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Hugh Tayler 1900 - 1990

"Old Spud" 1932 - 1965

A Biographical Sketch by his Daughter Mel Tayler

Spud 1936 Spud 1965 HUGH joined the school in 1932, having been selected from over 100 applicants. I suspect that his Christ's Hospital education and his Oxford degree - not to mention his Old Blue credentials - appealed to Bradshaw as appropriate for the new school he was trying to create. Hugh taught Latin, Scripture, Rugby and Swimming - all for a starting salary of £240 a year. In 1933 he married and was joined in Lewes by his wife Kathleen.

The first war had interrupted his young life. He left school at 18 to go into the army, and was trained at Brighton Barracks for the horse artillery. Mercifully peace was declared before he went to the front. He progressed on a scholarship to Oxford. After that he worked in a variety of jobs: for the AA, Kelly's Directory, and a doomed advertising agency where his only consolation (before being fired) was to meet my mother. Then he tutored for a while until he landed what was to be his life's work at Lewes County Grammar School for Boys.

The second war soon interrupted that too. With many of his colleagues and even more of his ex-pupils away at the war, Hugh in some ways felt he'd missed out again. He was 39 when the war started - too old - and remained teaching at the school. But he joined the Home Guard and soon became Major of the Ringmer platoon, responsible for defending a huge area of the Downs against possible invasion. He was allowed a car to carry out his duties, and taught himself to drive whilst sitting in the garage at home. A terrifying thought, particularly as most of his driving was done in the blackout with no lights! He never had any subsequent driving lessons, and he funded the car in peacetime by moonlighting at the weekends as a rather diffident salesman of Palmer's Fish Fertiliser.

The war was well past by the time I got to know him. As a father he was humorous, with a strong line in sarcasm, a facility for schoolboy jokes and an irrefutable religious faith. I suspect he was the same in the classroom. He tried to make Latin fun by setting impossible sentences: "Caesar threw the soldiers' sandwiches over the cliff" or "Vergil had to borrow Nero's lawnmower." Sometimes he would try them out on me, to my delight and despair. In his role as Scripture master he loved to argue about the existence of God - in his case, for, of course - and would enthusiastically report his discussions with agnostic sixth-formers to my mother and me over Sunday lunch.

There was a time when any boy who got a D mark was automatically caned by the Headmaster. My father didn't entirely approve of this practice, but when it couldn't be avoided he'd often write "please whack gently" on the requisite note to Bradshaw. As far as I know, he never resorted to violence himself.

His last game - the victorious 'Staff 1952' team Rugby was always a passion. I remember being taken (aged 5) to watch his final rugby match in 1952, when the Staff thrashed the Boys 5-3. Watching the Saturday life-saving classes is another early memory, after he had cleared the pool of frogs and dead leaves. Always an outdoor enthusiast, he used to take his beloved 3A on an annual summer walk across the Downs. They'd meet at Lewes station on a Saturday morning and take the train to Southease. Then trek across the Downs to Firle Beacon where they'd eat their sandwiches, and be back home again by evening. On family walks my father would always enjoy pointing out a water tower in the valley with the words "Sir! Sir! That's Knowles's Uncle's tower!"

During my childhood I became used to middle-aged men accosting us in the street. "You won't remember me Sir . . . Bloggs 1945." But he always did remember them - at least until his last few forgetful years - and was invariably delighted to re-encounter old boys in later life.

Spud at his desk 1955 Spud teaching Transitus 1955 His colleagues were a constant source of practical jokes. One day Hugh noticed an appalling smell coming from his old red Vauxhall. He couldn't trace it for days. Eventually he discovered a highly singed kipper tied to the engine. After he'd finished laughing, he went unerringly to the perpetrator (one P Gem) and presented him with the charred remains. The very same P Gem regularly encouraged fancy dress amongst the staff on serious occasions. Once when they assembled to mark exam papers at least one Archbishop Makarios and a crowd of assorted characters processed solemnly into the Hall chanting and swinging lavatory chains. This to the visible embarrassment of Bradshaw and a frosty stare from Lionel Green, the Assistant Chief Education Officer.

It's not clear when he became Old Spud. He'd always been Spud, but then a younger Spud came (Peter Taylor). It could just have been that Hugh graciously aged into the role of father of the school. By the time he retired in 1965 he had for some years been the oldest member of staff. After he left Lewes he continued to teach part-time at Micklefield School in Seaford, eventually giving up when he was 80. He lived another ten years, and died just before his 90th birthday.

He enjoyed his time at Lewes tremendously, and always felt himself very lucky to work in such a congenial place and such a lovely part of the world.

Mel Tayler, February 2001.