeared in the 1959 Impala Magazine. (For those who may not have known Mr. Walker at school, the drawing on the right is “Amoeba”, while that on the left, equally spot-on, depicts the Vice-Head Master, “Fritz” Goldsmith.)

    Well done once again to both authors for capturing the life and career of a very popular and highly respected master. I hope their effort will inspire others to attempt parallel projects in the lives and contributions of more of the great school masters.


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