Celebrating Tony Horrox (Ex-Head of Chemistry at Merchant Taylors' School)

The entire MTS Community was saddened by the recent passing, after a lengthy illness, of former Head of Chemistry, Tony Horrox. For almost 40 years, Tony was a wonderful School Master and highly popular colleague who also served as the President of the Senior Common Room.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to Katherine and Alexander. We are compiling tributes to Tony which will be published on the website, in Concordia, and will be sent to his family. If you would like to contribute please write to development@mtsn.org.uk. In order to highlight Tony’s immense contribution to life at Sandy Lodge, we present Tony’s valedictory, which was first published in the Taylorian in 2015.

Those of us who have reached a certain age will probably recall the disbelief experienced when our Chemistry teacher told us to taste the product of that lesson’s experiment. To mix a solution of sodium hydroxide with dilute hydrochloric acid was an activity that, in those far off days, seemed both dangerous and exciting. We all knew that acid was toxic and corrosive, and that alkalis were just as bad but, because of the name, somewhat more scientific. No doubt a Chemistry teacher who behaved like this nowadays would be pilloried by public opinion and prevented from ever teaching again. Eventually a brave pupil would taste the white crystals that had formed as the liquid evaporated. It soon became clear that the substance was merely table salt, and the astonishment of this revelation is one that is difficult to recapture in later life.

When one thinks of Tony Horrox in a manner that a valedictory article demands, there are two thoughts that eventually come to mind. It is only in moments that are significantly more reflective than the everyday, hurly burly of human existence usually allows, that such ideas seem to dawn. They seem so unlikely that it is difficult to judge which is the more improbable and the astonishment is commensurate with that felt when tasting the salt all those years ago. The first is that there was a time before Tony became a member of the Merchant Taylors’ Senior Common Room, and the second is that Tony is actually called Anthony.

Since his first days at the school (and no doubt long before then) Tony has insisted on the disyllabic abbreviation and even the A in acronym AJWH seems to stand for Tony.

Tony came to Merchant Taylors’ in 1977, immediately after leaving Lincoln College, Oxford where he had been studying Chemistry since leaving school. At that time, there were six full school days a week and Saturdays followed the same pattern as Wednesdays; there were morning lessons and afternoon games for all pupils. It was, therefore, convenient for Tony to join the Resident Masters (there were no full-time female teachers) and to live in the school. The corridor where the Accounts Department is now located was referred to unaffectionately as Death Row, and it was there that Tony had a study and a bedroom. Breakfast and dinner were served in the Rec. Room. With this communal living arrangement, friendships were soon formed. This was an era when, in schools such as Merchant Taylors’, the word Mentor was only ever encountered in the Odyssey and, in the absence of any official system of induction, new teachers relied for guidance, information and support on these new friendships and acquaintances. Denis Cruse had started his teaching career in the Chemistry Department a year earlier, and was able to point Tony in the right direction; this was the foundation of a friendship that still continues, and it was very pleasing indeed that Denis was able to attend Tony’s retirement party last December.

Tony was completely competent in all that he did and this was an area where too much interference was neither necessary nor helpful. John kept the Chemistry teachers on a loose leash. Tony’s first Head of Science, Harris Thorning, was, it is fair to say, of the old school (not the one in Charterhouse Square, of course) and one was in no doubt that what he said, he meant. Should one fall short of what was demanded, then it was improbable that his reaction would have generated any ambiguity or have left room for misinterpretation. There was a time when Tony made the unfortunate error of handing in his form reports on time and into the correct pigeon-hole as instructed by Francis Davey’s notice. Nobody ever did that again.

As a schoolboy, Tony lived in Hastings and was himself a pupil at Eastbourne College. Although a day boy at the school, Tony’s daily regime was very much that of a boarder. Day boys arrived before breakfast and prep was completed at school before going home, in the late evening, to sleep. Tony developed an affection for both cricket and rugby which are still important interests and about which Tony knows a very great deal. He is has been a member of the M.C.C. for thirty years and is the very satisfied owner of a complete collection of Wisden which, of course, dates back to 1864, and he buys each new edition almost as soon as it is published. Tony was keen to be involved in both of these sports at Merchant Taylors’ and in his thirty-seven years has coached many school teams in both sports. In recent years, this has invariably been the U14 teams but in earlier years, he was also seen on the field coaching other age groups, notably the U15 and U16 rugby. For many years, the partnership between Tony and Geoff Colley was one of the unchanging features of U14 rugby. Tony coached rugby in both the Michaelmas and Lent terms throughout his career.

It was not long into Tony’s time that his talents and skills were spotted and he soon became a House tutor in Clive. There were only two tutors in each House, and so the position was very much that of a deputy to the Housemaster; it was a considerable commitment and one that Tony undertook professionally and seriously. John Jones was the Housemaster and Dennis Trebble the other House tutor. In 1981, Roger Greene asked Tony to be a House tutor in the Manor. Despite the original conception of boarding houses lining the long drive all the way to the station, the Manor was the only full boarding house that the school ever had. In the first few years of the Second World War, some day boys had been transferred to a second, temporary boarding house (the Examination Hall had become a dormitory) but when this arrangement was no longer needed the Manor reverted to its solitary status. The number of Manor boys was always substantially smaller than the number of pupils in any of the day houses, but as with the Resident Masters, the fact that they slept under the same roof and ate their meals together engendered a real sense of unity and common purpose, and a Manor sports team was invariably strong and determined. The role of tutor in the Manor involved an intense investment of time and energy and the knowledge that provided one was in the Manor, one was on call. A stream of pupils needing help with their homework or just in need of advice more generally resulted in Tony having very little time for himself for the years that he shouldered this role. A year after Tony became a tutor in the Manor, Stephen Cole became the Housemaster, and remained so until after Tony had himself moved on four years later.

One aspect of the school which has changed somewhat is the sense that a new, young teacher is expected to contribute in many different areas outside the classroom. On arrival, Tony was commissioned into the Royal Naval Section and spent many Field Days in Portsmouth with the cadets and other officers. In due course, Tony rose to be the officer in charge of the Naval Section, and spent five or six years organising the weekly activities and the Field Days; it was Tony’s first position of responsibility and he thrived on it and enjoyed both the challenge and the trust that it signalled.

In 1986, Tony was appointed the Housemaster of Hilles and again his enthusiasm, and organisational skills shone through; everything that Tony does is effected with commitment and thoroughness. Tony was to remain Housemaster for eleven years.

For Tony, 1991 was a year to be remembered; it was a genuine annus mirabilis. Most importantly, it was the year in which Tony married Katherine and, of course, moved out of the residents’ accommodation. Secondly, Tony was appointed Head of Chemistry, which was a position he held until 2010. The changes seen during those years were important and whilst A-level remained the examination taken in the final year of school, the GCSE (which had been introduced just a few years before Tony’s appointment) was eventually replaced with IGCSE. It was also during Tony’s time that the school began to enter pupils for the Chemistry Olympiad, and Tony should be proud of the Chemistry Department’s record. In a period of seven years, three pupils went on to become members of the British team.

In 2006, Alexander (Tony and Katherine’s son) joined the Third Form and stayed on until leaving for university in 2013.

Tony has always been an enthusiastic amateur astronomer, and there are highlights of this that should be mentioned. The telescope that was Sir James Jeans’ own was gifted to the school and was sent for restoration and used from time to time by Manor boys and others who stayed on sufficiently late. It was with this telescope that a group of pupils, led by Tony, caught their first glimpse of Halley’s Comet in 1986. As had been promised, the Headmaster was telephoned. Sadly he was in the bath at the time, and so it was twenty or so minutes before he appeared. He was still wet and was wearing a track-suit but he did at least get to see the most recent return of this regular visitor. The absolute triumph of Tony’s astronomical technique, however, was the setting up of a projecting telescope in the inner quad in June 2004 to display the transit of Venus. This occurs when Venus passes in front of the sun and a small black dot can be observed crossing the solar disc. It is a rare occurrence and transits occur in pairs separated by eight years once every 130 years or so. The previous one had been in 1882 and the 2004 transit was only the sixth one ever to have been seen. It was a gloriously hot day, and the sky was clear for the whole transit. Most pupils caught a view of the very clear image.

During 2014, Tony had to miss a great deal of school time through illness, and it is unfortunate that his final year at the school was marked in this way. Tony decided that the time had come to retire, and so at the end of the year and at the end of his 112th term, Tony left Merchant Taylors’. The school will miss him and it will not seem the same. It is good to know that his health is now very much improved and I am sure that we all wish both him and Katherine a very enjoyable and richly deserved retirement. I believe that a camper-van will soon be making an appearance and I look forward to hearing of their adventures. 

Mr. N.G. Blight

OMT David Robinson Enjoyed having Tony Horrox as a tutor whilst at school, and has offered his memories of his time spent with Tony below:

Tony Horrox was my tutor for my first five years as a Merchant Taylors’ pupil. Joining such a large and (initially) intimidating school can be a turbulent time for an eleven-year-old, so to be met with kind and friendly faces is essential to help ease the transition. Tony was that for me: he was gentle but exuded authority through his experience and knowledge of the school, and it became immediately apparent that he was fully invested in my academic progress and wellbeing. He was not overly demonstrative, but sometimes children need nothing more than a reliable and caring presence – someone who is always in their corner. I will never forget his reaction one results day when he told my parents, ‘this lad has not put a foot wrong.’ It made me feel ten feet tall; his authenticity and pride were clear. He never said something he did not believe.

He continues to influence my approach as a pastoral tutor to this day. The values that define this school, and which I still hold dear, were epitomised by Tony: humility, endeavour, joy, and authenticity. It is important to work hard; respect the school’s great Masters, traditions and history; but it is equally important to retain an unfettered love of life and learning for learning’s sake. Some things are more important than achievement per se; one also has to be fulfilled by a greater sense of purpose and passion. He was a stalwart of the SCR for so long and helped lay the foundations of my ongoing relationship with the school. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

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