It is with much sadness that I report to you the death of our great friend and fellow member of Slems, Barron Walton, in 2021. Barron and I both started at Slems in October 1965 and remained in Hall until 1968. Barron was born and brought up in Newcastle, attended Dame Allan’s School and came to Manchester to study English and American Studies. Neither of us knew Manchester but we quickly came to know each other as close neighbours on Summerfield B corridor. It was thus a short commute for the inevitable coffee and discussion of possible attendance at early lectures and/ or tutorials. A strong group of friends was established from the outset. As well as our studies, we were eager to participate in Hall life, formal and informal, and all the wider attractions of Manchester in the 1960s. Within Hall, all the activities of the JCR, opportunities for sport, the Hall play, Hall magazine, the many socials as well as an ‘infamous’ raid on Langdale. Beyond, the University Rag Week and Rag Ball, the live performances on offer from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton and Cream and the attractions of ‘The Grapes’ on Deansgate (please don’t ask about the returning No.42 bus or the award of a notorious tie to be worn at formal dinner) and ‘The Welcome’ so conveniently close by. Then the opportunities at Old Trafford or Maine Road. In those days it was possible to simply turn up at the turnstiles and be swept down the terraces as Best, Charlton and Law attacked goal or sit on the rope boundary chatting to the West Indian fielders as Boycott and Edrich plied their trade.
Barron was a vital and integral part of our lives at these formative years. It was his humour, interest in others and a conversation which could sway from the hilarious to the serious that contributed to our well- being. We might talk about our courses, highs and lows, music, vinyl bought or sought, current events, friendships and relationships, triumphs and disasters. At the time, we did not appreciate fully the importance of this but now so obvious as we better understand the issues of mental health and isolation. Baron contributed far more than he ever realised to so many others.
Barron made substantial contributions to Hall life. For several years he ran The Cellar, an essential component of Hall life. Its success owed much to Barron’s hard work and dedication. Setting up the bar and hauling kegs into the Dining Room is an enduring memory and one for which we were all more than grateful. In 1967 he assumed the role of Editor of ‘Floreat’. His memorable editorial entitled ‘Sik transit Floreat’ well reflected Barron’s persona. Written in a glorious stream of consciousness, he recounts his struggles with the agony of the role of editor: ‘I thought what a daft thing to do …. I lie in bed awake at three am floreat ugh it will never be published …. I’ll miss copy date. Yes warden going fine warden …. No mr president floreat will not die this year it will be the greatest ever …. Get those damned adverts finished … I must have a full quota by the end of term … don’t believe these malicious rumours about only one article they’re all damnable lies … sleep … sleep …. Who killed sleep … Floreat did, for six months matey.’ The resulting magazine was a fine success but the process so very Barron!
In 1968, we left Hall to decamp to a flat in Danesmoor Road, West Didsbury. Barron was to complete his four - year course, I to embark on a Certificate in Education and Toby Tyler to continue his Architect’s course which lasted forever. Hall had not equipped us with domestic skill but we survived in an ad lib sort of way. An oversize turkey won by Toby in a raffle was successfully cooked by the addition of foil wrapped around the protruding half sticking out of the oven. Not pretty but effective. Barron read a great deal and listened to a lot of music. We suspected it was the same book but he said not. His taste in Dusty Springfield and Manfred Mann was tolerated.
In 1969, Barron sought pastures new to complete a Certificate of Education in Leicester. The following year he was appointed to teach English at Campion School, a new purpose - built community comprehensive in Bugbrooke, about six miles from Northampton. Here he spent thirty years in a variety of roles, teaching English, Head of Department, Head of Sixth Form and Assistant Head for Community. Over two hundred tributes on the Campion Facebook bear eloquent testimony to his dedication, his inspiring teaching and the lasting impact he had on so many students. Barron was a progressive Head of English and led by example. Assessment in those days included an oral element where students could speak to a chosen topic. In Barron’s case, the choice was often pets. Thus during orals week, the English stockroom became a haven for guinea pigs, ferrets and rabbits. Barron was in his element! Production of plays by Barron was a major contribution to school life including Anouilh’s The Lark and a memorable Toad of Toad Hall. His generosity of time, emphasis on the team and thoughtful approach made him a much-valued colleague. As with Manchester, many friendships became lifelong.
After taking early retirement, Barron bought and sold antiques and he restored houses. He worked for several years at South Northants Volunteer Bureau supporting village projects. His love of sport continued as a lifelong supporter of Newcastle United and as a season ticket holder of Northampton Saints. Rugby became the occasion by which we were able to catch up again and renew a lifelong friendship. Based on Toby’s research, we were able to source suitable pubs from Sheffield to Lichfield where we could watch the Six Nations, Lions and World Cup. Just as before.
Barron was a loving father to Emma and Sophie who recall a childhood of ticking antique clocks none of which ever told the right time. The house was ever full of plants with more on the way. Animals were a constant feature of family life – birds, dogs, cats, fish, ponds and aquariums. Barron was also a supportive stepfather to Andrew and Sam, teaching them to drive and pull cars out of ditches. He became a loving Grandpa to Emily and Lara.
As a husband to Fiona, he was always kind, loving and supportive. When Fiona was ill, Barron was a stalwart support accompanying her to appointments and hospital visits ad providing emotional stability. It seems palpably unfair that after supporting Fiona valiantly in fighting her illness, he almost immediately had to fight again on his own behalf. The situation was rendered more isolating and traumatic in that the diagnosis came in lockdown which meant they could only be reached by text or zoom. After a long battle, the end came rapidly but he had endured many bouts of chemotherapy which certainly took their toll.
In Barron, we lost a loyal and enduring friend. Modest, self-effacing and never without humour, it was a life of high achievement, never more so in his family, friends and the youngsters he taught. Perhaps some of this can be traced back to those days in Hall which provided those essential opportunities and values which create lifelong friendship.