Chapter 6.  Highgate School

Kenneth Hunt commenced his teaching career at Highgate School, London in the September of 1908.

There is little doubt that he would have been well aware of the school's reputation, not only because of it being a well established Anglican foundation, but also because he had spent quite a few of the formative years of his childhood in the nearby London district of Islington. However, despite this, there is no evidence that he had actually attended the school as a pupil before moving to Wolverhampton in 1898. Hunt joined the staff of Highgate at the same time as Dr. J.A. Johnston, the school's new Headmaster took up his appointment. Johnston's reign as Head of Highgate was to last for almost three decades, and he has been described as "one of the great public school Headmasters of this century".

Under Johnston's leadership the school thrived and prospered, and its reputation was greatly enhanced. Kenneth Hunt played no small part in the growth of Highgate's fortunes during the period. Due to his considerable national fame in 1908, it is likely that Hunt was initially appointed to Highgate as a Games Master, although he later taught a variety of subjects, including English and History, and was to subsequently assume other roles within the school. Johnston seems to have been a particularly shrewd man in promoting the image of his school, and although he may not have been party to Hunt's appointment, undoubtedly he was grateful for the publicity the footballer was to bring to the establishment. A former pupil, Brigadier Arthur A. Sissons (retired), who was at the school between 1938 and 1943, states that this was definitely the reason why his father chose Highgate as the place for his son's education.

Cover of booklet "Association Football" by Kenneth Hunt. (published in the late 1920s).

"KRGH was the main reason I went to Highgate. my father was a keen footballer, Wolves was his local team and KRGH was his schoolboy idol. Later he went to Queen's Oxford, following KRGH's footsteps in continued admiration. And so I was sent to Grindal house in September 1938; house colours black and gold - what else!"

The Headmaster's positive attitude to sports is underlined in a history of Highgate, which notes that, "Dr. Johnston delighted in triumphs on the games field", and in later years Johnston even wrote articles on the theory and practice of the game of cricket. The common and shared philosophy on the role and value of sport which existed between the two men would undoubtedly have benefited Hunt, as the Head's attitude and support were critical in ensuring that the young man made a sound start to his teaching career.

Indeed, upon the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 Johnston held such a high opinion of Hunt's organising ability and the regard that the boys had for him, that he was appointed Lieutenant to the school's Officer Training Corps, which was attached to the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. Undoubtedly in later years, when the excitement and novelty of war were a mere memory, Hunt would have reflected upon his relationship with the numerous pupils he helped to train who subsequently died in action on the battlefields of the Western Front, and also the teaching colleagues who left Highgate and met a similar fate. Even so Hunt pursued this role with his usual enthusiasm, even after hostilities ceased. He was promoted to the rank of Captain, ('Officer Commanding') of the Corps in 1919; a position which he held until he became School Chaplain in 1923. Even then his involvement with the young soldiers of Highgate did not end. He instituted the 'Hunt Cup' for Drill proficiency, which was contested by the Corps' members for many years. It may seem rather incongruous that a 'man of the cloth' such as Hunt should take up military duties with the O.T.C. at the school, but undoubtedly he saw this as his duty in a time of war. Brigadier Sissions underlines this point when he describes Hunt's attitude as "stern, competitive and above all, honourable in the full "British Empire" sense of the word".

Hunt was a man of his time and there appears to be little doubt that he would have answered the 'call to the colours', as did so many of his friends and colleagues at that time, if he had not actually been an Ordained Minister.

 However, despite speculation on this point, it does seem that the Officer Training Corps provided boys who were not good at sport with a way of developing a respectful relationship with the popular cleric. 

Hunt as technical advisor in an F.A. instructional film in 1935. The player is Gardener of Aston Villa.
Another former pupil, Geoffrey Hucks, who describes himself as "rather a 'swot' and never a footballer", rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Corps, and because of the experience and respect he gained from drilling under Hunt kept in touch with him after he had left school. Mr. Hucks describes Kenneth Hunt as "one of the few masters I admired." Kenneth Hunt was a figure and personality that loomed so large in the eyes of the young lads, that incredibly ex-pupils can readily call to mind details of the man, even after a lapse of eight decades in some instances. Mr. Sydney Rothman, who entered Highgate in 1910, and would have been one of Hunt's first pupils, describes him as a rather striking figure, who "would have made an excellent model for a portrait painter, or a sculptor”.

He recalls Hunt as being a firm, but somewhat disinterested disciplinarian, who dispensed "50 or a 100 lines" to boys reported to him for misdemeanours with the instruction "Don't do it again!" The Reverend Charles Skene Catling recalls Kenneth Hunt as always having a cane on his desk, whilst he got on with making the pupils remember as much Latin Grammar as possible. He adds that he thought the cane was “more of a symbol than for use, though his discipline was firm.”

In his biography (entitled “Unless I'm very much mistaken") published in 2002, the famous motor sport broadcaster, Murray Walker, recalled Hunt's use of the cane somewhat differently. He writes that on one occasion whilst being taught by Kenneth Hunt, he was ordered to the front of the class to be punished for what he saw as some trivial misdemeanour The Master said, "I'm going to give you three strokes, Walker, but before I administer justice, have you got anything to say in mitigation?" "Yes Sir!", the boy replied" I thought you would be interested to know that I will be the second generation of Walkers you have beaten because you beat my father." "Oh did I?" Hunt said" Well now I'm going to give you six for that!" Murray Walker said that this incident taught him not to be cocky and to keep his mouth shut in difficult circumstances!

Kenneth Hunt and Grindal House members in 1934.

On Hunt's teaching ability, Reverend Catling concludes that he was "not perhaps a great scholar, but he would accept neither poor work nor bad behaviour." Hunt's popularity with the boys was very evident in those early days at Highgate. Mr. Rothman remembers KRGH "striding down Hampstead Lane, surrounded by a swarm of 'Boney Brothers' (pupils), There were only two brothers, but they guarded their hero so successfully that - to me - they seemed like a dozen.

In 1920 the number of boys enrolling as boarders had increased so much that the school instituted a new 'House' which was named after the Anglican Bishop, Grindal. Hunt became the first House master of Grindal, and his influence and personality is still evident on that institution today, five decades after his death. Hunt was determined that his house should excel in sport, as one might expect. His sentimentality and regard for his past is evident from his choice of colours for Grindal House, because he selected none other than 'old' gold and black, the same ones he had sported whilst a player with Wolverhampton Wanderers a decade earlier. Boys of Grindal House still wear these famous colours for sporting activities. It represents a strange but lasting reminder of the affection felt by their founder for the Club with which he achieved so much. 

Grindal House is unique amongst such institutions in English public schools, since it is the only one which has its own old boys association. Hence the uniqueness Hunt instilled into Grindal at its outset is still evident today. The earlier part of the period between the wars not only saw a marked increase in the number of boys entering Highgate, but also a comparable expansion in sports facilities. During this period the school produced a number of internationally known sporting personalities who would have been instructed by Kenneth Hunt. Notable amongst these were A.H. Fabian, R.W.V. Robins and W. H. Webster.

Aubrey Fabian, who was to represent his country in amateur football international matches, and received an F.A. (Amateur) Cup Winners medal with the Casuals in 1936, (something which Hunt himself had been unable to achieve with Oxford City in 1912). He also played for the Derby County side which got to the semi-final of the F.A. Cup in 1933. After the Second World War, Fabian published works on the history of football and the F.A., and eventually his link with Kenneth Hunt was re-established when he became Housemaster of Grindal in 1955. Robert Robins gained his fame on the cricket, rather than the football pitch, although he did represent Highgate at soccer whilst a pupil in the early 1920's. Robins captained both Middlesex and England in the last decade before the Second World War. William Webster also gained an Amateur Cup medal with the Casuals in 1936 and became the Honorary Treasurer of the M.C.C. After the Second World War, like Hunt, he too became a member of the F.A. Council.

The personality and bearing of Kenneth Hunt maintained his reputation amongst generations of boys who were not aware of his footballing exploits first hand, and one commentator summed up the relationship thus; "To many boys... the obvious reaction to the word 'Grindal' was 'Hunt'." Legends came to exist about Hunt within the folklore of Highgate, and one example was when he bounced a 'Fives' ball off a classroom wall onto the back of the head of a pupil whose full attention the Reverend gentleman wished to engage. Perhaps this happened on occasion, but many came to believe that it was a feat that Hunt could execute at anytime he wished. It is unlikely that he would deny it.

Kenneth Hunt strongly believed in what is now termed 'extra-curricular activity' and regularly took boys camping on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. Perhaps he modelled these 'expeditions' on the activities of Reverend G.S. Warner, his opposite number at Trent College. There is a danger of thinking that Hunt was only concerned with the physical and spiritual development of his pupils, but there was more to his approach to education than this. He attempted to give the boys of Highgate, who were by and large the sons of wealthy and prosperous families, an insight into the lives of the poorer people of London. Through Hunt, the school was involved with what would be termed now 'an inner city mission' which was located in Dalston. Hunt regularly took boys down to this school mission where they shared in social activities with their working class counterparts in the Boys' Club.

Half a century on the school still has some contact with the church at Dalston, but changing social attitudes and facilities mean that the Club which Hunt worked so hard to establish no longer functions. None the less, it would certainly have broadened the educational and social experience of Highgate boys especially during the slump of the 1930's. Despite their own fairly secure backgrounds, they would have met lads of their own age, who would experience daily the depravation and hardship that abounded in such parts of London at that time.

It was around about this time that Kenneth Hunt wrote an instruction booklet for young players entitled "Association Football". In this compact and informative tome he not only dealt with tactics and positional play, but also promoted a cerebral approach to the game. "A somewhat lengthy experience of school football has assured me that while there are plenty of young players who possess the natural attributes of a footballer, there are very few who realise the need of a clever conception of the game. Brains play a very big part indeed in football, which is by no means always to the fast and the strong."

In 1929 Hunt became the Second Master (or Deputy Head) of Highgate School, a position he was to hold until his retirement in 1945. In the Lent Term of 1933 Hunt deputized for Johnston who took a sabbatical to go on an ocean cruise to South Africa, but whether he had thoughts of applying for the post on a permanent basis when the latter retired in 1936 are not known. What is known is that he played a key role in maintaining the education of 400 of Highgate's boys when they were evacuated to the Devonshire resort of Westward Ho! during the Blitz on London. During this fraught time Hunt would have had to comfort many lads whose fears and anxieties compounded the usual difficulties of going through adolescence. His pastoral care not only reached the pupils, but also fellow staff. Hunt and his wife took a young Master called Theodore Mallinson into their home and made the difficulty of being away from family and usual surroundings a little easier to bear.

It is hardly surprising when one considers his energy that Hunt managed to find time to do a little relief preaching in churches in the locality of the town whilst resident in Westward Ho! (Hunt had developed an interest in boating before the War, but upon the outbreak of hostilities his craft was commandeered by the Government and later used for evacuating troops from Dunkirk.)

Upon re-establishing the school back in London in 1943, Grindal House was put to use as the school's sanatorium, although Hunt's own direct involvement with Highgate was to last only a short while longer. It seems that he suffered "some serious illness at Westward Ho!", but the exact nature of the malady is unclear from existing records. He experienced a fall whilst on night-time Air Raid Precaution duty in 1944, and this caused him some discomfort in his last few months at the school. These events led Hunt, now in his 61st year to 'take things more easily', and apply for retirement.

He finally retired in the July of 1945. The old boy's organisation, 'the Old Cholmeleans' organised an appeal from amongst their members to institute a lasting tribute to the man who had served them and the school for more than three decades.

The following tribute to R.K.G. Hunt was written in the 'Old Cholmelean' magazine at the time, and sums up well his contribution to Highgate and the image he portrayed to those at the school:

"Memories are fragrant flowers, and there are so many of K.R.G.H., propping up the mantelpiece in the Common Room, erecting the guillotine in the Common Room, erecting the guillotine in the old 2B classroom, dominating a First Club game, but perhaps most of all in 'footer bags' and Oxford visor, doing 'this job' and about the garden. This is how we shall hope to see him in his new home at Heathfield in Sussex, where we wish Mrs. Hunt, to whom the school also owes so much, and himself, a long and happy retirement."

Hunt and his wife May, finally settled down to a life of retirement at a large detached house called 'Edgehill', Tillsmore Rd. in the East Sussex town of Heathfield in August 1945, although they still visited the school on the occasions that they 'went up to town' after this time.

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