Walter Francis Edward Douglas

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Walter Francis Edward Douglas was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in 1917, the son of Henry Douglas, the Incumbent of the Parish of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Walter was an only child and was one of a long line of the Douglas’ of Grangemuir and Dunino in the East of Fife, Scotland.

He was educated at Aysgarth Preparation School, Bedale, North Yorkshire; Sedbergh School, Cumbria; Exeter College Oxford (1935, Modern History) and at the amalgamated Slade School of Fine Art and Ruskin Drawing School under the direction of Randolph Schwabe and Albert Rutherstone. In December 1938 he won the Ruskin Prize for drawing.

Walter loved Oxford and during his time there met many significant people. He was friends with Lawrence Toynbee, met Bernard Shaw and his wife, mixed with undergraduates who came from privileged backgrounds and went to stay in their stately homes. He retained throughout his life a working knowledge of who was related to whom and was greatly helped in this, whilst at Oxford, by his Aunt Helen, a novelist and contributor to the Times on South American affairs. Through his Aunt Lucy, a noted water-colourist, he met and stayed with Sir Henry Wood who started the “Proms”.

When war was declared on September 3rd, 1939, Walter was staying with a friend in Ireland in Bennettsbridge, County Carlow. He immediately left for Dublin, took the night ferry and walked into the recruiting office in Liverpool with a view to joining the Camouflage Corps. He was rejected owing to the chronic asthmatic condition that he had suffered from since childhood.

He returned to Ruskin College in Oxford but shortly afterwards went to work on a farm in Yorkshire. This did not last long as he was invited by his former history master at Sedbergh, who had now become the Headmaster of Blundell’s School, Tiverton in Devon, to take up a position as temporary History Master replacing a member of staff who had enlisted. It was at Blundell’s that he met the architect John Archibald (“Jack”) Campbell who was to have such a seminal influence on his life.

During 1943, at the end of the Summer Term, Walter and Jack left Blundell’s School, due to a change in Headmaster, and went to work on Chapel Point, Mevagissey, Cornwall, building the beautiful houses designed by Jack, that can still be seen there today. While working on Chapel Point Jack and Walter were asked to become involved in the rebuilding of Holy Trinity Church, Hoxton, London, which had been bombed. Here his relationship with Eugénie Chaudoir blossomed. She was running a youth club as part of the parish’s activities and was an ARP warden by night. The moment that he fell in love was described by Walter as follows:
“It was coming up for the Whitsun feast and she was patching the lining of one of the vestal vestments which was spread out on the table. No-one else was there – a very unusual situation. I went in and asked her what she was doing and she told me and I said ‘let me put a stitch in’ so she got up, I sat in her chair, and she was standing just behind my left shoulder. I sewed a couple of stitches. Something happened, it was as if some kind of shock passed into me from her. It was a type of shock. When you’d had it you knew. Something quite new in my experience. But absolutely nothing was said.”

He married Eugénie on the 30th December, 1944. In anticipation of his marriage Walter had applied for and been accepted as temporary History Master at Wellington College, Berkshire, where he started teaching in September 1944. He taught there for four terms before being received, as was Eugénie, into the Roman Catholic Church on the 15th December, 1945.

Up until the time that he met Eugénie, Walter had been, like his father, middle of the road Church of England. The result of becoming a Roman Catholic was that he cut himself off from most Public Schools who had a stipulation, in those days, that in order to be employed as a Master you had to be a communicant member of the Church of England. Walter offered his services to the Catholic Public Schools – Beaumont, Downside and Ampleforth but they took the perfectly reasonable view that they could employ a member of the Order to teach for almost nothing and so why should they employ him for a salary?

He was therefore extremely fortunate to meet Canon Day, Headmaster of Stamford School, who was willing to employ him as an Art Master but not as a History Master. (A widespread view at the time was that a Roman Catholic would have a distorted view of English history). He remained grateful to Canon Day for employing him as an Art Master for the rest of his life. Walter started teaching at Stamford School in January 1946. At Stamford School he influenced students from all academic disciplines, not just those studying art. He always believed that every boy had a vocation in life and encouraged many to explore what this might be. Regardless of their ability, he spent many hours writing copious letters to further their interests and ambitions. He retired from teaching in 1976.

During his time at Stamford School Walter wrote extensively about his mentor Jack Campbell and this work contributed to the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture exhibition of Campbell’s work (1997). In addition, he produced such gems as the “Yarwell Man’s Blow Lamp” which included his own very detailed drawings of church architecture (and sketches and tracings from Pevsner by “the boys”) from the Saxon to the Perpendicular. These “gems” were much sought after, and later treasured, by students of “A” Level Art.

Walter always supported the Labour Party. He was very impressed by the way in which Clem Attlee, Prime Minister after the War, had died leaving hardly any money. However, Walter’s socialism was more akin to that of William Morris, whom he greatly admired, than to that of Arthur Scargill (although he sympathised with the latter). Walter believed that every human being, regardless of background, was entitled to the best and that included education. Anything that restricted access to the best of education, the best of architecture, the best of products was wrong. He particularly disliked those that had been successful and who refused to help others.

Walter will be remembered by many for the three cars that he drove from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. “Albert” (1930 Singer Junior 8HP) from 1947 until 1965; “Jockie” (Rover 10) from 1965 until 1982; and “Heloise” (Citroen 2 CV) from 1982 until 1988. All three of these cars he maintained to perfection. Without a doubt the one he loved the most, and the only one he drew and painted, was Albert. Albert was originally purchased from the motor show held at Olympia in London in 1930 by a Mr Lothian who had been an engineer on the Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic. In 1939 Albert was sold to Mr Palmer, who was a Baker in St. Leonard’s St., Stamford, who used him as a bread van during the War. In 1947 Mr Palmer sold Albert to Walter. Having only ridden a motorbike previously, Walter practised driving Albert for the first time by driving towards Uffington, turning left for Belmesthorpe and so back to Stamford. Albert was beautifully restored by the Singer Car Club of Ireland in 1986 and is now in Australia. During his holidays Walter spent his time rebuilding his home, 32 St. Leonard’s St., Stamford. Rather like the painting of the Forth Bridge, his work was never finished!

No sooner had he worked his way from the bottom to the top but he started all over again. However, his painstaking work with the cars and the house meant that, although an amateur, he achieved a very high standard as a mechanical engineer, an architect, a bricklayer, an electrician, a plumber, a joiner and as a painter and decorator. He was hugely self critical and always strove for the best.

When he could relax from the school, the writing, the house, the car and being father of a large family (which wasn’t often!) he loved to draw and paint. He also read widely and was fascinated by classical music.

Walter is survived by five children (Eugénie died in 1988), 14 grand children and
11 great grand children.

Any contributions will be gratefully accepted


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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024