Obituary Tom Clough


“Memories of Tom”

Jacqui has asked me to relate some memories of Tom that particularly cover his long connection with Blundell’s School in Tiverton. For many of us, our lives and careers are shaped by those who influenced us at School and I know that Tom influenced the futures of many of the boys in his care.

Tom CloughOur story begins on 6 March 1929 when Tom was born in Francis House at Blundell’s when his father was the Assistant Chaplain. Although his father died when Tom was only one year old, Tom’s links with the Blundell’s School Chapel started with his christening and continued through his life and was always something very close to his heart.

Growing up in a 1930s world where he was surrounded by older boys and with a playground the envy of many must have been fun. He often talked of “safari like journeys” – in truth about 500 yards - from Francis House to Westlake (another boarding house) to play with the children there. One of the masters used to give him a ride down in his 1930 Austin 7 so maybe that’s when his love of cars was born as well (but more of that later). After his father died, his mother stayed on in Francis House as Housekeeper and Tom had fond memories of seven years spent growing up there before the family moved away.

However, they soon found their way back to the Tiverton area where they lived for a time in Calverleigh. Tom loved his time there enjoying many country pursuits but it was also time for Tom’s education to develop further.

In the dark days of war in 1942 Tom was back at Blundell’s and this time as a pupil and living in Old House, another of the boarding houses. The housemaster, Mr Batterbee (known to everyone as “Pump” Batterbee) had been a good friend of Tom’s father and welcomed the youngster into the house. There are several tales of tricks being played by Tom – a trait for which he became well known. He loved playing tricks, exploding fireworks in dustbins, hiding the house cat in a desk before the start of prep. These little episodes must have endeared young Tom to Pump Batterbee!

Tom enjoyed his rugby at school and adored the game throughout his life whether playing or spectating. He was on the wing for the 1st XV in 1946 under the captaincy of Clem Thomas (who went on to captain Wales) and also played in the Sevens team.

Harking back to those early trips in the Austin 7, Tom had a growing fascination with cars and engines while still at school. So much so that several of his schoolmates were convinced that Tom would find his niche as a used car salesman on one of the London bombsites! 

Having to delay taking up a place at Selwyn College, Cambridge, Tom luckily bumped into one of his teachers from Blundell’s who invited him to have a go at teaching French at St Georges Choir School for a year. Perhaps it was there that the idea of running his own Prep School first emerged. It was anyway a happy time even if it ruined forever the French accents of a generation of boys! He continued to inspire the lads on the rugby pitch and refereed matches - there is even a story of someone running on to the pitch during a match to pay him for a car he had bought so the car sales business was still booming!

After university in France and at Selwyn, Tom taught at Merchiston Castle School in Scotland and met up again with a friend from his National Service days so he quickly became immersed in a social life there. It was at one of the weekend parties after a Calcutta Cup match that Tom was introduced to a trendy young art student called Jacqueline Clegg. Picnics on Sundays, the May Ball at Cambridge, ski trips all followed and lead to Tom proposing to Jacqui in 1958.

That same year Tom applied for a Modern Languages teaching post at Blundell’s. This was not the first time Jacqui had visited Blundell’s because by some strange coincidence her uncle lived in Tiverton and Jacqui had even been swimming in the Blundell’s pool at the age of 8 when holidaying there! Tom’s application was accepted and he returned to Blundell’s and was greeted by 13 teachers still there who had taught him as a pupil! He took part in all aspects of Blundell’s life. He coached junior rugby, ran the tennis, was involved in the Cadet Force and ran the printing club.

Despite beginning a career at Blundell’s, Tom was very clear in his own mind that his ultimate aim was to be a Prep School Headmaster. That clarity of vision and determination to see something through to a conclusion was to be a hallmark of his lifestyle.

Living close to the School Tom was able to indulge his love of dogs and so began a succession of beagles in the Clough household and after that the dogs were seen everywhere – even disrupting rugby matches when they escaped through the hedge!  He loved his beagles and one of Tom’s secret tests of people was to establish early on whether they owned dogs – if they did, they immediately rose in his estimation!

In pursuing his career at Blundell’s and building towards that Prep School headship, Tom knew that his next step needed to be an appointment as a housemaster and in 1963 he became housemaster of Petergate House. With Jacqui and a 2 year old Juliet he took up his post at Petergate. Tom was now able to spread his car engine parts across even more rooms in the house! The smell of turps and meths emanating from the dining room where parts were being cleaned was a commonplace experience for us boys!

Inevitably Tom was put in charge of the Motor Transport section of the Blundell’s Cadet Force – a child in a sweetshop! He gave the older boys driving lessons in an old Alvis car around the parade ground. The unusual thing about the Alvis was that the brake and accelerator pedals were opposite to those in other cars so quite how successful the lessons proved to be for the boys is uncertain!

Tom was teetotal all his life – not because he thought of it as wrong but because he simply didn’t like alcohol. It was particularly appropriate therefore that he was appointed as Treasurer of the Masters’ Club Room and oversaw the finances of that fine institution. Even though not a drinker himself, I am told that Tom always contributed to the drinks kitty at the parties held there - fairness in everything.

In 1963, Paddy was born and in 1966 Jocelyn was born. The three children were now following in their father’s footsteps in so many ways. I mentioned earlier that as a child Tom used to play with the children in Westlake, the house which was actually next door to Petergate. Tom and Jacqui’s neighbours in Westlake were Nick and Joyce Swarbrick and Nick remembers well the incident when a mischievous Paddy from next door managed to get into the Westlake bike shed and let down several of the bicycle tyres! I’m not sure what punishment Tom meted out to Paddy when he was told but Nick recalls the sight of Tom, resplendent in his Selwyn cricket sweater, striding into the bike sheds with a pump and pumping up all the tyres himself. Tom had a sense of what was right and a sense of justice and he was prepared to deliver it himself. “Firm but fair” is a phrase that several people have used when telling me of their recollections. You knew where you stood with Tom.

Petergate was always a sociable hub because Tom and Jacqui loved entertaining. Whether it was housing a visiting preacher, treating the senior boys to some home cooking or hosting a party after the annual cross-country race, there was always laughter, smiles and jokes. It must have been a challenging time back then providing a safe environment on the one hand and giving some expression to the new freedoms of the 60s. Tom and Jacqui did a great job of getting that balance right. Tom encouraged us in all we did and treated everyone with equal enthusiasm whether Oxbridge candidates, musicians or sportsmen. To those who went on to Selwyn College, he even prepared them by divulging the best way of getting back into College after the gates had shut at 11pm!

Together with the School Chapel and from his earliest days in the choir, music at Blundell’s played a big part in Tom’s life (so how fitting it is to have members of the Blundell’s choir with us today). One of his fondest memories was singing in the B Minor Mass in the Chapel and also in Exeter Cathedral. I can’t recall whether Tom liked the Beatles or the Rolling Stones back in those days. Maybe the former but probably not the latter!

In 1971, Tom achieved his ambition of becoming a Prep School Headmaster (and that story will come later).

It was not long before Tom was an active part of a thriving Old Blundellian Club. Together with his great friend Ted Crowe, they ensured that the Club blossomed and was able to move to the strong position it holds today. As Chairman, Tom always tried to find new ways for the Club to engage with Old Blundellians and involve the younger generations. He was also a Governor of the School for some years and in that role never let his heart rule his head.

He was also appointed as Chairman of the Chapel Trustees. It was here that he made another great impact when a long lost piece of Blundell’s history, the Gill Altar, was found in Coventry and came up for auction. Tom’s dogged determination came into play again and he managed a successful and discreet appeal for funds and secured the return of the Altar to its home at Blundell’s where it now features prominently in the life of the school.

At the last rugby match at the end of last year, after enjoying a lunch in the Beale Centre, Tom stood on the wintry touchline at Blundell’s cheering on his home side against the old enemy, Sherborne. The match was exciting and when discussing the game later no doubt Tom would have used some of his favourite sayings and would have said it was “marvellous” and “that’s incredible” and “how extraordinary” and “it cannot be”! For many of us here, just hearing those words will bring back a vivid picture of Tom. As boys we all used to mimic those sayings but we did so with the greatest affection, knowing that they reflected genuine interest and encouragement which were the mark of the man.

The Blundell’s community will miss the ever-youthful Tom but the memories we have will last long.

Cedric Clapp
June 2011