Bryan Barker, who has died aged 80, was the fourth member of his family to attend Whitby Grammar School and justified his staff room identification as “The Brainy Barker” by being the first of them to progress to university, a considerable achievement in 1952.
After graduating in English Language and Literature at Birmingham University he took to teaching, and in 1984 was back at his old school as head master.
It was by then called Whitby School, having become a comprehensive in 1972, with the result that entire generations of local children completed their education under his overall supervision.
He began teaching at Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, and then moved to Hull and Grimsby before being appointed Secondary Schools Advisor in East Sussex. His first headship was at Gunfleet School, Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, which after a merger formed part of Tendring High School. Throughout his career he sang with various choirs, including the East Riding County Choir.
Bryan was the younger son of William Barker and his wife Edith.
His father was the managing director at the Gazette and his Uncle Tom the editor.
His mother was a Bryan, descended from a master jet manufacturer, Charles Bryan, whose workshop, grandly entitled “Bryan’s Temple of Fine Jet Goods”, attracted famous visitors, notably the Prime Minster, William Gladstone, in 1872.
Bryan’s Christening thus resulted in the union of his parents’ family names, and endowed him with the necessity of reminding new acquaintances that he was Bryan-with-a-Y. He passed the scholarship to the Grammar School from WA Burton’s Mount School along with his friend Peter Frank, who also won academic distinction as a Professor at Essex University, and who died last November. Bryan became deputy head boy and chairman of the Grammar School’s Viking Society.
His family was deeply involved in St Ninian’s Church in Baxtergate, Whitby, where Bryan joined his parents and elder brother, Arthur, in the choir, and later served at the altar. St Ninian’s is a proprietary chapel owned by members of its congregation. Bryan acquired a share, and on his return to Whitby he and Rosalin joined worshippers there and recorded much of its history, which they published in a series of broadsheets. However, during the time when the Rev Ben Hopkinson was Rector of Whitby, other proprietors withdrew from the Church of England, and Bryan relinquished his interest and became a church warden at St Mary’s, the ancient parish church.
For him, teaching was not a job but a vocation, guided by Christian principles instilled in his childhood. Under his leadership, Whitby School was no backwater, but part of the mainstream of education. A governor at that time, the late Mrs Barbara Richardson, who was not given to lavish praise, described him as a “a brilliant headmaster”.
Pupils and staff found him friendly and approachable, always ready with help and advice, and, when it came to discipline, firm but fair. Frivolity did occasionally creep in. At one gathering he took to the stage and delivered his hilarious version of the Monty Python sketch in which four Yorkshiremen describe deprived childhoods.
After retiring in 1992 he deployed his expertise in welfare and charity work and was called in as an emergency governor at his old school when it was having problems. Latterly Bryan had been debilitated by Parkinson’s disease, which he referred to wryly in the third person, as if it were an
eccentric guest that had outstayed its welcome. He was often helped by nurses and others’ carers, and he found that many were ex-pupils who held him in affection. This surprised him, but not his friends.
His interest in what is now Whitby Community College was undiminished. Only days before his death, he delivered a cogent and vigorous argument against the changes suggested, including a new name, Caedmon College.
At Birmingham University he met, and in 1957 married, Rosalin (nee Dunkeld), who also graduated in English and became a dedicated historian.
Like her husband she made an important contribution to his old home town when they settled there, first in Ruswarp Lane and latterly in Blenheim Avenue.
Rosalin’s authoritative and painstakingly researched books have added vast new insights to the story of Whitby’s past, and are much admired by fellow local historians.
She survives him, along with their children Alison and Ian, granddaughter, Gemma and his elder brother, Arthur Groves Barker. His funeral will be at St Mary’s Parish Church, Whitby, on Monday, July 14 at 11am.
By Malcolm Barker