Wycliffians of the ‘sixties will have been greatly saddened to learn of the seemingly early death of a much-loved Historian, Housemaster and Venture Scout Leader in Barry Sutton, who died in late September, only a few days before he was to join the birthday celebration given for Frank Smith, a contemporary of his early teaching years.
Barry, an alumnus of Eltham College and Peterhouse, Cambridge, was appointed to Wycliffe in 1961 to assist Noel Johnston in the History Department and brought to it not only his youth but a breath of fresh air. History became a shared enthusiasm rather than being subject determined merely by the weight of the books one was asked to read whilst your mentor scoured the political columns of his Daily Telegraph.
Barry, tweed suited and slightly stooped, was warm, measured and intellectually stimulating to his pupils, although, peculiarly, somewhat intimidating to his colleagues, for his gently dropped retorts could be cutting if stimulated by remarks that were misjudged, facile or ‘unbecoming’ – for he was a stickler for old-fashioned courtesies, gentlemanly speech and considered accuracy of expressed opinions. He was the loyalist of allies, but for the unwary not one to cross, for he had a quick and incisive mind and the verbal facility to back it up.
Beneath this donnish exterior was a man of great warmth, who had sympathy for those who struggled, provided they were prepared to work hard – and this resulted in great academic achievements in his subject, and not only for those at the top. This was a period in Wycliffe history when the yearly tally of’Oxbridge’ places would run into double figures and Barry was a notable contributor to this.
Lest one should think of him purely as an ‘academic’ (although he was certainly one), contemporaries will remember his wide involvement outside the classroom. There were nights when the school sat up late to watch his Wycliffe team win their way through successive rounds of the Television inter-schools current affairs quiz ‘Up to Date’. The team, having won the final, were ‘quarantined’ on return lest the news of their success should be leaked to the school before the programme was broadcast (Impossible to do today!). The pipe-cleaner mascot made for the team by the ground staff still sits in the Council Room fifty years later.
Barry also instituted the Clio Society, to give wider access to historical discussion and activities, but he will be better known for his introduction of rock-climbing to the Venture Scouts and his leadership of both climbing and hill-walking expeditions throughout the country. The Cornish coast, Dartmoor, the Pennine Way and Lundy were locations for much self-learning and his name is still recorded in climbing manuals for the ‘first ascents’ he helped to put up on this last named precipitous and windswept island.
Much closer to home, Wycliffians will recall Barry negotiating the purchase of the telegraph poles and railway sleepers from that stretch of the Stonehouse to Nailsworth line which was victim to the ‘Beeching Cuts’ of 1962-3. Many exhausting afternoons were spent carrying these heavy items on to the school farm to form the basis of the Venture Scout unit’s assault course. (This was abandoned following the construction of a new Scout Headquarters and then modified for use by the CCF.) The spirit engendered amongst his Venture Scouts produced three ‘record crops’ of Queen’s Scouts, remarked on by the Chief Scout, Sir Charles Maclean, when he visited the school in 1967 and recorded in Star photos.
This remarkable ‘Renaissance Man’ also left lasting memories of his work as Wycliffe’s Stage Director for many annual school plays. Leading a team of equally enthusiastic boys, no work of construction was too daunting, as the Society’s archived play albums reveal – be it realistic Medieval castles, fantasy Chinese bridges or even a fully steaming ‘Rocket’ railway engine. Transmuting a fantastic idea into an ‘actual’ fantasy required both imagination and manual skills – and Barry was equally an adept with his carpentry tools as he was with his pen!
It was hardly surprising – indeed it was inevitable – that Barry should be offered a large boarding house less than ten years into his Wycliffe sojourn and in 1970 he settled into the challenging task of managing Springfield – a house that had for years been run with forceful direction but attitudes fast becoming anachronistic in the ‘teenage revolutions’ of the ‘sixties. The house needed some ‘elasticity’; it wasn’t to be easy, but Barry had the wisdom, the patience and the charm to effect the necessary changes – helped by his equally calm, charming and methodical wife, Margaret.
Springfield was to be run, no longer on rigid rules and systems but on a regime of mutual trust and loyalty – at least as far as teenage vicissitudes would permit. It didn’t always work; he was occasionally disappointed and there were accidents but, by and large, the House was a happy one where the members felt secure and supported in their new freedom – when they learned not to stretch the elastic too far.
After five years of challenge, it was but fair on his growing family to search for pastures new, with responsibilities one step removed from the emotional intensity of adolescents in close proximity. In 1975 Barry applied for, and was offered, the Headmastership of Hereford Cathedral School – one with a long tradition, in an historical setting and an important focus of a semi-rural market town. He fitted the role perfectly, was appointed to serve on the local Bench and spent twelve happy years there.
By 1987 he sought a further challenge, one that he knew, at 50, would probably be his last. Taunton School was much larger and with a different culture, perhaps not so constrained by ecclesiastical influences. It was certainly different and academically stronger, but Barry applied his usually unflustered and painstaking approach which saw him successfully through the next decade before retirement.
But what was there to do next?
Converting a new house with a large garden and being a Church Warden were worthy outlets for his energy, but not enough. One interest that Barry retained throughout his schoolmastering was a commitment to the Scout Movement – an interest perhaps sown by a much valued aunt who had held high level Commissioner and Trainer appointments in NW England. Barry not only enjoyed the activities but imbibed the Movement’s ethos – an ethos that still pervaded Wycliffe when he was here. His success with the Wycliffe Unit led to his appointment as an Assistant County Commissioner, during which he led several Venture Scout expeditions at home and abroad. When he moved to Hereford his focus moved from operative to adminish·ative responsibilities and he became their County Treasurer – a position he la ter accepted in Somerset. Somerset elected him to represent them on the Movement’s Council, of which he was eventually appointed Chairman. His level headed judgement consolidated his position as the senior volunteer administrator of the largest youth movement in the country, and reflected the respect in which he was held. At the end of his term of office he was presented with the Silver Wolf, the highest award in UK Scouting.
Barry was one of the most outstanding schoolmasters who served Wycliffe during the last half century. Although it was perhaps inevitable that he should seek new pastures, the quality of his contribution over fifteen years is difficult to match and we are grateful for all he did and the example he set. To Margaret we also extend those thanks for she was always part of the team. We also remember and share our sadness with their three children, all now with children of their own.