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A local history and genealogy site for Wimpole, a village and parish in South Cambridgeshire.
Curated by Steve Odell.

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Godfrey Garton Wicksteed
Quaker, Master Mariner and Educationalist
Tutor at Wimpole Park Training College, Cambridgeshire 1947-1950.
A local history and genealogy page for the Parish of Wimpole.
In late April 2020 I came into possession of a 35mm film strip with "Albert the Lion" and "c1948, Done at Wimpole Park" on the label. I purchased it 'blind' via an auction on eBay.
The film strip turned out to be a hand-drawn black-and-white educational presentation of around 20 images. The opening titles read (I think somewhat tongue-in-cheek) "WPTC Department of Audio-visual Accessories, presents Mr G Wicksteed lecturing on Seasonal Diagrams". A sort of 1948 PowerPoint presentation!
Although I judge the topics being covered in the accompanying lecture to have been probably serious, the background slides were clearly not. One slide for example shows a graph of boys being swallowed by lions on one axis against girls being swallowed by giraffes on the other (of course...).
So, somewhat intrigued, I did some research. A Godfrey Wicksteed was indeed at Wimpole Park Training College. I think he tutored mathematics from 1947 to 1950. And apparently he possessed a remarkable car.
And I found that, as perhaps suggested by the film-strip, 'Mr G Wicksteed' was not quite your average bog-standard run-of-the-mill academic mathematics teacher...
Albert the Lion 35mm Filmstrip c1948
Albert the Lion 35mm Filmstrip c1948
[Adapted from an obituary letter to "The Guardian" in 1997]
Godfrey Garton Wicksteed (1899-1997), saw more of this earth, in more unusual circumstances, than most of us. He furled sails at the top of sailing ship masts the height of a 15-storey building, wrote and acted a play in mid-Atlantic on a bankrupt Swedish-speaking ship and was the last surviving Englishman to round Cape Horn under a true working sail.
He was born in 1898 in Padiham, near Burnley, the son of a Unitarian minister (Joseph Hartley Wicksteed) and a Quaker mother (Mary Ethel Robinson). When he was six, the family moved to Letchworth Garden City. Godfrey's love of sailing ships was encouraged by his grandfather, a Dante scholar and economist, who took him sailing in his Norwegian Hardanger Faering and he became an experienced sailor in the ketch which his Uncle Sam had built for sailing around Britain.
Godfrey was sent to Bedales School (1913-1917) where he led a happy, largely outdoor life, and met the girl he was later to marry, Erica Weiss. Having left school during the First World War, he reconciled his Quaker pacifism and determination not to shirk danger by joining the merchant navy.
After two years in hospital ships, he seized the chance to become an ordinary seaman and joined one of the last commercially registered four-masted barques, the 'Bellands', loading coal at Newport, south Wales, bound for Buenos Aires. Godfrey would be sent up the main mast in pitch dark with the whole ship shaking as thousands of feet of canvas were hoisted.
They took timber to Australia, grain to Chile and linseed to Hull. They survived storms in the north Atlantic; sails being carried away in the Channel; they swam in the doldrums to catch huge tunny fish; made cakes with the tallow meant for greasing the tackle and washed in rainwater collected from the deck.
Once, when be was an able-seaman on board the Swedish 'Transocean', the captain asked Godfrey to interpret while he entertained an English skipper, who asked what Godfrey was doing on this ship. 'I'm putting in my sea time so that I can eventually become a master, same as you Sir,” replied Godfrey. The older men were amused, since to become qualified before the last serious sailing ships had been driven from the oceans was a forlorn hope.
But luck was on his side. In 1934, having gained his Extra-Master’s certificate (for square riggers, the last ever issued in Britain) he was asked by Alan Villiers, whom he had met on an earlier voyage, to take command of the 'Joseph Conrad' and bring her from Copenhagen to London.
That year, too, he married Margaret Erica Weiss in Guildford 1932 while studying for a degree at London University and teaching navigation. Kurt Hahn invited him to join the staff at Gordonstoun School where he and his now-pregnant wife were expected to be as hardy as the boys. As a nautical instructor there, he took the older boys across the North Sea in the 'Henrietta', in which he found Philip Mountbatten [later the Duke of Edinburgh] a cheerful and reliable crew member.
By the end of the second world war, the Wicksteeds were at Wimpole Park Training College, near Cambridge, for three years, after which Godfrey became headmaster of Wicken School near Ely. He then made his main contribution to education by joining the City of Leeds Training College (Beckett Park) in Leeds. Brought up as a Quaker by his mother, Wicksteed was an active member of the Friends' Guild of Teachers throughout his career.
Then in 1957, Alan Villiers, listed him as first mate on the replica 'Mayflower'** then being constructed in Brixham, for the voyage across the Atlantic to Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Captain and crew later received a ticker-tape welcome parade in New York.
Then Godrey was then asked to be rigging adviser on the recently rescued 'Cutty Sark' at Greenwich. Godfrey was an inspired choice. He became deeply attached to the old ship and helped with countless educational projects to allow visitors to get a whiff of life at sea. He was 87 when the insurers finally stopped him going aloft to fix things.
In 1995 at the age of 96 he was awarded a medal by the International Association of Cape Horners, as the last Englishman still alive to have rounded Cape Horn under square rig in a true working ship.
Godfrey was loved by children. In the last few years of his life, he helped children at his local primary school with their reading. Once a small boy was overheard discussing whether Mr Wicksteed would have seen whales. "Don’t be silly,” said his friend, “whales weren’t invented then."
Godfrey enjoyed mountain walking, singing songs, and telling stories. He was a kind, imaginative and practical man with great energy and infectious enthusiasm. His wife predeceased him in May. But Godfrey had one more event at sea to attend. In June [1997] at a reunion of the crew of the replica 'Mayflower II' in Plymouth, they laid a wreath at sea “for the watch below”. Now he is with those old shipmates himself.
Godfrey Garton Wicksteed (1899-1997)
** First Mate Wickspeed can be glimpsed in this 1957 Pathe Newsreel "Mayflower Sails For America" (about two-and-half minutes in, drinking from a white mug).
"Immortal Vehicle"
[Found in Wimpole Park Training College's '1950 Yearbook', page 9.]
"Mr Wicksteed's car, in case you ever wondered, has so far done about 30,000 miles. It's an Austin 12 (1926) and its 20-year-old engine had never been re-bored when he bought it in 1947. His bother at Royston saw it in a field. Someone had decided to turn it into a farm tractor and had already sawn off the windscreen. Hood and side screens are also missing, but with the family flair for going straight to essentials he recognised it as just the job.
It has proved a good £60-worth. Balloon cloth scrounged off a dump made the hood, which is now coming adrift again. The car had its first re-bore on its 21st birthday, which coincided with Wimpole's first Open Day.
Mr Wicksteed's Car 1950 Mr Wicksteed's Car
drawn by Molly Dore in 1950
Children for miles around have known it in various disguises, including Jolly Roger and Puffing Billy. It has never been abroad, but took Honister Pass in Cumberland comfortably. It pulled the Topic H boat (one ton) and trailer (half ton) up the hill outside the college gates, [which was the] sharpest gradient between Arrington and Huntingdon. Maximum known human load was 66 people on two trailers."
Refections on Gamlingay Schooldays
"Mr Wicksteed, who came across from the teacher training college in Wimpole Park, organised at least two special days out with a four-seater canoe, paddling on the Cam.
"Four boys, including Lol were taken by van to Cambridge, and starting by Silver Bridge, with a packed lunch on board they took six hours to get to Ely, some 15 miles (by road) They finished on the Saturday evening, at 6 pm.
"On the second trip, Wally was one of the chosen boys, but this time Mr Wicksteed stayed in the boat and helped paddle, and one boy rotated by turn on the tow path, and then in the boat. In this way they paddled from Ashwell Nine Springs – Melbourne, Malton to Ely. This was 30 miles!
"After their special day out, the boys all wrote an essay describing the day. Peter went with Mr Wicksteed on a walking trip; starting at Ashwell a small group of boys followed the map tracing the river tributaries until they reached the Cam."
Taken from "Reflections on Gamlingay" by Lol Titmus (Gamlingay and District History Society) originally published in the Gamlingay Gazette.
Trading by the Wind by Gedfrey Wicksteed Godfrey Wicksteed kept diaries during three long sea voyages under canvas between 1919 to 1923. The diaries, hand-written on board ship, have now been edited and published in a new book, "Trading by the Wind", produced by Wicksteed's niece - Brenda Tyler, the York children's author. The book provides an unforgettable account of the final days of the great ocean-going sailing ships: the daily routines of shipboard life, the battles with high seas and high winds, accounts of the sealife spotted and the visits to various ports.
"Trading by the Wind" by Godfrey Wicksteed, edited by Brenda Tyler, is available in hardback by First Printing (2018).

This page was last updated on: 30 May 2020.

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