Gordon William George Cass

Page updated 10 November,2018

by Tony Eden

As I was approaching age 60, I started this web site in 1999, just to get all my thoughts together, as a site devoted to Norwood College but it eventually developed into a story of the life of the school's headmaster, if not owner, Charlie Cass. But there was no audience for it! During the lifetime of Norwood there had been no moves to establish an Old-Boys Association so, when the school closed in 1972, there was no formal channels of communication between ex-pupils, teachers or indeed anyone.

The advent of the web site, Friends Reunited, was the catalyst for advertising the existence of the Norwood site and after a very slow start it was seen by more and more ex-pupils. They were then able to provide lots of stories and information about Charlie, his school and events in his life.

Most of us boys at Norwood knew that he had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and that he had flown as a fighter pilot. His passion for all things to do with music and the railways of Britain was obvious to us. But as youngsters, "the man" was far less obvious to us.

Norwood College represented Charlie's life and as he grew older it appears that he did not put the school in a suitable shape for sale; by the time he was 74, and still running Norwood, but with no (apparent) relatives for whom the business would have been an inheritance, there was nothing left but to sell the property, not as a going concern but simply as land and bricks. He had, four years before, sold the playground and that had already been redeveloped as flats.

But did Charlie have any living relatives? His father, William Henry, had a brother, Thomas, who was born in 1870 and a sister, Edith, born in 1877; thus, it is possible that Charlie has cousins from his father's side (and possibly from his mother's side as Ruth had a sister, Mary Jane).

By the early 1970s Charlie was not a well person so, after selling the property, he moved first to The Metrople Hotel (then a nursing home in Harlow Moor Drive) and then to Scotton Bank Hospital where he died in 1976 at the comparatively young age of 78.

Photograph of a very slim-line
Charlie Cass in 1949, aged 51

Charlie had been a teacher at Clifton House School for almost thirteen years and, initially, this lengthy period in his career figured little in this internet site. Some information about Clifton started to come through but still not a lot was known about the mysterious J Walter Nuttall who was shown as Principal in the Prospectus kindly donated by the son of a former pupil. Searching the Censuses had produced no record of him but then in May,2007, his name was traced and that lead to establishing that Clifton had started, not in Stray Road, but in Queen Parade in Harrogate at some time bewteen 1891 and 1901.

To dismiss Clifton as a subject outside of this internet site would be a disservice to Charlie; thirteen years in anyone's career is a long time and Charlie surely acquired a lot of experience which could well have made him think, 'if they can it so can I!" As a boy, Charlie had attended Scarborough College, a large private school, and adding his experience at Clifton, albeit a smaller school, would have placed him in an ideal position to establish his own school. Having the experience is one thing but having the money to realise the ambition is another; where that cash came from to open Norwood College remains an unexplained topic but it seems he was not a good manger of £sd.

I am very grateful to all of those who have contributed information for this web site. As the site grew, I was able to obtain images and information for a variety of other web sites so as to put Charlie's life into perspective. I am sure that we all can picture Charlie in our mind's eye as if he were still here today but just imagine the time of 1898 when he was born - Queen Victoria was on the Throne: cars were a rarity and even bicycles were relatively new: powered flying was still to "take off" though a fellow-resident of Yorkshire, Sir George Caley had almost beaten the Wright brothers to it more than 60 years ealier: Marconi was still trying to achieve wireless telegraphy: and computers were limited to some rudementary punched-card and mechanical "engine" varieties though even computer programming had been established by Ada Lovelace dozens of years before. Charlie saw an immense change in the lives of ordinary British people and, I think, contributed a sense of honesty and integrity to several hundred boys who he taught at Clifton and who passed through his school, Norwood.

So, the story spreads out, beyond that of the central character, to what was around him. In the late twentieth century we had seen continual and incremental change but not of the magnitude that perhaps Charlie Cass experienced. Not only have telephones become portable they are now small powerful computers with a phone too. Aeroplanes have become bigger, (but not really faster) and far more of a routine event. But Charlie grew up in an age when some of the things so familar today just did not exist. Indeed, over the 19 years (1999 to 2018) that this web site has been in place there have been enormous scientific and cultural changes that were unimaginable in 1999. If there could be a 'bottom line' it would be my wish that Charlie could be here, at this moment, to see how we live today. Would he be delighted? Or would he be horrified? "Always a Gentleman"? With that President of the USA?

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