Highly respected former Ipswich headmaster dies

A well-respected former headmaster who chose teaching over a fledgling professional cricket career, going on to lead one of Ipswich’s biggest high schools for 17 years, has died.

Wilf Horsfield was headmaster of Ipswich's Westbourne High School for 17 years. Picture: HORSFIELD FAMILY

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Wilf Horsfield was known to a whole generation of young people and their parents for his “fairly imposing” presence in the corridors of Westbourne High School between 1970 and 1987.

In that time, the father-of-four made significant changes, which included making the secondary school more community-focused and improving its special educational needs provision.

Yet his youngest son Mark Horsfield, 55, said that while the great-grandfather of 12 was a “respected character in school, outside he was just dad”.

‘His calling was teaching’

Wilf Horsfield pictured during his days as headmaster of Westbourne High School in Ipswich. Picture: HORSFIELD FAMILY

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It might all have been so different had Mr Horsfield, aged 89 when he died, chosen to continue a stellar cricket career which seemed destined for even more success.

Born in Nelson, Lancashire in 1930, the 6ft 2in left-arm fast bowler played for the northern town as an amateur between 1948 and 1956.

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He impressed so much he played four or five games for Somerset County Cricket Club as part of a trial and played professionally for Werneth, Lancashire, for the 1957 season.

Commentators described it as a “big offer” at the time - £20 a week, which is equivalent to about £400 a week today.

Before his long career as a school teacher and Ipswich headmaster, Wilf Horsfield played cricket professionally. Picture: HOR...

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Yet Mark said: “His calling was teaching.”

He moved from Lancashire to work as head of science at Grove Boys’ School, St Leonards-on-Sea, becoming deputy headteacher at a Hertfordshire school in the 1960s before taking over Westbourne as headmaster in 1970.

There, he quickly established a respected reputation for his commanding presence but caring approach.

“He had quite a large impact on the school in terms of its standing at the time,” said Mark.

Tributes have been paid to Wilf Horsfield, who has died aged 89. Picture: HORSFIELD FAMILY

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“He made a point a point of trying to get the school viewed in the community as much more than a place that kids went to learn.”

‘People respected him’

Mark said his father was passionate about “maximising kids’ opportunity to meet their potential”, lobbying hard for greater investment.

Indeed, Mr Horsfield wrote to the Ipswich Star to warn that publishing schools’ examination results – back then, a controversial debate – could “destroy all their meritorious characteristics”.

Mark, who attended Westbourne while his father was headteacher, said: “He was always quite protective of the pupils there.

“He grabbed the school by the scruff of the neck and pulled it along.

“He was a fairly imposing man – most fast bowlers are.

“When kids were moving through the corridors, he would be standing there to make sure people were moving along at the right time, directing the traffic.

“It was pretty quiet when you walked past him. He was a fairly imposing character, but people respected him.

“He just had this passion to try and inspire people to do their best.

“He really enjoyed seeing people shine. He liked to influence people, young and old.

“He had other talents in terms of sports, so he must’ve had a strong desire to do it.”

However, he said his father was a “completely different character outside of school”, adding: “The headmaster role dropped and at home he was just a normal guy.

“He was passionate about the role he always considered he was very fortunate to have.”

He was also supportive of each of children’s chosen careers, often advising Mark about the business his youngest son had set up.

Mr Horsfield, whose wife Gwen died about 10 years ago, died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, May 3 at Ipswich’s St Elizabeth Hospice, after a “typical brave battle” with a number of illnesses in recent years.

He leaves behind children Graeme, Ian, Susan and Mark, as well as 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

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