'Chunky' Francis - 25 years on
Steve Dancey is planning to publish a book based on the musings of an inspirational former Kingdown School teacher - and is asking visionforwarminster readers for help.
THOSE growing up in Warminster during the 1950s, 60s and early 70s could hardly fail to encounter the legendary ‘Chunky Francis’.
Ask anyone from that era, especially anyone connected with Kingdown School, and they will probably have a story to tell about him.
With teachers such as Bristol City’s greatest ever player John Atyeo and English teacher Chris ‘Lennie’ Weekes on the staff at the time the school certainly had its fair share of impressive characters, but none was placed in such high regard by the pupils as Chunky.
Chunky’s real name was Ken, although his wife Anne and his parents, would always refer to him as Ivor.
Kenneth Ivor Francis was born in 1928 in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire and, a gifted scholar at Tewkesbury Grammar School, he gained a place at Bristol University to study geography.
In common with many of his generation he also did national service spending some of his time ‘fighting the Communists’ in Malaya rather than peeling spuds in Catterick.
He arrived in Warminster in the mid 1950s and set about providing his very own style of education, which in today’s regimented education system of Sats tests and national curriculum would have seen him marched out of the building in his first week. (Pictured left, 250ft up on the Tamar Bridge with the chief engineer before the bridge opened in 1961 and, above, Ken in Cherbourg on a Kingdown School trip in 1964.
A study of the Isle of Man’s interesting geography would include a mandatory viewing of the TT race on film or geology would lead to a caving expedition, using carbide lamps, to the secret caverns of the Mendip hills - often in company with Frank Bundy. Italy meant a trip the Regal to see the just released Italian Job.
But as the years dragged on Ken became disillusioned with teaching and he left the school in 1972 to take on the challenge of running the Crossbank Bar and Grill at Ravenstonedale in Westmorland.
For most people in the Warminster area this meant the end of their happy association with Ken - but not for me.
Ken was not only my geography teacher he was also my father’s best friend.
This meant that Christmases over the next six years were almost always spent at Crossbank while my parents would often travel there during the summer holidays as well. Pictured - Crossbank just after a snowstorm in Feb 1973 - It is now called The Fat Lamb at Crossbank. Below as drawn by Ken in 1974 - he was also a gifted pianist.
Sometimes Ken would meet us at Forton motorway service station and I would be dispatched to ride in the latest TR7 or Spitfire racing through Lancashire at speeds of over 100mph.
Ken was obsessed with cars and bikes and was forever worried that the world would run out of petrol believing that the price would rocket by 1980. He once bet me £50 that four star would be £2 a gallon by 1977 and paid up on 1 January - and £50 was a lot of money for a first year student on a full grant of £975 a year.
After a few years the stress of running a small hotel in a remote location became too much and Ken and Anne, and after a spell at Hay-on-Wye, decided to run a sports shop in Cumbria, but it wasn’t an unqualified commercial success.
Unfortunately the story has a sad ending.
Ken suffered a debilitating stroke in 1984 and he died from a second stroke in the autumn of 1985.
Exactly a year later my father suffered a fatal heart attack while out walking Ken’s two dogs during a week-long visit to see Ken’s widow at Newbiggen-on-Lune.
Anne herself died a few years later. Pictured - Anne near her home at Low Lane Cottage in Newbiggen-on-Lune.
That was all more than 20 years ago and Ken is now little more than a memory in the minds of the 50 and 60 somethings who used to sit in his class and listen to his views or bend over for his cane (as I had to on two occasions).
But he has left a legacy in the form of more than 50 very lengthy, interesting and often amusing letters penned between 1972 and 1985.
The subjects covered include (especially) the shortcomings of education, the rat-race, cars, travel, motorbikes and why he left the feather-bedded employment of teaching for running his own business.
I now plan to edit and publish these letters in a volume but to add colour to the work any anecdotes about Kingdown’s most popular teacher would be most welcome, as would any photos.
All submissions will be credited in the work, which I hope will appear next year to mark the 25th anniversary of his death.
Ken wrote the following poem not long before he died.
Think not - nor will to see again
That which was me
For I am gone - and become
The whisps of cloud
That shroud the mountainside
And come and go
As does the sun its daily journey glide.
Shed not a tear - nor fear
What lies ahead
For I am the rocky step that leads
And tortuously is climbed
Right to the top.
Look not back to days and times gone by
But rather find a flower in stone,
Or trace the beauty of a mountain beck
Which glistens on a frosty day
And sings about its birth.
See not the face you knew
For it is now the sweeping moorland
And the curlew’s cry, and heron’s stand
These - you will not see die.
Tell not in dreams you felt my hand, and held,
Go and feel the blustering snow
And see the rain go by
As streaks of silver on the wind;
Enjoy the warmth of sunshine on your face
And in the winter admire and touch the frosty lace
On all you see.
I am the beauty of the world I knew and shared with Life
Take you all of what I am
And journey through the cosmos as a wandering star