The first school I attended, at the age of 4, was Holy Child School in Killiney, south of Dublin, where I was taught by nuns. Later on, I moved to two other schools in the region, including St Conleth’s in Dublin, which was run by a rugby referee who we’d often see officiating at Five Nations international matches on TV.
In 1966, when I was 9, my family moved to England and I attended school at Worth Abbey in Sussex, which is a Benedictine monastery. I stayed until I was 18 and that’s where I met John Stanton, who taught history.
Before that, I’d already become very interested in history and remember being taught by Edward Cruise, a monk seemingly obsessed by war. He’d virtually recreate the Battle of Waterloo in the classroom, playing different characters while getting loud and overexcited. If nothing else, it meant students came away with vivid memories of the key battles in our history.
But I’ll never forget Mr Stanton, who always enthused pupils with his teaching. He opened up not only the world of history but also architecture, which was another of his great passions. He’d constantly refer to Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, a well-thumbed tome on the subject.
Something else I remember clearly is that he was resolutely unsporty and regaled us constantly with complaints about his own schooling, having been taught by people “whose breadth of reading began and ended with Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack”.
'Unfussed by the curriculum'
Mr Stanton seemed rather unfussed with the curriculum, preferring to write his own instead. I feel sorry for history teachers now, who appear restricted to teaching so narrowly, whereas he’d be off on a subject regardless of whether it had any relevance to what we should have been taught that day. Although that approach might sound chaotic, it afforded us exposure to a wider sweep of historical events.
Pupil involvement was always encouraged in lessons and I don’t recall him ever undermining anyone, even if they uttered something revealing complete ignorance. He’d engage everyone in a way that was inspiring, enjoyable and educational.
Mr Stanton, a large man with a huge domed head and gig-lamp spectacles, was always smartly dressed, and I never saw him in anything but a three-piece tweed suit. Despite his size, he had a delicate tiptoey walk in his huge, sensible Oxford shoes.
He never ingratiated himself with the class, but would always entertain us with his stories. Often he’d laugh at what seemed to be a private joke, then share his thoughts with us, but not before his face had creased up with amusement and flecks of foamy spittle had appeared at the side of his mouth and been dabbed away.
One tiny thing more about Mr Stanton, which was unique among teachers, is that my essays would come back with a page of typewritten comments in red lettering. Back then, there weren’t word processors or cut-and-paste facilities, just carefully thought-through typescript annotations. He must have spent hours on them every day.
Occasionally, we’d go to his lodgings for extra tuition and his room was packed floor-to-ceiling with classical vinyl records; it was a vast collection, and he would play music in lessons from time to time.
Sadly, not long after I left school, Mr Stanton collapsed at a railway station and died. As he was intensely private during his lifetime, it seemed so undignified to have a public demise like that. He was a wonderful man and I’ll never forget him.
Robert Bathurst’s recording of Glass Houses by Louise Penny is published by Macmillan Audio. He was speaking to Richard Webber