Comment: Swimming with Mr Orson Henry Bull

Orson Henry Bull 1855 - 1937
Orson Henry Bull 1855 - 1937

FLOUNDERING with style, is perhaps the best way to describe my response to the Bletchley Road Junior School’s 1950s technique of swimming instruction.

Which in exasperation as a last resort involved being towed by a rope through the icy cold waters of Queen’s Pool (now the site of the new leisure complex).

And on the subject of complexes, after that experience I never did master the art of progressing gracefully through the water.

So perhaps the renowned instruction of Orson Henry Bull, a respected local head teacher, should have been employed. Aged 82, Mr. Bull died in May 1937 at his home, Colville House, Newport Pagnell, and although ill for about four years he had been able to take fresh air in his bath chair until the last three weeks.

The only son of Henry Bull, a lime and cement manufacturer, he was born at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft and after training as a pupil teacher at Carlton Colville, a suburb of Lowestoft, progressed to a distinguished period of study at Culham College, Oxford.

He later took his BA at London University and at the age of 20 was appointed headmaster of the National School at Newport Pagnell, attracted to the town by the fine parish church and organ.

When the Riverside Schools were condemned he continued as headmaster, firstly under the School Board and, when this was abolished, the council. He was also active in the town’s civic life and having gained election to the parish council in 1904 remained in public life until resigning for health reasons in April 1933.

As the founder of the swimming club it was due to him that the Bathing Place was opened as a Jubilee Memorial in 1887 and for many years he gave a three penny piece to boys from his school whenever they swam across the River Lovat.

Marrying the daughter of a butcher, he lived with his wife and daughter, Ethel, at 49, High Street, but from a consortium that included his father in law he purchased two plots of land opposite Lovat Bank and built Colville House.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, in his capacity as chairman of the UDC he organised a recruiting meeting held on the Market Hill and in November 1915 his married son, Lorenzo, enlisted. He was an assistant master at Wolverton Council School and would be called up when required.

Nevertheless, an applicant who had failed to secure military exemption reprimanded Mr. Bull in the street, alleging that none of his relatives were taking part in the war.

Thus in response at the Newport Pagnell Urban Area Tribunal on Wednesday evening, January 17, 1917, Mr Bull, as chairman, made clear that he didn’t mind slurs against himself but he would not tolerate those against his family.

Putting the record straight he said that he had one son in South Africa who had sold his business and been in the Army for some time. Lorenzo had attested at the start of the Derby Scheme and been graded B1, and ten of his nephews had joined up, three being killed.

On the afternoon of April 1, 1918 Mrs Bull sadly died at Colville House. Born on January 26, 1858, she was aged 60 and it had been during the previous morning while getting dressed that she suddenly became unwell. Falling unconscious she failed to recover, despite every medical attention.

On August 31, 1919 Mr. Bull retired from teaching on a pension but the following month he married the headmistress of the Girls’ School, Miss Catherine James. As for the children of his first marriage, his daughter would become Mrs Potts, resident at Harrow; his second son, Edward, a chemist who had trained in Newport Pagnell, would become an executive of the Pharmaceutical Society for the Transvaal, in South Africa, while as a graduate Lorenzo, of 37, Cambridge Street, Wolverton, would remain as a teacher at Wolverton, where he played a major role in establishing the College of Further Education. He died in early 1965 aged 83, after an illness of a week.

As for swimming, had I been a pupil of Mr Bull perhaps I might have mastered the art, instead of being towed on a rope. Now that really was a load of old bull.