John Wyn Lewis, M.A : The First Headmaser of Heathcote School

Text taken from an article in Purpose Magazine issue 20 1960

By Viv Birch

James Wyn Lewis
Purpose Magazine

An educational pioneer in Stevenage, James Wyn Lewis joined the staff of an emergency teacher training college after his demobilisation from the army in 1945. Four years later he entered the world of Secondary Modern education when it was still in it’s experimental stage. In 1955 he opened a new school in a New Town- the Heathcote County Secondary Modern School, Shephall.

Although born in Hereford in 1914 Jim Lewis spent the first 27 years of his life in London. After attending Latimer Upper School he entered St Marks and St John’s teacher training college in Chelsea where he took an Honours degree First Class in history. Awarded a Research Scholarship he went to King’s College for  a year after which he taught in junior and secondary schools until his call up in 1941. The war over  he took up several more teaching positions in London before arriving in Stevenage as Headmaster of the new Heathcote School which opened with just over 120 pupils. Within three years the number had risen to 818 and there were plans for new extensions to the building to accommodate the rising numbers.

Of being headmaster of a new school in a new town Mr Lewis commented “The job is the most interesting of any I have undertaken; it is both stimulating and exciting. To build up from scratch any new school in a new community which has no setteled background or traditions is pretty hard in the early years, and in a new area such as this the school has a most important role to play, for the more stable a community the school becomes the greater its effect in helping to pull together the neighbourhood and build up a community spirit.” Of his boys and girls Mr Lewis says “They are very good material, very biddable and very responsive too : you can get the best out of them” And of his staff “”Whatever success I have had here is due to their support and some pretty solid teamwork.”

Married with two children of primary school age Mr Lewis is connected with the Methodist Church locally and is a member of the Rotary Club of Stevenage

This page was added on 06/12/2011.

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  • I remember Mr Lewis a fair but firm Headmaster. He told me off once for playing truant on a Friday afternoon with my old school pal Tony McCullagh. I also remember Mr Newbrook, Mr Ainsham (I think he was the Maths teacher) & Miss Nichols – music teacher.
    Happy days at Heathcote, that was where I first heard an Elvis Presley record, think it was Hound dog

    By Leonard (Len) Crawley (19/03/2022)
  • Strangely perhaps, but I found the link to Heathcote while looking for Shephalbury Sec. School. I joined the staff at Heathcote in Sept. 1958. My first post. I came from Carnegie College and joined Bill Newbrook as assistant PE teacher. Wonderful to ‘hear’ the names of my former colleagues……Andy Kaye, Stevenson,Jones, Barr..[I lived with Graham’s family when I first arrived].Paul Benham, Metalwork: he had his senior students making ‘shooting sticks’ from thousands of collected aluminium bottle tops…I also recall Cliff Pearce, Geography……Cliff joined with me in 1958, stayed only one year, [and left] to join the British Antarctic Expedition……there is a mountain there named after him……How I wish I could remember more names…….I left Heathcote in 1961, for a new Grammar School in Solihull. Thence further study and into Teacher Training in Norfolk and Northumberland.
    Seeking adventure, my young family went to Singapore for 3 years at The United World College of SE Asia. We stayed for 24!!!!!!
    Back to UK…….and ultimately to Queensland, Australia………yet I continued to work for UWC, setting up an Outdoor / Academic Field study Course for Grade 8 Students for 2 months per year.
    As a young teacher I learned much in those 3 years…..and I introduced Rugby Union into the programme. Bill Newbrook and I played for Stevenage.
    Jim Lewis… a young fellow, I found him a bit odd…..but he was my first Headmaster…..and I knew nothing.
    Some years ago, I visited Heathcote to find the place undergoing SERIOUS renovations…..
    THE PLAGUE has kept me out of UK for 2 years, yet on my next visit I shall visit again…….

    [Brian, you might be disappointed to learn that Heathcote is no more, having closed in 2012. The buildings are now (as at Feb 2022) occupied by Barnwell‘s Middle School. Ed.]

    By Brian Green (16/02/2022)
  • ~1963 to 1967
    Lewis: I remember Lewis as a tyrant. Surprisingly, I was never on the receiving end of his collection of bamboo canes since it seemed to me he and the headmistress would go out of their way looking for excuses to dole out corporal punishment.
    Newbrook: I remember singing “Mister Newbrook’s shiny head club band” to the tune of Sergeant Pepper.
    Mrs Davis: I respected Mrs. Davis, who was one of the only teachers who genuinely cared about our futures – most of the rest just wanted to get through the day and had little interest truly interacting with students.
    Mr. Jones: An imposing figure. His nickname was Lurch from the Addams Family, and you wouldn’t want him coming to you in your dreams. But he respected imagination over talent, enthusiasm over ability, which are, IMHO, good traits for a teacher.
    I have lived in San Diego, CA since 1976, and I feel lucky to still be working because I want to, not because I have to.

    By Clive Cook (16/01/2022)
  • Heathcote Secondary Modern 1955- 1961
    Mr Lewis was Headmaster, Mrs. Arthur Headmistress.
    Mr. Stevenson taught Science, Mr. Barr History, Mrs. Danby Arts and Crafts, Mr. Newbrook Sports, Mr Jones English Language, Mr. Leighton Maths. The names of the Geography and Music teachers escape me at the moment, but it is along time ago. Happy Days?

    By Storey, Peter (03/12/2021)
  • As a student in the late 50’s I had reason on command to visit Mr Lewis in his office. He had an impressive glass cabinet full of bamboo canes of different thicknesses from which he told me to choose one. I did, and it was used to beat me. If it wasn’t him it was ‘ Nobby ‘ Newbrook who dished out the beatings. I have many more good and bad memories of my school days at Heathcote.

    By Peter teather (05/02/2020)
  • I went to Heathcote from September 1956 to July 1961. I quite enjoyed my time there. I went into the two year Commercial Class which I really enjoyed. The only Teacher I really didn’t like was the Maths Teacher whose name escapes me. I loved sport. I remember going to the 25th Anniversary Celebration and recognised a few.

    By Jean Stratton nee Woolston (23/01/2020)
  • I Wish I Had pictures of me and School when I was there but Cameras were not around.
    I remember getting in involved in organising Social events at School, one Event was a Valentin,s Day Dance we decorated the hall every one dressed up and we had Music and danced all was a success.
    every one was well behaved.
    Had to give the boys lessons how to dance Ha.
    I Enjoyed my time at Heathcote and went on to have an Interesting life with Travel living in few Countries.

    By Geraldine Langston (03/01/2019)
  • I went to Heathcote School 1956 I’d just come out from INDIA, found a Secondery Modern mixed School
    very strange. But refreshing after Boarding School with Nun’s in India to the other Studend’s I was very Interesting and was asked weird questions as they had not Travelled at all 1956. Mr Lewis lived couple of Doors down from my Aunts house Knebworth and got a lift to school I preferred to travel on the bus Ha.
    Have lived in Australia now 40yrs.

    By Geraldine Langston /Smith (30/12/2018)
  • In contrast, to the previous comment, I found Mr Lewis very approachable, during my tenure at the school between 1964 and 1968. Each to their own, I suppose. As an aside, I can’t say that I found Mr Kaye at all approachable, nor a very good teacher.

    By Laurence Cooper (26/10/2018)
  • Joining Heathcote school in the late 50’s I remember Jim Lewis but I don’t recall him as a particularly approachable or pleasant individual. There were some great teachers that made Heathcote an enjoyable and career building experience: Bill Newbrook, Andy Kaye, Graham Barr, Mr Jones, Sid Stevenson I could go on, but I’m afraid one of them was not Jim Lewis. IMHO.

    By Martin B (08/09/2017)