G. Haydn Riley, Dip. Loughborough Col. (Hons)  (1925-2004)


was a craftsman and a founder staff member of the School,  teaching woodwork from 1953.  When he retired from teaching he moved away and formed a business creating fine hand-made furniture.   He died in August 2004.


Here Stuart Andrews writes about his memories of Haydn.  We also include two appreciations posted in the Common Room of this website.





I was most saddened recently to learn of the death of Haydn Riley. When I look back over my school years it is always with great pleasure that I remember my many days in the woodwork room learning from this excellent craftsman.







Most of my fellow Grammar School pupils seemed to excel in the more academic  subjects so by the time “A” levels came along there were few candidates for woodwork. I started my “A” levels in 1963 and completed them in 1965 and shared my studies with only two other students.   I suspect that this might have been Haydn’s largest ever “A” level contingent.  Pat Francis and Dave Mitchell shared my course and I do know that Dave went on to study woodwork at Loughborough and in time became a craft teacher himself. He is so much more qualified to comment on the skills that Haydn had and passed on: should David read these words, I urge him to send us his comments.


Though woodwork is essentially a practical subject,  our course included the study of the history of woodwork and the works of the great craftsmen through the ages – we would need to know,  for instance, the origins of panelling and understand its major contribution to the preservation of individual items of furniture.  We learnt about the process of converting trees into timber, drying it and preparing it for our use in furniture making. We recognised the furniture of the Adam, Hepplewhite, Chippendale, Sheraton etc schools and could describe claw and ball feet or cabriole, fluted or even bobbin-turned legs. But the real learning was in the practical application of what we saw our master perform.






Haydn, or Mr Riley as I still feel more comfortable calling him, was a gentle, patient teacher who understood not only the need to teach his subject but looked for the chance to add to one’s wider development. For several years I had felt convinced that I would go on to the renowned Loughborough Teacher Training College and eventually teach woodwork myself. Mr. Riley fed my ambitions by letting me teach the younger “O” level students on occasion and while he left me alone to try my hand and develop the skills of a practical trainer I knew that he was available in the background. I remember once while I was demonstrating how to cut a stopped chamfer to an assembly of young students, one young lad called me Sir. I explained to the class that I was not a teacher but a mere student like themselves and that they had no need to address me as Sir but just as Stuart. As I looked up I saw Mr Riley by the glue pot with a wry smile on his face. Later in that lesson, the same young lad, but with a much whiter face, rushed up to me with blood dripping from one finger. I bathed it under the cold tap, applied a sticking plaster and told him that it was unlikely that his finger would drop off. The lad said “Thanks, Sir”.  I did not correct him,  but Mr Riley was smiling again.


As a part of the application of the woodworking skills I was developing, Mr Riley provided genuine tasks for the benefit of the school. This not only gave me confidence to use my new found skills but helped me realise the true worth of the craft. I helped to erect solid light oak shelves in the library. I learnt the need to lead with a steel screw before using brass.  I had read this before but had not applied the knowledge,  but after seeing Mr Riley extract a headless brass screw from an otherwise unblemished shelf the lesson was never forgotten.  I contributed to the assembly of the school sailing yacht (SALIX). This really was hard work and after several hours of screwing marine ply to a hardened keel the blisters on the palm of my hands burst and I truly spilt blood to get that boat finished.






The school rugby team commissioned the manufacture of a “scrimmage machine”. This consisted of a vast wooden frame that converted some very large springs into a series of “scrimmage height pads” that responded rather unfavourably to the pressure exerted by the practising scrum. A pile of timber (3”x3” or thereabouts) appeared on the woodwork room floor and Mr Riley asked me if I would like to help with this new contraption.  I was delighted to be involved and soon found myself trusted to work direct from plans with expensive materials.  I was working for the first time with Ash wood.  A mortise and tenon joint was nothing new to me, but to cut one in 3" ash was a new experience.  I managed to break a hardened steel chisel in half and wondered quite how I was going to explain that to Mr Riley.   As usual, he took it well, explained how I could avoid repeating the disaster and then left me to get on and prove I had learnt something.  I quickly cut what seemed like dozens of these joints and the framework took shape.  Once the machine was completed and fully tested against the bruised shoulders of the rugby team front row I was invited to attend the Rugby Team annual dinner and proudly accepted their thanks for a job accomplished.


It should be clear by now that we three “A” level students really wanted to learn under Mr Riley.  We enjoyed woodwork,  and for me at least it was a stark contrast to geography and maths.   Was I always a good pupil, though? Well,   nearly always!






Mr Riley was a smoker. He could not last a double woodwork lesson without a smoke.  Whilst we three were busy in the woodwork shop, Mr Riley would “busy” himself in the wood store.   If we needed to talk to him, there would be a couple of jerky manoeuvres, a wave of the hand to remove any obvious smoke and only the faintest glimmer of any conscience.   I never challenged him on this behaviour but I did sneak into the store room during lunch breaks and have a crafty cigarette myself.   We both secretly shared the same bad habit and the same store room!


I did disgrace myself once.  I was rather lazily using a chisel in the place of a marking knife.  Mr Riley saw me and drew my attention to the misdemeanour.   The matter would have gone no further,  but in my embarrassment I laughed aloud.  Naturally Mr Riley assumed I was making light of the issue and also being rude towards him.  I was suddenly surprised to find myself being marched out of the woodwork room into the corridor and being told to stand there for the rest of the double period.  I had never heard Mr Riley raise his voice before.  I was so totally ashamed and I really did feel that I had let my teacher down.  Eventually of course he invited me back into the room and for him the matter was probably forgotten.  I have never forgotten my side of it – I still feel the embarrassment when I think about it.






Towards the end of my “A” level,  Mr Riley asked me to make a cigarette box for presentation to the dignitary who was to attend the end of year prize-giving ceremony.  I was startled to be asked but pleased that he had the confidence in me to make such a prestigious item.  I had seen such cigarette boxes in the past,  and knew that they were constructed with secret mitre lap dovetail joints and lined with thin layers of sycamore.  I worked carefully at these joints – they were intricate and very demanding of my skills – but I finally managed to create this dark wood box.  To make sure the lid exactly fitted the box, the box was constructed with the top and bottom in place. This meant that the box needed to be sawed all the way round to separate it from its lid.  Having successfully made the box I could not face the challenge of the separating saw cut. A slip would ruin the whole thing.  My secret mitre lap dovetails would count for nought!  I really could not face performing this crucial sawing feat.  Mr Riley calmly asked me to make the necessary gauged mark around the body of the box.  I did this and handed the box to him.  He took it and fastened it in the vice and took the saw in his right hand.  Was I relieved?  Was I?  I was until he handed it to me and said that I could do it.  “Go on”,  he said,  “You’ve done it all so far.  Take your time.”  I responded, carefully sawed my way through and relished his congratulations on completing the separation.  I remember many times how he would calmly give me the confidence to carry out a crucial operation.  He did these things so easily,  but some how gave me the confidence to succeed too.   I have to admit that when I had finally finished that cigarette box,  polished it up,  lined it and hinged the lid I was ever so reluctant to part with it and suffered a serious sense of loss at that prize giving event.


The course culminated in a final examination and also the completion of a piece of furniture each of us had been working on throughout the two year course.  With Mr Riley’s guidance I chose to make a tambour doored record cabinet in the style of Ernest Gimson.  To see such a substantial piece of furniture progress is most satisfying if not totally unbelievable.  There is great satisfaction in being able to make something of beauty and skill.  I touched on these skills to “A” level.  Mr Riley’s skills were of the highest and he was recognised amongst his peers as an expert.  After I left school I saw examples of his privately produced furniture,  including examples of grandfather clock cases and intricate games tables,  exhibited for sale at Rufford Priory gallery.  I was proud to tell people that I knew the creator of these pieces,  that I was proud to have been taught by him, and that I knew him as an expert in his field – an expert teacher and an expert craftsman.







Some twenty odd years ago I packed up smoking.  I have now lost the taste for it. But I still benefit from the skills that I learnt from Haydn Riley.  I do not make beautiful pieces of furniture and that is perhaps a great shame,  but I do perform lots of little operations requiring the skills and confidence that I gained from Mr Riley.  I still love wood and pieces made from wood.  I still recognise quality craftsmanship but I rarely see anything that exceeds the quality of Mr Riley’s woodwork.


I treasure the memories of a great teacher, a great craftsman and the constant threat of a burned out store room.

Stuart Andrews

August 28, 2004




It was with particular sadness that I read the announcement of the recent passing of Haydn Riley, my woodwork master at le Willows between 1954 and 1958.


I had a lot of time for Haydn - I was always keen about woodwork but initially my ability was way behind my enthusiasm!  Haydn must have spotted this and often went the extra mile to nurture me towards a decent level of competence, thankfully with some degree of success as not only did I get an "O" level in woodworking but he also asked me to demonstrate on the lathe during the official opening day of the school in front of numerous visitors, including Sir John Wolfenden;  that did my confidence no harm at all !


I still have some of the furniture I made at school during this period including a dropped-leafed oak coffee table made from one of the trees felled in the grounds of the school to make way for the sports field.


It was years later before we met up again thanks to the '94 Reunion and him subsequently becoming a member of CLeWS.  We corresponded most years after then and just last March, he sent me a delightful letter reminiscing about those early days of le Willows and how much affection he still felt, not only for his fellow teachers but also the pupils during that time.


A first class teacher and a true gentleman - I shall miss him.



Jeff Mann

23 August 1984



I have heard that Haydn Riley died last week at the age of 79. He was a colleague of mine for 16 years but more importantly my friend.


He was I believe one of the Grand Originals, with Harry Makins Ike Stamper et al. He was to me the epitome of the word craftsman. The underside of anything was finished to the same standard as the top.  But above all else he was a gentleman.  In my own school days the place to mess about was the wood work room, not so with Haydn his discipline was unobtrusive yet firm, I never heard him raise his voice in anger. Past pupils may recall at the annual prize giving the Headmaster would present the visiting dignitary with a bowl "Made in the school workshop". He and I used to have a laugh about that, as if it had been conjured up out of thin air.


Or when he was having a crafty smoke in the store room and I would walk in announcing in a loud voice " I think you'll find Mr. Riley in there Headmaster". He nearly set fire to his smock in his haste to douse the cigarette.


I have the wooden rugby ball that he made for me when I left the school, the finish is so perfectly smooth, and it ever reminds me of a man I was so fortunate to know.


I understand that he recently moved to Scotland, so the funeral will be held there.


David Roberts

15th. August 2004