Re-printed from ‘The Old Burian’ Magazine, 2018.
Few boys of our time at the Grammar School would have readily associated our Headmaster Robert Winston Elliott with the arts or any degree of humanity, yet I understand that the staff were not wholly against his remoteness in the Boarding House and were thankful to have the opportunity to teach in their own individual styles without too much interference. ‘Bob’ as he was generally known, was also very supportive of musical, artistic and Dramatic Society activities which promoted his desire to achieve excellence in his school.
When Bob retired at the time of the transition from Grammar School to Comprehensive in 1970 the Old Burians’ Association presented him with a camera, for which he was very grateful, but he had clearly taken an interest in photography much earlier, as a recently unearthed item reveals. It is the splendid photograph album depicted here. The album was amongst the items in the estate of our late Hon. Sec. John Ottley and had been purchased by him when it came up for auction after Bob’s wife Mollie died in 2003.
The album is in its original decorative fabric-lined cardboard box and its lacquered covers are adorned with Japanese Shibayama fighting warriors on the front and floral inlay on the back. Inside the pages are dark blue with the mainly black and white or sepia photographs, dating from the 1940s, carefully mounted. Some bear simple inscriptions, such as ‘The Study Window’ and ‘Ploughing for Victory’, in his distinctive handwriting. Beneath the Portland stone bust of King Edward VI, commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee he has penned a touching insight into his deep feelings for the history of the School:
“Happy may the vineyard of Edward flourish, occupying the place where once that of the martyr Edmund flourished. May he, the founder, protect as his eternal work this site which Victoria saw in her sixtieth year.”
There are some images of the school surroundings and well-known buildings in the town, which reveal a deep liking for local history. They are thoughtfully composed and exploit striking lighting contrasts. A still-life group of objects on the Study desk shows a similar considered approach and the collection of cups on the table for Sports Day 1942 underlies his pride in striving for achievement and brings back memories of the formal presentations on the Headmaster’s lawn after all the events. Possibly the ‘Farmyard’, with horse and foal, and the ‘Ploughing for Victory’ are views taken on ‘Muggy’ Warren’s Farm next to the school and through which we would plod, up to our necks in mud, on those nightmarish inter-house cross country runs. The most surprising shots in the album I found were the tender images of Bob’s two sons one entitled, with a tinge of regret,‘Curls gone’ and sometimes captured unawares, quietly enjoying the spaciousness of the school surroundings at different seasons of the year.