"Gunner"

 

F. C. Wright, Esq.,  B.A.

Everyone who went to Trinity had a view on Frank Wright.  There was those who saw him as a very good teacher, those who saw him as a strict disciplinarian, and as a result, people either loved or hated him.  There is no doubt that he shaped the school in many ways. 

Below there are several views on "Gunner" starting with an article from the Chronicle & Echo on the occasion of his retirement in 1968.  The article is reprinted here.

As most of the school will already know, our Deputy Head-master, Mr. Frank Wright, will be retiring from full-time teaching at the end of this Summer Term. Fewer will realise, however, that he has been on the teaching staff of the school for 35 years and has been the Deputy Head since 1956. We on the editorial staff felt, therefore, that some written tribute should be offered on behalf of the school, and in this article we have tried to briefly outline his career, and close association with Trinity High School in particular.

Mr. Wright was first trained for teaching at the College of St. Mark and St. John, Chelsea. He joined the staff here in 1933, the school in those days being the Junior Technical School. In 1945 the name was changed to Technical High School and it was situated then in the Technical College buildings. In 1956, one half of the school moved into the new buildings in Trinity Avenue under the administration of Mr. Wright, while the rest remained at the College with the Headmaster until the present Trinity Avenue building was completed. Mr. Wright told us that this final move in 1957 has been one of the most far-reaching developments in the history of the school. Had the move not taken place, it could never have reached its present size and position.

He recalls too, with pride, the occasion when two boys from our school first gained University places, and when a former pupil first obtained a First Class Honours University Degree. Another of his proudest moments was again a turning-point in the school's history, when we were first recognised as one of the Borough's Grammar Schools. It has always given him great pleasure to hear people of the town commenting on the good appearance and behaviour of our pupils; he is equally proud of the status and good name that the school has been building up for itself over the years. Perhaps one of the most satisfying developments he has been a witness to during the past 12 years has been the close link forged by the school with local industry, the professions and all public and private bodies which help to further the interests of the young people educated here; for instance, the Painton and Timken Exhibitions have been innovations within Mr. Wright's time. This succession of incidents which are small in themselves has been a pointer to the steady growth of the prestige and the academic strength of this school and the fact that it means so much to Mr. Wright shows his obvious dedication to education and his personal identification with Trinity High School.

After 40 years of teaching, Mr. Wright has obviously many strong views on the principles of education. He is highly critical of the comprehensive system, largely because that system demands that comprehensive schools need to be of such immense size, which makes dealings and communication between staff and pupils so much harder. Grammar schools are hardly an anachronism yet; they no longer deal with just the 20% of boys and girls of the town who were fortunate enough to be chosen at an early age. Our intake, for instance, of pupils from secondary modern schools has grown greatly and is continuing to do so. The opportunities open to these pupils are the same as those offered to Grammar School, 11+ entrants, once they reach the 6th Form. He claims that the School as it stands is doing a good job for the society it serves, and that it is always a pity to do away with something which is working well, before it is proved that what will replace it will work better. It is that proof which he has been seeking but has failed to find.

Mr. Wright is not expecting to enter into complete retirement, but hopes to carry on with part-time teaching here for the next two years or so, and then, in his own words, "to fade out gradually". Although he is looking forward to his retirement - 40years in the classroom is a long time - he admits that, without things to think about and plan for, problems to solve, and a real challenge to be confronted by, life may seem a little empty at first. However, there will be no lack of suitable employment for him. His intensive activity in the garden, including the care of his treasured 100 rose bushes, will occupy most of his time. Perhaps in a different way, be will find this as creatively rewarding as his teaching has been.

For he looks back with few regrets over his long career in school. He would gladly re-live his experiences from the beginning. Apart from all else, he tells us, he was glad to have been chosen to be Deputy Headmaster of a Grammar School, because it has allowed him to pursue, to a higher level, his interest in the subjects (French and Latin) that he teaches. This is surely fulfilment in itself.

We must stress too that his forceful qualities as a natural leader and organiser have been employed to the full in his important administrative role as Deputy Head. As pressures have built up over the years, it has been Mr. Wright's clear, calculating mind which has served him and us so well. The force of his personality and the breadth of his influence have been recognised by all who come into contact with him. Several generations of past pupils can now look back, and remember how, as small boys, trembling with anticipation, they awaited their first confrontation with the legendary "Gunner", after having committed some childish, or more serious, misdemeanour. They will, no doubt, remember too the terrifying roar of his voice when raised in anger, and the punishment, firm and fair, as it always has been. They, along with us who are older, can understand better now than they once did, that here is a man whose principles were set upon the bed-rock of integrity, firm discipline (self-discipline, where possible) and an educational system where vagueness and disorder find no place. This, for him, has proved to be the foundation upon which to build throughout his teaching career: to create order, where no order existed. We would like, therefore, to extend to him our most sincere wishes for his happiness, along with that of Mrs. Wright too, in the many years that lie ahead during his retirement, and to offer our thanks, on behalf of past and present generations of scholars, for the intensive work he has put in and the amazing dedication he has shown to Trinity High School. 

E.M.N. and M.J.S.

 

John Child has this amusing tale to tell about "Gunner"

In the middle to the late sixties Carole my girlfriend and myself ran the Junior Sunday School at St. Alban's Church which also was the church which Gunner attended each week.  In those day Sunday Schools were big - we had about 80 kids each Sunday morning.

To raise funds we used to organise car treasure hunts which were great fun.  Gunner got to hear that we were running one and I got a message that he and Mrs Gunner would like to come.  So I went round his house in the Headlands and he came to the door and invited me in.  Despite the fact that it was 1967 and I had left school 4 years earlier and was well into the world of work commuting on the train daily to London I was a bag of nerves.  I got his change all muddled up but he was quite kind and put me right.  I don't know whether he recognised me; I think not.  Anyway we decided to make the treasure hunt particularly tough on this occasion.  To get the clues one had to march around farmyards to find the name of who built the barn etc and look in the most obscure places.  Those participating also got points for making a daisy chain, getting hold of a 1950's three-penny piece and finding a lolly stick if I recall correctly.

The finishing point was in a field and one of the last cars to arrive was no less than Gunner's blue Morris Minor which came bumping across the field.  He pulled up sharply and handed me his sheet plus his 'additional' items.  He mumbled something about late for Evensong and sped off into the distance.

I pawed over his paper with relish.  Here was a chance to get a pile of red ink on his script.  What fun!  The problem was that he and Mrs Gunner had got every darn answer correct and had also made the daisy chain and found a three-penny piece and a lolly stick!  They won first prize - a leather steering wheel cover which I later had to present to him and which I saw fitted on his car where it remained for many years.  But he never asked about coming along on future car treasure hunts!

John Child has a friend, Richard Halton, who was not a Trinity pupil, but who remembers Gunner from a different perspective.  He writes:-

Although not a pupil at Trinity High School I had known Frank Wright since the early 1960’s through attendance at our local church. When reminiscing with a former Trinity pupil John Child about these days he was astonished to hear me refer to him as a “nice old boy”.  In my late teens I was elected to serve on the Church Council and Frank was the Council Secretary.  He was extremely helpful to us newcomers and was renowned for his accurate minutes keeping.  He was also forceful but fair in debates, and his opinions on church matters were much sought after.  Many years later I took over his role as secretary and came into possession of the minute books and other church records.  As you would expect they were immaculately kept.  Every bit of information that I required was there, all in his neat handwriting.  Again he was extremely helpful as I eased myself into his former role.  In the early 1980’s when I became Churchwarden Frank’s job was to assist with the counting of the collections and to record the amounts given each week.  We would meet for an hour or so each week and discuss cricket and progress in his garden and many other topics.  So to us he was always friendly and helpful, and the perfect gentleman to all he met at church.  There was never any hint of the fearsome “ Gunner” and I will always remember him as a “nice old boy.”

Gunner was born in 1906 and died sometime around 1996, and was cremated at the Northampton Crematorium.  His sister was still alive in 2005 and was then around 90.

The Family View of Frank Wright

 Alan Wright, who is the son of Frank [Gunner] Wright has recently found this website.  He has read the stories about his father, and felt that he would like to paint the picture as his family saw Frank. Alan says:  It is clear from the items written about my father, Frank, that in my youth I had only caught glimpses of the school side of Dad's life, and I thought that you might be interested to see something of how his family saw Gunner.

I well remember the move to the new school buildings in 1957, as we saw a very limited amount of Dad that summer, as he tried to ensure that everything was ready for the move.  I suspect that the additional stress was a major factor in his coming down with shingles.  I particularly remember his coming home one day in an angry mood.  He had just spotted that at regular intervals on the stairs in the tower block there was a casement window, with a window sill at just the right height for a pupil to hitch on to, with the very real danger of serious injury from a fall.  Those responsible were quickly informed that not a single child would be allowed to move into the building until these windows had been made safe.  He commented that a woman, and particularly a mother, on the appropriate committee would probably have spotted the danger at a much earlier stage, and that he thought that all new public buildings should have at least one woman on the planning committee.

I was particularly impressed with his planning for retirement.  After a lot of thought, Mum and he decided that they would not move.  Although I believe that he was an excellent administrator, he much preferred to teach, so as soon as he qualified for a full pension, he retired.  His good friend, Peter Harris, took over as deputy head, and Dad returned to a largely unchanged school to enjoy his teaching.  He phased himself out over a number of years, during which time he built up his life outside Trinity.

However, one of my favourite memories concerns a time when the outer shell cracked.  He came home with a box of chocolates, and was close to tears, as he explained that one of his classes had presented it to him, in appreciation of his efforts in teaching them that year.  He really did have a soft centre!

Someone has commentated on this website that Dad had not visited the school after it went comprehensive may not have realised it, but he would have seen the change as effectively undoing a large part of his life's work.  Dad and a small group of friends on the staff were not particularly happy with the tripartite education system brought in at the end of WWII.  They saw Trinity's position in the second [technical], layer, as placing unnecessary restrictions on their ability to offer pupils whatever type of education that seemed to be appropriate for the individual.  They therefore set out to steer Trinity along a path of gradual change that saw it move from being a Technical school to becoming a Grammar school with a technical bias.

Dad had personally experienced the values of a Grammar school education.

My Grandad had played for the Saints in the 1890's, but was an ordinary worker in a boot and shoe factory, living in a small terraced house opposite a factory in Jimmy's End.  Dad got a scholarship to the Grammar school, and went on to get a degree at the same time as receiving his training as a teacher at the college of St. Mark and St. John.  [He would have loved to have gone to university, but his parents could not afford it - nor could they afford to send any of his five brothers and sisters to college, and some, if not all, would certainly have done so a generation later.]   He wanted others to have the same opportunity to carve out a better life that he had received, and was convinced that the Grammar school did a far better job at that than a Comprehensive school.

I am no expert on education, but I suspect that he was right.  I am also pretty sure that he would have been pleased to see the most recent change for Trinity, had he been still around!

I hope this short piece paints another side of Frank Wright, that perhaps pupils did not see.  Alan Wright

Other Gunner Stories and Memories

Gunner Retires A newspaper article in the scrapbook
The School Staff The home page of the staff section
The 2004 Reunion Gunner was not even mentioned!
How Did Gunner get his name People remember in Pupil Memories
Confrontation with Gunner Peter Douglas Remembers 2 incidents
Gunner's Dilemma John Child Reports
The Legendary Gunner Dave Littlewood's Account
Gunner Returns Janet Facer remembers Gunner coming back

The Tower Revisited  - The website for former Pupils of the Technical High School, Trinity High School & Trinity Grammar School, Northampton