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Bill Euston 1906-76

'Old Bill' - English teacher LCGS 1930-67

from Jenny Lewis - his daughter

Young Bill Bill Euston (Old Bill) came to Lewes County Grammar School for Boys as head of the English department when it was first opened in 1930 and there he remained until he retired in 1967. This fact alone, now, seems fairly remarkable: that he could have stayed teaching all those years in the same school, possibly even in the same classroom without getting bored, without wanting a change, without wishing for further promotion. All I do know is that when we said, ‘Don’t you want to go somewhere else?’ he replied very firmly, ‘No’. He liked it where he was, he was happy and he knew what he did best.

The school under Neville Bradshaw was well run - the finest grammar school in the county, he thought - he had good friends amongst his colleagues and he genuinely enjoyed teaching the boys. So why move? I remember him coming home tired but I have no memory of him grumbling about the job, or saying he was fed up with kids and wishing he were doing anything other than teaching. In fact it was quite the opposite.

He was born in 1906 in Ampfield, Hampshire, where his father was the bailiff to the village squire, David Faber. Mr. Faber owned a large estate and Ampfield House, where he lived, still exists and is now owned by Hilliers. Bill grew up at Lower Farm with his three sisters, went to the local village school and then won a scholarship to Barton Peveril Grammar School in Eastleigh.

He did well academically and when he wanted to go to university in Southampton it was David Faber who paid the fees since there was no way Bill’s parents could have afforded to pay for any further education. He not only took an honours degree in English with Latin as a subsidiary but did his teaching practice in Southampton at the same time, thus saving money by qualifying as quickly as possible, all this in only two years! Although English was his first love Latin was not far behind, and in 1927 he got his first teaching post as an English and Latin master at Strodes School in Egham. He always said he was very glad to have spent those first three years teaching Latin because it fixed it in his mind forever.

I’ve mentioned these early years because I think they were important in shaping the kind of man he was: a scholar, a teacher, a gardener, a carpenter, and a man who, like Wordsworth, could speak from the heart and was unafraid to say,

‘ To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. ’

He disliked large cities, and was ill at ease in certain social situations, much preferring the company of a countryman to that of a sophisticated ‘townie’. And he could swear.

Young Bill and wife disport c.1935 Aside from his family, teaching was his first love, followed by gardening, fishing, woodwork, talking about cars and, in his younger days, messing about with guns. He had a phenomenal memory and knew huge chunks of the texts he taught off by heart, quoting effortlessly, to my embarrassment at times because he would do it in public. I would guess that many of his pupils still have lines from poems or plays that pop into their head from time to time, and it will have been Bill who first drew their attention to those words.

Old Bill Some years back I was at a social function at Bristol University and found myself chatting to a man who, in the course of conversation, said he came from Newhaven, and that he went to the Boys’ School. So I said, “ I suppose you don’t remember a chap called Bill Euston?”
“Do I remember him?” he replied, “ He taught me ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and that has always been my favourite play.” Those words made my evening.

Had he not become a teacher Bill almost certainly would have worked in horticulture, because growing things was his other great passion. In fact in 1942 he took the Teachers Advanced Examination in School and Cottage Gardening. This not only benefited him and his family but also the school since during the war years he took charge of the school garden and provided vegetables for school dinners throughout that period. I suspect some of those boys who worked with him never forgot the skills they learnt from their ‘gardening’ lessons.

Some of his most serene and happy moments were when he was just digging in his vegetable garden, whether preparing the ground for a new row of spuds or making another strawberry bed. One year he grew over a hundredweight of strawberries, far too much for a family of four to consume so he was forever giving away great bowlfuls. I also can’t, in writing about his gardening, omit mentioning dung. He was one of those rare people who could wax lyrical about the nature, texture, quality of the stuff. The similes were rich and plentiful. Dung made things grow and growing things was for him one of life’s great and lasting pleasures.

Although a hobby, he nevertheless saw gardening as something of a necessity and we rarely ate ‘bought’ fruit and veg. Fishing, on the other hand was purely for relaxation and pleasure, whilst carpentry came somewhere in between.

He made numerous small, occasional or bedside tables, and for us as children, dolls’ cots and high chairs. In fact one of his tables is in this room as I type and my sister still uses the walnut coffee table he made So they’ve stood the test of time. He also made me a very attractive rustic looking bird table complete with roof and all the trimmings but mine was surely the only one ever constructed to have the words ‘Adeste volucres’ carved on the front. This was mischievously translated by my brother in law as ‘Oh come all ye vultures’, but Bill insisted that ‘volucres’ was a poetic word for birds or flying things. He wanted the Latin inscription, not to show off his knowledge, though maybe there was a touch of that, but because the words actually meant something to him and if asked he’d tell you why, who said it, where and when, quoting the context perfectly from its original source.

For most of the years that he was at the school he worked alongside Colin Silk. I don’t know if there was ever a cross word between them. If so, we were not aware of it. Bill respected and liked Colin enormously and couldn’t have had a better, nicer or more generous colleague. The two were very different men and teachers, but I like to think that boys who were taught by both got the best of both worlds. Their styles and their personal passions were very different but they each had something special to offer and in their individual ways complimented each other.

Bill Euston with a 6th form English group

Friendship was important to Bill and amongst his colleagues were a number of special friends. One of his earliest was Gerald Courtney, who joined the school either just before or during the war and went on eventually to become a very influential headmaster, later awarded an MBE for his services to education. ‘Uncle’ Gerald was my godfather and he remained a close and much loved friend of the family until his premature death in France in 1975.

Other close friends were Percy Barton, Dick Page and Harry Pett. Perhaps Bill’s list would have been different but I can only write from what I remember and how I perceived things then. Percy was Bill’s fishing partner and carpentry guru, a kind man with a round face and a sunny smile. He lived near us and he had what was to me then, as a small child, a wonderful greenhouse, warm, steamy and full of colour, with steps going down to it and nasturtiums cascading either side. He made me a little child’s armchair out of oak which in later years my own children went on to use, sitting on it at the coffee table to eat meals when they were small.

Then there was Dick Page. He too, I believe, had been brought up in the country and they shared some similar interests. Not hunting, I think, but certainly shooting and fishing. When he knew he would never use his prize gun again, the one given to him by Mr.Faber, a ‘Purdey’ I believe, Bill sold it to Dick because he felt it was going to a good home, and a good man.

In May 1976 Dick Page wrote Bill a very long letter from Brazil describing his South American travels in detail, and for Bill’s special interest a full account of his spectacular fishing expeditions.

Lastly Harry Pett, the friend who was with him right to the end you could say. One wondered at times what they had in common, but they had a mutual interest in the school and a shared past of many years standing. They became ‘old friends’ especially in retirement. It seemed that they understood each other and were comfortable in each other’s presence, whether talking or simply in silence. When Bill’s wife died and he was living alone, his own health deteriorating, Harry was unfailing in his loyalty, visiting him every day, supporting him and helping him in whatever way he could.

What these friendships show, I think, is a special bond that many of the staff shared with each other, of friendship and mutual support, which helped to make the school the place it was. As Mr. Bradshaw wrote in a letter to Bill: ‘I think there was at our school at Lewes an atmosphere, an ethos, a “climate” which does not exist everywhere . . . . However it requires more than one man - the head - to achieve this, and I was fortunate in the men who helped me from the beginning. They created the character of the common room and later arrivals absorbed much of what they found there.’

So Bill, along with others, played his part in helping to shape the school and turn it into the fine and respected Grammar school it became.

Finally let his own words (which I have in an old green exercise book) end this biography :-

‘I remember particularly one occasion (a 6th form lesson) when I supplied specimens of Laxton Superb, Ellison’s Orange and Coxes and we sat around and had an Epicurean Symposium on which was the best eating apple.

I shall also always remember a discussion on Shelley’s imagery, particularly his veiled maids, who proved pretty elusive, were beautiful and chaste - but never caught.

. . . I shall remember the early school camps and swimming across the Seine at Les Andelys in the hot summer days of 1933, and of digging that interminable hole for our own swimming bath a year later.

Memories too of grimmer days of war, of trying to teach in the shelters: of the air fights and the doodle bugs. Then there was the school garden where we produced, and ate for school dinners, a cabbage weighing 35lbs and needing a wheelbarrow to transport it . . .

The memories I shall take away with me are rich, varied and, for the most part, happy.’

Bill was quite adept at parodying certain styles of verse. Here’s a poem, in sonnet form, that he wrote to the boys in his fifth form, after receiving a ‘Get Well’ card from them.

On Receiving a ‘Get Well’ Card like a Basket of Roses

Scorn not the pictured rose; it brings kind thought
From my good Fifth, left bare to ‘mocking’ storms
Of murderous questions twisted into forms
Cooked by the Devil: St Michael would score nought !
But this old devil his due pro. tem. has bought.
Nor Geoff, nor Will, nor Jane; nor crocus corms,
Not Cox’s Orange, or fat spate-fished worms
Can stir him; for his blooming ticker’s caught.

- Not lastingly he hopes. His thanks, meantime,
To Linfield, Motley, Pettitt, Precey, Nunn,
To Coley, Wharton, Beal and Job and Keene.

- Not so darned easy to string names in rhyme,
But juggling with them adds a bit of fun -
And there’s a sonnet made, though ne’er so mean.