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Obituary: Alan Mould

by
17 November 2023

Kenneth Shenton writes:

ALAN MOULD, who died three days after his 93rd birthday, was a distinguished educationist who made his reputation as headmaster of St John’s College School, Cambridge, from 1971 to 1990. The school was one of some 40 such establishments to educate boys to sing the daily services in chapels and cathedrals; and Mould supported the organist and choirmaster, George Guest, in bringing the choir to a level of excellence that had few, if any equals. Mould was an articulate advocate, resolute in his belief that a historic cultural, educational, and spiritual heritage should never be swept aside by pure political ideology.

Born in Upminster on 2 June 1930, Alan Hansell Mould was the only son of Herbert, a bank employee, and his wife, Eileen, a civil servant. He was brought up in in West Kirby, and educated at Trent College, Nottingham, where his musical talents, both choral and instrumental, rapidly came to the fore. A bout of rheumatic fever held up his academic progress for a time and led to his spending a large part of his National Service in isolation in Aldershot Military Hospital. He went on to read medieval history at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he founded the Valence Mary Singers, which later became the Pembroke Singers.

Mould began his professional career as an assistant history teacher and a housemaster at Brentwood School, in Essex. In 1959, he took up his first headship, at Shirley House Preparatory School in Watford. When, in 1964, Shirley House School merged with Heath Brow School in Hemel Hempstead — becoming Beechwood Park Preparatory School — Mould became the new school’s first headmaster. The school was sited in a large and historic country mansion with extensive grounds, in Markyate, St Albans, where he had carte blanche to create the school from scratch. Such was his success that, seven years later, he was headhunted to succeed the Revd C. F. Walters as Head Master of St John’s School, Cambridge.

Mould enjoyed a productive relationship with George Guest. Fifteen years earlier, Guest had almost single-handedly saved the school from closure by the college Fellows. As the choir’s reputation grew both nationally and internationally, Mould, too, became an increasingly influential figure on the domestic educational scene. When, in 1973, Labour’s Roy Hattersley warned head teachers of independent schools that a future Labour government would implement a “death sentence” on their establishments, Guest and Mould sought a meeting with Neil Kinnock to remind him that the nation’s singing heritage would be totally destroyed by such action.

Mould’s warning to the annual festival of the Federation of Cathedral Old Choristers’ Associations in Canterbury Cathedral perhaps remains as pertinent today as it was almost 40 years ago:

“We are approaching a general election. The Labour Party would like to see the whole body of independent schools closed down overnight as Henry VIII closed the monasteries, and their assets taken over by the state. The effect upon the English choral tradition would be mortal. In no time, England would resemble France. The destruction will be the unintended result of a policy directed towards the creation of a just and equal society.

“While Neil Kinnock does not want the destruction of the country’s musical heritage included one day in his obituary, it would not cause others a minute’s loss of sleep if they presided over the closure of Britain’s choir schools. The preservation of the English choral tradition, currently enjoying a particularly Golden Age, seems to mean nothing to them. The choir schools remain something of a trivial footnote during which the dismantling of the privileged private sector is spelled out.”

Mould had a genuine love of learning in a richly stimulating environment; he established a sound balance between musical demands, academic standards, exercise, leisure, and the arts at St John’s, and so he cared for his charges in a naturally inclusive way. He presided over the school like a generally indulgent paterfamilias, and amid a natural gravitas lay a most important and highly developed sense of the ridiculous. When the time came for him to take his leave in 1990, he had transformed what, in 1970, was a small-single site, single-sex school of 140 pupils into a co-educational school of 440 pupils based in purpose-built facilities that occupied two sites.

Three years later, Mould was called out of retirement to be interim head of the then troubled St George’s School, Windsor Castle, while Bernard Briggs was suspended. He won many plaudits for his sensitive handling of a hugely difficult situation. He returned to retirement in 1995.

As individual in print as he was in the flesh, he had long proved to be a fine writer, making many definitive contributions to specialist publications, both educational and musical. In 2007, his book, The English Chorister: A history, which has turned out to be a seminal text, was published.

Mould was elected chairman of the Choir Schools Association in 1977, and also chaired the Incorporated Associations of Preparatory Schools twice. He was a long-serving member of the association’s Choral Education Working Group, and received an Outstanding Service Award at its 2015 conference.

His wife, Nesta, died in 2014. He is survived by their two children, Sally and Adrian.

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