Eulogy for Bob Ellis as given at his funeral by Mark Sheridan

About 40 years ago I attended a conference for History Teachers in Leeds. I signed up for a presentation about a new History A level syllabus being promoted by the Cambridge Examinations Board. They were looking for schools to sign up to trial the course materials.The speaker was introduced to us as Mr Robert Ellis, Head of History at Wensleydale School. I had not had any particular intention of signing up but, within a short time, I was captivated by the speaker's sheer enthusiasm and clarity. I sought Bob out in the bar afterwards and, as I taught at neighbouring Kirkby Stephen, signed up.

That was the beginning of a working relationship but also much more. I pretty soon realised that here was not only an inspiring teacher, but a fellow traveller. We soon found we shared so many of the same enthusiasms, some would say obsessions, and soon we had established a firm friendship.

But events caught up and we both moved on and lost touch. I returned to West Yorkshire; Bob moved to Cambridge.

Fast forward about ten years and my first visit to Melodeons at Witney. I was on the edge of the Friday night session, trying to spot any familiar faces. In the middle was a bloke wearing a Bandana. “That bloke with the bandana doesn't half look like Bob Ellis!” I thought.” But does he play the Melodeon?” Then I remembered that one day at Bob's house, many years before, we had discovered that we had both been Morris dancers. It seems we were now also melodeon players! He recognised me and the friendship was reestablished, and from that day on we made the annual pilgrimage to Witney together.

It may come as a surprise that Bob was born in Burton on Trent. He was born on March 3rd 1948, son of Geoffrey and Eunice Ellis. However, he was only six weeks old when his family moved to Harrogate. Bob always identified as a Yorkshireman! From Harrogate the family, now with sister Carloyn, moved to Malvern in 1957. At 11, he moved to the Worcester Royal Grammar School, travelling there by train every day. Is this where Bob got his love of railways? In 1961 there was another family move to Govilon in South Wales, where Bob attended King Henry VIII School in Abergavenny. Following his A levels, Bob worked as a crane driver in order to get the money together for Uni. According to one source of information, Bob was also lead singer in a rock band around South Wales at this time!

Bob attended the LSE where he studied History, Politics and Economics. He was politically active as a member of the Young Liberals. He sang with the London Student Choral, and also became involved in the London folk scene, dancing with Hammermith Morris. On leaving University, Bob had decided to work for the United Nations, hoping as he put it “to make a difference”. Bob was a Quaker, and the practice of his beliefs informed his approach to life. However, when it became clear that this would involve starting work in the USA, he reconsidered and embarked on a PGCE at Liverpool.

Bob went on to have a varied and rewarding career in Education. He began teaching at Highbridge School in Somerset, where, as well as teaching History, he was involved in outdoor pursuits, teaching rock climbing for the Sports Council, and was involved with the local Mountain Rescue Team on Exmoor.

Bob's next move was to define his life in so many ways. He took on the post as Head of History at the Wensleydale School. At that time the school was on two sites, split between Askrigg and Leyburn. There was one lesson to commute between the two!

As well as teaching, Bob threw himself into the life of Wensleydale. He continued with outdoor pursuits and joined the Swaledale Mountain Rescue team. He enjoyed caving and rock climbing. He managed Askrigg Football Club and organised badminton competitions. He researched local history. And of course it was here in the Dale that he met Penny.

Bob had been married to Janice, whom he had met on his PGCE course. However, the relationship had not worked out and they had divorced soon after moving to Yorkshire. Bob moved from their house in Askrigg to Bainbridge. Penny says their relationship grew through their shared interests, especially local History. The “Rose and Crown” at Bainbridge became a favourite haunt of their courting days. They were married in July 1983 at West End Methodist chapel, Thoralby, followed by affirmation at the Friends Meeting House, Bainbridge. Reluctantly, Bob left teaching as his involvement in the Cambridge History Project, a groundbreaking method of teaching and learning History, had become his main focus. Bob was now the chief examiner for the project. He researched and wrote a series of textbooks for the course. These materials were meticulously researched and presented with the same attention to detail many of you will be familiar with his later music publications. Bob now worked from home – he and Penny moved from Carperby to Leyburn to enable Penny to have the car to attend a Teacher Training course at Ripon & York St John College, having previously dropped out of a degree course to marry Bob.

There then came the three years of what Penny describes as “exile” in Cambridgeshire. Bob returned to teaching, working at Long Road Sixth Form College. They agreed to stay in Cambridge for three years and see how it worked out. Penny did not want to go – she described herself as a “fish out of water”. Her health problems started: she was very unhappy… Bob,however, loved it. He was now teaching an A level syllabus he believed in, which motivated and challenged his students. However, Bob recognised how much Penny missed her home, the hills and her friends and they left Cambridge in 1993.

Whilst in Cambridge, Bob went along with Penny to a primary school football tournament. There he ran into an old friend from his Uni and Hammersmith days… A certain John Kirkpatrick. This meeting must have rekindled a long held ambition for Bob. It turns out he had always wanted to play the melodeon so, inspired by John, he bought one and taught himself to play. He had commented to Penny that he would need something to do in retirement. It was never just going to be as simple as that with Bob, was it?

After they left Cambridge, Bob became Assistant-head at the Lakes School, in Troutbeck Bridge, near Ambleside. However, Penny was taken ill at Easter 1999. Having suffered life threatening strokes at the age of only 36, she tried to return to teaching but was unable to do so. So she retired and got a Newfie Dog instead! Management restructuring saw Bob take early retirement at 54. While this may have been the end of his professional life, Bob, with his usual optimism, saw new opportunities.

In May 2005, having had all their possessions in storage for seven months and a day, Bob, Penny and a very large dog moved into Dalesend, Gayle. Penny started to heal from the turmoil and Bob flourished.

Bob had begun to play for Crook Morris on returning north. Soon he was travelling to festivals and sessions and gaining his reputation for teaching beginners and improvers and leading sessions. The steady pace sessions at Whitby and Sidmouth with their associated tunebook; the visits to Witney and the establishment of Melodeons in Wensleydale; the “Loose Knit Band”; his involvement with French music through Les Pannards and his visits to explore cajun music; and then perhaps his greatest legacy: his research into, and revival of, the music and dance of his beloved Dales. I am sure that many of us will have what will now become a treasured copy of “There was none of this lazy dancing” on our bookshelf. In 2023, Bob was awarded a well deserved Folklore Society award for his achievements .I must apologise for only scratching the surface here .. there is so much more. He even has his own keyboard layout for the melodeon named after him!

He somehow found time to research the local Wensleydale railway, and was working on a book on the Wensleydale Branch for the North Eastern Railway Society. He was a craftsman as well. He made bespoke wooden pens to raise money for local charities. He was a skilled railway modeller, building everything from scratch, with everything meticulously researched. These skills were again demonstrated when he built his own Melodeon working with Emmanuel Pariselle.He wrote articles on local History for the local press. Bob was instrumental in saving the MacFie Calvert collection of local history resources. This is kept in the Dales Countryside Museum of which Bob was a trustee.The range of his interests, skills and knowledge was quite breathtaking! So that was Bob. There were so many different facets to Bob's character that he will mean different things to so many of you: Husband; Brother; Uncle; Friend; Teacher; Historian; Researcher; Author; Musician; Folklorist; Session Leader; Organiser; Mentor; Craftsman; and just all round good person.

Above all Bob brought people together. He made things happen. Bob may no longer be physically with us, but I am sure his legacy will live on in so many different ways.

Mark Sheridan