With the retirement of Mr George Wistow Walker from the headmastership of the Old Bedford Road School, which takes effect tomorrow [February 28th, 1919], the boys of that part of Luton will lose the services of one who has been a real friend to them, wrote The Luton News (February 27th, 1919).
Things have altered a lot since Mr Walker first came to take up educational work in this locality, for it is nearly 30 years since he came from London to work at Leagrave under the now defunct Luton School Board, which at that time, in addition to the schools in the town, also had control of the village schools at Leagrave, Biscot and Stopsley.
Mr Walker (pictured, right) says now that, fresh from a busy London district, the Leagrave of that day struck him as being about “the end of the world”. Readers whose memory of the village went back to January 1890, when Grange Farm was the only place near the station, would readily appreciate what his first impressions must have been.
It is interesting to note, said the newspaper report, that Mr Walker succeeded Mr William Green at Leagrave, and again at Old Bedford Road, while Mr Green followed Mr J. T. Needham at Old Bedford Road and later at Chapel Street.
When Mr Walker started at Old Bedford Road on October 4th, 1898, it was nearly a new school, but owing to the opening of Dunstable Road School and the resultant transfer of 70 or 80 of the best scholars, there were not more than 210 on the books. Owing to periodical extensions, there are now accommodation for 320, and in a recent week there were 321 on the books.
The general standard of the children has improved very considerably in these 20 years, in keeping with the development of the district. North Street was about the limit of the town's development in that direction, although Frederic Street, Reginald Street and Clarendon Road were in their early stages, and that side of Old Bedford Road was practically all allotment gardens.
In later years it has developed very rapidly, and the number of children attending the school has increased accordingly. It is a curious fact that for many years there were always more girls than boys in the neighbourhood, but for the last five or six years the boys have been in the majority.
Mr Arthur Mander, who is now to succeed Mr Walker as headmaster, put in the last two years of his apprenticeship under Mr Walker at Old Bedford Road, and then went to Mr Walker's old college, Westminster.
The Education Act of 1902 swept away the old school boards and vested in the Town Council the control of the schools in the town. Considerable change in the education system have followed. The old system of payment by results has gone by the board, and the old one-day examinations have been superseded by surprise visits which are as much tests of the efficiency of the system in vogue in an area as of the accomplishments of the children themselves.
Head teachers have been given much more freedom of classification and curriculum, instead of being bound by a rigid set of rules which permitted of no consideration of local conditions, and if there was still more freedom in this direction Mr Walker thinks it would be of benefit to the education of the town.
Outside, Mr Walker has taken a keen interest in games. When he first came into the town the old school league had died, but he managed to get it revived, and it was running very strongly till the outbreak of war.
Mr Walker is at present treasurer of the Schools Athletic Association, and hopes to see the league and other forms of athletics revived again. Taking an interest also in a wider sphere of football, Mr Walker was for nearly nine years secretary of the Bedfordshire Football Association. It ws in his period as secretary that representation on the English F.A. Was obtained, and on April 15th, 1905, he acted as linesman at the Crystal Palace when Aston Villa beat Newcastle United by 2-0 in the English Cup Final.
He also helped to get the English Schools F.A. Into being – on which body the Schools Association is this year being given representation.
Mr Walker's only indulgence now is a quiet game of bowls with the Luton Town Club, but to him is partly due the credit of giving the Luton Town Cricket Club a new lease of life a few years ago.
Wesleyan plans have contained Mr Walker's name in the lists of local preachers for 27 years past, and he has been specially active in the cause of temperance. For some years he undertook the local secretarial duties in connection with the Band of Hope, and he was also secretary of the excursions fund which was such a popular feature of the summer holiday season until the war put a temporary closure on the activities.
With all his other activities Mr Walker found time to act for a year or two as secretary of the local branch of the National Union of Teachers, and also to serve terms of office as vice-president and president.
Aged 55, Mr Walker feels it well to make way for a younger man.