Edward Popple was born on 22nd April 1879, in Provident Place, Berkhamsted, the second son of John and Elizabeth Popple. John was a boot closer by trade. Neither he, nor his wife, Elizabeth, was a native of Berkhamsted. John was born in Lincolnshire and Elizabeth in Clerkenwell. They did, however, marry in Berkhamsted, in the spring of 1877.
We know little of Edward’s early childhood. He was educated almost certainly first at Chapel Street Infants’ School and subsequently at Victoria Boys’ School, from whence he progressed to Berkhamsted School. On finishing his education, Popple returned to Victoria Boys’ School, where he was to remain for 48 years, first as an assistant teacher, and finally as its Headmaster, a post he was to hold for 36 years. At the time of the 1901 census the family was living at 8, Victoria Road, and his mother was a widow. Edward was the eldest of the family at home, working as an assistant master, and his younger brother, Harry, aged 15, was a builder’s clerk. The two youngest members of the family, Herbert and Winifred, were respectively nine and three years old. Edward married Jane Prentice in the September quarter of 1919. The couple had two daughters, Elizabeth and Jean.
Even as a comparatively young man Edward was held in highest esteem, as indicated by evidence given before a tribunal, reported in the Gazette on 4th March 1917. “The Managers of Victoria Church of England Schools appealed for total exemption of Edward Popple, the headmaster, (from military service). Mr R.A. Norris, one of the Managers, stated that the school contained 200 boys and they claimed that the Headmaster as such was engaged in work of national importance and he had no doubt a man holding such a position in France or Germany would be considered doing work of the greatest importance. He had been engaged at the same school for 17 years and for 2 years had held the head position.” The appeal was backed up by Mr. Charles Henry Greene, Headmaster of Berkhamsted School. He stated that Victoria School was one of the largest in the neighbourhood (the next he believed was in St. Albans) and it was a matter of extreme national importance that the boys of the future should receive good training. The Managers would never be able to find anybody to carry on the school with the proper attention it required. The tribunal granted a six months’ exemption initially, which was later presumably extended, as Popple remained as Headmaster.
It was above all for his work with the boys that the Rector paid tribute to Edward Popple at a special presentation ceremony in May 1947, to mark Popple’s retirement in December 1946. “As teacher and Headmaster he had not merely given instruction but had opened youthful minds and equipped the boys to seek and obtain knowledge, to use the abilities God had given them to make sure of knowing what was worthwhile. That was real education.” Four Old Boys, Messrs. W.S. Sear, C. Young, J.R. Harrowell and R. Glenister reminisced of happy schooldays, at the ceremony in Victoria School Hall”.
Something of this was reflected in Popple’s reply, when he spoke happily of his long association with the school and of pleasant memories, the school garden, the flowers, the musical festivals, the loyalty of the staff, and especially the boys, hundreds and hundreds, so many he could not recall the names of some of them. His boys had gone out all over the world, taking with them something of the character and ‘esprit’ of Victoria School. He was grateful and proud to have had some part in their make-up.
Yet it is not just as a long-serving and dedicated headmaster that Edward Popple is remembered. He was a man of great versatility: artist, musician, conductor, naturalist, horticulturalist, with an interest in the history of the town and a love for the countryside around Berkhamsted. He also gave much time and thought to public service, notably on the Urban District Council, of which he was Chairman from 1945-1947. He was a founder member and Chairman of the Berkhamsted & District Local History Society, Chairman and Secretary of the Berkhamsted Arts & Crafts Society, President of Victoria Old Boys’ Association, Chairman of Berkhamsted Building Society, Clerk of the Bourne Educational Foundation and Salter’s Charity, an active member of the Citizens Association, BAODS, the Musical Festival and other local organisations. For many years he was a member of St. Peter’s Church Choir: indeed, a man of many parts and also a friend to many!
Edward Popple died on 18th August 1960, in Withington Hospital, Manchester, aged 81. He had moved to Bowdon, Cheshire in 1958 to be near his daughter, Elizabeth. His name lives on, not only in the many musical and concert programmes we have among our archives, but in his very fine paintings and drawings of bygone Berkhamsted that still remain today. He is buried in Rectory Lane Cemetery in the town which he loved so much.