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  • Writer's pictureSadie

Devoted headmaster



The altar rail in St Margaret’s church was dedicated in memory of Herbert Emmett Rayner, by his wife Annie and his many friends.


But who was Herbert Rayner?


Herbert Emmett Rayner was born in Hunslet, Leeds in 1874. He was the only child of Alfred and Aditha. Alfred was an engine fitter. Herbert attended St. Jude’s Elementary School in Leeds between 1878 and 1887. It was perhaps here that his love of education began.


By 1891 the family had moved to 3 Prospect Place, Hunslet. Herbert was 17 and was a pupil teacher. The family valued education and Herbert was evidently a talented youth, as between 1892 and 1895 he attended the Victoria University, in Manchester, where he studied science. Following this he received a certificate in teacher training from Leeds Day Training College. Soon after this he was appointed to his first position as assistant master at the Central High School, Leeds. Herbert remained at the High School until 1901.


It was while Herbert was at the High School that he married Annie Williamson on 26th December 1899. They married at St. Peter’s, Bramley, Leeds. Annie was the daughter of John and Emma. John was a dentist and chemist and they also lived in Hunslet.


The newly married couple started their married life at 155 Stratford Street, Hunslet.


Herbert’s professional life continued unhindered. He was first appointed principal at the Batley Pupil Teacher Centre, York, then between 1905 and 1907 he was principal at the York Pupil Teacher Centre, York and between 1907 and 1910 he was appointed principal at the Municipal Secondary School for Girls, York.


While Herbert was pursuing his professional life their first two daughters were born, Murial Aditha, on 31st March 1907 and Winifred Margaret in 1909.


Some 120 miles away, in Fletton, plans were in place to open the County Secondary School. In 1910 Herbert was appointed the school’s first headmaster, a post he would hold for 25 years.


The family settled into the community in Fletton. They first lived at 15 Fletton Avenue and then Wyngatecroft on London Road.


A third daughter, Barbara, was born on 29th November 1913 and she was baptised at St. Margaret’s church on 4th January 1914.


Herbert was a prominent member of the local community. In 1913 he became the Rector’s warden (churchwarden) at St. Margaret’s, a position he would hold for 25 years. On 14th May 1914 he became a freemason at the St. Peter’s Lodge. He was also elected to the Old Fletton Urban District Council in April 1931. He served both as a member and as Chair, and by virtue of his position was also a JP (Justice of the Peace). In 1933 Herbert was also elected a member of the County Council and County Education Authority.


Herbert also enjoyed travel. On 10th April 1930 he spent a month visiting a friend, Charles K Taylor, in New York. Herbert’s travel details reveal that he was fair in complexion and 5 feet 7 inches tall.


Unfortunately, from March 1935 Herbert had to relinquish many of his positions due to ill health. When he retired from his position as headmaster Reverend Swain commented that ‘whatever had gone into the school had come out of Mr. Rayner’ and the pupils affectionately called him ’pa’. Mr Rumsey, from Hendon, was chosen as his successor, from a field of 100 applicants.


During this time Herbert was able to see all three of his daughters marry.


On 27th May 1933 Murial married Reginald J Godfrey. Reginald was the second son of Reginald and Gertrude Alberta Godfrey. Reginald Snr was the manager of the Railway Wagon Works. They were also residents of Fletton, living on Fletton Avenue. Reginald was a dental surgeon. He trained at the Birmingham Dental Hospital and when he married practised in Long Causeway. Murial left her teaching post, at the Secondary school in Fletton, to assist him as a dental nurse.


Soon after they married, they settled in Greenwich, London and they had two daughters, Shirley and Jennifer.


Over the next few years, the family lived in various places. Murial, Shirley and Jennifer were recorded as returning from India on 27th January 1944, on the Reina Del Pacifico and by 1954 they had emigrated to Queensland, Australia.



On Thursday 29th July 1937 Winifred, a chiropodist, married Herbert Sidney Allen, a schoolteacher, at St. Marks, Peterborough. Winifred attended Birmingham University before embarking on four years in the teaching profession. She then re-trained as a chiropodist and practised in Peterborough and Spalding. Herbert was educated at Deacons, Peterborough, then Queen Mary’s College, London University. He then took up a position as maths master at the Emanuel School. They were both members of the Peterborough Golf Club. The newly married couple made their home at 8 Avenue Mansions, Southwest London. Tragically just three months later, on 17th October, Winifred died, and was buried in Eastfield cemetery.

On Saturday 18th September 1937 Barbara married Leslie Knott, an engineer, at St. Marks, Peterborough.


Barbara and Leslie had three daughters Angela, Judith and Jane.


Despite his ill health Herbert still took a very active interest in education. In February 1938 he attended a conference of the National Advisory Council for Physical Training and Recreation at the Civil Service Commission Hall in London. It was here that he suffered a heart attack. He was admitted to the Westminster Hospital and died on 18th February. Herbert’s funeral took place at St. Margaret’s on 22nd February, and he was buried at Eastfield cemetery.


A memorial service was held at St. Margaret’s on Sunday 27th February 1938, it was led by Reverend Green. Reverend Green said in the service that there were ‘few men who received or deserved greater respect’ and that was particularly true in Fletton where he was ‘thoroughly beloved’. Herbert was a man with a ‘simple, straightforward character’ which ensured he was loved by teachers and school pupils alike. On Herbert’s retirement from his position as churchwarden he wrote a letter to the church council stating that his and his wife’s attendance at St. Margaret’s had been ‘one of the brightest things in our lives’. Reverend Green also commented how the sudden death of Herbert and Annie’s daughter, Winifred had left them bereft, but Herbert was ‘not a man to talk about religion, but he lived it’ and in that they found comfort.


In death Herbert did not forget concerns that were important to him. He bequeathed £100 each to Fletton Secondary school for the library, St. Margaret’s church for repairs to the building and to the Peterborough Memorial hospital.


Annie went to live with her daughter Barbara, and son-in-law Leslie, at 286 Dogsthorpe Road, and died on 9th November 1946.





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