Alan Taylor (Staff, 1970 – 1995)
Alan Taylor was born on the 12 June 1930 in Tidworth where his father was billeted as a sergeant with the Royal Field Artillery. In 1934 he and his sister moved with their parents to Hollingbury, Brighton following their father’s discharge from the army after having served for 21 years.
Dad often spoke about his years growing up in Brighton, probably most vividly remembered were recollections from the period covering the Second World War 1939-1945. These were seen through the eyes of a ten year old, one oblivious to the awfulness of war. To him and his friends it was an exciting time. Many of these stories were told to me during the Rhodesian Bush War when we were both involved in differing roles during this conflict.
Following grammar school in Brighton, Dad attended the Brighton College of Art where he met and fell in love with Mary Cribb, daughter of the Ditchling Guild sculptor and letter cutter Joseph Cribb. Mary lived on Ditchling Common. They would meet half way between there and Brighton, at the top of the South Downs with that beautiful view over the Weald.
In April 1952 Alan and Mary were married. The following year Jane our eldest sister was born. Prudence followed two years later in 1955 and Matthew in 1958. During this period Dad was teaching and also spending valuable time with his father in law, exploring drawing and learning letter cutting; an investment that would have a profound effect on both his own work and how he taught his students for the rest of his teaching life. However towards the end of the 1950s he and Mary were becoming restless, wanting to find new horizons for themselves and opportunities for their young family.
A family connection was responsible for choosing Rhodesia. And so it was that in August 1960 we departed from Southampton on the ship, The Windsor Castle bound for CapeTown South Africa. Two weeks later the family would be winding their way up the subcontinent in a steam train bound for Bulawayo.
Until 1964 Dad held a position as Art Master at Guinea Fowl School near Gwelo in the Midlands, and so began the love affair with Africa, shown in his fine drawings, water colours and wood engravings many of which remain as part of his legacy with family, and friends around the world.
In August 1962, our youngest sister Felicity was born. I can remember seeing her for the first time as I peered between the seats of our Morris Traveller, craning my neck to get a better look. It was on a trip back to England nine months later that Felicity developed a life threatening condition on board the Pretoria Castle, near the island of Las Palmas. This incident, I believe, was the hardest thing Dad and Mum ever had to endure. Felicity was placed on board a flight to London with two nurses who were her guardians until her eventual fairly miraculous recovery was achieved at Guys Hospital.
Circumstances dictated that we return to England in 1964 and Dad took up a post as Art Master at The Blessed Phillip Howard in Barnham in Sussex. The family spent some happy years living in Walberton near Arundel. Jane attended Chichester High and Prudence, Matt and Felicity the convent in Bognor Regis. It was perhaps fortuitous that we were in England at this time as both Dad’s father and Mum’s father became unwell and passed away.
The longing to return to Africa was proving too great and in January 1970 Dad accepted the position of Head of Art at Falcon College in Matabeleland Rhodesia; an oasis of a unique learning establishment in the Matabeleland bush. Eagle country. He was to remain as a much loved and respected member of staff for the next quarter century. Following the untimely death of our mother, Dad remained for another three years, one of which proved a very special one as he was able to be with his eldest granddaughter Andrea, when she attended the college sixth form as the only girl, following in the footsteps of her mother, Jane and aunts.
The 25 years at Falcon were rich with memories as it was with anyone touched by such a community, student and teacher alike. The college was the realisation of a dream had by its founders who took an abandoned gold mining village and created an educational establishment for boys to rival any public school with a fierce reputation for academic and sporting prowess.
Dad quickly developed the reputation amongst the boys as being one who wasn’t quick to judge; having a sympathetic ear and a sincere understanding of how boys between 12 and 18 feel. The Art Room at the far end of the school was a sanctuary for many boys struggling with the pressures of growing up. Dad was no push over, and could often be stern. He was principled, and yet his ability to relate to the pupils and his willingness to listen, resulted in a lasting mutual respect. He was a much loved Deputy Housemaster of both Founders and George Grey Houses during different periods spanning his time there.
I was fortunate enough to spend many times with Dad during the school holidays, exploring with him, the unfolding secrets of the African bush, camping, walking, climbing, hunting, identifying flora and fauna, watching him often record these findings in his sketchbooks. Dad was not only the Art Master, he also taught English Language and Literature, loving both with his Pythonesque wit and an insight that both inspired and influenced his students. The stage sets he created for college dramas were legendary. My wife Lisa was lucky to have been taught History of Art by him as one of those rare Falcon girls, as was Prudence who went on to become an artist, following in her parents’ footsteps. Dad had a way with tools; to watch his hands employ them in their purpose was a revelation. He drew a line with skill and economy, and our father’s love of words meant he could wield them with some power, occasionally disarming the person listening!
On retiring from Falcon, Dad spent ten years near Pietermaritzburg in Natal South Africa where he married for the second time. He lived close to some of us and we were able to see him frequently. Sadly he was to outlive Hilaria who died in 2004. His health became a matter of concern for his children and so he came to England, returning to the district of his birth place. During this latter period he enjoyed a quiet life, filled with a host of memories between two continents, and involving himself in wood turning and carving; listening to opera and classical music, reading Shakespeare, playing Bridge and always taking a keen interest in the changing times around him. He revelled in his role as the grandparent of ten children, and great grandparent to seven.
Recently I was reminded by a Falcon Old Boy, the closing words given by Dad at ‘House Prayers’ on Wednesday evenings.
“May the Lord support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and holy rest, and peace at last“.
Matt Taylor, Founders 1970 – 1976