'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 kenannecharacters, but none was placed in such high regard by the pupils as Chunky.

Quite how Chunky (or Lennie) acquired his longstanding nickname is now lost in the mists of time, but it was universally known. 
(Pictured - Ken and Anne on the steps of their home The Old Rectory, Upton Scudamore in 1967.)

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, cherbourg 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 ken tamarCatterick.

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.

ken cherSummer meant camping trips to the Lake District, all undertaken in his own time. 
(Pictured by Tim Smith - The July 1971 trip at Keswick. Four of the six boys went on to University & all were inspired by Ken. I'm pictured left while the boy on the right is Chris Robbins, -our local butcher).
 At school the odour of wine making combined with that of pipe-tobacco in his back room while in the car park there was almost invariably a new Triumph sports car as Ken had more than 50 different vehicles during his lifetime.

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 xbankassociation 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 crossbankSpitfire 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.

anne fUnfortunately 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.

It should appeal to Warminster natives but also to anyone who works in education or the hotel trade.
My contemporary, John Lush, who now lives in Bath, has sent in this unique appreciation of KIF.
My first contact with Chunky Francis was not actually with him but with the classroom he taught in. When I entered Kingdown in September '69 I was in another class and so wasn't taught by him. His class was on the second floor of the main building. One day during a break I was snooping around the school finding out where things were when I happened to stray into his classroom - I was mesmerised. In a way it reflected the extraordinary character of the man himself.
Along a shelf were several plaster casts of hills - taken from maps I presume. What a good idea I thought, 3D representations of maps so you could look at a map and read it like a book. I was soon confronted by Chunky himself wandering into the room in a  distracted manner  - "Who are you?" "What do you want?" "Get out." Probably one of the most refreshing things about Chunky was his directness - you always knew where you stood with him, he was into casual discipline using a stick he would carry around. I didn't know it then but I had about 3 seconds to respond to his order or be walloped, but I was genuinely interested in some of the items in his room. "Actually" I replied "I quite like this idea you've done here with these hill models" (he was probably thinking supercilious brat) but I learnt there and then that chunky never turned a child away who was interested in the world of Geography and for that I am to this day eternally thankful.
Chunky was a Geographer he was an adventuring geography who was interested in showing young kids 'mummies boys' the solid world around them in a very hands on way. I had a small spark of interest in rocks and minerals Chunky saw that and ignited it in me to the level of a volcanic fire that has never gone out to this day. He was a teacher from the old school who lived and loved his subject and would encourage  others to do so. Whether it was explaining the adventures of great explorers who discovered Africa or walked across the Australian outback or getting us to do projects and go on our own journeys of discovery to countries we never knew existed, Chunky set the world of Geography alive. And all this outside the bounds of health and safety and the curriculum, deary me. 'Become an adventurer', he was saying, get away from your mum and discover the world.
Become an adventurer indeed but when you get older don't drive like Chunky! I went on a couple of caving trips with him and although I never took to caving it was such a relief to arrive at Burrington Combe in one piece - I was eager to get as far down a cave as possible and stay there to avoid the hair raising journey back home. He would always come back to Warminster via the old A46 road outside Bath and drive down it like a rabid bat going into hell - even the engine of the old grey school minibus was screaming 'let me out'! Chunky was in his element driving like this, occasionally looking over and asking his petrified pubesent passengers if they were o.k. - not though he would have stopped - maybe it was his revenge on having to teach these brats half his life! But he always knew what he was doing - I think.
What more can I say about Chunky. I could say that he first taught me to read an 1" OS map and to use a compass which has got me out of a few sticky situations. He inspired me to go on from Kingdown and get a Geology degree at university and then use that knowledge for 111/2 years in the oil industry. Above all he inspired a 12 year old boy to travel, to live, to see places, to have adventures and realise his dream. LONG LIVE "CHUNKY" FRANCIS


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

And marvel that all this - is me.
I'm sure everyone who knew Ken will find this poem very moving. SD