By Jeff Maynard
Did you know that the late Professor Simeon Potter, famous author of such books on the English language as “Our Language” and “English in the Modern World” started his career as a teacher at Harrow County?
Simeon Potter was born in 1898. Brought up in Denzil Road, Neasden, he attended Dudden Hill School and Kilburn Grammar School, and was in the Navy during the First World War, followed by the University of London and St John's College, Oxford. He was very interested and active in scouting and was attached to St Augustine’s Troop in Wembley Park. While he was at Oxford, he wrote his first book, “Old Kingsbury Church,” which was published in 1920.
He arrived at Harrow County as a young teacher fresh from Oxford in September 1921. The Scout Master of Northwick Troop of the 4th Harrow Scouts, Victor Sainsbury, had drowned in July, bathing in the river Wye (The Sainsbury Cup was in his memory), and Simeon Potter was immediately chosen to succeed him. In Summer 1922 he accompanied the Headmaster, Randall Williams and a party of School Scouts on a camping trip to Normandy, France.
In July 1923 he organized a ‘literary ramble’ for the School cycling club, through Northolt, Hayes, Bedfont and Horton.
Some of Simeon Potter’s earliest articles were published in The Gaytonian. He had left Harrow County in approximately 1924, but continued his association with the school.
In February 1925 he wrote an article for The Gaytonian, “Why study foreign languages?” which he illustrated by discussing the life of a schoolboy in Czechoslovakia. In 1925 he was lecturing at the University of Brno, in Czechoslovakia, and In June he wrote an article for the Gaytonian about Slavkov, the site of the Battle of Austerlitz. In December 1925 he wrote an article on “Christmas Eve in Czecholovakia.”
In February 1926 he wrote an article for The Gaytonian on “The Language of Sport”, saying that English was the international language of sport and that sport could bring peace between nations. In words that have a period irony now, he wrote:
“Maybe some Old Gaytonian of a future time will revisit the school after long absence, and as he gazes once more on the level stretch of the school field, edged with its beautiful trees whose trunks have grown thick with the years, and graced by its noble pavilion (monument of a day long past), he will be mindful once more of his boyhood, and of the true spirit of sport he learnt there, of fair play, give and take, each for all, others, not self, the glory of the House, the honour of the School.”
While teaching at Harrow County in 1926 he wrote a popular book “The Story of Willesden,” 1926, which was used as a textbook in Willesden Schools. His mother died in 1927 and was buried in Kingsbury Churchyard. This was followed, In 1928 with a new edition of “Old Kingsbury Church”.
While Simeon Potter was in Czechoslovakia, as a teacher of English at the University of Brno, and a broadcaster on Prague Radio, he was involved with the Prague Linguistic Circle. This international group comprised eight Czech, five Russians, two Frenchmen, a German (H. Becker) and Simeon Potter. His book, “Everyday English for Foreign Students” was published in 1937.
Simeon Potter was Professor of English Language and Philology at the University of Liverpool, 1945-65. The Language Library was created in 1952 by Eric Partridge, the great etymologist and lexicographer, who from 1966 to 1976 was assisted by his co-editor Simeon Potter. Together they commissioned volumes on the traditionalthemes of language study, with particular emphasis on the history of the English language and on the individual linguistic styles of major English authors. The books that Simeon Potter, once a Harrow County teacher became well-known for include: Our Language – (Pelican 1950), Language in the Modern World – (Pelican) and Modern Linguistics (1957). These have all been through many editions and are still in print today.