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Farnborough Grammar School

Prospect Avenue, Farnborough, Hampshire

Telephone : Farnborough 539

Philip Fouracre remembers Dr. J.S.N. Sewell

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A few hackles have been raised at memories of Dr. J. S. N. Sewell. He could be extremely offensive and rude, volatile, irrational, uncompromising and hectoring; he could indeed inflict great hurt with his acerbic and threatening manner. I’m sure that many of us (myself included) could recount the battle scars that he inflicted. Just occasionally he could also be gracious, generous and worldly-wise, and he encouraged various societies, notably printing and film making. But he was certainly a very difficult man to understand, and had little or no empathy with his charges (disastrous for a teacher, and a trait which I think he shared with others who have featured in the firing line of these columns – Bourne, Thomas and Barrett to name three that I knew).

Dr. Sewell was very clearly an intellectual. He had degrees from both the Sorbonne (Paris) and Trinity College, Dublin. A reliable source has informed me that he ran his own private school before the war, but that this had somehow failed. He may be the author of a book of talks for boys leaving preparatory school, dating from 1928 (do a search for his name on Amazon). He was certainly a dramatist, and had several plays broadcast by the B.B.C. (see the 1957 Alfa for a commentary on this). His great aunt was, of course, the Victorian author Anna Sewell – a fact he happily impressed on us at a very early stage in my school life.

A Google search on his name (I do not believe there can have been other Sewells with the same distinctive J S N initials) suggests that he may have served with the R.A.F. during the war. My reliable source indicates that Dr. Sewell was an alcoholic and that his wife left him at some time towards the end of his teaching career. I have no idea under what circumstances he left F.G.S., but his departure was not recorded as was the case with his contemporaries, Messrs. Miles and Grosch. (The only acknowledgement to his absence is in the Annual Record for 1964: the Guild of Printers indicated that Mr. Booy was their new ‘Patron’ on the departure of Dr. Sewell.) One can only speculate that he had become a very broken person. He was perhaps a man who never achieved his potential and who never adjusted to the hum-drum of a grammar school, which may (with his background) have seemed much beneath him.

What became of him? Searches of the General Register Office records indicate that a John Swindale N. Sewell died in 1988, his death being registered in Basingstoke in December of that year. The same man was born in Stockport on 20 July 1904, which would indicate a retirement date in 1964, if he is the same as our man at F.G.S.

Philip Fouracre : March 2010

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