Ronald Illingworth

Burton Grammar School Master (Geography 1936-1973)

IllingworthRonald Illingworth was born in 1908 in the village of Carlton near Leeds; one of four children to a miner in Yorkshire’s industrial West Riding. He was successful in gaining a coveted scholarship to the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield. Here, he enjoyed great success both academically and on the sports field. He played both cricket and rugby for the school first teams as well as for Yorkshire schoolboys.

From here, he gained a place to read Geography at Leeds University which he attended from 1927-30. His sporting prowess continued and he played rugby and cricket for both Leeds University and combined University teams.

One of his masters at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School lived near Chepstow in what is now Gwent and during the school holidays, out of school term, he returned home and took Ronald with him. It was through this relationship that he met Betty from that area who was to become his future wife.

Deciding on a teaching career, his first post was at Huish’s Grammar School in Taunton in 1931. This also turned out to be his ‘golden era’ for sport playing both cricket and rugby for Somerset. He opened the innings for Taunton for many years with Harold Gimblett who went on to be well known Internationally.

IllingworthIn 1931, whilst playing for Taunton at Sidmouth, a hard-hitter, he hit a ball completely out the grounds. Having tea on a verandah on and seeing the ball heading towards him, a man had the presence to stand up and catch the ball to prevent it from crashing onto the table. After the game, so impressed, Sidmouth Cricket Club mounted the ball and presented it to the unwitting fielder. Ron was delighted to find that this is legendarily recorded in the clubs history.

Ron and Betty married in 1933 and their first son, John, was born a year later. Second son Hugh was born some seven years later.

After 5 years of teaching Geography at Huish’s Grammar School, Ron was interviewed at the Russell Hotel in London by Burton Grammar School headmaster, Mr W.D. Fraser, for the post of Head of Geography. He was successful and so in 1936, he moved to Burton to take up the post and, after a short period in rented accommodation, moved into the house on Bretby Lane which was to be his home for the rest of his life. Jake Hammond, a fellow teacher who also enjoyed a very long career at Burton Grammar School also lived close by.

IllingworthMr Illingworth quickly gained a reputation for being a stern but fair disciplinarian and naturally became master in charge of cricket.

He also soon established himself as a sportsman, playing both cricket and rugby for Burton, where his introduction caused some excitement. Burton Cricket club was a highly esteemed club in those days and Ron scored many centuries. During the Second World War ‘Holidays at Home’ activities, Burton played against a visiting celebrity side which included a number of International and Test cricketers, after a magnificent innings, Ron made the local headlines with the story ‘174 Runs Off Four Test Bowlers’. Another famous innings that made the press was when Burton played Repton; a boundary was needed from the last ball to give Burton victory and Ron, whose innings had outlasted a number of batsmen, yet another century. It is said that the ball was struck so crisply and with such power that, although never leaving the ground more than six feet, it was still well off the ground when it crossed the boundary. Ron certainly had the stuff that legends are made of!

IllingworthRon was also an accomplished pianist and played at musical events and school assemblies for many years. His additional geographical activities also included field study groups to places such as the Lake District which he particularly enjoyed. Many of his pupils went on to enjoy distinction in both cricket and Geography,

He retired from Burton Grammar School in 1973 after 37 years service where, after decades of association, he for the first time discovered that he had exactly the same date of birth as Ellick Ward.

After retiring, he continued to lead a full life and took up golf to good effect. After some years, Betty’s health deteriorated and she died in 1991. Ron died in the following year.

His first son John, an ex-BGS pupil himself, read Mathematics at Oxford before a career with Rolls-Royce. His second son; Hugh, also went on to Oxford to read Chemistry before becoming a schoolmaster. Tragically, he and his wife were killed in a road accident in Kenya in 1968.


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