|29 Dec 2020|
I first met Jonny Lambe, when Paul Boscher and he came to a Millfied History Conference, which I was hosting in about 1992. He subsequently invited me to lead an A level History workshop at Downside School in my capacity as a Senior Examiner, for what was then The Oxford and Cambridge Board. He scheduled this three hours session for a Saturday morning [which I thought was a bit odd, even for a boys’ boarding school] on the day after the Feast of St Gregory’s, Downside patron saint. The boys [and the staff, including Jonny] had clearly enjoyed a fulsome celebration of this important patronal event the evening before, which contributed counter-intuitively to a very lively debate about Third Reich Cultural Policy [an oxymoron if ever there was one!] Jonny didn’t speak a great deal but smiled benignly in that Jonny type of way, that I grew to know and love so well over 25 years.
Consequently when Jonathan Hughes decided that he would hang up his white board marker, as Head of History at Frensham Heights, [where I had been appointed Deputy Head] Jonny “popped up” again in our professional lives. Really good non-boring history teachers are hard to find; eccentric inspirational practitioners, such as Jonathan and Jonny even harder. Late for interview [“……..traffic jam on the M4……..” was the proffered excuse] did not convince the eagled-eye Peter De Voil. However, I had the privilege of observing all the candidates teach: Jonny taught an outstanding lesson, amongst the best I had ever seen to date and subsequently, and that includes the show case lesson that teachers put on when ISI inspectors, such as myself “observe”.
If Jonny’s geographical journey from Downside to Frenhsam had been delayed, his translation from Downside, [an all boys’ Roman Catholic Boarding School, ingrained in Benedictine Monasticism] to Frensham [which had just introduced Religious Studies on the curriculum] was remarkable. The rest, as the say is history; Jonny’s history. He raised the profile of The History Department, strengthening its already good reputation and made it excellent. Exam Results and numbers went from strength to strength; History Trips were introduced for every year group, from 2nd form day outings to West Sussex, to residential trips abroad to St Petersburg for the sixth form, who also enjoyed an excellent and innovatory reading weekend back at Downside. The GCSE trip to The Battlefields of The First World War was particularly well received, except on one occasion when Jonny mixed up his dates – I don’t mean historically- I mean in terms of bookings. With 40 pupils and their parents, eagerly assembled on the courtyard ready to “set sail” across the Channel to France, Jonny had to address the crowd, who had now spotted that the Galloways coach had not yet arrived, with “Sorry, Change of Plan…………….but the trip is still on next week”. You will have to ask Bursar Bryan on how they squared that little circle……….
Jonny also contributed substantially to co-curricular activities, in particular outdoor education and canoeing, working very closely alongside Lynn Elgy, Greg Meakin and Mark Trollope. He gave very generously of his time, because he genuinely believed in what has now become a somewhat clichéd phrase : educating the whole person. He coached Frensham Heights Public Speaking and Debating teams to a very high standard, and also supported Stuart Macfarlane’s sterling efforts to develop hockey.
He also seemed unusually keen to edit the School Newsletter [in the days before there were Marketing Departments] working closely behind the scenes with my wife, Liese, and in his wonderful mischievous way, always slipped in [at least] one photograph of himself on the front page. This was not the action of unbridled egotism, but I think it came out of challenge which some of his Frensham mates [probably Barry Carr and Mark Trollope] had set him in The Sandrock pub one evening.
It’s not easy having the Deputy Head teach in your department but Jonny was a really great professional support to me, and I loved our historical discussions. I also know that he was appreciative of the support which both Liese and I gave him, although it would be fair to say, that my muscles grew significantly during the two years we worked together, as I dug him out of yet another “bear pit”. His relationship with Peter could be considered to be a little bit stormy [Peter once wrote him a letter, signed it Yours Apoplectically, which, of course, Jonny loved and displayed in his loo at his home at Hamilton Court] but I think, in reality, both men really admired each other as fellow professionals, with a job to do.
After I left Frensham in 1999, we maintained social contact with each other, and it was particularly good when my consultancy work took me to Oxford, to meet up with Stuart Macfarlane, and Jonny, for a cocktail of an early evening in a hotel in Norham Road. Jonny and I also enjoyed an excellent meal at The Trout in North Oxford [in 2016], where we laughed a good deal, about some of the absurdities of what passed as “education”.
I know that he also loved working at Teddies, and know that he felt hugely supported by Warden, Stephen Jones, and other members of the leadership team over the last three years. I also know that he made a great deal of really good friends at the school.
Jonny’s early departure from this earthly world leaves a huge gap for so many people: James, his parents, friends, staff, current pupils and alumni at Teddies, Frensham Heights and Downside. His civil partnership with James and his receiving of the last rites in the last couple of weeks of his life, conclude a life well lived.
He was a truly inspirational teacher, an educator, a schoolmaster, a colleague, and a lovely man. Requiescat in pace, my dear friend.
Jon's funeral service is being live streamed and may be viewed from 1:55 pm on Wednesday 30th December at
There are two Justgiving pages set up to support two charities which helped Jon.