Soham Grammarians : Lionel Hart

Service Remembered

Retired Soham teacher Lionel Hart was among nearly 30 long-serving county council employees honoured at a special ceremony.

Mr Hart, who left Soham Village College last Summer [1992] after 33 years' service, received a rose bowl and card from Cambridgeshire County Council Chairman Bob Burke.

[Editor] Lionel Dalai Hart joined the staff at Soham Grammar School in 1959, teaching primarily French. He was involved in many activities, especially Scouting, Chess and foreign trips. He was a Liberal-Democrat member of Soham Town Council for many years and was also a member of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

In September 2002 it was reported that he had resigned. He had stepped into the breach as Chairman after the sad passing of Meg Ennion. He was involved in various community projects where his support was always welcome, including the campaign to get Soham Station re-opened.

Newmarket Journal 1 Apr 1993

He was also involved with many local societies, for example the Soham Chess Club, in the Bury and District league. He was President of Soham Staploe Rotary Club 1987-88. Soham Community History Museum was founded by Donna Martin and Councillor Lionel Hart in June 1998.

At the Soham Grammarians' Dinner in October 2005 Dick Bozeat recalled that "Lionel Hart and I started at the same time, I with no teaching experience, he had three years teaching girls I believe, somewhere in Essex." They shared digs for four years.

See also Trips, day trips in Scrapbook, Chess and Scout Notes. Graham Rees (French & German 67-70) has also written of Lionel.

In 2002 and 2003 John Dimmock 59 kept us informed of Lionel's progress and move from The Princess of Wales Hospital, Lynn Road, Ely to a care home in Mildenhall, Suffolk.

On 22.9.07 from Geoff Griggs: Lionel Hart passed away at 9am.
According to the local press, he was aged 75.

At the funeral service, at St Andrew's Church Soham, 2pm on Monday 1st October 2007, taken by the Rev Edward Green, the hymns were All things bright and beautiful and Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy

The Old Testament reading was Proverbs 2, 1-11, read by Geoff Fisher (Soham Town Council)
The New Testament reading was John 14, 1-6, read by Linda Hutchinson (Cats Protection League)

The prayers included the Prayer of St Francis.

The congregation included former staff and pupils of Soham Grammar School and the Village College and friends from Lionel's many interests.

Interment took place at Soham Cemetery, close to the grave of his parents and not far from the grave of Mr Riley, Lionel's senior on the French staff at the Grammar School.

taken on 30th September 2008

Lionel Robert Hart
23 May 1932 - 22 September 2007

tribute given by Mike Rouse at Lionel's funeral 1 Oct 2007

Those of us who are gathered here today in St Andrew’s Church to say farewell to Lionel are not members of his family, but those of us whose lives he touched in a great variety of ways.

Devoted son, schoolmaster, teacher, linguist, scout master, chess player, collector, history lover, Rotarian, Town councillor, East Cambridgeshire District councillor, Fund-raiser, Cat lover…

I’m sure we all fit in there somewhere.

Lionel came from Marks Tey in Essex and was educated at Colchester Royal Grammar School, before taking his degree at Leeds University. For four years he taught at Clacton Secondary School for Girls before in 1959 being appointed by the governors of Soham Grammar School as a Junior French Master.

On arriving in Soham he went into digs along Fordham Road with another new teaching arrival, Dick Bozeat. The pair of them were then in digs in Ely for three years, before Dick moved out to get married.

Dick Bozeat told the Old Grammarians at their Reunion Dinner last year how Lionel, one evening in the digs said to him "Would you be interested in taking a party to Switzerland at Easter?" "I was in my first term of teaching and said "Oh yes, I'll do that, no problem." Anyhow we assembled this party - 52 pupils and I think they were aged from 11 to 19. We took 52 pupils by public transport to just outside Interlaken on Lake Brienz; we took two members of staff - I think today we would be hung, drawn and quartered for attempting it. Getting them across London on the Tube in one piece was enough and then getting them on and off the boat. Half of them had never been abroad before. We caught an overnight train down to Basel, having managed to get through Paris with everybody still intact. (We don’t seem to able to find the Risk Assessment document in the College archives). After that we went on numerous visits, Peter Askem joined us afterwards, we went to Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia."

Graham Rees, who taught French and German at the Grammar School from 1967-1970, arrived as Lionel took over as Head of Languages from Tom Riley. He also recalls the ‘Bachelors Club’: "Lionel Hart was President of the Bachelors Club – the unmarried staff went out for a monthly meal and generally convivial evening at a range of venues, including Waterbeach, Barton Mills, Lavenham, Long Melford, etc. Also there were occasional ‘extra’ sessions at The Cutter, The Chequers in Fordham and the Fen Tiger. The members of the club at this time as well as Lionel and myself, were Barry Bartholomew, Chris Wain, Bob Hanworth, Don Riley and Tony Cornell."

Barry Bartholomew, mentioned there, recalls Lionel: "I remember him well as a much respected member of staff who gave unselfishly of his time to help boys and other staff both in and out of the classroom. He was well known for his energy with chess and scouting, but he also helped out with games. I went on two camps with him and saw first hand the great contribution he made to a ‘rounded education’ in this way ... His Soham Grammar School contribution has also to be seen against the considerable help he had to give to his parents."

Indeed, Lionel was the only child of a blind father, who worked as a basket maker and a registered blind mother, who later went deaf and by this time he had moved them to Soham to live with him. He was affectionately nicknamed Dalai, as the boys thought he bore a resemblance to the spiritual leader of Tibet, who I don’t suppose many of them had met. For that matter I doubt whether the Dalai Lama smoked a pipe or was accompanied by a little dog that would curl up under his desk while he was teaching.

He was responsible for making chess a popular activity at the Grammar School and the school team competed against other schools and clubs.

I first really got to know Lionel when the Village College and the Grammar School merged as a comprehensive school in 1972 and Lionel became Head of Languages. He was also housemaster of Ridley, a role he took very seriously. Soham Village College as a mixed comprehensive school was a huge change for all of us, but more so for those who had been on the staff of the Grammar School, but Lionel didn’t let it show and soldiered on. Kevin Wells remembers him loping along around the College with his school master’s gown flapping around him. Not all of us had one, but that gown was a part of Lionel and still is today.

The scout troop that he had been so involved with went as did the wooden hut on the grounds in front of Beechurst, but Lionel still continued organising trips to France. On one such trip David Tickner remembers the coach seeming to be lucky with the traffic lights as they went through London and he said so to Lionel. ‘Yes,’ replied Lionel, ‘9-3 in our favour’. Typical, Lionel. I was one of the several staff who accompanied him, on one such visit to Le Treport and he, as a thoughtful and generous leader, presented all those staff with him with a little souvenir at the end. That was typical of Lionel too, the quiet, thoughtful, kind gesture as a thank you.

His mother Elizabeth died in February 1976 and he looked after his father, Arthur, until he died in 1980. This must have been a very stressful time for Lionel, but I never heard him complain. My wife when she joined the College staff in 1981 was offered one of the staff houses, but it was not in a fit state for her to move in and she remembers his thoughtfulness and kindness in bringing round cleaning materials, a heater and food while the house was sorted out. She also recalls visiting his home in King’s Parade and being asked to sign the visitors book.

In time Lionel became Head of Lower School. Another memory is Lionel taking on a common room full of students at chess. Watching him move swiftly from board to board, making his move and leaving the students to ponder their next one. He was a member of the Soham Chess Club that competed in the Bury and District League. He also organised public speaking and performing evenings with the sponsorship of the Soham Staploe Rotary Club.

But after thirty three years of teaching at Soham Village College in the summer of 1992 Lionel retired and received his rose bowl and card from Cambridgeshire County Council in recognition of his long service. On his retirement Lionel then became even more active in the community of Soham as a whole.

Lionel was a keen Rotarian and was President of Soham Staploe Rotary Club from 1987-88 and Geoff Fisher and fellow Rotarians are here today.

‘Rotary,’ Lionel once said, ‘was something you caught and once you had caught it you gave everything to it.’ As Trevor Cole and Geoff Fisher recall, it was the fellowship at local level that appealed to Lionel. He was loyal. He gave everything to the ideal of fellowship, not for his personal advancement.

In May 1995 he stood for the town council and East Cambridgeshire District Council as a Liberal Democrat. To demonstrate the esteem in which he was held in Soham he topped the poll for the District Council with 973 votes.

He took over the Chairmanship of the Town Council on the death of his former teaching colleague Meg Ennion and was involved in everything happening in the town.

Lionel is pictured above on the left as President in 1987/88, assisted by District Governor Maurice Harcourt, presenting the Club's Founder President Maurice Hobbs with a Paul Harris Fellowship
Soham Staploe Rotary Club: photo Roy Dubbins

He campaigned for the re-opening of the Railway Station, helped to form the traders association, was involved in Crime Prevention, the Carnival and in June 1998 with Donna Martin he founded the Soham Community History Museum, which has been such a success. Again, as with Rotary, he showed tremendous devotion to duty at local level. He did everything to promote Soham.

In fact we can see that golden thread running through Lionel’s life, a sense of duty – with his parents, his teaching career and his duty to students and colleagues, the scouts, where it comes in the promise, Rotary and for the community of Soham as a whole. Lionel Hart was at the heart of everything it seemed. Now that you would have enjoyed, Lionel, because Lionel loved a pun.

John Abbott, his teaching colleague at the Grammar School and colleague on the District Council reminded me of that. You couldn’t have a meeting with him without him making some outrageous puns, the more groan inducing, the more he enjoyed it. He enjoyed Radio Cambridgeshire and often phoned in to contribute to programmes.

The tragedy that struck Soham in the summer of 2002 deeply affected Lionel. For such a kind and thoughtful person who had spent his life caring for his parents and working with young people, he could not bear the thought of what had happened and in Soham of all places, the town that had become his home and for which he had worked so hard to make a better place. He resigned from the Town Council and the District Council and withdrew to his home and his beloved cats which numbered nine. In December 2002 he suffered a stroke and after treatment at the Princess of Wales Hospital he found a new home at Mabbs Hall, Mildenhall, where he received loving care until he died.

Jacqueline, who looked after his affairs for him and the Cats Protection League managed to take a cat in there for him from time to time to pet. He did not ask for much but he did enjoy a glass or two of Scotch and Jacqueline ensured that he always had a supply of his one little luxury.

So this evening, let’s raise a glass, of our own choosing – mine, Lionel will be French red wine (not an inappropriate choice, I’m sure) and drink a toast to Lionel – a man who did a lot of things, quietly.

Mike Rouse (Soham Village College)

from the 1960 School Photo

from the 1965 School Photo

from the 1970 School Photo
from the 1972 School Photo

John Dimmock 59 was one of those who visited Lionel Hart during his final illness and kept us in touch:-

26 Dec 02 from John Dimmock (1959): When I visited our local community hospital yesterday, I discovered Mr Hart is a patient. He has apparently suffered a stroke and is currently undergoing rehabilitation treatment. I was wondering if you might consider making other old boys aware via the web site and encourage them to write or if in the area to visit him. His address will be: Wicken Ward, The Princess of Wales Hospital, Lynn Road, Ely, Cambs CB6 1DN.

19 Jan 03 John reports that Mr Hart is still in hospital - he is making progress but only very slowly. Visitors give him a boost, so if any of his former pupils can spare a half hour or so, please call and have a chat, he would be delighted to see you.

3 Mar 03 John Dimmock update on Mr Lionel Hart: he has now been transferred to a care home in Mildenhall, Suffolk. 

Lionel died on 22 Sep 2007

27 Sep 07: Barry Bartholomew (PE 67-68): Lionel Hart and I were colleagues during my time at SGS. I remember him well as a much respected member of staff who gave unselfishly of his time to help boys and other staff both in and out of the classroom. He was well known for his energy with chess and scouting but he also helped out with games. I went on two camps with him and saw at first hand the great contribution he made to 'a rounded education' in this way. Graham Rees has referred to his organisation of the Bachelors' Club and their very social dinners around the area. His SGS contribution has also seen against the considerable help he had to give to his parents. [editor - who were both blind and according to Norman Sherrington (Latin 60-68) were basket weavers and lived at Marks Tey in Essex.]

I kept in touch with Lionel via Christmas cards for a long time until I lost touch when he moved.

27 Sep 07: Clive Bray 50: Although he was after my time I recall Lionel from the broadcasts he used to do on the local radio.

4 Oct 2007: The Newmarket Journal (Letters): Adieu Monsieur Hart, a highly-skilled man

I was saddened to read of the death of former Soham teacher and councillor, Lionel Hart.

I was taught French by Mr Hart at the Grammar School and Village College from 1968 until 1973, when I moved to the sixth form at Ely.

In those days, the already antique Cambridge bus seemed to take forever to reach Soham. However, on days when a French test loomed, the journey seemed to flash past as precious time was used for some frantic last-minute revision of French vocabulary or verbs. Even on non-test days there was often the daunting prospect of some fiendish dictation or the return of the latest piece of meticulously corrected homework.

Mr Hart was a highly-skilled teacher who kept us boys in line, set very high standards and always demanded the best of us. On a personal level, he gave me a life-long love of other languages and cultures. His example and encouragement inspired me to pursue a career in foreign languages.

As a society, we still do not truly value those who work in our caring professions, among whom are our teachers and educators. Those individuals who devote the whole of their professional lives to providing educational opportunities for our young people demonstrate a very special degree of dedication.

Lionel Hart was such an individual. He was a very special kind of teacher, who will forever have my respect and deepest gratitude.

Adieu, Monsieur Hart, et millefois merci.

Robert Medlock

A similar letter from Robert Medlock 68 appeared in the The Cambridge Evening News Saturday 13 October 2007.

17 Oct 2007: Mrs June Lawrance: Yes, Lionel's parents were basket makers - I have evidence still of four waste paper baskets (in just as good condition as when we acquired them in 1974 and they cost 50pence each). His Christmas card arrived on the doormat sometime between 1am and 7am on Christmas morning.

18 Oct 2007: Geoff Coote 57: I was very sad to hear of the passing of Lionel Hart who gave many of us our first taste of foriegn travel. By way of a small anecdote I offer you this:

I was on the Easter 1962 trip to France. On one of the days out to Les Baux, the artists' caves above Arles, I jumped over a rock to find nothing on the other side, falling a few feet and damaging my ankle. In a great deal of pain I hobbled back to the coach convinced that I had a broken ankle. When we got back to the hotel that evening Mr Hart spoke to the hotel owner about seeing a doctor, he knew of somebody who could help.

So the three of us set off in the owner's rusty old CV5 into the back streets of Arles, we arrived at a really narrow street in the most run down area of the city and went into what I remember as the most dilapidated house I had ever been in. Inside was an old lady sitting over a large cauldron (seriously, very hubble bubble toil and trouble). When the problem was explained to her she produced a hot black potion that looked like tar, put it on my ankle and wrapped it up in a dirty rag.

The pain became intense and during the night I was so hot and sweaty that I remember thinking I was in serious trouble. However when I woke up the next morning, soaking wet, there was no pain in the ankle or any swelling - absolutely amazing.

When I saw Mr Hart later I asked him what the ointment was? He said he hadn't a clue as he had not understood a word the hotel owner and the old lady had said as it was in a French dialect he had not heared before.

He also took us to a bullfight in the Roman Coliseum in Arles. I can not imagine school masters doing such a thing these days.

Robin Bailey, Burwell: The Newmarket Journal (Letters) 18 October 2007: I refer to the excellent letter sent in by Robert Medlock (Newmarket Journal, October 4 – Adieu Monsieur Hart).

As one who was unaware that Lionel Hart had departed from us I must thank him for his tribute sent from the heart.

He has turned into the spokesman for all of us who had the pleasure of being taught by such a larger than life person. I have often thought of him over the years and will never forget him. To make such a mark in the mind of youth goes to show a form of greatness never realised in the silent fame of an achievement that forms the backbone of communities.

My memory is of the day ‘the long and the short’ first came to Soham Grammar School – the Lionel Hart and ‘Dickie’ Bozeat duo. They were firm friends and such a dedicated pair.

I have very fond memories and a selection of photos from school holidays in Austria and Switzerland to look back on.

If you have any anecdotes or photos relating to Mr Hart please contact the editor
last updated 20 Dec 10