‘Sir’ 1927 – 2020
Henry John Nancollas MBE, head of Bodsham C of E primary school from 1954 to 1986, died earlier this year from COVID-19. Born in Llanelli, South Wales in 1927, his enthusiasm for rugby, cycling and dogs developed at an early age. His happiest memories from his youth included playing rugby for Llanelli grammar school at Stradey Park and acquiring a Russian Borzoi called Boris.
After training as a teacher at Trinity College, Carmarthen he completed his military service from 1946 to 1948 and joined Hurst Primary School in Bexley. He quickly came to the attention of Freda Weal, another young teacher at the school. A tandem bicycle was bought, and they married in 1950.
After a few years teaching in Canterbury, aged 26 John was appointed as the head of Bodsham School and ‘Sir and Mrs Sir’ moved to School House. Here he got to grips with the challenges of running a rural school with ancient plumbing, a school kitchen in the old vicarage stables, and a home without electricity. Bodsham School became his life’s work, here he could invest in the development of young minds, in glorious surroundings, without the constraints that a larger school might bring.
Although appointed an Inspector of Schools in the 1960s, he chose to spend the rest of his career at Bodsham. Many former students will recall his creative approach to learning, not least through major projects such as Bodsham New Town and the Round the World Yacht race. He was frequently asked to lecture at conferences about his work.
Outside school John was an enthusiastic member of the Evington Players, clerk to the Parish Council, and was involved in the building of Evington Hall. However, his main passion was the school and the young people he taught. Right to the end of his life he talked about his wonderful boys and girls and what they meant to him.
On his retirement from Bodsham, John was awarded an MBE for services to education though he maintained that it was for services to rural plumbing. He and Freda moved to Kennington, where one of his greatest joys was past students calling in. He continued to ride his bicycle into his late 80s. The deaths of Freda in 2015 and his son Tim in 2018 hit him hard and his memories of Bodsham became even more important. He is survived by his daughter Sarah and granddaughter Bryony.
John Nancollas, a proud Welshman who gave his life to Bodsham School will be remembered fondly by the hundreds of children he inspired.
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