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Old Warwickians

M M Clark – Warwick School Legend


This article was prompted by the reconstruction of the Reception area at Warwick School.  During building work in the summer of 2017, an oil painting of Marmaduke Musson Clark (born 1875, died 1955) was knocked off the wall of the Pyne Room, with much damage to the frame and a great deal of smashed glass. The decision was made to repair the painting, and it was eventually re-framed, with no glass this time (oil paintings should not be glazed, apparently).  Research into the painting itself, and its subject, ensued!

M. M. Clark was educated at Sedgebrook School, Lincolnshire between 1888 and 1890, and Tuxford Grammar School, Notts, until 1891.  It would appear that, at the age of 16, he then became what is known as a pupil teacher at Tuxford, and then at Watford Collegiate School until 1893.  Staying in London, he taught at Glenwood House School, near Edmonton, between 1895 and 1899, when he moved to Warwick, taking up a post at the King’s Middle School in The Butts, with a headmaster who became a close colleague, H. S. Pyne.

Pyne (left) and Clark, King’s Middle School, 1901

Pyne considered that the Middle School – founded in 1878 and designed for the training of “sons of tradespeople” in commerce – and Warwick School were one and the same, even before 1906, when they merged, and this generated the falsehood that Clark, who finally retired as Honorary Bursar in 1949, had served Warwick School for 50 years.  Such was the label, now removed and replaced with a more accurate summary of his career, on the damaged painting.

Clark moved, with Pyne and five other teaching staff, like A. K. Blackall, from the Middle School (a cramped site in what is now, but not for much longer, King’s High School for Girls) to the newly-fashioned post-bankrupt Warwick School in the summer of 1906.  The Middle School had been the darling of local politicians, the local press, local charities and even the Earl of Warwick, who (extremely unenthusiastically, as it turned out) was Chairman of Governors of Warwick School.

Well before the move, in 1905, it is clear that Pyne was setting up a system which he could operate at Warwick School if (and when) he became its headmaster.  He got the Middle School designated as a Centre of Scientific Excellence, opened a sixth form, and even re-named it as the King’s County School. All of these illegal actions alarmed the Board of Education, but worse was to come. It transpired that Pyne and other staff (including Clark) had been taking in boarders into their own homes since 1900.  Warwick School was unable to compete, especially when its headmaster, Rev W. T. Keeling, suddenly resigned and took up another post in Lincolnshire at Easter, 1906.  All the teaching staff and most of the pupils left over that summer, and Pyne started afresh in September 1906, with Clark as his bursar and with 11 other teaching staff, to cater for a fresh influx of 220 boys – only 13 of whom had been at the school the previous term.

In 1906 Clark was charged with teaching mathematics, Latin, geography and “shorthand and commercial work”.  Subsequently he was appointed “Junior Mathematics Master”, but from 1916 onwards seems to have taught geography only.  His salary in 1906 was £149 per annum, which was quite a long way down the hierarchy of staff salaries, but this had risen to £489 per annum in 1921, by which time he had been appointed as Second Master.

In common with many others at the time (including H. S. Pyne), M. M. Clark gradually became qualified while teaching full-time.  He had gained a Shorthand Teacher’s Diploma in 1900, and “London Matric” in 1901, and from 1907 onwards worked towards an external degree at Trinity College, Dublin.  He was finally awarded an MA from there in 1913.

Around 1921 – perhaps it was his first task as Second Master – he commissioned a booklet of photographs of the school, to be sold to “raise funds”.  Rev W. T. Keeling had done the same in 1903, but in his case the photographs, made into postcards and splendid as they are, did not help the school’s downward slide into bankruptcy.  Both sets of photographs form an important archive to this day.  We do not know who took the 1921 photographs, but as well as loose copies, there exist a couple of unsold, and immaculate, copies of the entire booklet in the school archives.  Perhaps it was a young P. N. G. Whitlam who took them – he had joined the non-teaching staff in 1920.

Between 1906 and 1927, the teaching staff expanded from 12 to 25 in number.  The school did, indeed, seem to be thriving.  The reasons for H. S. Pyne’s departure are subject to much speculation, but the fact remains that the new incoming head, G. A. Riding, met M. M. Clark in April 1928 and was given severely depressing news about the financial state of the school.

The financial system used by the school from 1906 onwards seems to be that the day-boys paid their fees to the Bursar and were subsidised by the Charity Commission and by grants from the Education Department, while the boarders paid their fees, which were five times that of the day-boy fees, direct to the headmaster.  Day-boy fees in the 1920s were £18 per year, while boarding fees were £72, plus the £18 tuition, per year.  It seems certain that Pyne did very well financially from this arrangement – rather better than he was prepared to let on.  Figures show that the headmaster was allowed to keep £54 of the £72 boarding fee – and the less he fed the boarders, the more profit he could make.  There is the distinct possibility that, for Pyne, the money just poured in, with very little checking by the governors, despite his telling them in 1927 that “he made practically no profit on the boarders”. Indeed, in 1933, the governors minuted: “The Governors should reserve the right of seeing the Headmaster’s annual Boarding House profits.”

Pyne’s successor, a housemaster from Rugby School, G. A. Riding, saw the advertisement “at a low salary” for the headmaster’s job on 27th September 1927 (“A great opportunity for a much neglected school” was how he described it after Pyne had showed him round), was interviewed on 2nd December (the last candidate) and was offered the job five minutes later.  Riding claimed 40 years later that he had “bullied” Sir Michael Lakin, Chairman of Governors, “at the interview into making me the headmaster!”  There had been 65 applicants for the post. Pyne was originally due to leave at Christmas 1927, but the very late appointment of Riding as his successor meant that Pyne stayed on until Easter 1928.

Riding wrote the following diary entries:

5 Apr, 1928:        Spent a hectic evening with Clark – a dreadful state of things revealed.

7 Apr, 1928:        Arranged for a £1,000 - £1,500 overdraft.

10 Apr, 1928:      Left Rugby for Warwick.  Paid bills most of the morning.  Spent the night & dined with Sir Michael Lakin, in great luxury.

Riding’s concerns about the financial state of the school were soon much reduced when M. M. Clark was able to give him, in November 1928, “wonderful figures about the heating and lighting for the last six months – a reduction from £240 to £90”.  Two months later, in February 1929, he was told that there was a profit of £313 on the previous term.  “I raise Matron’s salary to £100 a year,” was his pleasing response.

In 1999, H. B. Robinson (a pupil in the 1930s, and who ended his career as Deputy Head of the Junior School in 1982) wrote:

“Nobby” Clark was not only Second Master, he was also the Bursar and ran the tuck shop and second-hand clothing store and taught shorthand after school for anyone interested in journalism.  He had a perpetual rasping voice and was always clearing his throat.

George Riding was a tyrant.  He made great use of the cane and was feared by almost everybody.  In those days we had three-weekly orders.  Assembly was held in Big School and the bottom boy in all the lower forms was caned before the whole school.  Quite often it was the same boy time after time.

He also made mention of transport arrangements, and even a strange leavers’ custom:

Hardly anyone came by car, many by bus, but the majority by bicycle.  There were enormous bicycle sheds.  Many of us cycled home for lunch.  Every boy wore school uniform including a school cap, even the Upper Sixth wore a cap.  On the last day of one’s final term, it was traditional to throw one’s cap into the river as one crossed Castle Bridge for the last time.

For years M. M. Clark, in order to keep the Earl of Warwick happy, had to go to the castle weir after the end of every summer term, and fish out as many caps as he could with a long pole.

The origins of the affectionate nickname “Nobby” have been the subject of numerous internet discussions:

  1. Clarks are called Nobby because clerks used to wear top-hats in the City.
  2. Clerks who wrote with quill pens for 10 hours a day 6 days a week ended up with callouses and arthritic knuckles (with nobs on).
  3. No matter how poorly paid they were, clerks had to dress smartly like a 'nob' (toff, or well-to-do). Thus any Clark was always jokingly referred to as that Nobby Clark.
  4. Clarks were so called because in ancient times when not too many people had learned to read and write, they would employ the use of a scribe to do their writing for them. The scribe wore a kind of pinafore with many little pockets with different colour bottles of inks, and these inks formed knobs on the scribes clothing. In time people gave clerks the nickname of Nobby.

By June 1928 it would seem that Riding was arguing with M. M. Clark about the extension boarding house that Clark was maintaining, and had done so for years, at his home at 9 Emscote Road.  A full-scale row erupted in October 1928.  At Warwick School this extra boarding house was provided in response to Pyne admitting more boarders - with their attendant profits - than the maximum capacity of the boarding house, which was 140. The "row" in October 1928 may have been in response to G. A. Riding attempting to stop the lucrative practice. There were, after all, far fewer boarders (less than 70) in the school at this stage, and M. M. Clark would have been well aware of this.  Incidentally, there is no evidence at all that the governors knew of the “extension boarding house”.

In March 1929 Riding arranged for Clark to get his own phone line.  The wires for this line were still visible 80 years later.  In the 1970s, an OW boarder called Denis Castle wrote the following:

Clark and Pyne were close colleagues.  Very close.  Clark was allowed some five boarders in his own Warwick town home.  They would come to the school for prep, but cycle off to their lodgings with the bursar, where they ate far better than we did.  One could say that there was a right carve-up going on.  I wonder if the governors knew?

In 1930 two arson attacks at the school, two days apart (8th and 10th November), were found to be the work of a disturbed 15-year-old pupil, D. L. Paul.  He had stolen M. M. Clark’s keys and was able to wander around the school at night, setting off numerous blazes.  No-one was injured, fortunately, but there was considerable damage.  Whether Riding held M. M. C. responsible for lax security concerning his keys, we shall never know.  The Leamington Courier published a report, dictated, no doubt, by the headmaster, which is highly instructive – but which does not name names:

The first fire broke out on Saturday morning, the alarm being given to the captain of the School brigade by a boy at 6 o'clock. The fire was found to be raging in the junior studies which are sandwiched between the dining-hall below and two dormitories above. Within two minutes of the alarm the boys had left the building in an orderly manner, entirely on their own initiative.  One boy was rescued from the sick room by the Assistant Matron, who had to force her way through the clouds of smoke which filled a wooden stairway. Five minutes after the alarm had been given, the School fire brigade, which is organised by Mr P. Whitlam, had water playing on the fire from their hoses, and they had the fire well under control by the time the Warwick Brigade arrived. During the "change-over" from one brigade to the other the fire got a fresh hold, but the Warwick firemen quickly subdued it.

When the conflagration had been dealt with, it was found that the whole of the studies had been burned out. These had contained the belongings of 33 boys, including books, tuck boxes, wireless sets, clothes, and a number of O.T.C. uniforms.  A large hole had been burnt through the floor of the study and the ceiling of the dining hall below, and there was another hole in the floor of the dormitory above.

The boys not engaged in fighting the flames were housed in the science buildings, and within half an hour of the outbreak they were being served with tea and bread and butter from the school kitchens, which were at the time almost surrounded by fire. Tables were rescued from the dining-hall and taken to the gymnasium, where the usual hot breakfast was served to the boys only five minutes later than the usual time. School began at nine as usual.  During the day an assurance assessor inspected the building, but no cause of the outbreak could be ascertained beyond a possible short circuit in the electrical system.

Half of the damaged dormitory was used on Saturday night, and again on Sunday.  However, at 1:20am on Monday another fire alarm was given.  This time the fire was found to be at the other end of the building, in the Masters' Common Room. As the main stairway was choked with smoke, the boys did not venture to use it, and accordingly used the fire escapes with which the dormitory is fitted. Two boys first descended from a window by means of the Davey fire escape (an ingenious rope and pulley arrangement).  They were then able to receive the canvas chute down which the remaining 26 boys came. Within three minutes all the boys were reported safe.

The School brigade got to work once again and had the blaze under control when the Warwick Brigade put in a prompt appearance.  After the fire in the Masters' room had been dealt with an investigation was made of the adjacent Bursar's room, and I discovered that heaps of paper on the table were alight, yet with no apparent connection with the fire in the adjoining room.  The portion of the tablecloth that overhung the edges of the table was burnt away and the table itself was damaged, although the waste-paper basket beneath as well as masses of paper on the walls and shelves, and the surrounding floor spaces were untouched.

Several small bunches of burnt paper indicated that an attempt had been made to start a fire in the bookshelf which occupied the greater part of the wall farthest away from the Masters' Common Room.  A careful examination was made by the Warwick Brigade, who took up floor boards in the dormitory above in order to deal with the fire beneath.  After about three-quarters of an hour the Brigade Captain reported that all was safe, and the boys were able to go back to their dormitories, as their beds had not been touched by the water.

By Monday evening the authorship of the fires had been traced to one of the boys in the School House.  He has been examined by two doctors, who have made recommendations for his future, and who attribute his actions to a temporary mental derangement.  He will of course not return to the School.

It is worth noting that, at this time, the boys in the boarding house were locked in at night behind a formidable metal gate on the first floor landing.  Also, the Bursar’s room was on the corner, and not the present Deputy Headmaster’s office, which is next door.  Forty years later, in a letter to an OW, Riding wrote about an astonishing sequel to this dramatic episode:

I came across the name of poor Paul, struggling at the bottom of his form.  The doctors who examined him said that his efforts to keep up with his school work had played a large part in upsetting his mind.  When he came out of the institution to which he was sent, he wrote to me, asked me for a testimonial for the Law Society, as he had decided to be a lawyer!  I confess that it was the hardest testimonial I have ever had to write, but I did send it to him, saying rather formally, but honestly, what I knew of his good points.  What is left out of a testimonial is always more important than what is put in it!

Riding left in 1933, and Clark stayed on to see the next two headmasters settle in (E. Percival Smith from 1933 to 1936 and A. H. B. Bishop from 1936 onwards).  Clark would have attained his 65th birthday in 1940, but stayed on throughout the Second World War, finally relinquishing all of his teaching posts in 1946, by which time he was aged 71.  At this point he was awarded the title of Honorary Bursar, finally retiring completely and moving to Cornwall in 1949.  More than 50 years later his house on the Emscote Road was willed to Warwick School by its then owner, her having found out its use as an extra boarding house. Its sale in 2012, raising £485,000, provided funds for the purchase of the bungalow next to the Junior School on the Myton Road.

Ralph Thornton (WS staff 1948 – 89), a successor to M. M. C. as Second Master (1980 – 89) and, indeed, the last person to hold that position before the title of the post, and its method of appointment, changed to that of Deputy Headmaster, once told the author of this article that M. M. C., with whom he just overlapped in their respective careers, would leave his trilby hat on the ball top of the newel post at the bottom of the staff staircase if he was “in” in his office near the top of the staircase – thus saving people a wasted journey looking for him if the hat wasn’t there. 

It was the 1946 retirement that triggered the desire on the part of the Old Warwickian community to give a gold watch to Mrs Clark, a “beautifully illustrated book” to her husband, and to commission a painting to hang at the school.  J. A. Graves (OW President 1956 – 57), at that time the manager of Leamington’s Westminster Bank, took charge of the appeal for funds, and organised a trip to London, together with art master H. C. Deykin (WS 1936 – 65, with war service in the Camouflage Unit) and his former Warwick School pupil from 1936 - 1940, Hector John D. McLusky of the Slade School, b. 1923, d. 2006, (who went on to achieve considerable renown as the illustrator of the original James Bond newspaper comic strip), where they spent “an uncomfortable but interesting hour or two” (they chose to go “during the great freeze up” in early 1947) at the exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

The artist they chose was the 28-year-old John Worsley (1919 – 2000).  He had already made a considerable name for himself by being a war artist, and, having been captured in November 1943 and sent to Marlag O, a POW camp in north Germany for naval officers, sculpted a head of a dummy which became known as “Albert RN”.  The dummy was introduced at roll calls, in order to give escaped officers time to get away.  Unfortunately, neither of the escape attempts using Albert RN was successful, but the episode was turned into a British war film in 1953, and for this John Worsley made a new head.

On 5th June 1948 a ceremony was held whereby the Worsley portrait was presented to the headmaster “for safe keeping at the school” by Alderman Guy Nelson, Chairman of Governors.  A. H. B. Bishop, in accepting the portrait “of this great man”, said of M. M. Clark that “he has not only served this school faithfully, he has given his life to it, and it has been one of the great experiences of my life to have served with him, especially during the war years.”  He went on: “I am very proud to accept this portrait.  I cannot speak of M. M. C. and his service without also speaking of my great personal friendship with him.”  The repaired painting was replaced in the Pyne Room, formerly Big School, where it had hung for nearly 70 years, early in December 2017.

When M. M. Clark finally retired, it took two men to replace him: R. N. Mitchell, who became Second Master (until 1954, when he left for a headship) and A. L. Hues, who became Bursar.

A memorial brass plaque in Warwick School chapel is affixed to the back of the Deputy Headmaster’s stall, which is presumably where Marmaduke Musson Clark regularly sat for over 40 years.



Sixteen-year-old J. H. D. McLusky’s affectionate caricature of M. M. Clark, published in the December 1939 issue of Portcullis

Gervald Frykman, Warwick School Archivist, January 2018.