Obituary - Paul Cattermole

21st August 2009 at 01:00

Paul Cattermole; 1941-2009

He was the Latin-speaking national authority on the church bells of Norfolk. He was a meticulously organised maths teacher. But for generations of pupils at Norwich School, Paul Cattermole was also renowned as the teacher who fainted at the sight of blood, and who lent would-be runaways his copy of the railway timetable.

Born in 1941, young Paul attended Norwich School, where he would later return as a teacher. As a pupil, he was demoted from the top maths set by the deputy head and told that he "would never be a mathematician".

Not long afterwards, he was awarded a first-class degree in maths from King's College, London. By this point, he was already fluent in medieval Latin. It was a skill which, as a third-year pupil, had won him a bar of fruit-and-nut chocolate in a classroom competition.

After graduating from King's, he completed a diploma in education at Oxford. Then, in 1964, he was appointed maths teacher at the King's School in Worcester. Ten years later, he returned to his alma mater as head of maths - a neat piece of one-upmanship on his erstwhile critic, who was still deputy head.

Dr Cattermole was determined to prove to pupils that maths could be a source of excitement and adventure. So he spent lessons meandering through a range of topics, with little regard for the syllabus. But when his pupils sat down for public exams, they found that, somehow, all the topics they needed had been covered.

For all his rambling teaching style, Dr Cattermole was meticulously organised and forward-thinking. This was reflected in the compelling arguments he put forward when promoting the interests of his subject. But he was always the perfect gentleman: dignified in victory and gallant in defeat.

His interest in teaching was not purely academic: he was also involved in the pastoral life of the school. One of his first jobs was to break up surreptitious Friday-night sorties to the local chippie. And he was tasked with putting an end to the traditional Saturday practice of throwing water balloons at passing tourists.

He regularly oversaw Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, accompanying boys to the Western Isles of Scotland. These trips were imbued with the same sense of haphazard adventure that characterised his lessons. On one occasion, pupils had arranged to take aerial photographs, using a camera attached to a large kite. But the kite string broke and the kite wrapped itself around a group of power cables. Fearing the response of irate natives deprived of power on a Sunday afternoon, Dr Cattermole refused to let the boy appeal to the police for help in retrieving the kite.

Another time, a pupil turned up at his door and said he would be running away. Dr Cattermole responded in the only way he could think: he lent the boy a railway timetable so that he could plan his journey.

The one part of pastoral life he did not relish was tending pupils' injuries. He had a pathological dislike of blood, and often fainted after patching up a wound.

His skills as a polymath were renowned in school and out: he was known to plough through old manuscripts as others might read novels. In his spare time, he researched the definitive account of Norwich School, published in 1991.

He had learnt to ring church bells as a child. In adulthood, he embarked on a PhD in campanology. This thesis led to a range of publications, including Church Bells and Bell-Ringing: a Norwich Profile (1990). And in 2005 he published The Church Bells of Norwich, a comprehensive guide to bell-ringing in the city.

In later years, Dr Cattermole worked as official archivist to Wymondham Abbey, in Norfolk, and as adviser on bells to the Norwich diocese. He retired from Norwich School in 2003.

  • Paul Cattermole died in July at the age of 68. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their two daughters.

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