Stephen F. Marshall, M.A., B.SC., L.R.A.M.  (1908-1957)


was the first headmaster of the School,  from 1953 until his sudden death on a walking holiday.  Through his vision and leadership he set a style and a standard for the school in the early years,  blending a traditional and thorough academic approach with a remarkably modern,  liberal ethic.


His son,  Tim Marshall,  writes here about the father he knew,  and casts a revealing light on the Headmaster.   But Tim was never a pupil in his father’s school:  he joined Le Willows in September 1957.  He  is now a member of CLeWS and serves on the committee.


   I’ve been asked by Roger (Pikett) to write something about my father and his influence on the early years of the school.  To those of you who started at the school after 1957, this might seem a slightly odd request, but dad was the first (I suppose now, you’d say, founding, or foundation) head master when the school opened its doors in 1954.  He therefore will have had more influence than anyone on its early development,  and Roger reckoned that I would be in a better position than anyone else to write about this.







Up to a point,  Lord Copper.  This piece won’t be on the lines of John Mortimer’s “A voyage round my father”,  nor Blake Morrison’s “When did you last see your father?”  (though that title has some resonance).  It will be a kind of reminiscence,  stretching back over 46 years to the time I last saw him,   on Nottingham Midland station in mid-August 1957.   He was leaving  to lead a Ramblers’ Association party on a walking tour through central Switzerland;  he had only recently returned from leading a school party to the same area (the Bernese Oberland).


And then the morning of August 22nd:    my mother was woken at 2.30  by a policeman hammering on the door  (we four kids didn’t hear a thing)  to be told that her husband had died the evening before in Grindelwald,  probably from a heart attack.   I was due to start at the school in two weeks time.






So who was he?  What was he like?  How did he come to be Carlton’s first head?




He was born in 1908,  the third child (second son) of parents who eventually had six, three boys and three girls.  He went to Westminster City School  (not Westminster (public) School),  and from there to University College London to take a degree in Maths and Physics.  In his teens he became interested in music,  and apparently drove his sibs mad as he explored the capacities of the piano at home, harmony, discords and all, quite without having had any lessons at all.


From UCL he obtained a teaching post  in the secondary school in Devizes,  Wiltshire, where he undertook an MA by research,  studying exam performances by type of school and sex of the pupil.  During this time, too, he developed his musical interests,  and became fascinated by the capabilities of the human voice.  This eventually led to his acquiring an LRAM in voice culture.






After seven years in Devizes he moved to the very different environment of Latymer School in Edmonton, north London.  At what stage he met my mother I don’t know,  but she was a pupil at the school,  much younger than he  (she was born in 1921),  and I suppose then  (as now)  there were potential difficulties with relationships developing between staff and pupils...


After only three years or so  (I don’t know the details,  and can’t now ask Mum because she died 5 years ago)  he moved to another secondary school, Greenford,   in West London.  By now he had added the ’cello to the range of instruments he played  (he was fond of quoting Chesterton:  “if a thing’s worth doing,  it’s worth doing badly”),  and was collecting recorders,  violins,  a viola,  and a cor anglais as well as two pianos,  one of them a grand.  He also began to teach himself German.  Whether this was at Mum’s instigation I don’t know,  but she did German at what we would now call A-level,  and was on an exchange visit in Germany in the early summer of 1939.  He also travelled a lot  (for those days),  and acquired friends in Switzerland through engaging in conversation,  in his (then) very bad German,  some people he met on a train.






He and Mum married in early 1943.  As a science teacher he was in a reserved occupation,  and wasn’t called up,  which was just as well because he was also a CO.  This got him into trouble at about the same time,  because he was interviewed for,  and offered,  the headship of Dorking School.  He then told the interview panel that he thought they ought to know that he was a CO - and the offer was rapidly withdrawn.  If you ever wondered why Carlton le Willows had no CCF,  now you know:  there was never any chance.


He then obtained the position of Deputy Director of Education in Cumberland  (Directors had much more powerful fiefdoms then than is now the case),  and they moved there some time in 1943.  Three of the four children were born in Carlisle,  and we lived in “School House” at Kirkandrews upon Eden,  four miles west of the city  (for wine buffs, Jancis Robinson also comes from Kirkandrews).






He became deeply involved with musical activity in the county,  and conducted the local WI choir  (the village had barely 200 people in it).  He was also one of the founder members of Carlisle Mountaineering Club,  and was involved through the Education Committee in organising,  and working on,  “International Camp.” This was a two-week event held in the county for several years to which young people from all over western Europe were invited annually to live together,  learn about each others’ cultures,  and go walking,  climbing and exploring the heritage of Carlisle and the Border country.  During the seven years up there he and Mum had several holidays in the Alps  – Switzerland and Austria -  and doing what would now be called the Heritage Trail of the classical Viennese musicians:   Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.


In 1950 he had what Mum described as a breakdown.  Overwork, she said,  and it’s easy to believe,  because like both his older sister and brother,  he was a workaholic.  At the same time he developed diabetes,  which had to be controlled by insulin injections,  and I remember vividly being slightly scared on occasionally seeing him injecting in the bathroom.  Meanwhile,  at work,  the Director of Education retired,  and the county Education Committee appointed Gordon Bessie,  from Somerset, as the next director.







Whether in response to losing the top job in Cumberland,  or for other reasons,  he went back into teaching,  being appointed as head of the grammar school at Ilkeston,  half way between Nottingham and Derby.   Having taken we two older kids  (Janet and me)  abroad for the first time at Easter 1950,  he set about organising school trips with enthusiasm, going to Switzerland twice, and also on a school exchange to Hamburg.  The music continued,  through giving extra-mural evening classes at Nottingham University in Musical Appreciation,  and becoming well-known in Derbyshire for conducting local amateur and semi-professional orchestras  (on one occasion he was a last-minute stand-in for another conductor who was ill, a certain John Pritchard).


After only three years in Ilkeston,  we moved to Burton Joyce as he took over the headship of Carlton.  Years later I asked Mum why Ilkeston had been such a short stay,  and she said that it was a rather old-fashioned school, intimating that he hadn’t really been able to do in it and with it what he wanted.  So the opportunity of starting afresh with a brand new school obviously gave him that chance.



The music continued,  as those of you who were at the school between 1954 and 1957 will know well.  At Burton Joyce he again took over conducting the WI choir,  to such an effect that twice in only three years they reached the national finals at the Royal Albert Hall.  And the school journeys continued:  walking trips to Keswick at Easter (twice, in 1955 and 1957),  another school exchange to Hamburg at Easter 1956,  and the walking trip to Switzerland in 1957;  I was lucky enough to go on all of those.



The first issue of the School Magazine was published in the year Stephen Marshall died.  This is the leader article he wrote for it.




A life-long friend who wrote an appreciation of him in the school magazine after his death described his obvious love of music and mountains,  and his wish to show to possibly impressionable children the joy which could be obtained from immersing yourself in either.  I would add a third aspect:  he was a European before his time,  passionate about introducing young people to “foreign” people,  places,  languages and culture.  And it wasn’t just a matter of packing people off on a trip arranged by a commercial school travel company:  he made all the arrangements himself,  as well as going on all the trips.


And so to his influence on the school.  How can I tell?  I was never there while he was its head.  Eleven is an impressionable age, and going to a new school of course makes an impression,  but at that age there was no conscious recognition that this or that aspect of the school was his doing;  it was just how the school was.  So sorry, Roger,  but I’ve come up short.  Perhaps those best placed to comment are those who spent a year elsewhere first,  and therefore had somewhere “old established” to compare Carlton with.  And those who were at the school during its first three years may understand a bit more about why it was like it was.




Tim Marshall