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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Koch

The Office of Vice Master: A History

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

It has been a privilege to serve as Vice Master at Bedford School for six years. When I joined, I knew it was a very old school, founded in 1552. The names of all the Head Masters are known back to that date. What I did not know is that the job of the Vice Master is equally old. The Letters Patent that established the school in Edward VI's reign called for "one Master and one Usher to continue for ever."[1] Although the job title has changed over the centuries from Usher to Second Master and finally to Vice Master (sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not), the role remains essentially the same - to be the Head Master's senior deputy and to assist them in all aspects of running the school.

I set out to discover the names of the Vice Masters of Bedford School going back as far as I could. To my knowledge, no one has attempted this before. One thing that piqued my interest is the School Hymn, ‘Domus Pater’, which we sing – in Latin – every year on Speech Day and other ceremonial occasions. The hymn is attributed to Henry Le Mesurier, ‘sometime Vice Master’. If nothing else, I hoped that I could find the dates of Le Mesurier’s time here to add precision to future editions of the hymn book.

I began by working my way backwards, using the school’s magazine, The Ousel, as my guide. I joined the school in 2016 and have met three of my four immediate predecessors. Colin Baker held the post from 2008 to 2016 when he retired. He began teaching at Bedford School in 1979, and was Housemaster of St Peter’s, Head of Chemistry, Director of IB and Director of Studies before becoming Vice Master (Ousel, 2015-16, pp. 87-9). John Moule was Vice Master before him. Moule joined the school as Vice Master from Stowe, where he was Head of History and then a Housemaster. He arrived in January 2006. He was appointed Head Master upon Dr. Philip Evans’ retirement (Ousel 986, 2013-14, pp. 68-9). In 2014, he went on to become Warden (Head) of Radley College.

The last three Vice Masters: Colin Baker (left), Me, John Moule (right) at Bedford Regatta, May 2017.
Simon Davies

Moule’s predecessor was Simon Davies. He came in as Vice Master from Abingdon School, where he was Senior Boarding Housemaster (Ousel Dec. 2002, p. 4). He taught Biology. He was appointed Head at Eastbourne College and left Bedford in July 2005 (Ousel 2004-5, p. 14). Mr Rob Campbell, Head of Art, was the Acting Vice Master in the Autumn Term of 2005.

Alan Thorp

Prior to Davies, all Vice Masters of Bedford School (at least back to the early 19th century) were internal appointments, and all but one were in the post when they retired, normally after several decades of service to the school. Alan Thorp was Vice Master from 1988-2002. He was born in South Africa in 1942. He joined the school in 1970 and taught History and later became the school’s first Head of Economics. He also ran rugby and was Housemaster of Sanderson’s (Ousel, June 2002, pp. 4-5). I had the pleasure of meeting him once when he came to watch a rugby match at school in my second or third year here.

Michael Barlen

Michael Barlen was Vice Master from 1977-88. He was an historian and author of several books, including Bedford School and the Great Fire (1984). His library was donated to the school after his death and is currently housed in the History Department. Barlen arrived at Bedford in September 1956. He was Head of History from 1967-77 and was also a Housemaster of Pemberley. He chaired the staff planning committee for rebuilding of the main school after the 1979 fire. In 1988, he became Acting Head Master and then Head Master until his retirement in 1990. He was a musician and enjoyed mountain walking (Ousel, Dec. 1990, p.3). He died unexpectedly soon after his retirement. His widow, Antonia, still attends school events regularly.

R. W. Roseveare

Richard (Dick) W. Roseveare (Vice Master from 1973-77) was educated at Monckton Combe in Bath and Clare College, Cambridge. He taught for two years at King’s School Grantham, then joined Bedford School in 1937. He was a Biologist and served for some time as Head of Department. From 1941-46 he left the school and served in the Second World War. He was Housemaster of Redburn for 15 years. His tribute in The Ousel reads: “He has a natural sympathy with young people, particularly the awkward and difficult ones, and many times had seen good where his colleagues saw no hope of redemption and has been proved right.” (Ousel, Nov. 1977, pp. 77-9).

O.V. Bevan

Owen Vaughan Bevan, Vice Master from 1969-73, was a Bedford School boy. He joined the Inky in 1916. Later, he studied History at St. John’s College, Cambridge. He taught briefly at Denstone, then joined the faculty at Bedford School in 1934. He taught Latin and French, led the CCF, and coached the 1st XV and the 2nd VIII. He was Housemaster of Burnaby during the war (Ousel, Nov. 1973, p. 62). Before Bevan, L.H. (Jack) Clarke served as Vice Master for five years between 1964 and 1969. He was a Mathematician and studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He came to Bedford in 1930 and taught here for 39 years. He wrote several textbooks, ran tennis and was Housemaster of Pemberley for 15 years (Ousel, Oct. 1969, pp. 123-5).

Vernon Frederick (Bob) Dowell Lee was Vice Master from 1956-1964. He was educated at Oundle and joined the teaching staff at Bedford School in 1922. He coached the 1st VIII, was Housemaster of Kirkman’s and taught Maths as well as other subjects. According to The Ousel, “On the day before he retired after 42 years of service, he proudly coxed the 1st VIII, standing in the stern in the position from which he had coached crews for so many years.” (Ousel, Nov. 1964, pp. 126-7). He died in 1986 (Ousel, June 1987, p. 60). Unfortunately, I could not find a picture of him.

H. Boys-Stones

Lee became Vice Master when H. Boys-Stones retired at Christmas 1955 (Ousel, Nov. 1955, p. 139). Boys-Stones was educated at Shrewsbury. In 1911, while on parade, he tripped and fell in front of George V. He went to St John’s College, Oxford but left after a year when the Great War broke out. He served throughout it in the King’s Own Regiment. He completed his degree in 1921 in History and Classics and was appointed at Bedford in 1921. He ran the O.T.C. (Officer Training Corps), was Housemaster of Burnaby from 1931, and always played the lead in staff plays. He was Vice Master to three Head Masters from 1946 until his retirement in 1955 after 34 years of service (Ousel, March 1956, pp. 3-4).

Henry Alwyne Henderson, Vice Master from 1936 to 1946, taught at the school for 42 years. He came to Bedford from Brasenose College, Oxford in January 1904. He was Housemaster of Castleside, the Junior Boarding House, then St. Peter’s Boarding House. He coached the 1st XV. The Ousel said that when he was appointed Vice Master in 1936, “ten difficult and exacting years were in store for him” (Ousel, June 1946, p. 31). Running the school during World War II, with air raid sirens, food rationing, labour shortages as well as taking on extra boarders from Victoria College, Jersey, was undoubtedly extremely difficult.

N.P. Symonds

Harold Llewelyn David served as Vice Master in his final three years before retiring in 1936. He joined the staff in 1914, but during the Great War he enlisted in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was posted to India. He was known as a gentle man but was said to have “within him the burning fire of a Thomas Paine on matters which affected the rights and liberties of his less fortunate fellows.” (Ousel, Oct. 1936 132-3). Prior to David, N.P. Symonds held the post for a decade from 1923 to 1933. These were the final ten of his 47 years’ service, during which he was heavily involved with Rowing and CCF. On his retirement, The Ousel said that “for many years he held the office of Vice Master and more than maintained the dignity of that position.” (Ousel, Oct. 1933, p. 143).

It was tricky to find the date when Symonds took on the role. I was able to work out that it was 1923 from a summary of Speech Day of that year in which the Head Master congratulated his predecessor, E.H. Dasent on his retirement and thanked him for 40 years of service, saying “he was never content with slackness or a low standard” (Ousel, Oct 1923, p. 82). We know that Dasent was Vice Master because the 1918 School Prospectus lists him as such, as do the 1919 and 1922 prospectuses, which are in the Bedford School archives. They say that Dasent was on the “classical side” and was a “late Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge.”

Similarly, the dates that H. M. (Henry McLean) Dymock served as Vice Master required some digging. In 1912, The Ousel reported that “the School assembled on September 20th [to be told] that Mr. H. M. Dymock had…decided to terminate his long career of devoted service,” noting that he had been a member of staff since 1872 (Ousel, Oct. 1912). His obituary notice in The Ousel in February 1932 said that Dymock was born 1847. He was Vice Master under three Head Masters. The 1911 Prospectus lists H.M. Dymock, MA, Late Scholar of St. John’s College, Cambridge as “Senior Master.” He was educated at King Edward VI's Grammar School at Louth, and later at Rugby School. He was Housemaster of St. Peter's House between 1876-1904. The notice also says that he came to Bedford School in 1872 to assist Mr. Fanshawe (then Head Master), who was ill. It goes on: “This was three years before [James Surtees] Phillpotts became Head Master of Bedford School, under whose and Mr. King's rules he held the position of Vice-Master.” (Ousel, Feb. 1932, p. 7).

If Dymock retired in 1912 and served as Vice Master under three Head Masters, that suggests he was in that post at least since 1874 (the three Heads would then be Phillpotts from 1874-1903, John King, 1903-10 and Reginald Carter from 1910 on). We know that his predecessor, Henry Le Mesurier, the writer of the School Hymn, retired in July 1873.[2] He had served the school for 41 years.

Le Mesurier joined the school in 1832, replacing Thomas Brereton (the brother of the then Head Master) as Usher at a time when there were only sixty boys on roll. John Sargeaunt, the author of the first history of the school, said he was a Wykhamist (i.e., educated at Winchester). He then studied at Brasenose College, Oxford. In the 1830s or 40s, he fought the Trustees of the Harpur Trust, who were threatening to reduce the money spent on the school in order to fund other activities. He won by proving that it was clear from William Harper’s grant that the school was his main priority.[3] His interest in Harper might explain his choice of ‘Domus Pater Harperiae’ (‘In Harper’s House’) for the opening line of the school hymn, which he wrote and was first performed in 1861. Le Mesurier was also well-known for a harsh temper, for giving frequent beatings, and for having the “appearance of a grizzly bear” particularly in his old age. He is almost certainly the subject of the 1861 photograph below.

H. Le Mesurier in 1861. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Le Mesurier preferred the term Second Master rather than Usher, which had been used by previous holders of the post. (The term Vice Master seems not to appear before the early 20th century).[4] As for Thomas Brereton, Le Mesurier’s predecessor, he became Rector of Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire around 1830 – possibly before leaving Bedford School.[5] He had been Usher since 1817. Prior to that, the post was held by Charles Abbot, a noted botanist and author of Flora Bedfordiensis (1798), who was Usher from 1788. Several earlier Ushers are mentioned in William Page’s The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire (1904), presumably from records held in the Bedford Borough archives. It may well be possible to trace the list of Ushers all the way back to the foundation of the school. But with my time in Bedford nearly at an end, I will need to leave that to a future historian or Vice Master.

Vice Masters of Bedford School

William Bowles, 1734-1755

Samuel Towersey, 1755-1776

David Williams, 1776-1787

Charles Abbot, 1788-1817

Thomas Brereton, 1817-32

Henry Le Mesurier, 1832-1873

H.M. Dymock, 1874-1912

E. H. Dasent, 1912-1923

N. P. Symonds, 1923-33

Harold Llewellyn David, 1933-36

H.A. Henderson, 1936-1946

H. Boys-Stones, 1946-1955

V. F. Dowell Lee, 1956-1964

L. H. (Jack) Clarke, 1964-1969

Owen V. Bevan, 1969-1973

R.W. Roseveare, 1973-1977

Michael Barlen, 1977-1988

Alan Thorp, 1988-2002

Simon Davies, 2002-2005

John Moule, 2006-2008

Colin Baker, 2008-2016

Daniel Koch, 2016-22

Sam Baldock, 2022-


[1] Letters Patent of 1552, reprinted in Michael De-la-Noy, Bedford School: A History (1999), pp. 223-4.

[2]Speech Day,” Bedfordshire Mercury, 5 July 1873. [3] Michael De-la-Noy, Bedford School: A History (1999), p. 25; John Sargeaunt, A History of Bedford School (1925), pp. 73-5, 84-9; Trevor Stuart, “The Legacy of the Le Mesurier and Halliley Families to Bedford 1834–1927,” History in Bedfordshire, Vol. 8, No. 12 (2020), pp. 2-22. (Link) [4]De-la-Noy notes that Brererton was "The last to use the title usher until it was resurrected in 1979 for the Vice-Master, as a purely honorific title" in Bedford School, p. 22. [5] Faye Brereton-Goodwin, "The Brereton Family of Bedford, England," p. 25.

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