From 'The Independent' 28 April 2005
Peter Darbishire Orton,
schoolteacher and mycologist: born Plymouth
On 28 August 2005 a 'Celebration' of Peter Orton's life was held at Forest Lodge, Nethy Bridge, in recognition of the extensive work he carried out in the Abernethy Forest.
It was attended by many of his former friends and colleagues as well as a number of former pupils and staff of Rannoch.
Not grumpy old men.
Pat Whitworth, David Barry, Simon Stoker
*These three pictures by kind permission of David Stoker. (© 2005)
This piece is uncredited but appears to have been extracted from an Epsom College magazine.
Life after teaching at Epsom.
By Peter Orton
Member of staff 1946-55
Epsom College in luly 1955 and moved to Reading University to make up a
Check List of British Agarics and Boleti (i.e. mushrooms and toadstools
to the uninitiated). This had never been done in detail before, though a
preliminary list was published in 1948. Much work was being done on
agarics at this time, especially in France and Germary, and one was
dealing with a group of at least 2000 species. I set out to give dates
and place of publication of all names quoted and to write a paper
explaining and amplifying this list which finally totalled over 1700
species with a fair number still awaiting clarification. With many new
species having been described since the total now would be nearer 2200
species, I suspect.
At first three years was suggested for the job and the Nuffield
Foundation gave me a grant for that period to be administered from
Reading University, where I already had a contact in the botany
At the end of the three years the List was
nowhere near ready because much research in old literature was needed to
try and make the details of the names used in the List and the names
themselves as accurate as possible This meant commuting at intervals
three or four times a week to the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic
Gardens, Kew, to use the library there and to investigate material
already deposited in the Herbarium. In 1958 I received an additional
grant for one further year and hoped that I could then return to
The typing was done by luly 1959 800 pages of double spaced
foolscap for the List and another 800 for the accompanying paper.
Although there was still more work to be done on the List, in
particular illustrations prepared and drawn, I took a temporary post in
September 1959 at a school in Herefordshire as a Biology teacher but
left in January I960 to go to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh so as
to be on the spot to do the further work that was needed. I therefore
did forty pages of illustrations which took one month doing nothing
else. I had seen advertisements for a Biology Teacher at a new school,
Rannoch School, Perthshire in I960, and eventually applied. After
meeting the Headmaster and then one or two other masters. I was offered
the job on the spot and thankfully accepted it.
Thus ended the first stage of my life after leaving Epsom College. It had been a very interesting
but at times rather exhausting task but was very well worth while and
after the work was published in September 1960 it brought in
correspondence from all over the world, Europe in particular.I shall
always be very grateful to the many friends who helped me in one way or
another in those years.
Rannoch School. 1960-1981
At Rannoch I found myself English teacher and
form master for 28 boys of whom twelve had names beginning with Mac or
Mc. which took a little getting used to. The textbooks provided by the
school were not very encouraging, so I made a trip to Edinburgh as soon
as possible and found something better there. I also had a small group
of remedial English who had to be taught more or less individually for
they were very much behind the normal for their age, often because they
came from overseas and had never had a settled education.
During my second year a Maths Master was engaged
but failed to turn up and his classes had to be farmed out to other
teachers. I was asked to take one and was given a fourth-form set. I
taught Biology for four years and then was asked to do more Maths and
English and drop Biology. I was happy to teach Maths and English only,
two essential subjects after all, and for the rest of my time at Rannoch
I had roughly equal amounts of these two subjects. Thus the Music
teaching had vanished and now Biology went also.
A feature at Rannoch School from its start which has continued
right down to the present day is 'Expeditions' - rightly so in my view
of the school's situation. These began as organised outings from Friday
sometime after afternoon school to Sunday afternoon in the summer term.
In the early years a senior boy was in charge but a master went along to
'carry the can'. The boys were a cross-section including third, fourth
and fifth form members from different houses making a party of eight to ten
boys. Transport was provided to take the parties out to a suitable
starting point and to bring them back on Sunday afternoon. This meant
that, for instance, Ben Alder could be climbed using the mountaineering
hut at the wet end of Loch Ericht for overnight accommodation. On my
first expedition we left school about 6.30pm and walked the nine miles
from where we were set down through pine woods and then across a
peat-hag arriving at the hut after 11pm, It was still light at Il pm at
that time of year at Rannoch. That was a very good introduction to
expeditions for me, but there were occasions when things were not so
good with rain, wind and mist to contend with.
A very memorable weekend was made a few years
later when all the hills over 3000 feet in Perthshire were climbed by
members of the school in one weekend. This meant many small groups of
three or more being dispersed and each lot climbing one or more peaks.
This took some organising but the master in charge of expeditions was
very good at organising. Not all boys appreciated expeditions, but most
did and looked back on these outings feeling they achieved something. As
a keen young master I was out on nine weekends of my first summer term,
but this number shrank to five or six as time went on. Later on I also
took out some private expeditions which were organised by the boys to go
somewhere of their choice approved by authority and with a master of
their choice These expeditions were very good too and were usually made
up on a house basis.
the early years of the school I ran a 'Field Club' collecting
bugs and beetles which in a classic locality such as the to which the
school, was situated were very interesting. When the school got larger
the boys seemed to have no time or inclination for such pursuits. I
played the piano for school services on a regular basis until late in my
career at Rannoch when a full time teacher was appointed with organ!
Nevertheless I soon found that the boys of Rannoch could raise the roof
singing the hymn ‘Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven’ just as those
of Epsom College had done when I played the hymn for them there. Towards
the end of my time at Rannoch I gave a piano recital once a year which
was duly tape recorded. It was quite an eye-opener or should I say
ear-opener to hear myself playing and most of it sounded quite good and
much better than I thought when listening as a player.
spent Sept 1969 to July 1970 at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh,
doing more work on toadstools, which was a bit of an interruption but
enabled me to get more work done on a difficult and large group which I
had been working on from Epsom days. I have now started writing this
work up but the job is really too big for me alone, but I have by good
luck found someone keen on the group and younger by fifty years to help
me and hopefully something will get into print eventually. I had become
a housemaster three years before I went off on this ploy and did not get
back to housemastering for various reasons but fortunately managed to
keep my position in the school.
Beetle collecting and setting and fungus hunting
carried on all the time I was at Rannoch School and somewhat to my
surprise I eventually received a letter from one of the Entomological
staff at The Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh saying that there
would be a home for my beetles there when necessary. I found that the
writer was from Rannoch School and had been taught English and Maths by
me but I knew nothing of his entomological leanings though he knew about
my beetle collection because he had seen some of it which 1 had put on
exhibition on Parents day at Rannoch I had hoped to get my collection to
the Royal Scottish Museum anyway, so this was very welcome.
In the early days of the school one never knew
quite what was going to happen next especially before the advent of
Mains Electricity and an incident remembered by many took place one
winter during afternoon school when ail the lights suddenly started
getting brighter and brighter and then all went dark as about 130
light-bulbs blew up. The Diesel generator's governor had failed.
The two masters in charge of the lighting made a spirited dash to
the scene and were able to restore lights after supper which, if I
remember rightly, was eaten by candle and torch light. Another surprise
was the water supply which came from a specially made old reservoir up
on the hills well above the School. Unfortunately the filters used at
first were not too efficient, so one could find intriguing wrigglies
moving about in the drinking water. This was not approved by everybody
but it was fine for the Field Club! More efficient filters were put in
and stopped this quite soon after the wrigglies had been noticed.
There were three members of staff who moved from
Epsom College to Rannoch School who were quite unconnected. Mr Whitworth
was first and one of the founders of Rannoch, who taught physics at
Epsom for one year from 1955-56. However, Epsom was too well organized
for him and after a short break he came to Rannoch as one of the
Founders in 1959. By coincidence he took over my rooms at Epsom when he
arrived there. Then I followed in 1960 and Michael Barratt in later
years after I had left Rannoch.
I left before the first girl pupils arrived and
soon found out on returning in later years that the school was quite
different. On the credit side, however, there was an increase in Art.
Drama and Music and colleagues have told me that on the whole the girls
worked very hard and this stimulated the boys to work harder so as not
to be left behind!
Retirement, July 1981 and subsequently
to the kindness of former colleagues at Rannoch I was able to rent a
croft in Nethy Bridge. Inverness-shire (near Grantown-on-Spey for five
years. This meant that I could have a further spell collecting in the
Abernethy Forest which I had already visited briefly a few times. I
found the five years I spent at Nethy Bridge most rewarding and liked
living with the Scots folk. The Spey Valley is notoriously cold in
winter and (on occasion) hot in summer so the maximum temperature on my
first Christmas Day at Nethy Bridge was -15 degrees C with night
temperatures going down to -26 or more rarely -27. (Aviemore is much the
same but perhaps a degree or two colder.)
was a snowfall prior to this Christmas so there was no doubt that it was
a white Christmas even though the sun shone briefly for a short while in
the middle of the day. The River Nethy froze up but water was still
flowing in places underneath. Then came a sudden thaw just after the New
Year which could be clearly felt as warmer. Some sort of dam formed up
the river somewhere and then gave way and a flood came down and this
caused flooding between Nethy Bridge and the River Spey. I went for a
walk up the river just after this and could not understand who could
have put all the large blocks of ice on the river bank. They were up to
four or five feet long, two or three feet broad and a foot thick. After
a while I discovered that the river surface ice had broken up when the
flood came down and washed the ice blocks up onto the river bank. This
was quite a notable start to my stay at Nethy, I did not see the river
freeze up quite so hard again but did experience minimum temperatures of
–26C on more than one occasion subsequently.
on insect and agarics goes on but I am now feeling my 85 years a bit and
cannot do as much as I used to do. I
occasionally visit a high-level beetle collector who has retired
to Kingsdown Road! From the bedroom I am usually given 1 can see the
clocktower of Epsom College and the tops of the windows of the room I
slept in for most of my Epsom College career.
Peter D Orton, 22 Lyewater, Crewkerne. Somerset TA18 8BB