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Mar 08

The interesting but baffling story of Harold Gilmour

We did some research into the circumstances of the death of Harold Gilmour (a boarder, 1920-21) who, according to family history, died as a result of an accident during PE.

Harold Gilmour, entered the school in September 1919. (The register at this period was poorly kept and contains minimal detail.) He appears in the terminal lists for the first time in Autumn term 1920 as a boarder and for the last time in Summer term 1921, i.e. he was only 3 terms in the school.

The Tamensian, no 47, December 1920, records him as then in Form III, (the bottom but one form as there was no form I). His name appears in an unusual listing of the whole school by forms, together with their age, weight and height, in Harold’s case 12 years, 9 months; 5 stone 9 lbs; Height 4 feet, 9 and a half inches, the last around average for form III.

Issues 48-50 of The Tamensian make no mention of Harold. It would be most unlikely these days for the death of a pupil not to be reported in some detail with an obituary and often some kind of memorial. We have three suggestions as to why this didn’t happen in the case of Harold, all purely speculative.

1. By mischance, Harold’s death, presumably in summer term 1921, was followed closely by that of Dr Shaw, the recently retired and much respected Headmaster. The Tamensian, naturally, devotes a good deal of space to Shaw’s life and work at the school. Notice of Harold’s death may just have been squeezed out.

2. His death occurred during the first year of the new Headmaster, Walter Bye. It is possible that he was not keen to record the death of a pupil on his watch, with at least the presumption that the school had failed in its duty of care.

3. Walter Bye was a WW! veteran. For those who had witnessed the slaughter of WW!, perhaps one more death, albeit of a boy, was not as noteworthy as it would be later and today.

Harold’s death certificate shows he died at the Liverpool Eye and Ear Hospital. The causes of death were given as suppurating otitis media (several years) and cerebellum abcess (35 days). A GP says that the ear condition was very common and there were no antibiotics at that time. If the ear condition was common, it is unlikely to have been a cause for sending him to LWS, even if LWS specialised in delicate children – which it didn’t. It also seems possible that the family tradition of an accident at LWS is exaggerated / misleading.

This suggests that he had had an ear condition for several years and a brain abcess for 5 weeks – this could possibly concur with an accident at LWS at the beginning of July. He died on 8 August. It also explains why he died in hospital, not at home (28 Granby St, Liverpool ). His death was reported by his father James Gilmour ‘curator, Liverpool School of Art’ = caretaker. His father later ran a sweets and tobacco shop in Granby St, Toxteth, with his wife.

A fall at school doing PE could have caused the brain abscess but quite possibly it was not realised at the time that the fall would have serious repercussions and it is likely that Harold returned home at the end of term as normal.

The LWGS connection remains obscure. Although Harold was only at the school for a short time, the assumption is that the intention was that he would be there for longer. The family can be found in the 1911 Census at Granby Street (when James’ wife was running the sweet shop while he worked as a caretaker). This area of Liverpool (Toxteth) was very much a working/lower middle class district. In 1901, the father was also working as the ‘Curator’ in the Liverpool School of Art but they were living in the Kirkdale area (in the northern part of the city). Likewise, not an affluent area.

The question of course is why would his family send him to Thame and how could they afford the fees when there were 8 children?

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