Mansel Barnes, B.Sc
ABGS 1940 - 1948

Mansel Barnes

Mansel Barnes, 2008
Singing top tenor in Croydon Male Voice Choir

Mansel Herbert Thomas Barnes was a pupil of the school during almost all of the war years and for a short period afterwards. He was the son of mine worker Herbert C. Barnes and his wife Violet (née Cornwell) who lived with their family in Trenant near Hirwaun.

Mansel entered the County School in 1940 and left in the summer of 1948 for his National Service with H.M. Forces. Of Mansel’s siblings, his younger brother, the late Ivor Gordon Barnes, also attended ABGS, 1942-1946. Two of Mansel’s nephews from Hirwaun also attended the school.

Whilst at school Mansel took his School Certificate and passed with matriculation in 1945, and passed Higher Certificate in 1948 in Pure & Applied Mathematics, Physics and subsidiary Chemistry. After his spell in H.M. Forces, Mansel went to UC Cardiff to study Mathematics & Physics.

Like many of the school’s past students, he spent his working life outside Wales, and latterly lived in Old Coulsdon in Surrey.

The list of former students on the ABGS website caught the eye of Mansel‘s daughter, who subsequently mentioned the list to Mary her mother. They have kindly written the account of Mansel‘s career which appears below, and have contributed photographs as well.

We are grateful to them for writing this piece and sharing it with us.

Born in 1929 near Aberdare in the village of Hirwaun, not far from the Brecon Beacons, Mansel in early life became aware of the beauty and the fruitfulness of the countryside. Often, following the stream, he would go for long walks with his father on nutting or blackberrying expeditions. While still under ten years of age he would be off for the day up one of the mountains, with a bunch of young lads, to pick wimberries, for which they might have earned a shilling or two. The streams provided endless opportunities to practise the skills needed to tickle trout successfully, which skills Mansel passed on to his own family in later years.

Mansel went to school at the age of three. Soon, as a good reader at the local Infant School, he became a willing helper for less able readers. He remembered putting his daily bottle of milk to warm with others around the stove in the school room. Mansel gained an Eleven Plus scholarship to Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School where he developed not only his life-long love of rugby both on and off the field, but also his love of poetry and of singing. From time to time, amid home practice of new repertoire for The Croydon Male Voice Choir, Mansel would sing well-remembered songs from school days – songs from Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” or Coleridge-Taylor’s “Hiawatha”. A school concert photograph at The Coliseum, Aberdare has been sent into the ABGS website by Elfed Davies. Even in his last days Mansel would recite Leigh Hunt’s “Abou Ben Adhem” or join in when his wife Mary read from Wordsworth’s “Michael” – some of Mansel’s favourite poetry.

Mansel outdoors

Mansel on holiday in Cornwall

As a boy, Mansel belonged to the Junior St. John Ambulance Brigade – an unlikely foretaste for putting dislocated bones back into place on the rugby field so that an injured player might continue! As a member of the YMCA Mansel much enjoyed hymn-singing on a Sunday night at the local branch meeting place. Camping with the YMCA in the Lake District gave him an opportunity to experience and explore the hills and lakes of Wordsworth Country.

All Mansel’s family also know about “The deep, dark, dingy dungeon with only cobwebs to wipe away his tears”1, with sayings from other masters well remembered by that generation of Aberdare Grammar School boys. So, studying Mathematics (his Maths teacher, T.R. James was then conductor of the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir, still going strong today) and Physics in the 6th Form, singing in school concerts, and playing rugby for the school – so life moved on.

National Service in the Royal Air Force found Mansel securing weekend passes to play rugby for his station! He may not have learned to fly while in the R.A.F. but his knowledge of the coast, where RADAR stations are no longer, was extensive. “I was there,” said Mansel while watching the latest series of “Coast” programmes on the television. Travelling back one night to B&B (R.A.F. luxury for the RADAR team!) the driver ran into a pheasant. “Don’t leave it!” said Mansel. So they took it back to “The Walnut Tree” near Peterborough where they had pheasant for supper the next evening. Always meticulous, Mansel made sure that, when in camp, his hut won the radio for the week by ensuring that all bedding and kit were folded and spaced immaculately — measured with a rule and a straight string!

And so, back home again, and, while playing for his local club Aberaman RFC, a rugby injury resulted in a never-to-be-repaired severance of the right lateral popliteal nerve leaving the leg with no sensation from the knee down and a “dropped foot”. At the end of that potentially disastrous day Gwyn Angell took Mansel by bus – no ambulance to Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Since Mansel could not walk, Gwyn supported Mansel on his back. Mansel reminisces in the Aberaman RFC 1990 Centenary Magazine. If anyone has a photograph of the 1952 Aberaman Easter Tour to High Wycombe, with Mansel’s leg in plaster please contact Mary, his widow2 — “You will never walk again without a stick,” Mansel had been told. However, then at University in Cardiff, while studying for a degree in Mathematics and Physics, he played Number 8 for the Basketball team, strengthening his “one leg shorter than the other” for rugby games ahead. At University Mansel met Mary Goodwin – the other “lasting love of his life”. They were married at Llanishen Church, Cardiff on a snowy February day in 1955 when the sun shone for the wedding.

Mansel Barnes

Mansel Barnes and Mary his bride at their
wedding in Cardiff, 1955.

Mansel joined Mullards of Mitcham (by then owned by the Dutch manufacturer Philips) in the mid-fifties and worked for the firm for nearly twenty-five years. He often flew to Holland from what used to be Croydon Airport on Purley Way. He was full of admiration for the linguistic skills of the Dutch – especially the Chairman who would speak to each representative in his own language and “What is more,” Mansel said, “he could even crack a joke in English!”

After “retiring” from Philips, Mansel set off on another career – teaching – mainly Maths at Addington High (Croydon) then called Fairchildes. Mary thought that he would last a week at this “difficult” school. He was there for thirteen years during which time Mansel and his friend and colleague Dan ran an after-school motor mechanics club when boys (no girls?) gained some basic knowledge by keeping staff cars in trim!! At Addington, Mansel became Chairman of the Staff Association and “Security Man” responsible for all portable electrical apparatus. When the school put on a production of “Joseph” who else but Mansel with his voice and beard to take the part of Jacob? Mansel entered into all aspects of school life, from giving his class end-of-term classroom parties to helping with scenery, out-of-school visits and sports events.

After “retiring” again he worked for several years as a visiting teacher for youngsters who were either too ill to be in school or who had been excluded. But that is another story where Mansel’s wit, sense of fun, and understanding gained him the respect and even admiration of the most “way outside the law” pupils.

In the mid-fifties Mansel joined The Old Purleians RFC (now Purley John Fisher) where the only job he did not take on was that of Treasurer (much to Mary’s relief). From 1985 to 1991 Mansel was President. Mary always supported him organizing V.P. lunches, players’ teas, fund-raising nights – urging members to cut up pounds of onions to make Welsh lamb stew (cawl), and even persuading one player to be painted blue so that everyone could sing “Men of Harlech” especially the line “Climb up Snowdon with your woad on”!!

Mansel 1988

Mansel at his sliver wedding
celebration, 1980.

Later, while still maintaining his love of rugby and his unquenchable support for Wales, Mansel joined The Croydon Male Voice Choir where for thirteen years he sang Top Tenor. He faithfully attended rehearsals even after his major stroke in 2008 when he could no longer walk nor even stand without a support. Mansel so much enjoyed the great opportunity to sing at rehearsals and concerts. Even in the week of his death he was looking forward to his next concert in The Arnhem Gallery at Fairfield Halls at the end of April 2013. He had even had his jacket cleaned in readiness. Friendship, camaraderie, banter he found in the choir and especially he would say, “I had a good sing.”

Mansel’s family – children Philip, Veronica and Ruth, his grandchildren and great-grandchild have brought great joy to him. He has supported them in activities both in and out of school and through adult lives. Running the second-hand school clothes shop for eight years at Emanuel School (London), committee member at Archbishop Tenison’s School (Croydon) for seven years, shouting encouragement for The Old Palace lacrosse team on bitterly cold winter side lines are examples of ways Mansel gave his loving support. While he was still mobile Mansel enjoyed visiting different cathedrals with Mary when Veronica was singing with “The Clerkes of Old Sarum”.

On three memorable occasions since his major stroke his wife, Mary and daughter, Veronica have been able to bring Mansel to stay at The Dare Valley Centre where he had much pleasure in meeting again with some old friends, including Arwyn Richards, who has since sadly passed away. Dilwyn Davies had gathered some of the Hoc Non Credo members and others, giving opportunity for much happy reminiscing.

Mansel Barnes

Croydon Male Voice Choir
taking part in Mansel’s Memorial Service

Mansel throughout his life was always a helper, whether it was taking equipment to Scout or Guide camp, helping someone with wallpapering, fixing a television set or one Christmas Eve repairing someone’s house electrical circuit. Mansel’s outlook, his attention to detail, his care for others and their difficulties, Mansel’s way of life – all reflected his Christian upbringing and his continuing Christian belief. As a faithful member of St. John’s Church, Old Coulsdon from the mid-fifties, he was happy doing various duties: as sidesman, in particular for Family and Baptism Services; as part of the “money count” team; and of the “Jolly Monday Morning Churchyard Working Party” when much tidying up was done among the tombstones in an atmosphere of reverent fun and camaraderie – all to the Glory of God. Unable to go to church after his stroke, Mansel looked forward to Home Communion visits and the quiet times of meditation.

Mansel passed away peacefully at home in Old Coulsdon, Surrey on 23 March 2013. On Monday 8th, April 2013 many members of The Croydon Male Voice Choir came to Mansel’s Funeral and Thanksgiving Service. They sang with such richness and heartfelt sympathy urging the large congregation heartily to join in the hymn singing both before and during the service and bringing tears and smiles with their singing of “The Rose”, “My Lord What a Morning”, and “Benedictus”.

Dear Mansel, you have touched many lives with your enthusiasm, your gentleness and your kindness but, -

God saw the road was getting tough
The hill was hard to climb,
He gently closed your weary eyes and whispered,
“Peace be thine.”

But too sad Mansel would not have us be, for in our Church magazine for April 2013, gone to press before Mansel left this earth, was the cartoon below –


God knew something we did not know –



  1. A reference to an oft quoted description of hapless prisoners rotting in medieval dungeons attributed to Mr Aubrey Roberts, a long-serving (1906-45) history teacher at the school.
  2. You can make contact with Mrs Barnes via the following email address: contact