Birch Thompson Memorial Fund Logo

Gelliwig Outdoor Residential Activities Centre

The Origin of the Birch Thompson Memorial Fund





A poster for the 39th Annual Charity Dance

The name of the Charity honours two long-serving Wolverhampton Teachers whose careers ended at Colton Hills School.

Graham Birch (24 September 1924 —16 July 1980

After leaving Wolverhampton Grammar School Graham’s first job was a Reporter with the Walsall Times, a weekly Journal, covering mainly the local Magistrates’ Court. He thought the gap between that and Fleet Street was too great and it was not to be. He served with the Royal Corps of Signals in Malaysia and later in Brussels until his discharge at the end of the War.

On leaving the Army he went to Freckleton Training College, Lancashire which admitted only men. He specialized in History and Music and returned to Wolverhampton after qualifying in July 1950. His second post in Wolverhampton was at Penn Secondary School which became Colton Hills in 1974.

Throughout his teaching career Graham took students on School Journeys ranging from the South of England to Ohio. He transmitted his love of nature and the countryside whilst sharing such joys.

He was passionate about education in all its facets and served on Staffordshire Schools Football Committee and Wolverhampton Schools Athletics Committee.

In July 1980 Graham suffered a heart attack whilst visiting Millfield School in Somerset with friends Doug and Jean Collins. He was taken into Taunton hospital and died a few days later on Thursday 16 July which was Sports Day at Colton Hills.

John Thompson (9 January 1920—11 November 1980)

John was born in the beautiful Yorkshire Village of Helmsley and after leaving Woodhouse Grove School went to Westminster College to study Geography. He trained to be a teacher but war interrupted this and he served with the Royal Artillery and the Northumberland Hussars. He was taken prisoner in Tobruk in 1942 and was moved from Benghazi to Gravina during which time his diary reads


Thankfully he survived and completed his College course starting work at the Municipal Grammar School in 1946 taking charge of the Geography Department. He worked there and continued at Colton Hills until retirement in August 1980.

At 60 years of age he still played Rugby last doing so on 8 November 1980. Three days later he suffered a heart attack whilst at home and died that evening.

After this double blow suffered by the comparative early deaths of two outstanding teachers in the fullest sense of the term it was decided to honour their memory by establishing a residential centre. The Charity was registered in 1981 and James, brother of Graham , and Lil who was John’s widow , became founder Trustees.

Ultimately Gelliwig was purchased and officially opened on 11th November 1989. It had been converted from a 5 bedroomed 1895 Manse to a 30 bed Centre.

There was much self-help work by school staff and students and without whom the project would not have happened and the Charity continues to be totally voluntary.

The Trustees of the Charity have been conscious that Gelliwig needs to be brought into the 21st century and have warmed to a plan thought up and developed by Mark Twynam and Ed Barron. Mark is a former student who owns and manages Benchmark Design Ltd and Ed is a “retired”, distinguished civil engineer who has been a long-standing supporter of the Charity. This will be to improve the facility enormously by providing units of two bunks beds, showers, toilet , wash basin and wardrobes.


Above is an artistic impression of the Centre that will accommodate 42 students and six adults with on-site parking for 3 minibuses or a coach.