G H Stainforth

GH Stainforth XV 1924
Courtesy of Wellington College Archive

Graham Henry Stainforth, or ‘Gus’ or ‘GHS’ to generations of Wellingtonians and his friends and colleagues, was the first OW to become Master of Wellington College.

Having lost his father at the age of nine to Cholera whilst commanding the 4th Bengal Lancers in the relief of Kut, Stainforth became a Foundationer in 1920 when he went arrived at the newly rebuilt Orange in 1920 (after a major fire that is still part of College lore), his first of three periods of association with College. He became a College Prefect, head of the Orange, head of the Gymnasium, and a member of the XV. His last days were marred by the mumps, perhaps committing him to a later return.

After Wellington he went up to Emanuel to read classics, although he switched to English in his final year under F R Leavis.

His first appointment as a schoolmaster was at Merchant Taylors where he was reportedly energetic, diligent and a great success. He was enticed back to Wellington by Malim (reportedly at the second attempt) in 1935 as an Assistant Master to teach English and Latin, and become the tutor of the Beresford. In one of those strange coincidences as a bachelor tutor he shared a bathroom with his old Tutor of the Orange, T F Mackenzie. He also became secretary of the Walworth Mission and unofficial head of the English department. Malim managed a second coup when in 1936 he proposed Stainforth into the OW Lodge.

In 1939 Stainforth narrowly missed out on the Mastership of Tonbridge, and inevitably his gain was Wellintgon’s loss when in 1945 he went to Oundle “the only usher, let alone O.W. ever to go straight from Wellington to be Head of a major school”1.

He returned to Wellington as Master in 1956, at a period of intense change at College. Many of the old paths had vanished with the disabling of Empire, especially Indian Independence, and with the shrinking of the armed services. In his own words, he was not prepared for boys to ‘become a salesman of geese disguised by skilful testimonials as swans’ bred on the backwaters of the most exclusive country club in Berkshire”. He oversaw a a period of change and regrowth, of intellectual rigour, and connection with OWs. This last is best exemplified by the opening of the Auchinleck Room. Music and art also flourished under Davidson and Lindley and the part time theatre also burst into life.

He served until 1966 lately in some ill health, the same year that he also left the OW Lodge.

He was bid a fond farewell in April 1967 with a dinner at the Savoy attended by 325 OWs. The was certainly a fine Lodge representation with Grace being given by Bro the Revd C W Trevelyan, who was likewise an OW, member of SCR and a member of the Lodge. The Menu was fit for the guest of honours with “dishes in ‘French’ linked to his progress through the School commencing with soup ‘Squealeur’, through to coffee ‘au Tache Quatrieme’ (tache being a Stain!). On the back A. C. Garnett [SCR] had produced two excellent sketches of a small boy arriving at Great Gate on 4th May 1920 and of a Master leaving the South Front on 31st August 1966.”2 These sketches are reproduced below. He was presented with a mortarboard adorned in OW colours.

He continued as a Vice President of the OW Society, but was a firm believer that he should not interfere with his successors so stayed away from the running of College, returning only for a dinner at the Talbot only a few years before his death.

GHS by AC Garnett. Courtesy of Wellington College Archive


He was a member of the Athenaeum

  1. Wellington Yearbook 1987
  2. Wellington Yearbook 1967