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02 November 2006

Staff and students from the early years of St Martin’s College, Lancaster, will have been saddened by the recent death of the College’s founding Principal, Dr Hugh Pollard. His was the vision that created out of the bleak and dilapidated King’s Own Regiment barracks on Bowerham Hill, Lancaster, not only a place of architectural elegance, where old blended harmoniously with new, but also a vibrant community of staff and students committed to the pursuit of educational excellence.

With his idiosyncratic ways and charismatic style of leadership, Hugh Pollard won the respect and affection of all who came under his influence. Where he was, there were light and laughter, new ideas, and a freshness of approach. Where he was, too, all knew that they were loved, respected, and valued, for it was his firm belief that in all people there was some spark of the divine waiting to be discovered and nurtured.

As an educationist, Hugh Pollard was convinced that teachers needed to be educated and not trained. If young people in British classrooms were to receive the education they deserved, then they needed, in Hugh’s opinion, to be taught by women and men of sound learning, culture, and wide interest. To that end, he looked to provide at St Martin’s College a lively and stimulating learning environment, where students could engage with the best in music, the visual arts, and drama.

Particular highlights during the years of his principalship were concerts by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Söderström, stage performances by Joyce Grenfell and Flora Robson, and the purchase of works of art by John Bratby and Barbara Hepworth. Only the best was good enough for Hugh and St Martin’s.

Hugh Mortimer Pollard was born in 1915 in the Lancashire village of Symonstone, near Burnley. Educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Blackburn, he read English at Wadham College, Oxford, before taking up his first teaching post at Newton Abbot Grammar School. During the Second World War he served in the Intelligence Corps. In 1946 he was appointed Headmaster of the British Families Education Service School in Berlin.

After a period spent teaching in the United States, he returned here to take up, successively, lecturing posts at Chester College and the University of Sheffield, and, in 1960, the post of Vice-Principal of the College of St Mark & St John in Chelsea. In 1963 he was appointed first Principal of the new Church of England College of Education in Lancaster, which opened its doors to its first students a year later.

Awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Liverpool, in 1956 he published the resulting book, Pioneers in Popular Education, which was a carefully researched account, inter alia, of the achievements of Andrew Bell, Robert Owen, and Sir James Kay Shuttleworth.

Throughout his career and long life, Hugh Pollard was sustained by a deep and sincere Christian faith. Centred himself on God, he wished God also to be the focus of the St Martin’s community. Hence the St Martin’s College motto, “Scio cui credidi” — “I know in whom I have believed” — and the construction at the heart of the College campus of the modern light and airy college chapel.

For Hugh, that chapel, with its clear-glass windows opening on to the outside world, and John Bratby’s brutally realist depiction of the crucifixion behind the altar, was a daily reminder of the need for an unremitting and total giving of self in the service of others.

In 1975 he was appointed Chevalier of the Royal Order of Vasa by the King of Sweden, for promoting cultural ties between Sweden and Great Britain. His achievements were further recognised in 1976, the year of his retirement, by his being appointed OBE; and in 1989 by the award of the honorary degree of LLD by the University of Lancaster. 

Retiring to his native Symonstone, Hugh Pollard continued to take a lively and informed interest in the fortunes and development of St Martin’s College. He also cultivated new interests and skills, mastering the art of ikebana, and gaining his Advanced Driving Certificate at the age of 75.

Those who visited him in his small, immaculately kept cottage invariably found the welcome warm, and Hugh’s enthusiastic engagement with life undiminished. He never married, but enjoyed a close relationship with his sister Joan, and the families of her two sons, Christopher and Walton.

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